Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Sick, Masochistic Lambs (Twilight)


Today, I saw the movie version of Twilight. I’ve been a fan of the book series for quite a while, before it became quite the phenomenon it is currently, and found the movie enjoyable entertainment. So, I’ve found it kind of disappointing how militantly opposed some people on the Internet can be toward the franchise. I, of course, understand if some people can’t get into it (I can’t seem to get the appeal of Hannah Montana, myself, despite its popularity), but I find the hateful criticism that has been thrown at it to be largely unwarranted. The Twilight series has been targeted mainly for perceived sexism, an abusive boyfriend portrayed as desirable, pedophiles treated as good guys, promoting Mormonism, as well as just plain bad writing. Now, obviously I can’t convince people who don’t enjoy it to do so, but I feel as a fan that the attacks thrown out at Twilight should be defended.

First of all, the Twilight series, and Twilight in particular (as that’s the book that started it off), is very much a fantasy about having a vampire boyfriend. I have little doubt that the story was created as a way of expressing the author’s own romantic fantasies through the protagonist Bella’s interactions with love interest Edward, which is also supported by comments on the official website about the story being based off of a dream. The story is written compellingly enough that a wide body of readers is able to fit into the persona of Bella and love Edward.
Edward himself is written as the most desirable guy on the face of the Earth. He has vampirically enhanced features that are model-perfect, even more so. It’s not just his handsome face that is described in worshipful detail, but the sound of his voice, the feel of his cold and marble-hard skin, and even the smell of his breath. Adding in the fact that he possesses super speed, super strength, immortality, and the ability to read the minds of almost everyone but Bella herself and he seems like a godly personification.
However, Edward does have his flaws. He is a vampire, which means he constantly feels the desire to eat people, Bella in particular. Bella smells like his favorite meal, like “[his] brand of heroin,” prompting a fascination and stalker-ish obsession. At first, he avoids her and treats her with unwarranted anger for arousing his predatory instincts. Bella, however, continues to pursue him and he changes his mind, deciding to indulge his obsessive inclinations by sneaking into her room at night to watch her sleep and covertly following her around, eventually seeking out a proper relationship.
What is attractive about Edward as a predatory vampire is, I believe, the dangerous power associated with the character and its potential to be used maliciously. There’s something enthralling about imagining myself in the position of Bella, infatuated with this dark, beautiful, and powerful man and knowing he could kill her should he lose willpower for just an instant. He has a similar appeal as bad boy vampire Spike of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, with the noted difference that Spike is essentially a sociopath and incapable of genuine empathy (I refer to Spike without a soul, as Spike with a soul loses much of his bad boy charm in my opinion). Unlike Spike, Edward has never killed the innocent and carries guilt of his time killing murderers, and struggles to maintain his “vegetarian diet” (i.e. he only eats animal blood). Edward has the bad boy appeal without actually being bad where it counts.
Edward: And so the lion fell in love with the lamb.
Bella: What a stupid lamb.
Edward: What a sick, masochistic lion!
Apart from Edward, the major issue critics have with the books is the supposedly pedophilic protagonist of Breaking Dawn, Jacob Black. Both Jacob and his friend Quil become infatuated with prepubescent children, the fast maturing baby Renesmee and three-year-old Claire respectively, as a result of imprinting. Imprinting is a condition affecting the Quileute shapeshifters in which they view a certain person as their soul mate and can only feel complete when they are with that person. Both of them honestly love the people on who they have imprinted, but it is not a sexual love.
ped·o·phil·i·a (pěd'ə-fĭl'ē-ə, pē'də-)
n. The act or fantasy on the part of an adult of engaging in sexual activity with a child or children.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition
Retrieved November 26, 2008, from Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/pedophilia
Jacob Black is not a pedophile and nor is Quil. What they feel is weird, yes, but I don’t see it as something on which it is inherently harmful to act. Jacob and Quil are not creepy pedophiles, but rather boys who feel the kind of love of an older family member feels toward their young imprintees. They’re like the model babysitters and preschool teachers who seriously love their kids and want to see them happy, albeit with their love situated on specific people. When the kids age to the point that the average adult would find them attractive, it can be assumed that the shapeshifters will want to pursue a romantic relationship, but at that point the playing field is pretty much level and age is no longer an issue.
In addition, Jacob’s love for Renesmee should only be worrisome, in my opinion, within the first weeks of her life. Renesmee is a half-vampire baby and has her own extraordinary abilities to give her a noted advantage in life. For one, she matures both physically and mentally at an accelerated rate. She was born into the world already aware and was drawn to her soul mate, Jacob. Her power of telepathically sending images and emotions into persons’ heads allowed her to communicate effectively while she was still nonverbal. Once she achieved the motor skills to walk and talk, I would imagine much of the concern that usually goes with adults seeking romantic relationships with prepubescent children to be irrelevant in light of the unique circumstances of this particular situation.
In response to the common complaint that Twilight is written poorly, I would have to say that the concept of good literature is highly subjective. I personally could barely get through the classic piece of literature Tarzan, which I view as cheesy pulp fiction without the kind of drama that makes a story interesting to me. I recognize that Tarzan is a very popular story, however, and will accept that we people of Earth are different and different people will find different things entertaining. Personally, I can really get into the writing style of Twilight, which reminds me of the beautiful sound of the wind on a rainy day as the thunder booms in the distance. Ah, well, to each their own.
Finally, I have read numerous blog articles criticizing author Stephenie Meyer’s decision to incorporate religious themes and messages into the book series. Stephenie Meyer is Mormon and as the kind of stuff she would find entertaining would naturally fit into her worldview, it makes sense for Twilight to have Mormon themes. That said, as an atheist who often cringes at the religious messages people put into their novels, Twilight really isn’t that bad. If you don’t want to believe in the kind of philosophies illustrated in the Twilight novels, you can reject it without feeling like you’re not welcome (in contrast to much of Orson Scott Card’s work).
In conclusion, I find most of the hate against Twilight running rampant on the Internet to be overblown. Surely, Twilight is not the kind of epic, involved, and progressive story like Harry Potter or Buffy the Vampire Slayer. However, for what it is, which is an intimate fantastical romance story that can be appreciated by a large quantity of people, it is of high enough quality to achieve high popularity. This should be respected even if the story doesn’t appeal to everyone.
EDIT: ToyletGnome wrote a response here.

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