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The Great (?) Twilight Debate or Jews Have Sex

December 3, 2009

My goodness, the Twilight hate! The Twilight love! The Internet is abuzz with one or the other–there seems to be no in between. Where do you fall on the divide?

In case you’ve been under a rock, here’s the hater argument (taken from multiple blog postings and articles online):

The Bella/Edward relationship shows all the signs of an abusive relationship: he stalks her, breaks into her room and watches her sleep, is technically an “older man” preying upon a young girl, is condescending, determines and gives permission for her activities, has multiple displays of anger in front of her, and actually even shoves her a few times. That the whole series encourages domestic violence and abuse.

With regard to the characters, Bella in particular receives the most criticism. She is no role model for young girls. Bella is a mopey, pouty thing with no real attractive personality qualities. Is being pretty the only thing that draws men to her? Within a day or so of coming to town, she has a vampire, a werewolf, and multiple high school boys falling at her feet–what’s that about? Young girls reading the novels should seriously question her judgement: she frequently lies to her parents and keeps major violent and dangerous incidences from them–particularly her father who is the chief of police and might benefit from knowing there are bad vamps running around. Plus she is fully dependent on men for her emotional well-being–jumping into the freezing ocean when she is despondent over a breakup? Her near-constant obsession with death. And why does she never drive her own damn truck whenever she’s with a guy?

Jacob is no good guy either. The concept of imprinting is seen as pedophilia, particularly when it is revealed that he is meant to be with Bella’s infant daughter. The protection he and the other werewolves provide, specifically to women, is seen as being too male-dominated and condescending. Even the one female werewolf is at the bottom of their male pecking order and is mercilessly made fun of for being a girl. Plus their wolf society is based on violence and chauvinism.

There’s also the ridiculous lack of sex between Bella and Edward, which just perpetuates the purity myth of our right-wing conservative society today. With the raging hormones running through the teens reading this tale, how realistic is it that the characters don’t lay a hand on each other? Is Bella really just a replacement for the virgin mother? Is Meyer pushing her Mormon sensibilities on a whole new generation–is there a subliminal religious message running through the series that will convert young readers to Christianity?

Overall the story is so over the top and just dumb. A fairytale. And the fans–it’s kind of icky that all those moms are sexually objectifying these young actors, in particular Taylor Lautner, who is only what, sixteen?

Okay, now on the to the love (again, taken from blog posts and articles):

The story is just a fairytale. That’s the point. Of course we know it’s not real–it’s a fantasy. He is a vampire–der. Vampires have special abilities, so special situations will arise where he will have to protect her. That’s what makes the story so cool. Edward is like the knight in shining armor that saves princess Bella from the evil dragons, or something. Kind of the point. It’s totally escapist, which is what we want a book to be. Why can’t she save herself? Well, she is dealing with other vampires here that have extraordinary abilities and she’s just a mortal girl. (If this was Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the protagonist would be dealing with the same thing. People aren’t up in arms about that book.)

Edward is courtly and sweet to her. In those instances where he “shoved” her, he did it to save her–he only pushed her out of the way so she wouldn’t be hurt. He saved her many, many times–he even says repeatedly “It’s my job to save you.” He doesn’t want Bella to die because he wants her to live as normal a life as possible–that’s very gentlemanly for a vampire. From the moment they lay eyes on each other, Bella and Edward were destined to be together–yea, it’s kind of romance-novel-y, but who wouldn’t want that kind of all-consuming love? That’s why she is so upset when he leaves her–she can’t picture a future without him. She doesn’t tell her dad anything because he would never believe her and because he is the chief of police–kind of hard to take that your beloved daughter is dating the undead, you know?

Feminists are particularly upset with the series. yet the whole point of the series is the melding of reality with the supernatural, so it does require a certain suspension of belief in normalcy. Trying to push our cultural norms onto vampires and werewolves seems kind of silly–they are operating in a totally different world, clearly outside the realm of what would be normal in ours. Why push our agenda onto them? Besides, it is just a book/movie series–pretend, entertainment. The success of this book series is that there is now a whole generation of girls that are reading that might not have been interested in picking up a book at all. Meyer wrote the series with no drugs, no sex, and no cursing, keeping in mind her young adult readers at all times. In that respect, it is a very clean series.

So, what’s my take? Well, I usually read more literary fiction. I waited until this past year to read the books, right before the first movie came out. What did I think? Well, as a sucker for supernatural stories, I was pretty much hooked from the get-go, though the plot holes were glaring, and grammatically I was fairly shocked at some of the mistakes that made it through to the final printing. Yet, a good story is a good story and obviously Meyer hit on something here. (There’s some controversy that her idea really came to her in a dream as she has always purported. Her college roommate recently said she and Meyer wrote a short story together about a vampire who falls in love with a mortal girl, with a side-story involving a werewolf. Hmmm…)

I was frustrated by the Bella character from the beginning however; I always wanted her to be more independent, stronger. Her lack of coping skills and inability to confide in her girlfriends was a buzzkill for me. Her fear of getting older than Edward also really bugged me. And what about college, girlfriend? And if this baby was killing you, why not abort it? Though, I guess her goal all along was to die, so she could be undead with Edward–I get that–I mean he is kind of hot. And though I get the whole “no sex” thing, it was kind of ridiculous; though given that she was writing for a YA audience, I can appreciate how she worked her way around it. But given that Meyer is a strict Mormon, the fundamentalist Christian mien that ran through the books did bother me, I won’t lie–especially given that I’m a liberal Jewish woman. Jews have sex.

Do I feel Edward was abusing and stalking her? Stalking her, yes; but that’s kind of what a vampire would do, I suppose. I gave myself over to the fantasy that the books were meant to be and enjoyed them for purely entertainment value (stalking as entertainment? I get the argument but, well, he IS a vampire). Abusing her? In my opinion no, though I clearly see the argument when taken out of context–but he was condescending to her and that irked me. Do I let my ten-year-old daughter read them? No. There are many dark elements to this story that I don’t feel are appropriate for her. I’m kind of shocked actually that Scholastic gave it a 4.5 rating. Many girls in her fourth grade class last year were reading the books and that surprised me. I imagine most it went right past them–who knows.

Most girls hopefully know that having a guy hanging out in their room without their parent’s knowledge or consent is a no-no; but think back to when you were a teen. I know that I snuck a boyfriend or two back to my room for some makeout sessions…I doubt that it took this book series to give teens the idea. However, will they learn by reading this series that having some dude stalk them isn’t cool? That being hit is absolutely wrong? Since none of them will be dating a vampire anytime soon, perhaps they will figure out that any of those behaviors in a guy (or girl) is wrong and won’t be tolerated. Or at least start a dialogue about it.

Perhaps having such vehement debate is a great conversation starter for parents and teachers about what is good in a relationship and what is toxic. Maybe Bella’s focus on having a guy in her life at all times is a great way for parents to discuss with their daughters that focusing on their studies, friends and sports is a much better way to spend their time. I know that I’ve given that same advice to my daughter: that waiting until she is older and more mature to be with a guy is a much better option. (Like, thirty.)

I know that’s what my father always told me and boy, was he right.

Huh, maybe listening to a guy once in awhile isn’t so bad after all.

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