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You kids get off my lawn. 

Twilight  - Stephenie Meyer So, fair warning, this review is a museum piece of a conflict on Goodreads, and is not a very informative review of the book, if that is what you are looking for. And seriously, why are you even reading Twilight reviews? If you haven't read the book, you are unlikely to at this point, and if you have, you know what you think. I suppose I could take the review down, but I like how dated it is, and I like the comment thread below.

Sorry I keep floating this review. Stuff keeps changing though, so bear with me.

All the links I refer to in the body of the review have been deleted, so I'm adding a couple of links to writings and reviews that are still up instead. I may be a starry-eyed idealist, but I still firmly believe that we can talk this out.



So, read any good reviews lately?

I've already reviewed Twilight, but there's been something of a controversy here on Goodreads today about another Goodreader's review, so I'm reviewing again, because her review was about Twilight. The review that started the controversy has been taken down, a move I find somewhat problematic. I will link to versions of the original review at the end of this and quote relevant passages, but with one noted change: I will not use the name of the other GR user who freaked her out. I'm pretty sure this was the reason for the deletion of her review, and, in fact, I think all of the allegations, arguments, and parsing of this specific user's action or non-actions has become an annoying distraction from what I felt was the central message of her review, which I'll also quote below. But, God help me, I'm actually going to talk about Twilight a bit before I do that. And in order to do that, I will start with the obligatory anecdotes about my daughter that I use to talk about Twilight, it seems.

First, I'm going to tell two stories. I walk my first grader to school every day, with my daughter, who is not-yet-four along for the walk. There's a loud-mouthed drunk who lives somewhere around us, and we regularly have to pass him hanging out on the stoop with other drunks or wandering around accosting people. At some point, he started calling me his best friend, I think mostly because, at first, I would smile and nod when he spoke to me. But then he started yelling stuff at my kids, not really threatening stuff, just trying to engage them in conversation. My boy looked up at me when this started happening and asked me, what was wrong with that man? I said I didn't know, and that we shouldn't talk to him. Now we don't react at all when the drunk comes along, and he's mostly stopped talking to us. I still don't like him much, and I wish he would dry up and blow away, but that's not going to happen. He has the right to be a loud-mouthed drunk and live in my neighborhood.

Second, related anecdote: We live really close to the school, but we have to cross two streets to get to the building. The girl is usually really good about stopping at the corner, but she's three, and has to challenge my authority from time to time, and today the challenge was that she ran out into the street and then pitched a tantrum and wouldn't hold my hand. I got pretty angry, because I was afraid for her, and told her she wouldn't be allowed to walk to school with us if she didn't hold my hand. Almost instantly I realized this was the wrong tact. My daughter will never learn how to navigate her neighborhood if I keep her locked up at home.

So we talked about it, because that's pretty much what I have left: talking. I told her that if she ran out into the street without looking, she could be hit by a car, and hurt or killed. She then told me that she would pop back up and run off once she'd been run over. I realized that she was talking about what happens in cartoons. I thought fuck. I believe most children can sort out the difference between reality and cartoons, but it's totally age-dependent. My son would never confuse what happens to Wile E. Coyote with what happens in the street, not because he's smarter or less imaginative than she, but because he's seven. But like crossing the street, she will never be able to navigate her world if I forbid her to watch cartoons because she's three and can't distinguish them from reality. Soon enough, she'll figure it out, and until then, it's my job to hold her hand.

Sites like Goodreads and books like Twilight are cartoons. In Twilight you see this most in the film adaption. The whole sparkling thing reads okay on paper, but it's cartoony as all get-out on screen. Then there's the vampire baseball sequence which is maybe the funniest thing I have ever seen. Seriously, YouTube it if you haven't seen it and die laughing. The hat-pop especially - comedy gold. In fact, I think the main problem with the Twilight films is that they tried to play it straight, when they needed more giant anvils falling from the sky and funny sound effects. Then it would be sweet. I like cartoons a lot, and I don't think there's anything dangerous or bad about silliness and sparky-romance. But I think there can be a problem when loving Edward the character gets confused with loving real-life people like Edward.

And I think this is why lots of people can love Twilight in a way I can't: because they experience it as a cartoon, and can ignore or compartmentalize the real life aspects. Honestly, I think this may be a failure of imagination on my part. I had a visceral reaction against the social realism parts of the book - the social hierarchy of high school, adolescent alienation, etc - and couldn't engage in the cartoon parts because of this. Either approach is valid, I think. The loud-mouthed drunk or the vegetarian vampire make for a pretty good story - I recently met another woman who lives a couple blocks from me, and we had a great time exchanging stories of "my best friend" - but they're not good models of behavior. No one said fiction ever, ever had to generate good role models to succeed - and I mean this in the literary sense, not the monetary one - but Twilight is so obviously didactic, and kind of bossy in its message, that I couldn't sit back and enjoy the anvils.

