Now that the vampire phenomenon has completely infiltrated my list of media streams, I must stand and be accounted for. I am NOT a “Twilighter,” and I cannot fathom how anyone could be.
Within the screaming masses of America’s teen hearts, a personal attachtment to these characters has vice-gripped our youth. Thousands of our sisters, daughters and friends are choosing sides in an unknown divide. Twilight is being hailed as the next great young adult series with a twist of fantasy.
But there’s something particularly odd about it altogether, and it isn’t just the undead.
The story is of a seventeen year old Bella Swan, who moves to the small town of Forks, Washington and has a run in with some vampires. Living with her father after her mother remarries a minor league baseball player, she quickly makes friends at her new high school. The Cullens, a group of mysterious siblings (who seem to have paired up, ick) intrigue Bella. The loner, Edward, sits next to her in Biology class on her first day of school, but much to Bella’s dismay, he seems disgusted with her.
A couple of days later Bella would’ve been hit by a van if it weren’t for the efforts of Team Edward. He suddenly appears between her and the vehicle and unmistakably stops it with his hand. He refuses to explain the act and warns Bella against becoming friends with him.
It turns out, he’s a vampire–but only drinks animal blood so naturally(?), they fall in love. Edward introduces Bella to his vampire family: Carlisle, Esme, Alice, Jasper, Emmett, and Rosalie. Shortly thereafter, three nomadic vampires arrive and put Bella’s life in danger. Since this is all I wanted to focus on, I won’t spoil the rest of its so-called plot. For those of you who haven’t seen it and do catch it, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
After seeing Twilight last November, I didn’t particularly like it but it was much more on a subtle level. (I saw it opening weekend, as a matinee, so screaming tweens weren’t the reason for my viewing displeasure.) I chuckled at parts that weren’t meant to be funny and was a bit puzzled by some awkward moments but overall, I thought to myself “meh, nothing special.” But it wasn’t until I saw crowds of people and box office numbers that I decided that the material deserved a little more looking over.
Twilight is a typical movie geared to the ripe age of 13-18 but upon further inspection, things aren’t always what they appear to be. Bella is toted as a relatable, typical teenage girl and Edward is just your run-of-the-mill vampire. The two fall endlessly in love with one another in a tale of forbidden fruit, where “the lion fell in love with the lamb.” It’s meant to be a romantic fantasy shrouded in vampire lore–but it’s not… not by a long shot. It irrevocably fails on every level: as a love story, a vampire story and ultimately as a piece of literature against the grind of time. So why are young adults all over it now? Stephen King has a theory.
As one of the most successful novelists of the last few decades, he’s known for his unforgettable stories: Dreamcatcher, It, Misery, and The Shining, just to name a few. Since publishing Carrie, he’s been a force in literature for over 35 years.
When asked the innocent question of whether or not he had a hand in paving the way of massive success for J.K. Rowling and Stephenie Meyer, he took a lunchroom bump at the Twilight queen:
“[On H.P. Lovecraft] It was chillier than my heart was, when Matheson started to write about ordinary people and stuff, that was something that I wanted to do. I said, ‘This is the way to do it. He’s showing the way.’ I think that I serve that purpose for some writers, and that’s a good thing. Both Rowling and Meyer, they’re speaking directly to young people. … The real difference is that Jo Rowling is a terrific writer and Stephenie Meyer can’t write worth a darn. She’s not very good.”
King went on to speculate that Twilighters simply aren’t ready for a depiction of real, adult romance.
“It’s exciting and it’s thrilling and it’s not particularly threatening, because they’re not overtly sexual. A lot of the physical side of it is conveyed in things like the vampire will touch her forearm or run a hand over skin, and she just flushes all hot and cold. And for girls, that’s a shorthand for all the feelings that they’re not ready to deal with yet.”
Which got me thinking: if the book is intended for young adults, isn’t it suppose to help facilitate a transition into real situations? And does it do that? Having read King’s work when I was a young adult, I took it upon myself to pose the comment to the intellectual readers I know and seek their answers. I asked Twilighters and anti-Twilighters–young and young at heart, some were vampire lovers and some were brand new. And after much debate and some paid lunches, Twilight remains a mediocre attempt at a romantic-vampire-fantasy fiction and does little to prepare for what life may hold ahead.
I suppose we should begin with Bella, since she is the point at which we move through the story. She’s an average girl and beyond a brief description, her appearance is up for interpretation. She’s noted as clumsy, unpopular and has a dry sense of humor. She’s a bit shy, so she keeps to herself, but Bella is the school’s newest face so everyone want to get to know her. After the initial vehicle incident, Edward comes off as merely one of several boys interested in her. Audiences are told, unlike the other humans, Edward is unable to read her thoughts. And, sadly, that’s about it; because the story is told in her point of view, it’s unlikely that we’d get any more about our self. This poses a problem because her narration is supposed to be how we experience the romance.
Much of the story is spent in fluctuations of apparent danger and safety. The plot puts Bella in certain moments where she might be hurt: a teenager behind the wheel of a van, vampires that might want to feed on her and four men approaching her alone. Except for the last scenario, there aren’t any situations where one might need the help of a knight in shining armor. Bella’s attraction to Edward is merely right place and right timing, mixing the adrenaline of dangerous offsets with not-so-coincidental interference. Every time there’s a chance she may need to be rescued, he is lurking nearby to grab at the opportunity. Afterward Edward can sway her with his charming words, which is needed, because he isn’t inherently trustworthy.
Continue reading “The ‘Twilight’ Mystique – And Why It’s Undeserved”
Beyond his decadent declarations of love, there isn’t anything remotely appealing about Bella’s love interest. Much of the descriptions of Edward are about the way he looks, the story emphasizes his beauty and desirability–he glistens in the sunlight. Edward’s perfection is only skin deep, he spends much of the time isolated through despair and self-loathing. Though Edward sees himself as a monster, he draws her closer by acknowledging his own danger.
