Dec 022008
Authors: Ryan Nowell

Researchers have found that pornography has a corrosive effect on the minds of habitual users — scrambling fight or flight responses, altering serotonin levels, decreasing satisfaction with real-life sex partners and generally muddling of one’s ability to empathize.

It is this informational tidbit that pops in my head every time I hear another 20-something declare that Edward Cullen, the fictional vampire protagonist of the “Twilight” series, has ruined real men for them.

Granted, it’s not an entirely fair comparison. As far as I know, “Twilight” fans have yet to be associated with the words “compulsive,” “soiled,” “carpal tunnel” or “dungeon.” But it is nonetheless another instance of the pervasive machinery of commerce slipping its way into our hearts and bedrooms.

And don’t be fooled, this is a matter of commerce. Pornography is the commercialization of de-contextualized sex; “Twilight” and its ilk are the commercialization of romantic sentiment.

The series, and of course the movie, are products tailored to elicit a specific response from a specific market-share. You’re in love with a fictional character? Well of course you are, you have an entire multi-million dollar marketing firm pandering to you in the guise of a laddish vampire boy. He wants nothing more than to gaze at you adoringly, right after he finishes a refreshing Diet 7-Up. Ah! Seven flavors in one drink!

It’s rather ingenious, considering the whole vampire myth has been a running penetration allegory since Dracula washed up on British shores to bedevil the neighborhood debutantes and hock chocolatey cereal on the side.

“Twilight’s” vampire-that-cannot-partake shtick is the modern, supernatural predecessor of the chastity belt, resulting in enough sexual tension to garner a $70.6 million dollar opening weekend, not to mention a thousand swooning hearts. *sigh*

Of course, this isn’t anything new. As anyone who has worked in a book store will tell you, romance novels are the reason the printed medium has endured this long (we probably would’ve gone back to the chisel in the mid-80s had it not been for Danielle Steele), and “Twilight” is nothing if not an escapist paperback, tarted up and toned down to fit the teeny-bopper demographic.

I guess my issue is it didn’t stay in that demographic. It took, what, 10 years to shake off the last cash cow to come trundling out of the children’s section, and without pause, here comes the next wave of pseudo-literate juvenilia, destined to be hoisted atop the bestseller list and reign as the at-large definition of what modern writing should be.

This series in itself wouldn’t be an issue if it was an exception, but it’s a drop in the rather dour looking bucket of brainless indulgence the American public is guiltlessly guzzling. Well people, start feeling the guilt.

Glancing at the bestselling fiction list, it seems Toni Morrison is the only one not there just to pick up their check.

Tom Clancy is a man who by all accounts is still playing with his GI Joes. John Grisham is churning out the same old lawyer-fantasies with the unwavering fixation of a Post Traumatic Stress Disorder patient. Kathy Reichs has spun her bad novels into a bad TV show starring the bad Deschanel sister. Nicholas Sparks has found a way to filter and concentrate pure tree sap into bestselling paperbacks.

And now Stephanie Meyers.

Now, there was once a time when the authors people paid attention to were folks like Virginia Woolf, T.S. Eliot and James Joyce. They were all kinda-to-certifiably crazy, led messy, inglorious lives and released linguistically dense books that they couldn’t care less if you understood.

These books are hard to read, they take a lot of time, and even if you finish them there’s no guarantee you’ll know what they’re about. But they are works of art. Why? They are trying to say something to you, not sell something to you.

Whether you’re being sold Diet 7-Up, trite teen romance, canned lawyer dramatics or just a blithely happy ending, we should all consider a little aesthetic asceticism.

It’s called summer reading for a reason. Pick up a damn winter book already.

Ryan Nowell is a senior English major. His column appears Wednesdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to

 Posted by at 5:00 pm

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