Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Words of Wisdom, Words of Folly

This is not a Happy New Year's for me.  I don't mean to say that I'm personally unhappy on this turning from 2012 to 2013.  In many ways, I'm extremely content and recognize I'm far more blessed than a vast majority of Americans, let alone citizens from other countries (I think of Syria in particular).  My sadness comes from the fact that in a mere fifty years time, I see our society going back to where we are in danger of having a society crumble culturally.

In 1962, there was a hit film based on a popular bestselling novel.  The book was wildly popular, and the film adaptation was likewise met with popular acclaim.  That book and film were, of course, To Kill a Mockingbird.  In fact, based on the poster, the fact that its source material was a book...that one people read and knew about ...was a selling point.  The suggestion was that, 'you've read the book, now see the movie'.  Good book=Good movie.  Not always, but in this case, absolutely.

One thing that I do find curious is the notice that To Kill a Mockingbird is "not suitable for children" despite the fact that the story is told from a child's perspective.  There's certainly no sex in it, and minimal violence (albeit one that might frighten small children).  I think it's a credit to the power of Harper Lee's words and the film it inspired that we adults know that it's the subject matter (in particular the evil men do for the dumbest and most immoral reasons) that makes To Kill a Mockingbird inappropriate for their children.  We can't face showing children that we can do terrible things to each other because one person is different from another.

That was a mere half-century ago.  However, in the 'the more things change...' world we live, we find that in 2012, we have a similar circumstance.  We had a film adaptation of a popular bestseller, a book read and beloved by millions.  There was of course, one difference.  In 1962, the book and film were To Kill a Mockingbird.

In 2012, it's Twilight: Breaking Dawn

Now I won't lie and say that I've read Breaking Dawn, but I have listened to the audiobook of Twilight, and found it abysmal.  I've never understood why the erotic musings of a frumpy hausfrau has such a passionate and devoted following, though I've speculated on the matter.  

I remember when I attended EPCON: El Paso Comic-Con.  I was curious about the Twilight Society gathering, so I attended.  The way the women (I was about one of perhaps five men at the most) spoke of Twilight, one would have thought they were talking about Jesus Christ...strike that, they probably think higher of EDWARD CULLEN than they do of the Savior.  The trivia questions were so specific in their minutiae that I was surprised that people could remember the first words Bella and EDWARD CULLEN shared, but found the name of the current Vice President so difficult to recall. 

Please, even I ended up winning a prize for knowing that Dr. Cullen was played by Peter Facinelli.

Here is a parallel case of two books, two film adaptations, fifty years apart.  Both are bestsellers, but other than that what other things do they have in common?  To Kill a Mockingbird is about the loss of innocence when confronting the ugliness of bigotry.  Twilight (and its follow-ups) are about the idealization  of a man by a 'plain Jane' whom every guy wants and the 'promise of immortal love'.

I know the Twilight readers find something beautiful in the romanticism of star-crossed lovers entre human et vampire, with a werewolf at the door.  I however, come away from Twilight highly discouraged.

One need only look at the main characters of To Kill A Mockingbird and Twilight to see how much we've regressed.  Scout was a tomboy: adventurous, not easily slipping into standard forms of societal expectations, but above all, bright.  She grew in her understanding of the world due to her own way of looking at things, understanding that what happened to Tom Robinson was wrong simply because the evidence clearly showed it was wrong but not understanding why adults could have reached a different conclusion.

Bella Swann on the other hand was not bright at all.  While presented as intelligent she seemed totally fascinated with EDWARD CULLEN, forever pining for him, unable to live without him, seeing him as the personification of perfection of body and soul (apart from that pesky vampire deal that only made her want him more).  She doesn't appear too concerned with stringing Jacob...Black...Ooooh...along.  She apparently never had any ambitions apart from being Mrs. EDWARD CULLEN, to be with him sexually (if anything, Twilight is a paean to repressed sexual desires that only marriage can unleash).

Bella is the complete opposite of Scout.  The latter is independent, the former is almost pathologically dependent on her love.  Scout is her own person, complete with flaws.  Bella is more than willing to throw everything she has or may have for a chance to be one with EDWARD CULLEN.  Scout has respect for her father, Bella has a more ambivalent relationship with Chief Swann.  Atticus was obeyed, and he had a quiet dignity to how he went about life, honest, and doing his best to raise two children in the right way as he saw it.  Chief Swann was not a rock to rely on, but almost a bit of comic relief, the bumbler who was clueless about what his daughter was up to.  

Scout saw Atticus as the fount of all wisdom (even if she didn't always appreciate that his words wouldn't back up her ideas).  Bella, on the other hand, doesn't take heed of almost anything her father says.  She relies on her own feelings rather than anything anyone tells her, even EDWARD CULLEN. 

What I find fascinating is that Bella is being held up as a model for young girls, when in reality I doubt any man would want Bella for a daughter or any sensible woman would want to be Bella.  We're told that she is an independent woman, but in reality she doesn't see herself complete without EDWARD CULLEN being at the center of her existence.  One cannot possibly imagine Jean Louise Finch crying herself endlessly because a man left her...for her own good no less.  Likewise, one can't imagine Bella Swann physically attacking someone for suggesting anything bad about her father.

I think the best way to describe the difference between the heroines of To Kill a Mockingbird and Twilight is that Scout would never want to be turned into a vampire (or anything other than herself) to be with a man, while Bella would never do anything that sparked of independent thought for her own benefit if it wasn't geared toward getting 'the perfect man'.  It isn't until EDWARD CULLEN accepts her (and deflowers her) that Bella is finally 'a woman'.  In that sense, Bella never grew up (and since she's now a vampire, never will).  Scout on the other hand, grew up because she saw the world's contradictions and began to understand right from wrong.  

That's just about the leads.  In terms of story, plot, and actual writing, the differences between To Kill a Mockingbird and any of the Twilight books should be evident.  We get in the former the feel for this small corner of Depression-era South, with the country folk who are both good and bad (or rather, ignorant, from which all evils spring from).  In the case of the latter, it takes four books to get these two together, with plot points that make no sense.

Since when can vampires create sperm to make babies with?

Since when can a werewolf "imprint" him/herself on a baby and thus end up together (and does anyone else think seeing a baby as your future bride is not downright creepy)?

Here is how I wrap of my thoughts.  To Kill a Mockingbird is a beautiful book that has not lost its power or impact since its first publication.  The film is still held as a standard of fine acting, directing, and story.  I've never heard anyone say one bad thing about the book or film.

Twilight is, on the other hand, a book that has passionate devotees but has nothing to recommend it: bad prose, no-dimensional characters, and plot points that don't stand up to scrutiny.

Ultimately, I'm not surprised that Twilight is the roman du jour of this generation.  What can one say about a society that prefers Transformers over Casablanca, that declares Channing Tatum a 'great actor', and that says Fifty Shades of Grey is 'great literature'?

I call it the End of Western Civilization.

Born 1926
She didn't need four books to tell ONE story.

"Now, 75 years later in an abundant society where people have laptops, cell phones, iPods, and minds like empty rooms, I still plod along with books."  So wrote Harper Lee to Oprah Winfrey in a letter to her O Magazine.

I couldn't have put it better myself.  Makes me sad that even now, Harper Lee is still a better writer than I.

There's no accounting for taste.

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