Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Beware Codependent Vampires

The other night a friend and I discussed whether the Twilight Series (books and movies) are harmful subject matter or innocuous entertainment. Without recapping the conversation, I'll just tell you that by the end I concluded Twilight does some harm to young readers/viewers.

(Full disclosure: I've read only sections of the first book (enough to taste what Stephanie Meyer is cooking) but I have not seen any of the movies and I don't plan to.)

By harmful subject matter I do not mean vampires. I'm cool with sexy undead blood suckers (and sexy undead bloodsuckers who have renounced sucking, such as young -- 107? -- Edward). What I am talking about is a story that, as Lucy Mangen from The Gaurdian puts it, is  "depressingy retrograde, deeply anti-feminist, borderline misogynistic...[and] drains its heroine of life and vitality as surely if a vampire had sunk its teeth into her and leaves her a bloodless cipher while the story happens around her."

What makes Twilight anti-feminist/mysogynistic? Falling in love is not anti-feminist, not even the kind of love that is all-consuming, I'll just die if I can't have him/her, blah, blah, blah. Neither is writing flat characters such as Bella Swan or Edward "The Teeth" Cullen, anti-feminist. However, what pushes flat characters and obsessive love over the line is when a female character is completely defined by her subservience to just about every other male character in the story. What life Bella does have is dedicated to thinking every minute about Edward, longing for Edward when he leaves her, tip-toeing around Edward lest he go-all-vampire on her ("I worried that it would provoke the strange anger that flared up whenever I slipped and revealed too clearly how obsessed I was"), leaving her family and friends for Edward. 

My friend asked, "What do you learn from Twilight? Men are horrible to you, treat you like you're stupid and abandon you and what? This means they really love you?"

On the other hand, Twilight offers plenty of virtues people like to think about when love is the topic: loyalty, monogamy, eternity, waiting to have sex after marriage, and devotion. Virtues that seem twisted and perverse in the context of Bella and Edwards utter codependence, but audiences and readers don't seem to care.

The question is my mind is whether young people obsessed with the Twilight story today will come away with unhealthy views of what relationships should be, and what they should do to get them and keep them. Some questions to consider: Is it okay to sacrifice your soul (as in what and who you are) for the other person? Is subservience at the cost of your own personality okay as long as its in the name of true love? Is the notion of true love healthy? 

Even if the answer to all of these questions are negative, I'll add that learning the difference between the love of stories and the love of real life is a necessary a part of each person's own life, journey, path etc, etc. What might be bothering me in the end is how ruthlessly this brand of relationship is being marketed. When the dollar signs starting flashing no one stops to think that maybe we ought to put a warning on the label: Product may induce unhealthy views of relationships and love. They certainly do it on violent video games. 

Am I missing the point? Is Twilight just a story or has it become something more?


ali d said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ali d said...

Alex Reads Twilight:

He's only up through Ch. 4, but it's hilarious, and he has a very nice accent. Well worth 15 minutes.

nevie said...

@ ali - i'm trying to decide how less attractive that guy would be without the accent, and it's extremely tough.

FarDareisMai said...

I've been saying this for a while now! My friends with tween and teen daughters have to make sure the girls understand that the book is replete with horrible examples of relationships.

Bella is defined by every male: she is a traditional caretaker for Charlie, she pines for Edward, who by the way is completely controlling and, if he was human would have a stalker restraining order against him. Edward leaves and she is only brought back to life by, you guessed it, another male: Jacob.

There is not a single female character of redeeming value. Sure, Esme is very motherly and Rose and Alice are devoted, but their characters are given such short shrift as to be meaningless.

Furthermore, we also learn that men can damage you physically, but that's okay if they really, really love you. The story of Sam and Emily is a perfect example: he loses control, nearly kills her, scars her horribly, but all is forgiven because he loves her, but he can't promise it won't happen again. It's like the script to a movie about domestic abuse.

For adults the books are still a fun romp, and a reminder of a time when love was fresh and all consuming, and we swooned for the love of a man who would cease to exist if you did.

But for young women and girls, the messages are confusing and dangerous.

Matt Lindeboom said...

