Sam’s Twilight Rant
*Note: Sam welcomes rebuttals, and mature open discussion on this topic.*
You’re starving. You need a snack badly. You walk into your nearest Kwik E Mart and eye the Twinkies with a covetous glare. This is a crossroads for you: Do you break every rule and convention you know about dieting and good nutrition and eat that delicious cream filled confection with an enormously long shelf-life? Or do you grab the granola bar that is inexplicably on display right next to your temptation?
The Twinkie, of course! Geesh, we’re only human.
Now that you’ve been sufficiently fed, let’s stretch this imaginary scenario further. The Twinkie is deep fried (as they have been known to be at county fairs and on the outskirts of humanity), and you eat one for every meal every day. How does your stomach feel now? What’s your blood pressure like? Is your skin still looking well?
You see, a deep fried Twinkie is delicious, and a guilty pleasure for those of us lucky enough to partake. But any one of you reading this understands that there is no way you can consume more than one of those things a year! The rest of the time, most of us try to eat healthy and take care of ourselves. And those of us who don’t, usually pay for it dearly.
Good eating habits are common knowledge to most of us, whether we choose to ignore them or not. But what about good pop culture habits, good reading habits, and even good viewing habits? Sure, everyone has the occasional Twinkie (I’m looking at you American Idol), but how many of you out there are guilty of the deep fried Twinkie consumption on a daily basis? How many of you watch things that rot your mind so sufficiently, you might as well be sucking the warm cream filling of a fat-induced-heart-attack-causing foodstuff?
Bottom line, what we watch and read could be bad for us.
Which is why I’m shocked, nay appalled, at the success of the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer. Like the nutrition labels on your favorite crème filled snack, the problems with Twilight are laid out in obvious ways for everyone to see. And yet, the following of these books and movies is nearly cult-like and has spurned the careers of some previously no named actors, given a small backwoods town in Washington a booming tourist industry, and created a millionaire out of a mediocre author. At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, I fear that the world is doomed to a future of a pop culture heart attack if something is not done about these deep fat fried excuses for books.
In this very serious opinion piece, I aim to tell you why Twilight will ruin you by first pointing out how Twilight enforces poor personality choices with no consequences, shines a positive light on male dominance and unproductive relationships, and sets back the value of self worth at every turn. I know what you are saying: “But Sam, they are just books!” To which I answer “Just books, or the end of common sense as we know it?”
The first glaring problem we come across is that Twilight casts negative emotions in a positive light with no consequences. There is vanity throughout the series in which the characters are so bent on physical beauty that they make large sacrifices for it. In lieu of paying for such vanity, they are rewarded. A good example of this is Bella’s obsession with getting older. She has nightmares about being old and wrinkly while Edward still sparkles. It seems okay that Bella doesn’t want to get old, doesn’t feel good enough around her beautiful boyfriend. Instead of learning to love herself, she is changed to be good enough to be with Edward.
There is also a serious set of messed up priorities that seem to turn out fine, when in any actual circumstance, the opposite would happen. We are forced to root for her to never finish school, never consider her father’s feelings, never gain outside friendships, to act reckless just to see his face, and to give up your life for the sole purpose of love, even though there are other options. She gets no consequences to any of this, as she ends up a very powerful vampire, with her love, and with a family to show for it. Oh, and she gets to be with her father too. What sort of lesson does that convey? Sure, this is a work of fiction, and many of us can understand that the real world doesn’t work this way. But what about those who haven’t yet grasped the full impact of the real world? They happen to be Twilight’s main fanbase.
The melodrama of these characters also never results in consequences. Twilight makes romance and seeing your lover a matter of life and death. This is not a tired concept in literature, but this goes a bit too far. Sitting, alone, and turning yourself off for the sake of a broken heart shows us that reacting in exactly the way our hearts want to won’t be a problem because the moment you get better everything will be okay. Edward is saved, Bella gets all her friends back, her father isn’t mad at her, her grades did not fail, and she has her pretty sparkly boyfriend back. What if your teenage cousin or sister or even yourself were to do the same thing?
