Monday, December 15, 2008

Objectionable Themes: Twilight

I don't know if the Twilight books really are a bad influence. Teens today are pretty aware of implied meanings, even if they don't know what the heck you mean by "author's intent" or "inference" or even "theme." However, in her wildly-popular series, Meyer does present ideas that I object to as normal and even acceptable.

First off, let's brush past the minor quibbles:

You know it's True Love because you can FEEL it. *eyeroll* Wot evar. Of course it's not like every love is the same, but it's certainly easy for all sorts of other stuff to masquerade as Tee Ell Eff. Meyer isn't alone in this one, either, and I don't know if that makes it less annoying or even worse.

Look, I am about as cynical as they come as far as Le Romance, and I fell for this one. The little sister of my first serious boyfriend (a month? six weeks?) asked me how you know if it's really love and I actually told her - no joke, this is word for word (I remember because it's haunted me ever since) - "You just... know."

Gag me with a fork. Gag me with a fork with sharpened tines. PLEASE.

Wealth & materialism. I think a lot of books aimed at women do this these days; it's like if the authors drop in a few brand names, they don't have to DESCRIBE things. *eyeroll*

Now for the more serious matters...

Near the top: Idiocy as some sort of virtue. Doing stupid stuff because you supposedly can't think straight because your mind is focused on how OMG IN WUV U R!!1! is not a good thing. This doesn't mean that being in love is bad, or that passionate love is bad, just that being a moron should not be presented as a good thing.

Near the top, and related to the above: Paternalistic condescension. Apparently, girls who are in love should not be trusted to make their own decisions; they need someone to make decisions for them "for their own good." Learned helplessness has been spoon-fed to females for generations as some sort of laudable lifestyle choice, so Meyer isn't solely to blame, but it's not a good thing, either. What's even worse is that Bella apparently can't be trusted to make her own decisions, thus reinforcing the 'correctness' of the idea that every girl needs to be taken care of by a Real Man.

Related, and probably the one that's most important overall: Doubletalk, AKA "Passive-Aggressive BS". Bella is able to act as sexually aggressively as she likes, because Edward won't let things go too far. More than one girl I've talked to has said "he loves her too much to take advantage of her!" News flash, ladies: if you are making out with a guy, telling him how much you want him, and you think he's supposed to want you, yet say no to sex, YOU are taking advantage of HIM! Especially if you don't TELL HIM THIS.

Real life DOES NOT WORK THIS WAY. Ladies, remember: Edward is NOT HUMAN, and this (not the sparkly skin or unusual diet) is the clearest evidence of that!

Like it or not, because of the different biological and social consequences of sex for women and men, it is women who are the gatekeepers to sex. And until/unless there are drastic changes in our culture, it's likely to stay that way. I find this ironic, because physiology would suggest the exact opposite.


Topping the list: Bella's treatment of Jacob. Maybe she can't help how she FEELS, but she has complete control over how she ACTS. Srsly! We DO NOT need another story with vapid female characters who are ruled entirely by their emotions and are incapable of acting with any sense because of HOW THEY FEEL.

Image thanks to


Anonymous said...

Hello :)

HappyChyck said...

Oh! I really like your ideas! I enjoyed the books, as I enjoy a good little romance, but I've really wondered what's with the obsession. Although what you have to say does not explain the obsession, it might explain why I don't see the book in the same lights as my students and a few colleagues. You make particularly excellent points about True Love, Paternalistic Condescension (I would like to chalk a bit of this up to the author's religion--do I dare?), and Doubletalk--oh yeah. Playing with fire there. I think those are all points I'd like to discuss with teen girls--have discussed with teen girls. Thanks for spelling out some different perspective I might want to introduce to their lives. I don't necessarily want to say that the themes are flat out wrong, but there ARE other perspectives to consider if one wants to be a strong woman!

Mrs. Chili said...

I may find myself in the minority here, but I'm going to gently remind everyone that these are fantasy books. There's nothing in the contract - for any writer or filmmaker or a songwriter; anyone, actually, who produces entertainment - that says anything about their having to be realistic or educational. Look at what sells - romance, action, adventure, wealth and power. I'm not saying that these are things we SHOULD be paying money to read/watch, but the point is that is what's offered and we keep buying the tickets.

I object to the folks who object to movies because "they didn't follow the book" or "that's not what really happened in history." Let's remember that these films - and much of the literature, both past and present, that we read - is intended for entertainment. If we want accuracy, we should turn to textbooks and historical documents (though even the textbooks can be pretty darned iffy as far as accuracy goes). Novel writers and screenwriters are under no obligation to teach us anything - that they often DO is, I think, happy accident.

All that being said, I DO agree that there are some objectionable themes in Twilight. I'm not overly concerned about them where Punkin' Pie is concerned because I'm reading the books right behind her and we, you know, TALK about it. I really think we need to shift the burden for what our children learn away from the producers of entertainment and back on to the parents, where it rightly belongs. I'm more than willing to take that responsibility on with my own children, and the fact that I do means that I don't mind their consuming things like Twilight. It's a fun fantasy story, and my kid understands that.

Clix said...

While the books may be "just" entertainment, and therefore need have no redeeming value beyond profitability, note that the post isn't about my objections to the books, but about my objections to some of the themes IN the books.

Many of my students think that these are wonderful books - and they're not. Beyond simple personal preference (which I'll get to in another post) these books incorporate ideas that I find offensive. And that's not wonderful.

This is just sort of me thinking out a coherent response to the fangirl glee to which I've been subjected. ;)

Anonymous said...

Hmmm... I agree with your points. Bottom line for me, the series offers cheap thrills. And sometimes cheap thrills work.

R2P2 said...

(Delayed comment because I found this via your post on auditing)

Ditto! I would be willing to read these books with my (female) students (I won't force that torture upon the boys) only because we could talk about real love and maybe open their eyes a little. They asked me once what I thought about the book, and after much cajoling, I finally caved and told them I thought Bella & Edward's relationship was completely shallow & unhealthy - did they really know ANYTHING about each other? she falls apart for months?, etc. They were fascinated by my opinion & evidence and I could tell they were actually thinking about my objections.

I think your comment on Bella & Jacob would also bring up great discussions in classroom. How much CAN you control your emotions? How can you use your actions to control your emotions? Is okay to say that your emotions are emotions and there's nothing you can do about it?

I didn't like Twilight but I might be willing to suffer through a bookclub with students if we could talk about those things. The discussion - though painful - might prove valuable!

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