Our REAL Twilight Problem

Note: credit is due to Dana at Reasoning With Vampires, who provided much of the inspiration for this post, as well as every single example of poor writing I am about to give you. Except for the poor writing that is my poor writing. That’s all me. Credit where credit is due, you know?

We spend a lot of time harping on Twilight. That’s not without reason – the Twilight series is pretty horrendously bad. Readers get treated to the travails of Bella Swan, an incredibly non-descript, irritating sixteen-year-old with zero self-confidence  as she falls in love with Edward Cullen, a 117 year old vampire who almost died when he was seventeen and has kept boyish good looks and overwhelming charm and penchant for abusing his girlfriend and and and he’s so perfect OMG!

So yeah, we spend a lot of time talking about how bad Twilight is and asking ourselves why Stephanie Meyer would write such a piece of sexist bullshit. But I think that might be the wrong question. Instead, we should probably be asking ourselves why so many teenage girls are so obsessed with Twilight.

The real Twilight problem is not that Stephanie Meyer can’t string together a sentence (see Reasoning With Vampires for examples of how bad it can get). And honestly, I don’t think the real problem is even that Meyer writes about an abusive relationship and a female character with no personality:

You're doing it wrong.

No, I think the real problem is that we are all in love with Edward Cullen and Jacob Black. Despite Edward being a creeper and Jacob being jealous and possibly even more abusive than Edward, I read through all available Twilight books at lightning speed. And it wasn’t like I didn’t realize something was off. Bella was utterly boring and completely helpless, and that pissed me off. A beautiful, perfect not-at-all pedophilic vampire would never fall in love with a klutz like her. Also, never in two days. That was odd.

But Bella’s complete incompetence, as much as it confused me, struck a chord.  Apparently, she struck a chord with others, too, as suddenly, millions of teenage girls who envisioned themselves as pathetic, ugly, klutzy, and sad had a hero who was just like them! Twilight, rather than being a reflection of a poor taste in literature, is a reflection of the self-esteem of sixteen-year-old girls who can barely get through high school. It should be no surprise who reads Twilight: it’s girls who see themselves as outcasts, as weirdos, as completely sidelined by the social scenes at their schools. It’s those girls who see themselves in Bella.

And then Edward comes along. Edward is…perfect. He is beautiful and romantic and immediately loves Bella. He thinks she’s pretty and knows she’s special; he can see so much more in her than he can in any of those other girls. Bella’s different and awkward because she has all these unique characteristics that actually make her better.

That’s it. That’s all it takes. Edward thinks Bella is special and Twilight readers are done. They stop caring that he won’t let her visit Jacob. They stop caring that he’s actually 100 years older than her. They’re not interested in the fact that Edward is condescending, and they certainly aren’t worried that he watches her sleep. Because Edward loves her. That’s all that matters.

The problem isn’t Stephanie Meyer. The problem is that we have a generation of teenage girls who are desperate for someone to love them.

I don’t think the problem is limited to romantic love, although our society values romantic relationships so highly that the “romance” between Edward and Bella almost definitely ups the obsession factor. I think the problem is that these girls want to be loved at all. They want to believe that they have what it takes to be popular or respected or dated by the head quarterback. Stephanie Meyer just did a better job tapping into that emotional mindfuck than any writer before her (my guess is that she, herself, encompasses the mindfuck), and we’re all a little jealous.

Twilight is not a problem with some woman somewhere. Twilight is a problem with our society. How have we allowed the series to be a multi-million dollar industry? How have we allowed “Team Edward” and “Team Jacob” to come into being? Girls on either team aren’t picking a man/werewolf/vampire for Bella – they’re picking one for themselves. It’s time to stop crediting Stephanie Meyer for creating the monster. We should give credit where credit is due. Congratulations, society! You’ve inherited a multi-million dollar book meme! And also several million severely depressed teenage girls. Woooo!

