Friday, March 5, 2010

Why Twilight is NOT Hurting Anyone.

In this blog I will attempt to highlight various arguments against Twilight and why they are wrong. First, let me state for the purpose of getting stereotypes and prejudices out of everyone's head: I am male, straight, married, 23 years old, and about to have a daughter. I do not fall into this book's target market so I think it's safe to say that I'm not some hormone addled teenage girl mindlessly trying to defend Twilight. Unlike many of the people who feel the need to scream about how terrible Twilight is for society, though, I have actually read all four of the books.

Argument #1: But... but... she's a MORMON!! and she's trying to shove her religion down everyone's throat!
This one makes me the most upset out of any of them. It's not just wrong, it's right down bigoted. I've heard two different versions of this argument.

The first being that Edward Cullen is essentially a direct transposition of Joseph Smith Jr. (the founder of Mormonism). This MAY be true, if you Google an image of him. He's a pretty plain looking white guy with a square jaw, as is Edward. This could also mean that Edward Cullen is a direct transposition of Paul Walker or Christopher Reeves or any number of plain looking white guys with square jaws. This proves nothing and is not a reason to hate a character or, for that matter, a woman who writes books that a lot of people happen to enjoy.

The other "Mormon" argument that I've heard is the idea that the "werewolves" are revealed to have the uncontrollable ability to "imprint" on someone and this is somehow secretly an effort to make young girls think that polygamy is okay. This is so unbelievably ridiculous that I can barely even bring myself to talk about it rationally. I'll give it a try though... In the series when the werewolves "imprint" they see a woman that they then become attached to. They're completely head over heels for them and essentially "destined" to be with them. If you ask me, that seems to play more to the ideals of "love at first sight" and "destined lovers" that have been staples in literature for centuries.

Now the most important part... if she IS attempting to insert her religion into these books... SO WHAT? The Chronicles of Narnia are one giant advertisement for the Christian faith. The message is pervasive and intentional. They are some of the most loved books in literature. Why does her putting snapshots of what she believes into her writing make her any worse? I'll tell you why: because she isn't Christian. People who make this argument are flat out bigoted, whether they chose to admit it or not.

Argument #2: Bella is a blank slate of a character with no personality who is designed so that girls can project themselves onto her.
This is PARTLY true. Bella IS designed so that the reader can project themselves onto her. Again I say: so what? This has been a literary device since Shakespeare and Greek mythology. Hell, in mythology they would actually name characters Everyman! It's a valid literary tool.

Some people may argue that just because a character is designed as an extension of the reader/audience doesn't mean they should be devoid of character and personality. For example, in the television series LOST, the character Hurley is pretty much designed to say what the audience is thinking. This does not mean he's a blank slate, on the contrary he has a lot of personality. I would argue that the character of Isabella Swan also has personality. Like I mentioned before, I HAVE read the books and I can tell you that she has a passion for classic literature (specifically Jane Austen and Shakespeare), she listens to classical music (her love of Claude Debussy is a large plot point), she's extremely uncoordinated and clumsy making her not a big fan of sports or dancing, she's very good at cooking because she was raised by a mother who wasn't, I could literally go on forever. Is she the most INTERESTING person in the world? No. She's not an eccentric character in the least and she likes ordinary things, but those things ARE her personality. I'm sure that you could find a lot of people similar to her.

The bulk of people who use this argument have ONLY seen the film version of the books and are basing this assessment on Kristen Stewart's acting. Kristen Stewart is a pretty bland actress, I'm not sure if it was the script, the directing, or if it was just her, but the way she portrays the character and the way the script was written is in no way a representation of her character in the books.

Argument #3: They're poorly written.
I've seen worse.

Argument #4: They reinforce negative gender stereotypes and depict abusive relationships as good.
This is the biggie. The one that I've seen most frequently. I'm going to have to tackle this is a few key parts.

The ways that this argument has some validity is seen in books two and three.

