Twilight: Messin’ With the Kids’ Brains
Since science has cured all disease, and we’re living in a world with jet packs and super-candy (which never causes tooth decay, don’cha know), a symposium was called to finally figure out why teenagers are so influenced by the art and media with which they surround themselves. Led by Maria Nikolajeva, the conference was held in England just a few weeks ago. Nikolajeva, a Cambridge University professor of literature, brought together “people from different disciplines to share what we know about this turbulent period we call adolescence.” Why, you ask? We’re guessing that Nikolajeva (we love typing that name) has a teenage daughter who recently started wearing black, talking back to her, and becoming infatuated with pale boys who drive their own ’96 Honda Accords. We’re just guessing, though.
Thanks in part to an in-depth article on MSNBC, there’s plenty to glean from this recent conference. Some facts we learned? According to Karen Coats, a professor of English at Illinois State Univeristy, “the teenage brain processes information differently than a more mature brain.” We’re blown away. Really? Coats (again, an English professor…) goes on to add that the teenage prefrontal cortex goes through a growth spurt before puberty, followed by a period of organizing and pruning of the neural pathways. We asked Doctor Gregory House of Princeton Plainsboro Teaching Hospital about this fact, and he was quick to add “Duh! It turns out right before and even during puberty, kids’ noggins get bigger. And as boys grow hair in weird places, and girls grow sweater puppies…their bodies are flushed with hormones and other science-type stuff that makes them act out in odd and strange new ways.”
The article goes on to add (according to linguistic anthropologist
Shirley Brice Heath of Stanford) that studies are being done that prove
that reading longer novels may lead to sustained attention to visual
material. Translation? As the Harry Potter and Twilight books get longer
and longer, and those kooky kids keep reading them…well, they may be
inspired to watch the movies, too! And at the heart of this conference?
Nikolajeva brought together experts in literature, art, music,
psychology, and neuroscience to discuss how and why teens may respond to
books like Twilight. Why? “If you look, very clearly at what kind of
values the Twilight books propagate, these are very conservative
values that do not in any way endorse independent thinking or personal
development or a woman’s position as an independent creature,” she said.
“That’s quite depressing.” And the gong was rung throughout the English
countryside. What a coup!
You mean to tell us here at ComicMix
that it took a conference of professors to determine that teens are
heavily influenced by the media with which they surround
themselves…especially books? This is news to us, given that we never
wore flannel and baggy jeans in 1996, or Zubaz pants and Rayban shades
in the ’80s. And we’re stunned that Nikolajeva is so overwhelmed by teen
girls that are being drawn to this macabre fad. Certainly, the last
time we were in the mall eating Cinnabons, we saw several girls with a
bit too much eyeliner, giggling and glancing at a few boys in skinny
jeans who lacked a tan and displayed dyed-black emo-bangs wistfully
draped over their eyes. Oh, and we also so some girls with Glee
shirts, in bright colors, trailing some other boys in letter jackets.
Don’t tell those stuffy professors in England, though. They’re busy
trying to figure out why their teens are drawn to a book where an
unpopular girl eventually has to choose between an immortal vampire hunk
who sparkles in daylight, and a six-pack ab-sporting werewolf…
both who love her with the same passion she loves them. It boggles the
mind how that could possibly be appealing to a girl who is at the stage
where her parents embarrass her constantly, the boys she likes don’t pay
any attention to her, and the head cheerleader called her a bitch the
other day. Hmm… maybe we should have been at this symposium.
We’d like to take the time here to quote one more doctor… Dr. Denis Leary, of Emerson University:
“Explain it to me. Heavy metal bands on trial because kids commit
suicide, what is that about? Judas Priest on trial because my kid bought
the records, and he listened to the lyrics, and he go into Satan…
ALLALALALALALLALA! Well that’s great. That sets a legal precedent. Does
that mean I can sue Dan Fogelberg for making me into a pussy in the mid
’70s, is that possible, HUH?”
Thank you, doctor. And
therein lies the key. Kids respond to the media that taps into what
they’re feeling at the time. When we felt like the world was a dystopia,
and our parents didn’t get us…we read Watchmen. And guess
what? We didn’t end up destroying the world when we turned 30. A note to
Maria Nikolajeva, and the gaggle of experts: don’t worry that you don’t
get Twilight, it just means you’re an adult. Now go read Eat, Pray, Love, have a bowl of fettuccine and a box of wine, and let your daughter be. What’s next? Seeing your son reading Punisher: Max and playing Halo…and deciding it’s time to research the dangers of violence in comics and video games?