Well, not that I'd ever recommend "Sins against the Sixth Commandment and the City" as adult entertainment, either, but I think Moynihan is on to something, here.
Of course, there could be a large dollop of media hype, not to mention clever marketing, in the Twi-Moms story. But it kind of fits with the blurring of the category “adult” in these days when many women leave school in their early twenties, marry or resign themselves to cohabitation at 30-plus and have an increasing chance of never bearing children. "Does the warm blood of a teenager still flow beneath your icy grown-up flesh?" asks Slate's movie critic. "Yes!" is supposed to be the right answer here.
It is understandable that women still waiting for their romantic destiny to materialise, or perhaps discontented with the reality of marriage and family life, should indulge in a little escapism. There is nothing new in that; from the appearance of the first novels (Pamela, falling in love with her abductor…) through morning radio serials and afternoon television soaps, to the long reign of the ever more sultry Mills and Boon tales, it has ever been thus. [...]
But identify with a modern teenager who is in love with a vampire and courted simultaneously by a werewolf, high-school hunks both of them? No thanks. I have nothing against fantasy as such, although it took a master like Tolkien to really get me hooked, but from all that I have read about Stephanie Meyer’s oeuvre her fantasy is formulaic and the books depend heavily for their effect on the sensuality evoked in descriptions of the teenage lovers. (The much-touted “chastity” of their relationship seems more like a plot device to keep the story going than a virtue being celebrated.)
So, if Twilight boils down to Mills and Boon with fangs -- or rather, sharp teeth -- but without sexual intercourse before marriage, what exactly is the attraction for women who might otherwise be watching Sex and The City?
One answer seems to be the modern obsession with youth, its freedom from responsibility, its options, sexiness and style. Of course, the popular models must be wealthy or lucky enough to be fashionably dressed and accoutred at all times, but it is the sexiness that counts most. And this has a dark side: a woman has to be not only forever desirable but forever on the brink of being bloodthirstily, savagely desired. This darkness takes a particularly nasty turn in the crime stories of Stieg Larrson.
When I read the Harry Potter books (the first six, anyway), I did so mainly to see for myself if they were dangerously occult, or not. I decided they weren't, and said so to someone who'd asked for my opinion. But that was that--I didn't think Harry was wonderful, or see myself in any of his female counterparts, etc.; the whole idea is pretty silly for a grown woman. I did note some aspects of Rowling's writing that I disliked, viewing the work as an adult, however.
One element of the Potter books I did notice was some definite adolescent wish-fulfillment. There is a scene in one in which the brainy, ordinarily somewhat grungy Hermione is suddenly transformed at a school dance into a beautiful young woman whom the boys can't take their eyes off of; there is the whole pairing off of Harry and Ginny, the younger sister of his great friend who has secretly been madly in love with him for years; there are similar situations involving other characters, all of which work out entirely too well (from an adult critic's perspective) given how these things usually go in real life.
From what I've read, this kind of wish-fulfillment is even more palpable in the Twilight books--though I must insert my standard disclaimer: I have not read the books, nor do I have any intention of doing so. Still, I've heard the gist of the story: Bella, a shy girl from a broken home, practically (and sometimes literally) has to fight off the boys who are interested in her. Among them are not one, but two totally cool bad-boy untamed dudes, who turn out to be a vampire and a werewolf respectively (and which would explain a lot about the politics in Washington State, but that's another blog post). The whole series of books then traces Bella's angsty love: her angst over Edward, Edward's angst over her, the werewolf's assorted angsts--angstes? Can angst be plural? There certainly is a multitude of it in the Twilight series, by all reports. Amid the angst, at one point Bella discovers that if she starts doing dangerous, bad-chick kind of things herself she can hear the absent Edward's voice, presumably telling her what he's been up to, what sort of job he's trying to get--oh, wait. He's a really old vampire dude who doesn't have to work, and who can essentially stay a teenager forever, and so can she if--oh, who's kidding whom, when they decide on a marriage/merger of the angst, which, followed by a rapid honeymoon and an even rapider reproductive cycle just about ends things, except for the obligatory new-parent angst one experiences because werewolves and vampires are trying to kill your baby (and what real parent can't relate to that?).
Of course, in fairness, I haven't actually read the book. So maybe it's possible that these novels really are breathtakingly well-crafted and well-written, and that the whole Edward/Bella setup is not really, in effect, the sort of thing that will cause real-life girls, craving Edward, to fall left and right for antisocial or psychopathic men, who are a different kind of vampire altogether. Maybe.
But even if they were, these books are still packed with adolescent wish-fulfillment: shy girl getting noticed, getting tons of attention from the most "interesting" boys, etc. Which makes it easy to understand why teenage girls like them--but other women? Women in their thirties? Forties? Moms with children, even teens, of their own?
I know that plenty of moms will read books to preview them for their own children. I know other moms who enjoy the occasional young-adult novel as a kind of guilty pleasure, a return to time when plot lines were simpler, characters less complex, and the whole thing could be devoured in an afternoon. For similar reasons other moms enjoy murder mysteries or other light reading.
But that kind of thing doesn't describe the "Twilight Moms" Moynihan's article refers to--the grown women who line up at bookstores and at movie theaters, who compete with their daughters for "Edward" paraphernalia, who participate in online fan groups or even (shudder) write their own Twilight-inspired fan fiction. I'm not sure what does--is it the fear of growing old, or a reaction to the waning romance of middle age, or something else entirely? What makes women twice or even three times Bella's age want so desperately to revisit their high school years for a do-over, even vicariously through a fictional character who couldn't actually be real in any universe?