Monday, December 14, 2009

Moronic Wolfy Claim (Twilight)

Among the various criticisms thrown out against Twilight is the allegation that the series promotes pedophilia. This is generally in reference to the relationship between Jacob and Renesmee, but sometimes it refers to the relationship between Edward and Bella because of their significant age differences. I believe that this is a misunderstanding of what author Stephenie Meyer intended to portray here, which is not true pedophilia, and is not immoral in and of itself.
Pedophilia is a type of paraphilia in which mature adults feel sexual attraction to prepubescent children. This (unhealthy) attraction is pretty much the same as healthy attraction in that it includes infatuation, sexual fantasies, and sexual urges. Pedophiles are not synonymous with child molesters, as child molesters are specifically pedophiles who act on their urges and commit evil as a result. Pedophilia should also not be confused with ephebophilia, which is a paraphila in which mature adults feel sexual attraction to teenagers. In Twilight, the semblance of pedophilia is introduced within the concept of imprinting.
Imprinting is an involuntary biological phenomenon experienced by the Quileute wolf shapeshifters in which they develop an intense infatuation with their soul mates, and their soul mates likewise become infatuated with them. Age knows no limits in this imprinting business, and wolves Jacob and Quil find themselves imprinting with infant children. Imprinting is distinct from pedophilia in that there is no sexual attraction felt by the wolves when the imprintee is prepubescent, only an intense infatuation that grows into romantic love as the imprintee matures. I’ll note again that the attraction is mutual. The case with Quil and his imprintee Claire portrays him as nothing more than an incredibly devoted babysitter who truly cares about making her happy, in contrast to most adults who would only humor her seemingly inane games. The case of Jacob and Renesmee, while similar, is far more complicated by Renesmee’s unusual characteristics.
Renesmee is not your normal kid. A vampire-human hybrid, she is enormously intelligent in addition to possessing great physical strength and the ability to project her thoughts into other persons’ heads to communicate telepathically. Unlike most babies, she became self-aware three days before she was born. During this time, she became imprinted with Jacob, and somewhat influenced her mother Bella with her mental powers. So, at the moment of birth she was fully intelligent and able to communicate her desires telepathically, which takes things pretty far away from the model of pedophilia that is justifiably understood as bad. Resemee physically matures at a great speed, her intelligence doesn’t diminish, and is infatuated with Jacob right back. Stephenie Meyer even takes a moment to assert that pedophilia is not what is being portrayed here, albeit in an implicit manner.
Bella: “You think you’ll be part of my family as my son-in-law!”
Jacob: “No! How can you even look at it that way? She’s just a baby, for crying out loud!”
Bella: “That’s my point!”
Jacob: “You know I don’t think of her that way! Do you think Edward would have let me live this long if I did? All I want is for her to be safe and happy—is that so bad? So different from what you want?”
--Breaking Dawn
, page 450
Aside from the Jacob/Renesmee relationship, there is the comparison of the Edward/Bella relationship, which is also frequently described as pedophilic. Bella is a physically mature teenager, as is Edward, but their age difference is significant, given that Bella looks her age while Edward is over a hundred years old due to his unchanging vampire body. A lot of folks see this as pedophilia, but if anything it’s ephebophilia – attraction to adolescents, not prepubescents. It’s not really the same issue as pedophilia anyway, because there’s no exploitation in the relationship as a result of the age difference (arguably there could be exploitation elsewhere, but that’s a different subject). You could argue it’s statutory rape, but I’ve got issues with that law in general for assigning an arbitrary age limit to the ability to consent, denying legitimate individuals the agency to conduct their lives as they see fit. Bella is seventeen and on the upside of that restriction, anyway.
Is it strange? Yes… As someone I read somewhere noted, it would be seen as crazy and repugnant for a teenager to date someone’s aged grandfather, and Edward’s true age makes him similar to such. The main difference is that vampires are immortal. If they’re going to live forever and humans aren’t, then eventually all of humanity would be way too young for them by general standards. We like to think of age as making us better, but the facts are that when we reach a certain age our intelligences and physical beings begin to diminish, so a hundred-year-old vampire cannot have a good romance with a hundred-year-old human. They would have to date someone several decades younger than themselves to have a satisfactory relationship. It would still probably be seen as more acceptable to have the human be middle-aged or around there because it is seen as a good thing for people to date closer to their age group, but I think of that as unfound ageist prejudices. If they are both mentally mature and consenting, I’ve got no problem with it.
In the criticism of Twilight’s atypical ages in the series’ relationships, I often see moral outrage with little explanation of why what’s being described is bad. The usual is something like “Jacob is a pedophile. That’s bad! You like that? You’re bad too!” Even questioning if it really is bad is seen as horrible because it so obviously is bad to the person writing the criticism. I’d like to challenge that.
