Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Vamp, The Tramp, and the Scamp


I have long promised to wrap up my thoughts on the Twilight series (excuse me, SAGA), but school and other reviews have kept me from that.  While tomorrow I begin a new semester, I think it is finally time to wrap this up with my Concluding Thoughts on Twilight

If I understand the story correctly, Stephanie Meyer was inspired by a dream to begin what I call 'the erotic musings of a frumpy hausfrau'.  Her dreams brought America one of the great nightmares of modern literature: the cycle of books collectively called the Twilight Saga: Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse, and Breaking Dawn

These four novels can surprisingly be easy enough be summarized. Bella Swan, recent transplant to Forks, Washington State from Arizona, finds herself attracted to a mysterious, brooding, pale figure named EDWARD CULLEN*.  Said EDWARD CULLEN is perfection: perfect body, perfect soul, wealthy, and most importantly, enthralled with Bella despite her being a plain, ordinary girl.  Even though there is nothing particularly special about Bella (she doesn't consider herself beautiful, or smart, or talented, or athletic), EDWARD CULLEN sees her as she really is: the ideal Woman.

Like all romances, this one has a couple of complications.  First, we find that EDWARD CULLEN is a vampire.  Second, another boy with whom Bella has been friends with, one Native American Jacob Black, is also passionately in love with Bella (for a girl who believes herself rather ordinary, she certainly inspires wild passion among the menfolk...even the dead dream of our fair Bella).  Complicating THOSE matters is that Jacob Black is a werewolf, and the werewolves of Jacob's nation and the vampire Cullen clan have an uneasy peace.  It also slightly complicates things that Jacob Black has become this muscular behemoth who is equally erotic to the minds of our youth.

In any case, through three of these novels Bella wavers slightly between the gentle soul of EDWARD CULLEN and the hot body (in every sense of the word) of Jacob Black.  Of course, since EDWARD CULLEN has a pretty fit body for someone who's been dead nearly a century the choice is pretty clear.  Therefore, in a revolutionary act of female empowerment...she saves herself for her wedding night and submits to her perfect husband.

Now, where does that leave our hunky native boy?  Well, no worries: after Bella's near-death experience when giving birth to a half-vampire (surprisingly not named Blade) and achieving her lifelong dream of becoming an undead herself, Bella and EDWARD CULLEN's daughter Renesmee is 'implanted' with Jacob's memory, thus little Nessie is now virtually betroth to a man old enough to be her father AND who will become his ex-girlfriend's son-in-law. 

Makes the River Song/Doctor Who storyline almost rational by comparison, mais oui?

I see a man, and am ashamed of my gender...

And this tale is what I'm told women of all stripes consider the love story of the age: a tale where women are virtually subservient to men, where women have no real identity outside of their man, and where plain girls drive all men into fits of erotic frenzy where they have waited literally centuries to have them in their arms and bed.

My personal theory is that the reason Twilight has become this phenomenon to teenage girls (and those who think like them) is due to audience identification.  Bella, by her own admission in her mumbling, narcissistic way, is rather ordinary.  She's not breathtakingly beautiful.  She's not graceful.  She's not intellectual.  She's in short, pretty ordinary and plain.  However, she is able to not just attract, but fascinate and sexually arouse all manner of manhood, and one type in particular.

The man who is passionate about this 'plain Bella' is one who is physical perfection, who is sensitive (he plays the piano!), who is part of the 'in-crowd' (though given that the only thing to recommend the Cullens is their wealth and horribly pale skin, they really do nothing in high school to merit the other students fascination), and who above all else, worships her.  To top that off, Bella finds herself the object of passion and fascination, not just from EDWARD CULLEN (the popular kid), but from Jacob Black (the extremely built guy) who has an insanely jealous streak, and even from mere mortals (I was always Team Mike myself).  Throw in that Bella finds herself in the center of this epic struggle between werewolves and vampires, where SHE is the object that sets off this war, and it's enough to turn any girl's head (no matter how empty). 

I Like Mike...
This audience identification where the female readers put themselves in place of Bella is surprisingly quite narcissistic.  Bella (and by extension, the reader) is the single most important thing in the world.  Everything does revolve around them.  Women, who may see themselves in Bella (the ordinary girl) do find themselves swept up in the idea that in truth, the 'perfect' man will see them as these divine beings worthy of worship.  The fact that these men have waited for them, that they have to restrain themselves sexually until SHE is ready (and hold back on their intercourse lest the women perhaps literally explode) all feeds into women's views that they are somehow far grander than their appearance may suggest.