In book two (New Moon) Edward leaves Bella because he's afraid that exposing her to the supernatural world is threatening her life. After he leaves, she essentially falls to pieces because she NEEDS him. Having this sort of attachment to someone, true love or not, is NOT healthy. I concede all of this. If you read the book the way I did though, it isn't portrayed as good. She looses a lot of her friends and everyone essentially hates her for the way that she's acting. Just because the character is acting this way does not mean that it's being portrayed as positive. I give young adult women WAY more credit than the book's critics seem to, but I'll get to that in a minute.

The second way you see this argument as being valid is in book three (Eclipse). Edward essentially forbids Bella from seeing her friend Jacob (who is a werewolf) because he says that it isn't safe. For several chapters he goes to extreme links to keep this apart. This is controlling and borderline abusive. It is wrong. Again, I will concede all of this. What you have to do is, again, take the piece as a whole. Eventually Edward admits that what he's doing is wrong. He admits he wasn't trying to protect her, but was acting out of jealousy and backs down. Now while a lot of you may be saying "so it's teaching young women that if an abuser apologizes than it's okay?" To which I say: sort of. If a man is inclined to PHYSICALLY abuse a woman, there's pretty much no changing that. It's an unfixable character defect. But if you can say that you've never acted irrationally out of anger or jealousy, then you are either a saint or a God damn liar. Should he not be entitled to redemption if he admits he's wrong and changes his ways?

The final point to be made is regarding the "out dated gender roles" argument. Throughout the entire series Bella is portrayed as the damsel in distress who needs a man to save her. This is not a positive portrayal of women, I admit, but the difference in this case is that Edward IS a lot more powerful than she is and HAS the ability to protect her. Additionally, she expresses her disdain at having to be rescued and how much she hates being the damsel in distress multiple times throughout the series, so it isn't as if she's accepting it. MOST IMPORTANTLY: The series ends on a note of triumph for Bella. She becomes a vampire and is more powerful and in control than any of the the others. If you ask me, this is a positive message.

The thing that sticks in my throat about this assertion is that it assumes that all young women are idiots. I don't believe this to be the case. I think that when the average girl reads the portions of Eclipse where Edward is being controlling they, like me, are angry with him. I believe that when they read the scenes depicting Bella, delirious with misery because she got dumped, they are as annoyed with her as I was. I mean I don't doubt that there are young women who read it and think "Yes! I want a man who's going to control me!" but I doubt that the book has as much to do with that as other aspects. Teenagers are smarter than they're given credit for.

In Closing:
Do I think that Twilight is the greatest series that has ever been written? No. Do I believe that it has it's problems (particularly Stephanie Meyer's abuse of adjectives)? Yes. Do I believe that this SERIES OF STORIES is actively HURTING anyone? No, I do not.


David Flowers said...

Well done. Even the IDEA that it's hurting anyone is so ridiculous as to almost not be worthy of response. But, having decided to respond, you did a good job.

As a Christian pastor, I get sick of having to muster a full-throttled defense of every popular book/film that kids enjoy, against attacks that it is un-Christian, unsafe, unAmerican, or most of the others "un's." Kids like Harry Potter and it's about wizardry. Big deal. Kids like Twilight and it's about vampires. Big deal. Kids like Eragon and it's about dragons. So what.

They're STORIES. Just like Lord of the Rings didn't convert the world to J.R.R. Tolkien's faith, these stories will not convert the world to the viewpoints of their authors either. And just as the world would be worse off had LOTR been rejected because of the religion of its author, the world would be worse off without some of today's stories that are bringing joy to millions of kids -- and in the process, getting them to read novels that are hundreds of pages long.

I'm with you, and with Pink Floyd. "Leave those kids alone."

ragnaroktog said...

well... that being said, READERS of twilight are hurting people. One fan overheard someone say they didn't like the books, and so she pulled a flare gun out of her dad's boat and tried shooting her with it. There are dozens of cases like that all over the place.

Travis Valentine said...

Walters: Mark David Chapman killed John Lennon because he believed Catcher in the Rye told him to... is that in ANY WAY an indictment of the book or is the PERSON responsible?