New Moon – the second film in the series based upon the Twilight novels (which I will not explain to you here, because, seriously, have you been living under a rock?) – opened last night and I did not go see it. Oh, I’ll get around to seeing it, eventually, but I’m not in any great hurry because a) if I happen to find spare hours in any given day sufficient to the purpose of going to the movies, I will be using them to catch up on sleep, and b) I actually really kind of didn’t so much like New Moon the book (more on that below), and will only be seeing the movie to see the parts that actually involve a plot – which is to say, the end – and that can wait until I’ve caught up on my sleep. But the flurry of discussion about the Twilight novels and the movies deriving from those novels, much of which repeats last year’s canards about aren’t these books actually kind of bad? and a good feminist would never, ever let her daughter anywhere near these books, has got me thinking about the stuff I was thinking about last year when the first movie was released. So I thought I’d repost (what follows was originally posted at MamaPop), with some minor addenda and amendments, some of my thoughts on the subject.
So there’s this vampire movie? And, like, it’s based on this book that’s like part of a four-book series and it’s about this vampire? Who’s like a nice vampire? And he falls in love with this girl and she falls in love with him and it’s, like, SO AWESOME.
I’m not going to claim to anybody that the Twilight series is high literature. It’s not high literature, by any stretch, unless you happen to consider the works of Dan Brown high literature, in which case you’ve probably already read Twilight sixteen times and made notes in the margins with your National Treasure commemorative ballpoint pen, and, also, could I interest you in a library of leather-bound works by Ken Follet?
What Twilight is is solid storytelling that taps into the human-all-too-human desire to experience love epically, in that awe-inspiring way that inspires, well, love stories. It’s storytelling of the variety that one might expect if the gods gathered up Judy Blume, Jane Austen, the Sweet Valley High writers, the writers behind Buffy the Vampire Slayer and also, maybe, Mary Shelley and the Brothers Grimm and wrung them all together to make a particularly yummy if not entirely filling word soup.
Twilight is pretty good stuff, and not just because it’s entertaining (although it is that). It’s also, arguably, good for you, and good for your kids. You should consider encouraging them – if they’re the appropriate age – to read it/see it. And if you don’t have kids (and even if you do), you should consider reading it/seeing it for yourself. Here’s why:
1) Bella is a good role model.
When Breaking Dawn was released this summer, a flurry of articles hit the Internet about how Bella was a poor feminist role model, what with her mooning over Edward and her inability to kick ass like Buffy and all. Those arguments are bogus. It’s not anti- or un-feminist to fall in love (more on this below), nor is it anti- or un-feminist to not be able to drop kick the undead. Bella is a strong female character precisely because of her vulnerabilities: she’s Everygirl. She’s clumsy and an unremarkable student; she’s angsty and stubborn and prone to whining about bullshitty things like rain and unwelcome attention from douchey boys. Which is to say: she is just like most girls. The thing is, none of these things make her any less compelling. She’s not a superstar, but she shines as a character because she’s smart and loving and loyal and kind and determined and independent-minded and has great taste in trucks and spends more than a little time saving the lives of her loved ones. She does her own thing, follows her own lights, defines her own heroism and is all the better for it. She proves that you don’t have to be The Chosen One to be remarkable. Who wouldn’t want their daughters (or their sons, for that matter) to follow that example?
2) The story characterizes love as empowering.
Love makes both Bella and Edward better people. It strengthens Edward’s resolve to be a ‘good’ vampire and encourages him in his restraint. It encourages Bella, in the literal sense that it gives her courage: it makes her brave and daring in ways that it seems she wouldn’t be otherwise. It compels both of them to look beyond their own, self-limiting worlds and reach outward. It teaches both of them the rewards of self-sacrifice (in sometimes excessive ways, sure, but this is fiction.) They are both made better through loving each other, which is exactly the kind of love that I want my children to aim for.
(Okay, maybe I don’t want them to consider becoming undead for love, nor do I want them to battle – as Bella does – homicidal monsters on anyone’s behalf, but still. The intent is good.)