As a digression, it brings to mind something my cousin said.  I don't know if she read any Twilight, but she did comment that she was 'selective' when it came to whom she considered dating.  I think that many women, thanks to Twilight and its fan-fiction bastard Fifty Shades of Grey series (excuse me, SAGA) have now adopted this 'selective' mindset.  They will winnow out all these Mike-like beings to find someone like EDWARD CULLEN, or Jacob, or Christian Grey.  Sadly, the world is more full of Mikes than EDWARD CULLEN, so I imagine many women and men are or will end up alone due to the 'selective' nature of women who feed on Twilight and/of Fifty Shades erotica. 

And for the record, my cousin is still single. 

I can't quite explain how someone so ordinary can be the object of desire among so many, but then logic was never Twilight's strongest point.  However, I do believe that the idea that this perfect being can see through the ordinariness of a 'plain Bella' to discover the woman perfectly suited to him is one of the driving forces of Twilight's insane popularity with women.  Women put themselves as Bella, and they see that these perfect men (plural) want them, want them sexually, want them spiritually, want to be with them for 'time and eternity' (to use Mormon theology).

What would Joseph Smith say?

Stephanie Meyer is Mormon, and while Twilight can't be read as strict Mormon allegory, the connection between Twilight and LDS theology is worth looking into.

Mormons believe that a man and wife can be 'sealed' for as they phrase it, time and eternity, that is, they remain married after death.  Twilight holds that Bella after she is turned into a vampire herself can live out her existence married to her equally undead husband EDWARD CULLEN forever.  Curiously enough, the theme of being together 'forever' is an important one in Twilight

Mormons hold that one must wait until being married to enjoy the pleasures of the flesh.  Bella did just that.  In fact, despite her constant protests to EDWARD CULLEN to 'change' her (I read, deflower her), EDWARD CULLEN (like any good Mormon boy) constantly refused, insisting they had to be married first.  Granted, evangelical Christianity and Orthodox (and perhaps Conservative) Judaism holds the same, but I find that non-LDS Christians and Jews are a little less strict about such matters.  Many Christians that I know who had those 'promise rings' ended up having sex sooner than my non-Christian friends, and if memory serves correct one Brigham Young University basketball star was benched for having premarital sex. 

BYU doesn't mess more ways than one.  I doubt Brandeis or Georgetown (a Jewish and Catholic university respectively) would be that strict. 

Mormons also have a curious fascination with the occult.  I visited Utah as part of my goal to visit all fifty states, and while there stayed with friends who work for a Christian university group.  They told me that while Easter (the day Christians commemorate the Resurrection of Christ) isn't a big deal, Halloween is a massive festival in Salt Lake City (where they are stationed, well, technically a suburb, but why be picky).  It isn't surprising that Halloween is big in Mormon circles: Mormons believe in baptisms for the dead (where an LDS member can serve as proxy for an ancestor and be baptized into the Faith, which also explains Mormon obsession with genealogy).  What better mix than Mormonism (where one be remain married even after death) and Halloween (where ghosts are prevalent), and throw in the vampire, the original undead?

From Missionary to Macabre
(found in the official TITP website)

At the This is the Place Heritage Park, where Brigham Young announced that the Mormon settlers would find their Zion (and which I found a strange mix of Frontierland and Colonial Williamsburg), they have some interesting celebrations for a Christian denomination.  There's the Witches Ball, the Haunted Village, and the Little Haunts.  Yes, there are Christmas events, but I can't imagine either church I was involved with (Crosspoint Lutheran and Cielo Vista, which I think is non-denominational but began as Baptist) ever going for a Witches Ball. 

I can't say whether the Mormon idea that the Native Americans are descendants of one of the Lost Tribes of Israel (thus making a Sioux a Jew) influenced Meyer, but it is interesting that Meyer would pick a Native American as the third part of the love triangle.  Granted, setting her novel in Washington State having a Native nation lends itself naturally.  However, I do wonder whether having a Native American boy (and he is a boy, since he, unlike EDWARD CULLEN, is still a teen when all this is going on) is doing what many Anglos have done: sexualize the Native American.

Jacob Have I Loved...

