Ok, fine. I admit it. I watch the Twilight movies and enjoy myself. I know I should be ashamed, but I’m really not. (That is a horrendous lie. Whenever my friend Sarah outs me on Facebook, I get all snippy with her. She just has no shame.) They are kind of horrible, but they are also awesome. I like over-the-top craziness, and these films deliver in that area. I also enjoy a dramatic teen romance, bad acting, and adult men pretending to be teenagers that sparkle. What’s not to like here? On occasion, I have been genuinely moved, relived some of my own teenage feelings, and teared up. Twilight has a lot of haters, but the films still keep getting watched, so they must be offering up something that some girls and women want.
First, a few words about the books. I’ve read them and they are pretty poorly written; Stephenie Meyer is not by any means a good writer. But she does manage to tap into that breathless, overwhelming feeling of love that one can only feel at sixteen. I think that’s why non-teens read her books; it is unlikely we will ever feel as passionately about someone as we did when we were young. (And for good reason. I’m not sure my husband could withstand all the drama.) But, it’s nice to safely experience those feelings through a book.
The movies do not convey this feeling as well, so they have to rely more on the plot, which is kind of ridiculous. For those of you who have not seen the films, here is a short rundown of our story so far:
Twilight: Girl (Bella) moves to small Washington town where it rains all the time. Falls in love with Vampire (Edward). Vampire is overcome with need for her, but will not bite or have sex with her. Hanging out with Vampire puts Girl in danger. True love prevails.
New Moon: Vampire puts Girl in danger (again) and leaves town. Girl is despondent for a very long time and then starts hanging out with Boy, who will eventually be able to turn into a wolf (Jacob). Girl starts engaging in risky behavior, Vampire engages in risky behavior, she has to save him, and still he will not have sex with her.
Eclipse: Mean Lady Vampire wants to kill Girl. Vampires and Wolves unite to protect girl. No one has sex with Girl, but she does get engaged.
Breaking Dawn Pt. 1: Girl has wedding to Vampire that seems like it might never end. Girl finally gets to have sex (once) on honeymoon. Girl gets bruised a lot, but does not seem to mind. She is a consenting adult, but Vampire Husband likes to make choices for her. It doesn’t matter, because she gets pregnant with Vampire Baby. She starts drinking blood and wasting away. Sort of dies in childbirth. Comes back.
Pretty silly, right? It’s also a lot of fun, and I don’t entirely understand why everybody reviles these movies so much. Even my beloved George Takei uses a hatred of Twilight to unite the Star Trek and Star Wars factions. My favorite film reviewer, Mark Kermode, loves these movies and posits that there isn’t as much tolerance for what fangirls like as there is for fanboys enjoy. I get a lot of crap when I say I don’t care about Batman, but I get worse crap when I say I enjoy the Twilight movies. (Attention fanboys: I am not in any way saying that the Twilight movies are as good as Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies. I just want to make that clear.) Fanboys and fangirls like what they like—good or bad—and the whys are pretty much irrelevant.
Yes, there are a lot of problems with the Twilight franchise. Bella is the ultimate Mary Sue: not only is she an obvious stand-in for the author, but she has mysterious special powers so vampires cannot read her mind or compel her to do things. She has no growth as a person through the story; she doesn’t learn anything or really overcome anything. (Which is why becoming a vampire should suit her. She will never need to grow up emotionally.) She is attractive and everybody wants to date/bite her, even though she is kind of whiny and depressed, and has no self-esteem. Edward is equally annoying. Normally the woman acts as the sexual gatekeeper in these kinds of novels, but here it is all him. Bella cannot control her desire, so he must do it for her, even though he equally wants her. He makes all the choices for both of them, reducing her to a person who reacts to his decisions instead of acting on her own beliefs and desires. The movies can also been seen as pro-abstinence fables, except it gets kind of weird when Bella has sex within marriage and then gets a fetus that basically tries to kill her. (Having almost died during my own pregnancy, I actually enjoyed that part of Breaking Dawn the best. Mark Kermode also makes the point that this part of the movie can be viewed as Cronenbergian body horror. I concur, and feel that it does a really good job of exploring a darker, more parasitic view of pregnancy. It’s pretty strong stuff.)
Believe me, I could go on. Lots of people hate Twilight because they think it is stupid. Other people hate Twilight because they don’t like the messages it sends to girls and young women. And some people just think it’s bad. And they all have a point, and it is all irrelevant. Because Twilight is teen girl romance porn, and, like all porn, it doesn’t really have to have a lot of redeeming qualities in order to take the viewer where they want to go. Some people watch because it is fun to watch something so over-the-top cheesy. Other people watch because they are entering the drama of the whole thing, and it satisfies some need within them. Folks can hate all they want, but are their fantasy needs always met by positive-message-sending, well-crafted works of art? Sometimes, but I’m willing to bet mostly not. Why should the needs of girls be held to a higher standard?
And for those who just can’t get over the myriad of weird and disturbing messages that Twilight might be messaging to girls, get over it. Girls are smart. Seriously, nobody ever reviews Transformers and worries about the horrible messages that it sends to boys. (Maybe they should, but they don’t.) Why do girls need to be protected so much more than boys? I think girls can take what they want from a story and go on to lead useful and productive lives. If that weren’t true, no girl who ever sighed over Cathy’s and Heathcliff’s extremely dysfunctional relationship in Wuthering Heights could ever have a happy romantic relationship. (Also, I would like to note that I do not think that Twilight and Wuthering Heights are in the universe as far as quality goes. Another thing I just want to make clear.)
So, yes, I watch Twilight. And yes, I am embarrassed. But mostly, I just have a lot of fun with it.