Sure, love makes Bella a little moony and Edward a little emo – okay, a lot moony and a lot emo – but hello? Were you ever a teenager? THAT’S WHAT LOVE DOES TO TEENAGERS. It’s scientific fact. Even Buffy and Angel made moon-eyes at each other and got all angsty. And after all is said and done, Edward and Bella move beyond making CDs for each other and get down to the business of saving each other’s lives and encouraging each other to transcend their limitations and all sorts of other stuff that rinses the taste of Spencer and Heidi right out of your pop-culture-coated mouth and allows you to believe, for a moment, in the transformative power of young love.
Ed. add.: my reasons for disliking New Moon – apart from the absence, for 9/10ths of the book, of a plot – are actually related to this category. The message that love can be transformative and empowering is a message that runs through most of the series, but it gets curiously dropped in New Moon, which concerns itself largely with Bella going kind of self-destructively batshit over the loss of Edward and toying with Jacob’s feelings. People going self-destructively batshit over the loss of a lover is not in itself a bad thing, necessarily, within the context of literature. It’s kind of a recurring theme, actually – Romeo and Juliet, Anna Karenina, Madame Bovary, etc, etc. – but that kind of self-destructivity is usually characterized as, you know, problematic. And it’s usually embedded in a plot. New Moon goes on for hundreds and hundreds of pages, lingering over Bella’s misery and her perverse efforts to overcome that misery by tormenting herself and poor, furry Jacob. Not so empowering, and, also: YAWN.
3) Further to #2: the story sets the bar really freaking high for choosing romantic partners, in a good way.
Much has been said about the fact that Edward is an impossibly perfect guy, that there’s something problematic in the fact that he seems to defy reality in his awesomeness, inasmuch as no girl (or boy) is ever, in real life, going to find someone like that to fall in love with. A related argument holds that the story perpetuates the insidious idea that we should only fall in love with amazing people. Here’s a news flash: I want my kids to hold out for amazing people. Obviously, there aren’t a lot of sparkly, do-gooding vampires out there, so odds are slim that my kids will ever find some perfect, Edward-like creature (nor would I necessarily want them too. After all, vampire), but still: they can hold out for someone who is unswervingly loyal, someone who is kind, someone who strives to be good, someone who treats them with respect, someone who wants the best for them, someone who loves them dearly and passionately, someone who is inspired, by them, to be the best vampire/werewolf/person they can be. (Maybe not someone who floats outside their bedroom window at night, not least because slobber is hard to scrub off of windows, but I’m going to assume that if they don’t fall in love with a gravity-defying vampire, this won’t be a problem.) (Yeah, the stalkery thing is not awesome, but it’s not exactly a new and outrageous theme in western lit. Romeo was more than a little obsessed with Rosaline, and then he did all that trellis-climbing with Juliet and, also, murdered her cousin. The course of love in fiction never did run smooth or uncriminally.)
Someone like Edward. Or Jacob (*cough*). You know, if they weren’t, respectively, a vampire and a werewolf.
4) The story underscores the idea that love (and friendship) can transcend difference and that, yes, we can just all get along.
Edward is a vampire. Bella is not. As Jacob reminds Bella constantly (and somewhat hypocritically) Edward is pretty much a different species. He’s a MONSTER. And to those people who don’t know that he’s a monster, he’s still different enough that everybody keeps their distance from him and his family and look upon them with suspicion and basically, effectively, shun them. Because they’re different. But Bella doesn’t: she looks past Edward’s (and his family’s) monsterness and ignores the differences that seem to divide them and falls in love, and, at the end of the day (at the end of the books) even the most dramatic differences are overcome and (spoiler alert) everyone lives in a sort of inter-species harmony. That’s a good lesson, no?
Just because someone is – or seems to be – a monster doesn’t make them bad. Just because someone is different doesn’t make them bad. Grover and Cookie Monster taught me that. Edward and his family and Jacob and his pack and Bella’s relationship with them all just underscores the lesson, and it’s a lesson worth teaching.
5) The story demonstrates, convincingly, that love is not just about sex, and that abstinence can be erotic.
Holy shit is abstinence ever freaking erotic in these books. You ever want to convince your kids that they do not need to have sex to be turned on and/or to bond physically with another human being, you just hand them these books. SERIOUSLY. WAITING IS HOT.
6) EDWARD NOM NOM NOM.
That was a bonus reason.
Now go see that movie. (ed.note: or, you know, the other one. Or just read the books.)
(There was a lively discussion over at MamaPop when this piece was originally posted – you should check out the comments there.)