Twilight: An Outsider’s Perspective

The final installment of Anti-Twilight Week is brought to you by my wife, Jennifer.  She may have never read the first word of Stephenie Meyer’s “saga”—lucky her—but she certainly has some valid opinions on why the series is not all it’s cracked up to be. Enjoy!

When Beej asked me to write a post for Anti-Twilight week, I was hesitant. So many wonderfully insightful and snarky Buffy Edwardwomen have already tackled the issues of abuse, submissiveness, and crappy writing in the series—I’ve even heard academic presentations on the subject. And those women had a distinct advantage over me: they had actually read the series and could therefore make specific, informed critiques. I have read enough plot summaries and excerpts to know how I feel about it, and I haven’t brought myself to trudge through it simply for the sake of making my criticisms appear more legitimate.

As a relatively young woman, I frequently have other relatively young women approach me, eyes glazed over with eager anticipation, and ask me in a just-us-girls whisper:

“Have you read Twilight?”

I try to casually tell them that I haven’t without appearing to dismiss their taste, but they usually won’t leave it at that. “Why not?” they ask, alarmed. “It’s sooooo amazing!” I tell them that it’s just not my thing, elaborating that I have some problems with how it depicts relationships and that I’m not a fan of the story or the writing style. I probably say this with more of a sneer than I intend to, simply because I get so tired of being asked about Twilight every few days, not because I’m actually angry at the person talking to me.

But because I haven’t read the books and care nothing about seeing New Moon (I did see the first film), fans feel the need to convince me of why I would love them. Here, I’m going to lay out the two arguments I get most frequently and why they don’t work on me.

  1. But it’s so romantic! Edward is so sweet!

My answer: Nuh-uh

The most obvious reason why Twilight is not romantic and why Edward is not so sweet is, of course, the abusive nature of Bella and Edward’s relationship. As I already mentioned, so many others (including several people who have posted on this blog this week) have already extensively covered this subject, so I’m not going to bore you going over the same examples.

But I don’t even need the abuse to explain why Twilight doesn’t make me all mushy; I wouldn’t find their relationship romantic anyway.

I’ve often said that the reason I don’t believe in love at first sight is because I’m too romantic. The idea EdwardCullenBellaSwanthat love is something that shallow has always cheapened the romance to me. Bella and Edward’s relationship therefore has no chance of appealing to me. Bella is drawn to Edward because of his appearance and charisma. This reason is shallow enough on its own, but when Edward later reveals that irresistibility is a trait of all vampires, her attraction to him becomes meaningless.

And the meaninglessness is mutual: Edward can’t stay away from Bella because he is exceptionally tempted by her blood. Not by her personality, intelligence, or anything else that defines who a person really is, but simply by the fact that he has a harder time not eating her than he does not eating anyone else. On this flimsy basis for a relationship, the two almost immediately focus their entire lives on each other, with Edward claiming that Bella is his whole life, and Bella begging to give up her mortality, her life, and every single person and thing she has ever cared about just to be with him.

After seeing the first film, I asked people who had read the series if the book included more explanation for their devotion to one another, if there were scenes in which they discovered common interests, made each other laugh, or supported each other’s individual interests and goals. No, they said, it was pretty much the same as the movie.

One of my favorite romantic comedies is Return to Me, starring David Duchovny and Minnie Driver. In the film, two Return to Mekind, likeable people, both of whom have been through terrible hardships, meet, are quickly attracted to each another, and then spend several months discovering that they make one another incredibly happy.

And my own personal love story definitely resembles Return to Me more than Twilight.

Beej’s and my courtship wasn’t filled with sneaking into rooms or controlling each other’s movement. It was filled with us pretending we really wanted hot chocolate after class, when we really just wanted an excuse to stay together a little longer. It was filled with long, heady conversations in which we would suddenly realize that we were revealing long-held personal secrets without hesitation, combined with feeling privileged—not to mention deliriously happy—simply by having a few minutes to sit and talk in one of our cars before we had to go our separate ways. Beej and I didn’t glare at each other with brooding intensity when we realized we were in love; we smiled at each other with goofy giddiness because we finally had the relationship we feared we would never find in real life.

So no, I don’t sigh dreamily at the thought of a guy thinking that my blood smells yummier than all the other girls.

  1. Rob Pattinson is SOOOOOOOO hot!

Me: Eh.

Mr. Pattinson is a passably attractive guy. He’s got a bit of James Dean going on, which does give him a bit of inherent appeal. But his moody, tortured glares in the first film are so ridiculous that they prevented any swoony feelings he might have otherwise elicited.

I recently became Officially Old, when I realized while watching Glee that I was more attracted to the teacher, Will, than any of the students (despite the fact that most of the actors playing those students are my age). So maybe I’m just too old to get the appeal, but I see Edward scrunching his brow to show his inner turmoil, and it just doesn’t do it for me. And I see pictures of Robert Pattinson at various media events, and I can’t help but think “Get a haircut!”

I know that gives me another hole in my Officially Old punch card, but seriously, look at him:

Rob Pattinson Ugly Hair

It’s not like he’s actually a teenager; he’s in his 20s, which makes him too old for the “wacky kid” excuse.

Now which leading man in a recent franchise does make me go ooh-la-la? That’s easy: Spock.

Quinto Spock

It’s not just the way Zachary Quinto fills out that blue shirt, but how he infuses the character with so much dignity. Edward falls into that all-too-common category in romance stories: the guy who acts like a jerk but, if you love him enough, will be revealed to be a tortured soul who is a wonderful person underneath. Thankfully, I grew out of being attracted to this fantasy when I learned that most guys who act like jerks do so because they are jerks, not because they need my love to lift their sad, sad hearts. Apparently, however, I do fall for the idea of the emotionally reserved guy who would open up just for me. Spock’s relationship with Uhura was one of the most pleasant surprises of the new Star Trek.

Their relationship is honest and respectful, full of little details that ground the story in reality: the struggles of office romance with Spock’s inept attempts to avoid favoritism and Uhura’s selfless question of “What do you Spock and Uhuraneed?” after Spock’s devastating tragedy. Although Quinto’s Spock is a tortured soul in many ways, he always seeks to do the right thing, including treating Uhura with respect. And unlike Bella and Edward, they both have interests other than each other as well as concern for the world (or universe, I suppose) outside of their relationship.

I know quite a few smart, capable women who recognize the series’ flaws but still enjoy it, and I respect those women enough to take them at their word when they say that they’re able to see the series through a lens other than the shallow, abusive nature of the relationship. But no matter how much I respect those women, I just can’t share their excitement for Twilight. While I’m usually very “live and let live” about entertainment, I do think that the posts here this week are important because they encourage people to apply a critical eye to the books.

I’ll be honest: I wish that Twilight didn’t exist, as I genuinely worry about its potential to skew teens’ concept of healthy relationships.

But since it does exist, all we can do is try to get the word out about its flaws. Doing so may just make Twilight a tool for discussing gender and adolescence instead of just a media sensation to be mindlessly consumed. So I’m going to try to take the sneer out of my voice when I’m asked about Twilight and have real conversations about it.

I just hope I don’t have to actually read it first.

Comments

    • From what I’ve seen in clips and trailers and the first movie, I would have called that technique “I think I am constipated, but I’m not entirely sure yet.” It’s intensity mixed with befuddlement and makes me giggle when I see it.

  1. Longasc

    Excellent posting. But there is ONE question that could really be fascinating for scientific research. So far we are elaborating on why Twilight sucks – but is this really the best question?

    Is the true question not rather: how comes?
    How can it be that so many young persons, apparently mostly female, fall for this kind of crap? Teens are never that logical, but how comes that suddenly a totally screwed up wreck of a guy is the dream of young girls???

    So far I have not even the shade of an idea why Twilight is so successful.

    • It’s successful because it speaks the unpleasant truth. There is power and powerlessness in sexuality. We are all Edward when we attract, and Bella when in the thrall of another. And we still live in an objectifying, misogynistic culture, so the unsavory choices the characters make with the power at their fingertips ring true.

      The same dynamic exists with Buffy and Angel, but unlike Myers, Whedon presents it with skill, grace, and an eye towards challenging the paradigm. That challenge makes his material less accessible to a lot of people, because they don’t see much of that kind of heroism in their own lives.
      .-= jane´s last blog ..Briar Rose Learns to Read =-.

      • I think you hit it exactly, Jane. Whedon challenges how we expect teenagers to act, while Meyer gives in and has Bella act exactly like every other pathetic teenager infatuated with an older man would act. Unfortunately, Bella isn’t strong enough to be an Everyman character, and she cannot fill the role she tries to. Thus, she fails, and we get Twilight.

        • Jennifer

          Sorry I’m so late in replying–the holiday weekend consumed more of my time than I had expected.

          I think Longasc’s question is right on target, and that Jane is certainly getting there in terms of an explanation.

          In this post, I only touched on the idea of how Edward fits the archetype of the guy who only acts like a jerk because he’s a tortured soul who needs your love. However, this is an issue I’ve been worried about since long before I had ever heard of Twilight.

          So many of our ideas about relationships and romance come from the media, especially movies and advertising. When I came to the hard-won conclusion that a jerk is usually just a jerk, I realized that I’d been had. Yes, we all have to grow and learn from our mistakes, but I started wondering how much needless suffering occurs because of the ubiquity of this relationship model. Of course, that still goes back to Longasc’s question of why the model is so popular. I think the idea of being so special that only you can see the good in someone, and that the person will change just for you, is inherently appealing to a lot of women. The traditional male equivalent would probably be wanting to save and win the girl. Dollhouse has done an unsettlingly good job of exploring how Ballard’s desire to save Echo is heroic on the surface but is creepy and a little selfish when you take a closer look.

          I think I’ve projected a lot of my frustration I’ve been having about media portrayal of relationships over the last several years onto Twilight. It’s just such an extreme example of all the problematic elements I’ve been noticing: Bella is special, but her specialness is largely defined by her effect on Edward. Edward is rude to her at first, but it turns out it’s because he loves her, so it’s ok. When Edward leaves Bella, she continues to pine over him until they get back together, with the message being that they just HAD to get back together because they were meant to be, so there was therefore no reason for Bella to, you know, grieve, learn her lessons, and move on. None of this stuff is new, but there’s just so much of it in Twilight. I think the fact that Bella never seems to have to learn any lesson is the most disturbing. She’s so special and wonderful, and if there’s anything she’s not good at, Edward or Jacob will protect her. If she gets lonely, she doesn’t learn to deal with her loneliness and discover how to be happy on her own. Instead, she goes and jumps off a cliff so someone will have to pay attention to her.

          I’ve gone on way longer than I intended. I’m not even sure if all this makes sense . . . it’s mostly just me typing out my own thought process as I try to pinpoint exactly what I think and how I feel about all this.

  2. It’s nice to see there are other people who can’t find any appeal in “Twilight”. And it IS obvious the only appeal are “hot” main characters (actors).

    Let me see… Edward Cullen is an abusive boyfriend, controlling stalker and borderline rapist. Robert Pattinson is… Eh. A regular guy, I guess. I don’t mind his haircut, but I don’t find him attractive at all.

    I guess there’s also Jacob, who is the only semi-decent character in the book (before becoming a pedophile), but his motives and love for Bella are uninspiring and unrealistic. In short, he didn’t really make me care about the novels. As for Taylor Lautner, the kid isn’t even legal (is he?) so he didn’t make the movie more enjoyable for me.

    In other words, there’s nothing in the story I could care about. As for the other girls… There are only two types of “Twilight” fans: those who are crazy about Edward or Jacob (Robert or Taylor ) and those who have NO idea why they like the books, but continue to like them anyway.

    PS- Thanks for this article! It’s always nice to see there are other people who are not crazy about this “phenomenon”.

    • I’m most sad for those fans who have no idea why they like it, but they do. I have a lot of students get into the mindset that “because” is an adequate answer. I have to struggle to get them to dig deeper, but when I do, the lightbulb really does go on. It’s almost enough to make me want to eventually work Twilight into a themed class at some point just to get people to examine exactly why they like the things they do.

  3. It’s culture, really. I didn’t see any educated women right about the potential for abuse for Lauren Hamilton’s Anita Blake series, and that makes Twilight look like a walk in the park. I don’t see anyone bagging on Anne Rice either. Twilight is low culture, and it’s easier to bag on. Simple as that.

    No offense also, but Quinto Spock? If you want to talk about unrealistic basises for relationships, you can’t get much better than that. I was actually shocked with the elevator scene because it was so out of character. Quinto spock always seemed to me to be someone you’d worry about your kid dating, since he is prone to rage, and easily provoked (that scene where kirk convinces him to give over the ship by making him angry really was painful and annoying.)
    .-= Dblade´s last blog ..The 11% solution =-.

  4. nugget

    <.< The thing about Anita Blake series is…

    …what used to be Vampire Slayer, has turned, as far as I can see, into Vampire Layer. XD

  5. Jennifer

    Well, i have to say that i did fall for twilight . I’ve read the book three times. The first time, everything was perfect and i loved every single word of it. The second one, i wasn’t very sure about Bella. And the third time, i came to the conclusion that bella is a stupid oversensitive girl, who has no self esteem, and she doesn’t make the wisest decisions, and that edward is kind of a stalker. yes i do like the parts where he protects her, and is nice with her and tells her that he loves her and all those silly things, but i also think that he is extremely overprotective, and thinks himself the best of the world. Bella on the other hand, is this teenage girl full of drama, who leaves everything for edward. Really that is just plain stupid. and she is such a slut that she loves edward and jacob at the same time, and likes to put them to fight wiht each other. really, i could never act like bella. Firts because i am not that stupid, and drama wasn’t exactly ment for me, second, becasue my family and friends are very important to me to leave them just becasue of a cute boy, and third, becasue well i am cuban, and it’s in my blood to not let others tell what i am supposed to do, and who i am supposed to see. Yeah, he might leave me, and i might feel sad at firts, but before he leaves i would make sure that he knows what he is leaving, and that he is not the only guy in the world, and that i don’t believe in the “i love you too much, so i have to leave you to protect you”, please , don’t be naive, and on top of that he doens’t even tell her the truth when he leaves her. He told her that he din’t love her anymore. If you are gonna leave , say it straight and with all the words. so yeah, this is what i think about twilight, i like it, but i don’t agree with it all.