Jacob, as a Native American, is 'the Other', a hot native boy who is there to pant (in more ways than one) for the WASP heroine.  The sexualizing of 'the natives', be it American Indians, or Indians from the Subcontinent, or "Latin Lovers", or the stereotype of black men as well-endowed, is something which Anglo writers and filmmakers have apparently not let go of.  Twilight, to me anyway, serves as the latest example.  He really has no life, no existence outside Bella.  He's almost always shirtless (which for our frumpy Mormon housefrau, is as erotic as she can get).  Jacob isn't an independent being, one who has his own aspirations.  Instead, all his aspirations revolve around Bella: around wooing her, bedding her, and now bizarrely, bedding her daughter (who in theory is old enough to be HIS daughter). 

Curiously, this idea that this young girl is now basically destined to marry this much older man and spend eternity with him...

Now, perhaps it is time to touch on the books themselves.  The Twilight books are awful in terms of writing.  I tried to read it three times, but found it so idiotic I couldn't get through it.  Instead, I opted for the audiobook, and many times did I burst out laughing at how stupid Bella appeared to be.  "I can't believe someone as beautiful as EDWARD CULLEN would be interested in me," she at one point intones.  Again, here is our heroine, being defined by how someone else sees her rather than how she sees herself.  When I heard about how EDWARD CULLEN was literally sparkling, I laughed for five miles, then repeated it so I could laugh some more.

Making the case for sterilization...

I find the books to be like the readership: shallow, narcissistic, insipid, witless, and dumb.

Granted, it is difficult for me to judge ALL the books given I have listened to just one, but nothing in Twilight made me want to read anymore. 

The appeal of Twilight isn't in the writing (it's so bad that Fifty Shades of Grey, which I called Twilight with S&M, started out as Twilight fan-fic).  I hold that it is the fantasy aspect, the idea that an ordinary woman can inspire wild erotic passions and make her the center of this universe where all sorts of wars and dangers are being endured for her sake.  It is about women losing themselves to a man who is perfect in every way and who realizes that she and only she is perfect in every way.  Whether it is good that a woman in her fantasy life believes that her only purpose is to marry (note that the idea of college is completely out of the question for Bella, or that she had an epic meltdown that left her in hysterics when EDWARD CULLEN left her, even if it was for her own good) and have no life apart from her husband (and provide a child, though none of the Twilight Twits have ever answered how a vampire can produce sperm). 

On that point, I refer to Andrea Gabriel, whom I met at the El Paso Comic-Con (or EPCON).  I flat-out asked her how a vampire produces sperm, and she just looked at me with a sort of despairing face.  "You know, I don't know. I'm just an actor playing a part," she replied.  To her credit, she had a sense of humor about it all, jokingly offering to call Stephanie Meyer and asking her.

There is that little question of logic.  Vampires now have reflections? How DOES a vampire produce sperm?  There is no way Bella could get pregnant, but again, since when was logic Twilight's strong point?

I've said a lot about Twilight.  I like saying a lot, especially after waiting so long to say something.  However, all things must end so let's wrap this up.

Twilight the books are garbage.  The characters are no-dimensional.  The protagonist is a narcissistic, vapid young woman who encourages other girls to think that they have no real raison d'etre apart from the man they are obsessed over.  She is narcissistic because despite her constant proclamations about her ordinariness, she believes that all these men, natural and supernatural, are as equally enamored of her as she is of them (and up to a point, as she is of herself).  The situations, even for a supernatural story, are idiotic.  The all-encompassing mythology nonsensical.

Twilight the movies are all awful.  The performances are blank. Kristen Stewart takes the mumblecore method to new lows, committing herself to playing the role how she wants to given what three directors all let her do it the same way.  Robert Pattinson looks pained every time he's on screen, serving as nothing more than the idealized boyfriend who is as obsessed with Bella as Bella is obsessed with Bella (and EDWARD CULLEN too), Taylor Lautner having nothing to do except show us how well his body turned out.  Only Ashley Greene showed any lightness in a story so self-serious. 

The fact people think the Twilight series (excuse me, SAGA) is good to great is a sad sign for American culture.


* I always refer to him as EDWARD CULLEN because, judging by the books, this is how everyone, even Bella, Jacob, and apparently EDWARD CULLEN'S family refers to him as.  I don't think I ever heard anyone refer to him as Ed, Eddie, or my nickname for him, Sullen Cullen.  No, as far as I can tell, he was always called EDWARD CULLEN (full name), so this is a mild form of mockery.

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