Goodreads is also a cartoon. We have little goofy avatars, and little goofy screen names. The people who run this site seem to take a real interest in keeping off spammers, sickos, hate speech and other badness from the site, like mom. Lots of people manage multiple sock puppets, use pseudonyms, and lurk, which is all fine by me. But by all that is sparkly and undead, please never lose sight of the fact that while it is a cartoon in here, there is a real world out there. There are strings holding up the mannequins. We've got someone to hold our hand while we cross the Goodreads street, because we can flag comments and users. We can also argue, stand up for ourselves, and block anyone who bugs us for any reason. But cartoon though it may be, the predator can still follow you home. Unlike in the real world, this can only happen if you let him, by giving your real life information to people who worry you or freak you out.

To quote from the now-deleted review:

Okay, that [one star] rating is a lie. Twilight rox. But you know what does not rock? Real-life Twilight experiences. Twilight tells the basic creepy-old-man-stalks-young-girl story. You know the one. He woos her by being vaguely threatening and manipulative. She sees his condescension as the patient musings of a wiser soul. It’s fun in a book, but when you see it in real life, walk the other direction. In my experience, it is possible for creepy stalkers to come around almost anywhere, and the internet is no exception.

And another really good point:

Twilight is fun. I’m the first to admit it. But in real life Edward is just an old, bossy man with a thirst for blood. That’s not romantic. It’s gross.

Or her take-home:

What I mean to say is that we can all lynch [a specific GR user who is creepy] and pretend that it solves a problem, but it really doesn’t. I don’t want to get lecturey on you, but I think that, especially for people who are the typical targets of stalkers (young women), but really for everyone, it is important to be aware and smart and even suspicious. But it is not important to be afraid. Don’t give your address to people you don’t know. And don’t think that a compliment is always what it seems. Sometimes compliments are manipulation. If someone makes you uncomfortable or seems suspicious, don’t be afraid to tell them that. Don’t feel pressured to keep yourself in an uncomfortable situation or to talk to people who skeeze you out. You don’t have to be scared, just remove yourself from the situation. If a friend tells you to watch out for someone, give that advice a chance. I know it’s obvious to say, but I like being reminded every once in a while that you can’t control other people’s actions, but you can control your own. The more you hide from someone offensive or disrespectful - the more you fear that person - the more power that person has. But you still have to be aware of your surroundings and aware of danger

I don't think we humans have a very good track record when it comes to determining real threats. My daughter has a much greater threat from cars - riding in them, running out in front of them - than she does from the loud-mouthed drunk. But the loud-mouthed drunk has a face and can follow me home, so it's super easy to mistake him for the greater danger. Which is not to say he isn't still a danger. But I'm going to be able to cross thousands of streets with her hand in mine, and drill into her daily that she must be careful and look both ways, and my run-ins with skeevy jerks will hopefully be few and far between. Ubiquity numbs. So we evaluate danger based on fear level & lack of exposure, and not on the actual likelihood of the threat. I'm not going to stop driving, walking to school, or reading things that piss me off, just because there are real things to be afraid of out there. I'm going to look both ways before I cross and trust that most people are genuinely awesome, because they are. I've made a ton of great friendships on this site. I have invited goodreaders into my home, gone to theirs, mailed out books & letters and had them mailed to me in return, and otherwise broken the fourth wall between me and my other cartoon friends. And so far, I haven't regretted it once. Goodreaders, I love you.

General love for goodreaders aside, I still struggle with my online persona all the time. Some of you may have noticed that I never refer to my children by name here, or ever post pictures of them. I had a conversation once with an older client, in her 60s, about social media. She asked me about pictures of my kids: wasn't I afraid that some pervert might rub one out to their pictures? I thought this was pretty funny, because it seemed to give all the power to the (theoretical) sickos. I can't really control what goes on in people's heads, and while it may be disgusting to consider, this theoretical pervert hasn't actually harmed my children, and has a right to think (and say) what he wants. I guess mostly I don't use their names because it makes me uncomfortable in some vague way, and I'll just go with my gut on this. Or it could be that I don't want to mix up my cartoon life with my real one, even though I do that all the time. Or whatever.

I'm having a hard time coming up with a take-home. Maybe this: life works best on the buddy system, but choose your buddies carefully. Or this: if someone freaks you out online, don't be afraid to sever your connection, because it's just a cartoon. Or this: cartoons are awesome; real anvils to the head are not. Or this: maybe talking is a better solution than review deletion. Or this: buckle up.

Other writings: