Must we come to hate our darlings?


So this was interesting.  Variety ran an interview with Stephenie Meyer the other day asking her about the new movie she’s producing, Austenland.  Naturally you don’t interview one of the most successful authors in the world without posing at least one question on her signature achievement, but Meyer’s response upset some of her more devoted fans (as noted in the comments, which I give you leave to read this one time, but remember, don’t read the comments.)  She said Twilight isn’t a happy place for her anymore and she has no interest in revisiting it anytime soon.  Sheesh, some might be inclined to say, it made you a household name and a bajillion dollars, what on earth are you complaining about?  Yet, Stephenie Meyer is neither the first nor will she be the last artist (yes, you cynical wags, I called her an artist) to have an ambivalent relationship with her art.  I’m reminded of the story of Alec Guinness telling a kid he’d only give him an autograph if the kid promised to never watch Star Wars again, and I wonder if it’s a fate that befalls all of those of us who dare to create – is it inevitable that we will come to hate the creation?

One can forgive Meyer for wanting to move on.  It would be one thing for her to simply wish to expand her pursuits into new arenas following a profitable run with her first endeavor, but Twilight generated as much scorn, probably far more so, as it did praise.  You can say what you like about the Harry Potter series, but those who aren’t fans don’t detest it with such visceral hatred as you’ll see anywhere on the Internet Twilight dares to enter the discussion.  The pastiche of the Ain’t It Cool News comment section mentality I posted in the last entry?  The most generous of compliments in comparison.  Plenty of memes sprang up mocking the characters, the actors who played them in the adaptations, the quality of the writing, every single creative decision taken in the crafting of that saga.  (“Still a Better Love Story Than Twilight” is probably the one that resonates the most.)  In essence, popular culture saw this largely-teen-and-tween-girl phenomenon and decided to take it to the woodshed and whack it with a two-by-four, as if it were singularly to blame for the decline of post-modern civilization (well, that and Obamacare, naturally).  I don’t know Ms. Meyer personally, but I can’t imagine, even in the glow of unimagined wealth, that this wouldn’t have cut, and cut deeply.  In the beginning, she only wanted to tell a story that was important to her.  Now, however many years later, she wants nothing to do with it, and in a way has even more to prove now than when she was a nobody.  It’s a bit sad.

I’ve befriended quite a few writers on Twitter.  Most are unpublished, working away diligently on their dreams and hopeful that someday they’ll break on through the stubborn glass to a cheering audience and critical acclaim.  Each has a story they feel passionate about telling, otherwise they probably wouldn’t be writing.  As I chat with them and read their blogs and learn more about their works-in-progress, I chance to imagine a future time where they are exhausted by the attention, answering the same interview questions fifteen hundred times, and fans wanting to know every iteration of every character nuance of that single work as revealed by word choice and punctuation.  We do so love our darlings but is the moment when we come to despise and regret their existence that distant train rumbling down the track and headed right for us?  Paul McCartney refused to play Beatles songs in concert for most of the 1970’s.  Both Fleming and Conan Doyle tried to kill off their star characters only to be pressured into resurrecting them by fervent readers, and the works that followed were of lesser quality – their hearts just weren’t in it anymore.  (A particularly cutting review of Fleming’s You Only Live Twice I read recently pointed out that it’s almost a deliberate, sniping, mean-spirited parody of what readers had come to love about James Bond, like a middle finger from the worst of Fleming’s snobbery as his health began to fail.)

There are times, very few I’m happy to say, where I even find the modest demands of this blog to be an irritant – the pressure to keep to a regular schedule, to continue to find things to write about that will interest more than just my immediate family.  But I keep going because for better or worse, I still love doing it.  Then again, I don’t have one million fans (or haters) pestering me to write less of this or more of that or what have you.  And I can’t really imagine ever arriving at the point where I say screw you all, I’m done, I’m going off to finally start my dream project about 8th Century cabinet making and I don’t care if nobody but that one guy in Mongolia likes it.  Then again, I’m sure that neither did Stephenie Meyer.  It seems to be a given that success is not always the most comfortable destination.  However, you look at folks like William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, who after struggling against typecasting for years finally came to embrace the work that had given them international renown and the life they earned as a result.  I Am Not Spock eventually begat I Am Spock.  Maybe it’s a full circle after all.  Like raising kids.  First they’re cute, then they’re irritating, then they’re rebellious pests, and ultimately you love them again, more than you ever have.  If that’s the case, then we can learn to treat our art the same way.

2 thoughts on “Must we come to hate our darlings?

  1. Wasn’t it Morris Albert who refused to ever again sing Feelings? I do understand how tedious it must be to have to keep going back to one song, or one book over and over again, but sadly, that is the price of popularity. I don’t use the word fame because Morris Albert is not famous. Neither is Stephanie Meyer. Popular, yes. Famous, no. But tedium comes with popularity. Most fans don’t give a crap about what a performer or artist has done lately, they only care about the song they sang along to on that road trip when they were 18. Or the lines they can quote from a movie or a t.v. show or a book or whatever. And that is all they want to hear, period. I went to see Eric Burdon a few years back and the entire audience of grey hairs was waiting to hear House of the Rising Sun. He waited until the very end, which is fine, but then he screwed with it. We couldn’t sing along because we didn’t know where he was going with it. He messed with our memories, our happiness, our very reason for being there, and he ruined the evening for about 95% of the people who had paid money to hear him sing that song. Will I pay again? No. I’ll stay home and listen to the original on my iPod.
    Art evokes emotion, positive or negative, and like it or not, fans want to experience that same emotion, or memories of that emotion, over and over again.
    Stephanie Myer needs to suck it up, smile and answer questions about Twilight because she owes it to her fans. They are the reason she now has the bucks to go on to create whatever her little heart desires. Show some them some respect!

    Always enjoy your blogs, Graham. Don’t change. Ever. Understand? Ever.
    Cheers, Lynda

    1. I think the world is grateful that Mr. Albert chose to drop “Feelings” from his repertoire. (I’m reminded of the scene in The Fabulous Baker Boys where Jeff Bridges expresses his loathing for that incredibly corny number.) But yes, it never fails to amaze how many artists come to disdain what first made them hit the big time. That Eric Burdon show would have been a tremendous letdown, I’m sure. And Burdon should get over himself. He’s not McCartney.

      You have the odd example of the opposite, of course, like Hugh Jackman who obviously loves the character of Wolverine and the opportunities that it’s opened up for him, even though his heart seems to lie more in the area of musical theater. In the music world, I’ve always admired Richard Ashcroft, formerly of The Verve, who recognizes that despite its complicated and painful history, despite the fact that the royalties all go to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, “Bitter Sweet Symphony” is the song that made him and even ten years on, after the Verve has broken up twice, he always closes concerts with it. And doesn’t screw with it.

      Not planning on changing, Lynda. Don’t you do it either.

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