Ever since the first instance between Bella and the van, he’s particularly aware of everything she is doing. He appears to supplement his own self-hate with stalking: watching her sleep, eavesdropping on her conversation, reading her classmates’ minds and dictating her choice of friends. At one point he encourages her to lie to her father then disables her truck, all the while having her held at his house–and here’s the kicker–for her own safety. After constantly telling her to stay away from him because she may be hurt, he does everything he can possibly do to keep her near him.
Ordinarily, attraction between two individuals develops because there’s an exchange of some kind. Jerry Maguire famously said “you complete me” and based on that premise, it’s unclear what Bella’s attraction to Edward actually is. Ignoring the aforementioned personality flaws, she continuously runs into trouble and he keeps saving her–albeit using his stalking methods. Yet Bella seems unaware and falls helplessly in love, like a gazelle would fall in love with its hunter.
It is also unclear what Edward’s attraction is to Bella exactly is, if not to feed on her. She’s not exceptional in any way, because readers are given little insight to her motivations. It’s difficult to believe that what is revealed about Bella is so special that he hasn’t encountered someone like her in his 104 years of existence. Therefore, the attraction must be her scent and the fact that he can’t read her thoughts. As a substitute for character, Bella’s appeal is based on magic. She was born different than anyone else he’s been in contact with. The proper analogy, in the non-fantasy world, would be an endless love based on the way someone smells without the aid of perfume and/or the color of their skin. The superficial premise, from which both of these deep loves hinges upon, is childish and should be unbelievable to young adults. And I don’t mean unbelievable in some great and profound way, it’s absurd and appalling.
As vampires, the Cullen family goes against common lore. Along with extending these accusations to recent material, I’d like to call attention to classic depictions of vampires. Nosferatu, Dracula and The Count are the original vampire stereotype that should be noted and referred to when discussing vampires. There’s nothing particularly innovative about drinking animal blood, it’s been done before, and calling them vegetarian is ridiculous (synthetically engineering a plasma supplement, as in the Sookie Stackhouse/True Blood series isn’t new either). True Blood gets some things right, like not being able to enter a home without an invite, but Meyer’s vampires avoiding the sun because it makes them stand out comes off as a cheap argument to blend into the crowd. (I’ll refrain from being too overtly offensive but I will say I wouldn’t put on a gorilla suit to hang out with the other apes.) I’m just scratching the surface since Vampires have been around since the Ancient Greeks and Romans but I would suggest anyone planning on writing a vampire story to, at the very least, read up on its history.
I am willing to suspend my disbelief and excuse Meyer’s broken “rules” of vampire lore, if the characters are worth it. I can accept their deep love for one another if it’s grounded in understood attributes. In reality, we choose our significant others so there must be a difference between one and the other–there needs to be a difference between Bella and all the humans Edward has come across during his “life.” Bella is also making a choice in choosing Edward over all the other human boys fawning over her. If it makes no difference, I’m in the dark as to how any one can fall endlessly in love with someone when it didn’t matter who was chosen. There had better be a good reason why someone chooses to say “I do,” just like there better be a good reason why a predator is falling in love with its prey–after all, humans are cattle to the vampires.
And the opposite must also be true, a human must have better reasons than “he looks good, and smells good too” if an adult story is to be told. If the argument remains as previously stated, Edward loves Bella because he can’t read her thoughts and likes her scent or Bella loves Edward because he looks good, smells good and stalks her just in case she might need saving, then King was right and Meyer has done little to prepare her readers for an adult romance.
Twilight provides none of those qualities. The characters are bland and over-used archetypes, like punch-lines of a common joke. The story isn’t particularly special and doesn’t have any interesting twist and the experience probably isn’t like anything you’ll feel after junior year of high school–that’s assuming you’ve grown to a young adult. The series is cliche and chalk-full of overblown dramatics. There’s nothing worth taking from Twilight and applying in real life, and what’s there will only make things more difficult when it comes to adult interactions. Hopefully, the defending arguments will lead to something along the lines of “vampire is a metaphor for differences,” and to that I say it’s been done before: Bram Stroker’s over-sexualized Dracula was partly used as a metaphor for syphilis and vampires were people with venereal diseases. Put Twilight down, it’s not worth the 400+ pages it’s printed on and there are better stories available that have something worth taking from.
I realize it may be slim pickings at PG-13 and the Young Adult sections, so I’ve made a point to give you some suggestions. Hopefully, you’ve heard of Buffy: The Vampire Slayer. The creator, Joss Whedon, originally created Buffy Summers to offset the cliche of “the little blonde girl that gets killed in every horror movie.” In terms of text, I’m told L.J. Smith’s Night World series is volumes above Twilight‘s lack of detail and nondescript storytelling. Both series have humans falling in love with vampires, but they’re based on good reasons. (But if you want to get a hold of something really vampiric, try Interview with the Vampire. Not for adolescents, but the book and/or the movie are great vampire stories.)
In some sense, I hope the draw to Edward isn’t because of our society’s apparent lack of chivalry. I’m aware that most guys don’t walk on the street-side of the sidewalk and don’t open doors for women, but that isn’t the general rule for the entire male population. Sadly, we are the last of a dying breed, but it’s important to respect one another as human beings and to hold women in the same regard as men would hold themselves. Without equal contributions from both, there is no civilization.
On a final note, it’s an intriguing coincidence that we have these two calendar days–Friday the 13th and February the 14th falling back to back: I hope the essence of these dates (and romantic-fantasy) is found in your real life: a little danger yesterday and a little love today. Happy Valentine’s Day!