I’m not sure how to fix the problem. High school, for lack of a better word, sucks. I drank the Twilight kool aid and fell for Edward Cullen before I got to Georgetown, where I realized I was a human being with thoughts and feelings, etc.  Having been trapped in that disaster, I’m probably not the best person to unhook the Twilight-IV and all the things that cause it. Like an addict, it’s all too likely I’ll get suckered right back.

But we need to fix this. There should be no reason for everyone alive to find Edward sexy when he says shit like this:

AND Victim-Blaming!

This sounds like something I’ve heard before

BONUS: In an earlier iteration of this post, I compared Bella to a seven layer cake (I’m really hungry). There was a full explanation, but I’m really proud of my handiwork, so here’s the cake:

Bella Swan is a Seven Layer Cake.

Yum, cake.

Cake from http://www.tildas.com/images/Cakes/7_layer_cake.jpg

In the spirit of giving credit where it’s due, thanks to Jenny for hashing out our love of Twilight with me long before I had this blog. Jenny does not read Georgetown Girl because “I live with you. It’s basically you written down. You talk about this stuff all the time.”

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    • Eileen
    • December 25th, 2010

    YAY YOU UPDATED I CAN STOP HASSLING YOU ON TWITTER!!!!

    This is when I thank God (or, you know, whoever) for my fifteen-year-old sister, who reads Twilight and bashes it from a feminist perspective so that I don’t have to be bothered with reading a horrendously long piece of crap.

    Also, when I laugh at you because “head quarterback”? Really? But moving on…

    I guess I’m an outsider on the Twilight phenomenon, mainly because I refused, on principle, to read the books once I found out that they were about a woman who was in love with a vampire. I don’t get what’s sexy about a man who can’t decide if he wants to sleep with me or kill me. But as my sister got more and more into the series and the ridiculous awfulness of Stephenie [yeah, she spells it weird] Meyer’s brain, it started to disturb me more and more the way it disturbs you, because not only are teenaged girls falling for these classically abusive men, middle-aged women who really ought to know better are as well! I always thought the problem with the books is that they’re marketed at a pre-teen audience that hasn’t had much experience with love and sex and therefore learns to romanticize stalking and abuse, but apparently adults are falling for these characters as well.

    I don’t know if it’s women being desperate for love, though, or women falling for a stereotypical image of what love is, especially young girls. I can’t speak fairly for everyone or even anyone, come to think of it, but I think that the genre that is “romance” has typically fed on stereotypical gender roles and behavior on the part of the man that is very controlling. Take the final scene of Casablanca, for example – Rick tells Ilsa that he’s going to make a huge decision for her, one that will affect dramatically the rest of her life, because he’s older and he knows better. Does it make me cry? Yes. Is it romantic? Of course! Do I follow it up singing “the world will always welcome lovers,” slightly off-key? Um, no comment. But I’d like to think I wouldn’t tolerate any man’s treating me that way. Twilight takes ideas already ingrained in our notion of romance – a man’s taking the lead, protecting and defending the woman he loves; a man driven to behave badly because of his love; a man consumed with jealousy for the other men who hold his love interest’s attention; a man who cannot control himself because he’s so in love. And that leads us back to another typical formula, one that’s all over Twilight (according to my sister’s highly entertaining synopses): The idea that a woman’s power stems from her sexuality; i.e. that we have power only as long as there is a man who wants to have sex with us.

    So, I guess, in short (short? ha. I think this is already longer than your post), my problem with Twilight isn’t that women look past Edward’s and Jacob’s abusive behavior; it’s that an alarmingly large portion of women think that their abusive behavior is actually love.

    • Hannah
    • December 29th, 2010

    Dearest,

    You are amazing. <3. That is all.

  1. Wow, great post. I haven’t read the books myself, but I think you make some great points. It is interesting the way these books have become so popular among teen girls … especially considering these relationships A: will never succeed and B: are definitely not healthy. Interesting to see what messages we are sending our youth…

  1. December 25th, 2010

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