Enter the Twilight

Currently, I am vibrating with caffeine-fueled energy, the kind that makes my eyeballs vibrate and should be good for being productive only it makes me really spazzy (yes, I said ‘spazzy.’ If the 20-and-under crowd can walk around looking like it’s 1995, then I can talk like it’s the mid-90s. And bring back pogs. Speaking of, did you know that I got all my pogs for free because they came in Sabritas bags? When I moved to Texas, I was all, ‘You kids had to pay for your pogs? Poor Americans.’)

Okay, so now it’s obvious why I’m not writing any cover letters at present. However, I am in the mood to write. I would like to write about so many things:

• Like my first close encounter of the New York City rodent kind (in the kitchen, no less).

• OR how that fear & disgust paled in comparison to finding LUNCHMEAT in my chocolate croissant.

• OR how I learned the hard way that people don’t automatically interpret text messages as melodramatic when I write in all caps. I thought it was an unwritten rule of texting, but apparently not. (What I mean by this is that I texted my friends, ‘SOMETHING AWFUL JUST HAPPENED TO ME,’ when what I meant was ‘I FOUND TURKEY IN MY PASTRY.’) Lesson learned. Sorry about the scare.

• OR how Deepak Chopra has a videogame now!

But I have to write about Twilight because I promised.

This story begins in the Fall of 2007, an exciting time in my life, the going-off-to-college period. I was in a young-adult book club with some of my favorite high-school teachers at the time, and they had chosen Twilight  as the next read. I’d never heard of it, but it was the first book I picked up from Powell’s (Portland’s legendary independent bookstore). I read it diligently, making sure to finish it before starting my Fall semester, and when I went home for Fall Break, I was eager to discuss it with my teachers.

Here I am my first night in the dorm, reading 'Twilight,' & having no idea that this picture would embarrass me in the future.

When we met, I gave them my honest opinion. I never connected with Bella. I kept waiting for her character to develop, and it just never happened. As for Edward, I thought he was really patronizing, constantly sneering at ‘poor little Bella.’ Only my Women’s Lit teacher agreed. She said it was about an abusive relationship and that she wouldn’t recommend the book to young-adult readers because it glamorizes a toxic relationship dynamic.

Nobody. Else. Agreed. It was like they were all blinded by Edward’s sparkles. They talked about how he was in the role of ‘protector,’ and then moved on to talking about their favorite scenes, the possibility of Twilight becoming the next Harry Potter, and other equally-uncritical observations. I was shocked. These wimyn had introduced me to some of my favorite books—books with strong, independent heroines. These wimyn were themselves strong, independent heroines in my book!

I went back to college with an unsavory taste in my mouth. The book club, which would have dissolved anyway due to distance, ended on a bad note. I knew it was going to end eventually, but I had no idea it would end with me feeling so confused.

I returned to college and promptly forgot about Edward and Bella. Until…

CHRISTMAS 2008

After the Twilight movie premiered, pretty much every member of my family read the books. Including my baby cousins (ages 12-15)! I went into Loud Feminist Mode (possibly my favorite mode) and lectured anyone who would listen. One of my psychologist aunts agreed. Her critique of Twilight was that it idealizes the idea of dropping everything for a dude, that Bella essentially transforms from Person to Girlfriend, relinquishing all other aspects of her identity. Everyone else agreed that ‘[I] take everything too seriously.’

Again, I was sad and confused. My family is chock full (chock full, I tell you!) of strong, independent wimyn. I should think they would be outraged at a wimpy-girl fairy tale marketed to young girls; and yet, they weren’t. That prompted me to think very seriously about our society. I think we are so used to seeing flat characters in romantic stories that we are unfazed. Often (maybe even USUALLY) wimyn are portrayed as weaklings and men are portrayed as tough-guy heroes—to the extent that even my favorite feminists overlook this trope in literature and film, because to protest it would be to protest virtually all media.

I’m no exception. I like rom-coms and Sex and the City as much as the next girl. More, actually.

What strikes me about Twilight isn’t that it’s extreme, though I do think it is slightly more extreme in its damsel-in-distress depiction than other books and movies (but only slightly!).

What strikes me is that there are no belly laughs. Bella never ever ever seems happy! And Edward is this creepy, lurky guy who seems incapable of joy.

I don’t think anything should be classified as a romance if the characters are not deeply happy. That doesn’t have anything to do with politics, but it does make me think that our society has set the bar pretty low when it comes to love. And that we are taught to mistake Drama for Romance.

I encountered this book when my baby cousins were on the brink of independent social lives, on the brink of dating. I love them because they are hilarious, well-rounded, smart, creative people. I want them to read books and watch movies that affirm that being intelligent and funny is great! Having friends is great! Being loved for being a person is great! Most of all, I want them to know that a healthy romantic relationship will make you happy at least 95% of the time.  Otherwise, it is simply not worth the energy.

Let’s end this on an uplifting note: check out this list of 100 Young Adult Books for the Feminist Reader.

This holiday season, we can do better than Twilight!

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Enter the Twilight

2 thoughts on “Enter the Twilight

  1. i feel the need to defend myself and all the rest of the Rico women here. do i think Edward is a creepy stalker? yes. do i think Bella is a suitable role model? no. but i read an article (somewhere…?) talking about how we expect all of our literary heroines to be these empowered, awesome teenagers, like Katniss from the Hunger Games (and i think she mentions Juno?)- the author pointed out that it seems like these characters are written by thirtysomething women who WISH they had been awesome in high school. Bella, by contrast, is clearly neither empowered nor awesome- because, hello! she’s a teenager! and i happen to agree with this author that she is a much more realistic representation of teenagers than a lot of the other YA fiction leading ladies, who if you think about it kinda follow our conception of successful MALE heroes.

    and anyway, if i ranted and railed against all the things that i think are inappropriate (yet popular!) viewing/reading for the teenagers in my life (alcohol imbibing, teen sex, etc) i would have a lot to rant about. i just think that usually our values have more to do with the people in our lives than from something as obviously faaaaake (vampires) as Twilight.

  2. hey, ness! i didn’t mean to write something that would prompt defending. rico wimyn are my favorite kind!

    i think the article you meant is this one from the hairpin, http://thehairpin.com/2011/11/our-bella-ourselves

    while i didn’t find bella to be a relatable character, i do think it’s great to have ‘imperfect’ (for lack of a better word) characters. i just think it’s not that hard to strike a balance between incredible & pathetic. most of us are (& always have been) a mix of both.

    i haven’t read ‘the hunger games’, so i can’t comment on that, but i agree that juno isn’t exactly relatable. however, when i read/watch fiction, i’d much rather enjoy a fantasy in which the main character rules & provides inspiration to me (juno!) than one in which the main character is helpless & makes me go ‘uuuuggggggggggggh’ every five seconds (bella).

    yr comment prompted me to pick my favorite book in which the character is both cool & realistic. now you have to, too. i pick ‘the princess diaries’! how about you?

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