We often hear a raging debate between abstinence only and sexual education. Some people think that teaching abstinence is the only way to make sure our teens don’t fall subject to the dangers of pregnancy and disease. Okay, to each their own. But what if that abstinence is forced on unwilling parties due to a patriarchal sense of purity? The consequences of that in the real world is an increase in sexual exploration resulting in disease in pregnancy due to ignorance. The consequence in Twilight: Bella’s sexuality is seen as something that destroys, something that has to be tamped down, and something that could destroy her. How is that going to be viewed by the impressionable masses? To add to this, the moment they are allowed to surrender to their baser urges, the consequences aren’t there…almost like marriage makes it all okay. If that were the case, why did we wait four books? Antiquated senses of female physicality?
Another issue that makes me fret for the fate of humanity is the rampant male dominance and sexism in the series. Bella goes from her mother’s household because her mother needs time to be with a new man. Why should that even be an option? When Bella arrives in her father’s household, she becomes his cook. It seems as though he’s in need of a caretaker, and that is what her role in the new household becomes. Sure, her father is a redeemable character and very doting, but why is Bella’s worth in her home seen in this primarily care taking role? The other women in the series also take this role. Why is Esme at home? Why is she just the mother and nothing more? Certainly there is nothing wrong with that, but in this breath, she seems nothing more than a figurehead. Furthermore, why is it Rosalie’s role to protect the unborn child? Will only women be open to doing that?
Bella’s romantic entanglements seem to hinge on her needing protection, and only men providing it. When one lover leaves, she is automatically thrown into the arms of another impossibly strong man. Why is it okay for both of these men to use physical force on her to win emotional dominance? It’s never seen as harmful or with any consequence. Edward tries to keep her in a glass case, and this is seen as romantic. Jacob actually forces himself on her at one point, and it is written that she comes to enjoy it. In the very ending, Bella saves the day…but only in an immortal form. And even then, her prowess is not in the physical, and she still needs the physical security of the men in her life.
Finally, the Twilight series is rife with an appalling lack of self worth in our heroine. Bella does not value anything in herself that isn’t tied to her relationship with Edward. She starts to find it, but even then, it’s tied to Jacob. All the women are coupled, none has qualities that stand alone. Why do they all need to be couples? The whispers of independence seem to be only extenuated by their current relationships with men. Even the non-vampires are all paired off by something that feels like necessity. Rosalie was actually only considered to be turned in the beginning to be a partner for Edward! Luckily she found her own man. Carlisle turned Esme because he wanted her. Bella didn’t want to date Mike, but Jessica didn’t have a boyfriend, and we all know every girl needs a boyfriend! Angela is still single? I’ll not hear of it, let’s pawn her off to Eric so that everyone is in pairs. Hell, Renesmee is barely out of the rock solid Super Womb Of Doom before the only remaining single male is paired off with her. Does anyone have any value outside of their romantic relationships at all?
Don’t you feel heavy after all of that deep fried sugary filth? Need something to cleanse your pop culture palate? Never fear, good readers, Harry Potter is here! And not just The Chosen One, but all of his friends. They will give you the wholesome goodness of granola with a yummy chocolate coating for good measure! Where Twilight makes me weep for humanity, Harry Potter makes me wish wizards really did exist.
In The Harry Potter Series, whenever the priorities are mixed up, the consequences are dire. An excellent example of this occurring in romantic relationships is with Ron and Hermione. When they seek to hurt the other, or act out of jealousy, they only manage to hurt themselves. McClaggen probably seemed like a great idea until he accosted Hermione under the mistletoe. And I’m sure Ron thought it was a good idea to hurt Hermione with Lavender until he got that awful necklace, broke an innocent girl’s heart, and got attacked by rapid canaries! Snape acts in his own self-interest instead of out of a need for the greater good, and what does he get? He hurts the woman he loves, she dies, and then later a snake eats him. Sure, he died somewhat a hero, but he did pay for his transgressions. When Harry acts out of rage, he pays for it by nearly killing Malfoy.
There are also rewards to positive priorities in the Harry Potter series. When Ron and Hermione seek to act for each other and not to hurt each other, we get a lot of beautiful moments and even some moments that become a matter of life and death. Harry gets his happy ending just like Bella does, but to get that ending, Harry had to go through so much pain and loss. Harry had to learn so much about himself and what it meant to do good for others before he got the family he always wanted. Again, I ask, what did Bella have to do?
