I had the displeasure of seeing the (thankfully) final Twilight film last night. Make no mistake about it, I think the books and the movies are crap. They are poorly written and poorly acted. That being said, I don’t think they quite deserve all the negative criticism they get. Because I always feel the need to champion an underdog, here is my Twilight apology.
I read this entry today about the Twilight franchise, A feminist critique of Twilight: emotional abuse, child-grooming, and pro-choice plots, and I feel like I have to respond. I would initially note Sarah’s textual errors. I don’t want to go through everything she misremembered about the books because that’s petty and largely pointless. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how many times Edward and Bella slept together before she turned into a vampire (Sarah says once, which is wrong but doesn’t change much. In the book, however, Bella counts how many times they had sex after she realizes she is pregnant, which makes no sense at all and is completely stupid!) I’m only pointing it out because I believe misremembering may taint Sarah’s analysis. Example:
Twilight erases all non-het sexualities and people of colour.
Actually, a significant number of people in the books are Native Americans (the werewolves and their families). There were vampires from South America and Egypt as well. There were also vampires from Ireland and Eastern European countries. Whether or not they were portrayed in a positive light, however, is debatable (Bella mentioned fearing the “wild woman” from the Amazon but does not give a reason why. And why the South American vampires were impervious to cold is also an unsolved mystery.) But to say they are erased makes me question either the analysis and how closely the books were read or one’s perception of race.
Ok, so here is how I feel about Twilight. In addition to what I said about it being crap, context.
(1) We can’t impose our values on a supernatural world. Edward is concerned (or a more negative adjective) about Bella’s safety because she is living in a supernatural world. He jokes about her falling into a tidal pool, but his concern is not overbearing until there are real threats to her safety, such as James, Victoria, the Lestat look-a-likes, and, yes, her best friend the werewolf. If any boyfriend or spouse did some of the things Edward did out of context in the real world, then you can make a case out for abuse or stalking. But it’s not abusive or controlling to be concerned for a loved one’s safety. It’s abusive or controlling when the response is not proportional to the danger. Edward didn’t fret about Bella’s safety in our world. He did it in his. (Though the armored Mercedes was over the top.)
(2) Going hand in hand with (1), fiction is rarely about healthy, functional people. My favorite book is about a man who kills his wife. But I’m not deluded into thinking that’s ok just because I like the book. I love Breaking Bad, but I don’t think using meth and lying to your family and murder are ok. To those of you who say, well, the target audience is young, that’s true. But I hope and pray that children don’t only learn about relationships from books. If they did, they’d think it’s romantic to kill themselves if their parents forbid them to date someone or to ruin someone’s life if she won’t be with you, and that’s its ok that your lover locked his mentally ill wife in the attic. There’s a reason why no one reads Anne Bronte. I think we need to provide healthy examples but that we are doing youth a disservice if we think they can’t see fact from fiction, function from dysfunction, and healthy from unhealthy.
(3) Being in a relationship does not mean that you only say nice things about your loved one. Sarah criticizes Edward for saying things like “you are utterly absurd” or “You aren’t exactly the best judge of what is or isn’t dangerous.” First, see (1). Bella is not the best judge of what is dangerous in Edward’s supernatural world. I believe in this context, Edward was talking about hanging out with Jacob et al. If that is the case, I would agree with Bella that the werewolves present no danger to her (yet). But I think his comment was a response proportional to the danger. As for the other comments, being in love (damn I sound like a sap) is not always rainbows and puppy dogs. No matter how healthy the relationship, you will get in fights. You will disagree. You will say things that you might not mean. But that doesn’t mean it’s abuse. What matters is how you make up and come to a compromise. Like the comprise Edward made when he chose to stay by Bella’s side rather than fight? Surely not.
(3a) Ok, but what about the time he broke her car? When you say “he,” who do you mean? Edward, or Bella’s dad? Because Charlie did it too. This doesn’t make it ok. And it doesn’t make it ok that Jacob took his dad’s phone so he couldn’t call for help. His dad was in a wheelchair! This doesn’t make it ok, it makes everyone in the books assholes. Context. If you want to make an argument that Edward is King of Asshole Mountain, do it. But picking on this incident is taking it out of the larger context of the fact that everyone in the book is an asshole. (These incidents really make me wonder about Stephanie Meyer and her upbringing… Is this something that was done in her family and considered appropriate.)
(4) Sarah calls withholding sex blackmail. While it can be, I would not call all those misguided youth attending purity balls blackmailers. There are a dozen reasons why someone might not want to have sex before marriage. We can agree or disagree with their reasoning and point out that those chastity promises don’t work. I’m not for abstinence-only sex ed. But I would never call someone who has made her choice to not have sex before marriage a blackmailer. Sarah takes this out of context. Edward is not withholding affection from Bella, he’s trying to be moral. Say he is misguided and old fashioned all you want, but I think it’s dangerous to tell any one in a relationship that if they won’t put out, they’re blackmailing. That seems like only a few steps away from “if you don’t put out, you’re a tease” or “don’t you think you owed him? He bought you dinner.”
(5) Maybe it was because I read Breaking Dawn when I was pregnant and hated every moment of being pregnant and finally felt that someone got how awful pregnancy was, but I actually read a pro-choice message in Breaking Dawn. Don’t fall into the trap that pro-choice means pro-abortion. It means that we support a woman’s right to chose. Even if we disagree with that choice.
Rosalie did not support Bella’s right to chose. She hated Bella for her choice to become a vampire. And she wasn’t painted in a very positive light. She wasn’t “bad” like James, Victoria, or Jane, but she wasn’t a positive character.
Back on abortion and that choice, it’s hard to argue that the book had a pro-life message when several of the “good” characters (at least Edward, Alice, Carlisle, and Jacob) thought it would be Bella’s best option. I don’t think the fact that Bella didn’t make that choice belies the message. (The Mormon Church’s position on abortion, at odds with Sarah’s interpretation of the books, should be noted.)
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think that, well, just because a woman made a choice, that means it is automatically a feminist choice. I believe feminism is about meaningful choice. But I think the issue is whether or not Bella had a meaningful choice and not, well, she had the baby when she should have aborted, therefore it’s a pro-life message.
(6) There is a difference between punishment and consequences. Personally, I don’t see Bella’s pregnancy as “punishment” for marital sex, even though her pregnancy was horrible (and a way better description of my pregnancy than that What to Expect crap). For it to have been punishment, she would have had to have done something wrong. But there’s not really the evidence that Meyer viewed Bella’s “seduction” of Edward to be sinful or bad. In the previous book, Edward preached the morality of waiting until marriage, not that sex was bad. Rather, Bella’s pregnancy was a consequence of sex. Which, guess what, it is. Or it can be.
(7) Finally, there is the squick factor of the “imprinting.” Let’s just right now define pedophilia so we’re all on the same page. It’s the sexual attraction to prepubescent children. This was very clearly not the case in the books. Not saying a case can’t be made for it not being all ok. See my Elmo post for more on that. But ultimately, I think the objections come from (1) applying our mortality to the supernatural world. Meyer tried to do something different regarding fate and relationships. If you couldn’t put yourself in their world, it’s because Meyer is a poor writer, not because she wrote about pedophiles. I also wonder how many people had this same problem with The Timetraveler’s Wife.
Twilight is not a feminist manifesto. There are innumerable problems that one can have with the franchise. But for me, I want to make sure we’re talking about the actual problems and not just looking for scapegoats. The complaints I’ve read have sounded more like “vampires don’t sparkle.” Twilight sucks, and I don’t think we need to find anything deeper than that.