I think pedophilia in and of itself is not good, but not explicitly bad just so long as the pedophiles don’t act on it. Quoth Dumbledore (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, page 333), “It is our choices… that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” I think child molesters are bad because what they do is rape. Here in the real world, young children are unable to give consent because they lack experience and understanding, and are exploited because of the authority of the adult child molester. This is bad… because of the rape aspect.
Twilight’s imprinting is not the same. For one thing, it’s not pedophilia. For another, there is no rape involved, only devotion. As Jacob describes Quil’s experience (the wolves share a mental link), “There’s nothing romantic about it at all… It’s more like . . . gravity moves. When you see her, suddenly it’s not the earth holding you here anymore. She does. And nothing matters more than her. And you would do anything for her, be anything for her.” (Eclipse, page 176). When the imprintee ages, romance naturally develops because the two personalities fit together more than anyone else in the world, actually being soul mates. Again, the attraction is mutual, so that stuff Jacob describes from Quil’s perspective is basically how Claire feels right back at Quil. Imprinting is not pedophilia, so the usual concerns about pedophilia cannot be used.
I’ll take it a step farther and suggest that even if Jacob were a pedophile, which he’s not, it wouldn’t necessarily be bad because of Renesmee’s intelligence and probable ability to consent at an earlier age than most people. I’ll note that I do not advocate literal pedophiliac acts in the real world (that’s rape), but in specific fictional situations the circumstances are different enough to revise our models of the ability to consent. I’ll bring up two other works of fiction to make my point: an episode of Star Trek, and the movie The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (I didn’t read the story it was based on, so note that this is strictly the movie version).
In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Rascals”, a mysterious transporter accident (those things are responsible for the wackiest plotlines) transforms crew members Picard, Guinan, Ro Laren, and Keiko O’Brien into their twelve-year-old selves. No one reacts to the regressed folks the same way as before the accident, and are inclined to treat them like normal children, notably with the bridge crew regarding themselves as superior to their captain because of his physical body looking like a boy. After a hard day, Keiko acts the way she usually does with her husband – romantically and intimately. He freaks out and flees, unable to reconcile the fact that his wife has regressed physically but is otherwise the same person. Instead of the doctor trying to find a way to reproduce this miracle, a cure is found; the original actors take their parts back; Picard misses his hair; the end.
In The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Benjamin Button is a boy man male character that was born with the physical body of an old man in baby-size, who grew up into a short old man. As he aged, his body physically regressed. This leads to a couple strange scenes where we have interaction between two characters that seem to have a giant age difference but do not. In the first, Benjamin is physically an old man interacting with six-year-old Daisy in an intimate childhood way. One must remind themselves that Benjamin is really a little boy. Likewise, when both are old and Benjamin looks like a young boy, their physical romance looks really strange, but they are both adults despite how Benjamin may appear.
I will propose that physical appearance need not be the determining factor, but rather mental state. In the (curious) cases of Keiko O’Brien and Benjamin Button, we have adults occupying the bodies of children. If (other) adults should engage in sexual relationships with them, I don’t think it’s any different from the same scenario where everyone has the usual body. If they were to have sexual relations with pedophiles, in the context of this bizarre fictional circumstance that could never occur in the real world, I think it would be all right or at least as potentially so as any other affair between consenting adults.
In Twilight, Renesmee is not an adult in the body of a child as are the other examples, but she is highly intelligent. As she physically matures super fast and is in possession of such a powerful intellect, the normal age limits that apply to the grand majority needn’t apply to her. Should she become sexually inclined while still physically a child (it happens), I don’t think it would necessarily be the same sort of issue given the strange fictional circumstances that give her the intellect of someone much older on average. I don’t know, I guess it may depend on the exact nature of the situation. Anyway, Jacob isn’t a pedophile, so this doesn’t even need to be discussed in relation to the story written by Stephenie Meyer.
In conclusion, Twilight does not depict pedophilia, and anyone who thinks so has misunderstood what Stephenie Meyer wrote. The imprinting phenomenon is not sexual in nature when the object of such is a child, making it an intense platonic friendship that develops into romance with age, and most importantly the connection is felt by both parties. The attraction between Edward and Bella is not based in pedophilia, the word itself misused by people who don’t have a clear concept of what it is other than illegal on which to act. Although certainly very strange, none of the relationships in Twilight have the properties of pedophilia or child molestation. I suspect most people who object to the weird-ages relationships either didn’t read very carefully or heard from their friends who didn’t read very carefully. Everyone, please note that within the fantasy genre circumstances can arise that have no real world equivalent simply because it’s more of an intriguing product of one’s imagination than a serious commentary on reality.

No comments: