A piece in yesterday's Times described the frenzy surrounding the appearance Robert Pattison, the star of Twilight, at a mall in Pennsylvania last Thursday. Squealed one tearful girl, "He was this close...Close enough to bite my neck." I guess this was fresh on my mind the other day when I met up with a young teen whom I've known since she was born - a smart, independent 15-year-old. I asked her if she was a fan of the Twilight phenomenon, and her face grew stormy. "I've never read them," she said. "I can't stand these stupid girls who just follow the trends." And I knew exactly how she felt: because for every group of girls screaming at a mall appearance, there's an equally fierce group of deliberate trend-buckers, defining themselves by their scorn for what's popular.I can well remember the burning scorn for my next door neighbor and her overnight love for NKOTB, which included a wall of posters and a comforter. I have a clear memory of sitting on my lawn reading a Natalie Babbit book (doubtless in a sunbonnet) while she and a friend did an earnest a cappella rendition of "Step by Step" over the hedge. Around the same time, a hand-clapping game swept my second-grade class. I was, on principle, scornful and refused to play it: I remember arriving at school one day to find my best friend and lone ally clapping and singing along; that day, I sat by myself on the sidelines while the other 19 members of my class played "Em-pom-pi" in a big circle. At least I had my vague principles! Even at the time, I would have been hard-pressed to define my objection to these seemingly innocuous phenomena. The fact that everyone else liked them - nay, had lost their heads over them - was enough. In later years, sticker books and Koosh balls and 90210 obviously also aroused my superior contempt . There were moments when I yearned for the tactile pleasures of a fuzzy sticker, the clandestine thrill of the Walsh siblings' G-rated antics; but nothing could provide the satisfaction that my principled individuality did - a thrill as compelling and all-encompassing as the trends that swept my classmates along. And obviously as the teen years advanced, my commitment to outsider status only hardened. Twilight has made people think about the mass hysteria such phenomena can provoke in girls, just as matinee idols, the Beatles, boy bands , High School Musical actors and teen pop stars have done for decades. Hormones, burgeoning sexuality, issues of identity and assimilation are usually invoked. And everyone's aware of the trope of the teen outsider, defining him-or-herself against such conformity. We've all seen The Breakfast Club, after all, and experienced the rigidity of self-imposed youthful roles. But I don't think it's often said that mass hysteria and anti-establishment posing are two sides of the same coin, and to a teen it can sometimes feel like there is not much of an alternative. It can be hard to enjoy something without joining in, hard to reject it without making a self-conscious statement. It can be hard to just kind of like something when you're defining yourself, even though the bulk of a thoughtful adult life is in fact made up of gray areas and shades of opinion. When I was talking with my young friend, I tried to be sensitive. "Really?" I said casually. "I'm kind of interested to take a look at Twilight, just to see what all the fuss is about." I could see, with that noncommittal response, that I had failed her. I should, I guess, have been railing against conformity, not joining the ranks of apathetic adulthood. After all, she had known me to be an "independent" teenager myself, back in the day. But the truth is, when I was her age, I know I would have secretly been curious to read Twilight - who doesn't like forbidden teen love?! - and even lose myself in pure hysteria for a change. One of the blessed reliefs of being a grown-up is that it's okay to admit that. The Vampire Of The Mall [New York Times]
Submitted discussions can be approved by the author or users followed by this blog.