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May 14, 2010 10:00 AM Bloodsucking Academia

By Daniel Luzer

Vampire.jpg

Sometime in the distant future, historians may well write of the declining days of American power that around the second decade of the 21st century, people from all walks of life suddenly developed a puzzling and inexplicable interest in the mythical undead. Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight has spawned movies, parodies, and weird fan fiction. It’s now, apparently, inspired academic discourse too. According to an article by Serena Golden in Inside Higher Ed:

A growing number of scholars are eager to offer their perspectives on the hugely popular novels and the cultural phenomenon they’ve engendered.
Early out of the publishing gate was Wiley, which last fall released the volume Twilight and Philosophy as part of the Blackwell Philosophy and Pop Culture Series. Now the company has followed that up with Twilight and History, which marks the start of a new series on popular culture and history. Nor are Wiley’s books an exception to the rule about academe and the vampire bandwagon; when it comes to scholarly work on Stephanie Meyer, it looks like the trend is only getting started.
[Twilight’s popularity] makes it an ideal partner for philosophy, [according to Jeremy Wisnewski, co-editor of Twilight and Philosophy], which has “had a bad public relations problem… for 2500 years. There’s this temptation to think of philosophy as navel gazing in an ivory tower by old white guys with beards,” Wisnewski adds. So applying it to Twilight, or any artifact of popular culture — Wisnewski has also edited or co-edited similar volumes on “Family Guy,” “The Office,” and “X-Men” — is a way to show “why [philosophy] matters, why it’s relevant.”

All of this, while interesting, does not address the fact that the Twilight books are terrible. They’re awkwardly written (why use a simple word when you can use one with three syllables?) and suffer from weak plot lines, blatant metaphors, and shallow characters. Add to this the author’s sort of creepy, retrograde conservative social stances—not to mention a cultural perspective on women’s roles in line with the views of Phyllis Schlafly—and it ought to be clear that as an artifact of popular culture the series is a little embarrassing.

But academics are eager to point out that philosophers can and should interact with popular culture. Plato, after all, wrote for a mass audience. Besides, according to Wisnewski, the Meyer books offer relevant philosophical perspective “because there’s all sorts of questions about death, relationships, what it means to be human, what it means to be moral….”

Of course, the reason for the series’ popularity probably has more to do with questions about what it means to date sexy vampires, but whatever works. [Image via]

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer