Monday, November 03, 2008

this is not about love, it's about virginity

Not to be repetitive (oh, but I am...), but I've been thinking more about those silly Twilight books. This isn't a post about love, though; rather, it's about conflicting reactions. I've been re-reading parts of the first book, mostly out of laziness and boredom, and it's surprising how differently I react to this second perusal. (Hint: I'm reacting negatively.) Because, despite the fact that the author seems to do a pretty good job of making her readers feel all mushy inside, there are many many reasons for me to dislike this book.
Sex and death have always been major themes in vampire literature, of course, and are a large part of why they have always been popular. (See also lesbian vampires as a popular subgenre. ) But here, they are conflated to an almost ridiculous extent and all in the context of virginity and abstinence. Bella, the female protagonist, spends much of her time and energy trying to get Edward, her vampire sweetheart, to either have sex with her or turn her into a vampire, and it's frequently a fine line. (A kiss on the neck has completely different context when the kisser is a vampire, which creates a nice frisson that's pretty damn explicit for what I think of as a book for adolescents.) He refuses to have sex with her on the grounds that he might accidentally crush her skull in the heat of the moment, and as the books wear on it comes out that he's also trying to protect her "virtue." (Dear god.) In fact (slight spoiler), by the end of the third book they strike a deal wherein he will have sex with her before she's a vampire only if she marries him. Vampire wedding porn! I've been told that Stephanie Meyer, the author, is Mormon, which makes sense in the context of all of this regardless of how I feel about it. But still, wow. What shameless agenda promotion!
There are a lot of other things I could talk about, some good and some bad. The gender descriptors for Edward are fascinatingly female much of the time, for instance. But then again, Bella is the embodiment of adolescent girl self-loathing, which is rarely addressed in any real way but which should irritate the shit out of any alert reader and also makes me terribly sad. Most of her inner dialogue consists of her putting herself down, which is an excellent lesson for young girls, no? I imagine that the supposed redeeming factor for having such a terribly insecure protagonist might be along the lines of "but it's all in her head! And anyway, Edward loves her anyway." Ugh.
So here's my quandary: at least the first time through, I enjoyed this book for it's mushiness. Can I still enjoy it even if it promotes values that I find, at the very least, distasteful? This is a smaller version of a larger problem I have reconciling my desire to be critical and aware of the import of media and also a desire to sometimes leave that critique behind and just enjoy a stupid romance novel. It comes up with things like Juno, which I will admit that I enjoyed watching even though it blatantly promoted things I don't believe in a very one-sided way. Is it possible to be critical but still be a consumer of crap like this? Or am I just not being critical enough?

1 comment:

ammie said...

Also, I somewhat apologize for my inexplicable obsession with bad vampire books. I'll write about something more interesting soon :)