@ FarDareisMai, thanks for your thoughtful comment. I haven't read the books all the way through so I can't conclude on whether there are any female characters of any value, but it's a complaint I've read about and heard again and again about Twilight.

It raises the question in situations like this: do books and movies like Twilight have a responsibility to be anything different (or better) than what they are?

Brett said...

The last one of the above is the scary one, assuming it is true.

As referenced above, there are also tales - not all of which are true, but most likely not all of which are false, either - of violent reactions from Twilight fans to expressions of Twilight-dislike.

Ozkirbas said...

@FarDareisMai - Agreed. Been saying that for a while now. I read that guardian article back when it was originally published and I always have it in mind. Given, I haven't actually read the books, but from what I hear (and from their representation in film) it's fairly spot on.

Matt Lindeboom said...

Awesome links Brett. The FML ones are scary, but I never know whether to trust them. Kissing the window to see what it would be like to kiss Edward? Oy.

ali d said...

Oh friends. You have no idea how bad it really is:

s.meadows said...

Yeah, it is really, really bad:

B.Graham said...

I one billion trillion katillion percent agree with you. In fact, I've had a half-written post on just that subject in my head for weeks. So thank you, Matt, for putting it down so very cleanly.

Jstone said...

Forget all that misogyny stuff for a minute and focus on the real problem:

Vampires sparkle in the daylight, and that's why they live in the PAC Northwest. That's just the worst piece of writing ever. EVER. Little girls are being taught that you can be the laziest and most uninteresting writer ever and still make millions of dollars. This book is breeding a generation of essentially professional fan fic writers. I'm scarred for the future.

Dialectric said...

Honestly, I don't really se the difference between the whole Twilight furor and (get ready to hear righteous indignation) the whole Harry Potter thing. YES, YES, I know that the HP series is supposed to present women in a wholly different light, BUT - as someone who has only seen the movies lately, but read the first three books, I happen to think that every one except the latter day Hermione and well, Maggie Smith comes off as ditzy eye-candy for the Teen Beat set) In fact, the only genuinely interesting woman in the whole thing was Helena Bonham-Carter. And I think she was supposed to be well, evil. (Yes, Jason, that MAY, in fact, explain alot about my life, but leave it alone today, K?)

My point is that, at the root of it, it is just a hero worship cult of a mediocre set of calculatingly targeted "product" books turned into Hollywood mythology. The books were so thinly written (I started Twilight and made it 100 pages) that they were basically graphic novels without the pictures: so - Hollywood supplied them. I don't know if something can technically be called misogynist if the men aren't any more fully realized or positively conceived - how about condescending and misanthropic? Twilight is just NASCAR for Emo Goths. And HP is the same thing for Geeks. (Don't get me started on Glee.) I get it, young people need to feel conformist while "not conforming - we all need our rallying point. But I have to admit - I liked sex drugs and rock and roll better.

B.Graham said...

@dialectric - I completely, totally, and 100% disagree. Harry Potter is a complex, dark series of books with some brilliant commentary on race, politics, and growing up, whereas Twilight is (terribly written) justification for the author's own life choices.

In other words, there are some things that are popular because they are good, and there are some things that are popular because they are popular. Don't judge a book by its movie.

Jason Heat said...

So avoiding the Twilight vs. Harry Potter debate (I have not read either and have no interest in doing so, but hey, reading is good, right?)
I take issue with one specific statement -
"The books were so thinly written (I started Twilight and made it 100 pages) that they were basically graphic novels without the pictures"

Graphic Novels are not thin novels that need pictures to round out weak writing - they're an entirely different medium blending elements of visual art, writing, and film structure to create an entirely different reading experience. Good writing or bad writing is still good or bad, regardless of the medium.

David Pratt said...

First off, hooray for a Lindeboom post.

I haven't read Twilight, so unfortunately I can't speak to the debate. I can say that I very much enjoyed the Harry Potter books (except for Book 5, where J.K. Rowling apparantly decided Harry needed to express nothing but adolesecent rage for 600 pages), and from what I understand, I don't think I would enjoy Twilight.

That said, it very well could be because I don't associate with the subset of teenage/emo culture it appeals to.

Now what we really need to see is a big budget Twilight/Blade crossover.