When vanity appears in the Harry Potter series, it’s usually attributed to a villain, or someone we later come to see as a fool. (See: Gilderoy Lockhart). Even when vanity happens to the main characters, it’s an uncommon occurrence, and almost endearing in its quality. The ultimate vanity is punished in the ultimate way. Lucius Malfoy thinks himself above others, and that quality is shown as villainous and undesirable instead of something necessary to move the plot forward and find romantic value.
Sex is never outwardly mentioned in the Harry Potter series, but you get no indication that it is wrong either. Ginny is said to be a great beauty, and it’s not to her detriment. She isn’t going to harm herself or the man she loves by being a beautiful woman. When any of the female characters are shown as beautiful and desirable, that isn’t all they are, and they aren’t shunned or forced to suppress this for the safety of themselves and others. Fleur openly flaunts her loveliness, and is arguably the most beautiful character in the series. But that beauty isn’t her sole trait, nor does it make her appear wrong in some way. Instead, she turns it into something strong when she delivers her speech about her loyalty to Bill at the end of Half Blood Prince. She is strong, smart, and brave…her beauty is just a supplement that means no one any harm.
When a character becomes melodramatic in the Harry Potter series, it is a flaw that they must learn to correct. Harry himself in Order of the Phoenix was incredibly quick tempered, saw everything as an affront, and generally put on a hopeless malaise about the world around him. It was only when he overcame this ennui that he achieved what he needed to achieve and became the man that would eventually save that fictional world. Furthermore, melodrama is punished instead of rewarded. Cho Chang couldn’t stop crying, and playing emotionally manipulative games. Instead of being rewarded with her own sparkly vampire and special super sparkly vampire powers and non-aging babies, she was cast aside until she grew up.
Male dominance is there, as there are many very powerful male characters. The difference is, in the Harry Potter series, the females are just as strong, independent, and impactful. You can name all the strong female characters on both hands and still need more room. No one is forced to couple; single females can remain single even when there are male prospects available (see Luna Lovegood, who didn’t marry until much later…or Minerva McGonagall who is never mentioned as having married.) The traditionally and incorrectly portrayed female role of child rearing and protecting is given to males as well. For confirmation of this, all we have to do is look at Harry’s argument with Remus in Deathly Hallows. Remus longs to fight in the war, but Harry is upset, saying that Remus needs to be there for his wife and child. Fatherhood and Motherhood are equally valuable in the Harry Potter Series, even if Mothers are given a special role.
And self worth among all of the young characters is rampant. The teenage characters grow and change, and in doing so find the good things about themselves without needing a romance to make it so. As mentioned before, McGonagall needs no man, and yet she survives FIVE STUNNERS during the first attack on Hogwarts. Everything about Hermione Granger screams self worth. She is upset with Ron and heartbroken many times, but she functions. Hermione knows her own value, understands what she can do, and despite being in a lot of pain over Ron, she manages to hold on and do what needs to be done. Ron and Hermione only become a functioning and successful couple after Ron independently conquers his demons and finds out how important he is. Neither of them need a super hot sparkling vampire to show them that they are good enough. Instead, throughout the series, Ron and Hermione grow and learn that they are powerful and brilliant wizards, and then they get together.
So there you have it: the literary indigestion that threatens to send the entire book reading movie-viewing world to the bathroom. You’ve read for yourself why Twilight is harmful, from misguided priorities with no consequence to forced abstinence. However, you’ve also seen that there is hope out there in the pop culture universe, all you have to do is wave your wand! Why would anyone want to eat something that is slowly killing them day in and day out, when there’s a wholesome solution just around the corner?
Perhaps, in reading this rant, you’ve been rolling your eyes. “Sure, Twilight sucks, but we’re grown ups. It’s just a guilty pleasure,” You’re saying to yourself. Maybe you’ll be singing a different tune when 12 year old girls are walking around wearing shirts proclaiming their support for fictional sexism, when urban dictionary comes up with a term for the Edward Cullen Effect that causes women to think men like him really exist, when formerly fashion forward retail chains start selling replicas of the clothing a fictional character wears for vastly inflated prices, when people are screaming at movie screens just to see these characters come to life, when once awesome Indie Rock bands are creating ballads about a vapid young girl and her obsession with a man who wants to eat her, and when a poorly educated overly religious housewife with terrible writing skills sells millions of books to young, impressionable women.
…. Oh wait.