Friday, January 30, 2009

A Shameful Admission

There's something about myself that I rarely admit to anyone. The only reason I will admit it here is because the idea that others read this blog is highly abstract to me. So what is this shameful secret of mine? Well, it's that I sometimes read trashy magazines and novels, such as Cosmo, tabloids, and the occasional harlequin romance. And in a deliciously disdainful way, I even like them.

Which is why, when all this "Twilight" furor swept up, I needed to check it out. Secretly, of course. Santa, having detected this interest, left me a copy in my stocking, which I devoured in a matter of days.

Sadly, though, like all holiday overeating, the experience left me feeling bloated and dissatisfied.

Now, let me preface this opinion of Twilight by explaining that vampire mythology and I have a long history. It began in 1992 with Bram Stoker's Dracula, then moved onto the gloomy, sultry Anne Rice chronicles. I jumped on the Buffy bandwagon (and was on Team Spike, pre-season-5), and loved the lesser-known "Vampire Diaries" by LJ Smith. Vampire mythology gave me hope throughout puberty that somewhere, somewhere, there might be men of higher quality than the awkward, ungroomed, phallocentric teenage fare filling high schools with their noise and stink.

And even though I've now met and married my own sophisticated and intelligent knight of pale complexion, vampires still occupy a fond place in my heart. Which is why I positively LOVED the first half of Twilight, where Bella and Edward were still enigmas to one another. However, the second half, in which the two become boyfriend and girlfriend, left a bad taste in my mouth.

Edward is just plain MEAN. Despite "loving" Bella, he rarely says anything nice to her at all. He perpetually scolds her whenever she shows evidence of thinking for herself, making him shockingly controlling. He threatens her, stalks her, watches her sleep, and follows her every move, and yet somehow all that is supposed to be romantic. How on earth can this character be considered a heart-throb?

Bella is not much better. Despite being well-read, she does not show much signs of actual intelligence, confidence, or any interesting traits whatsoever. After reading 500 pages, all I know about her is that she's brunette, clumsy, and easily manipulated. Worse still, it seems that that's all she knows (or cares to know) about herself. Granted, a nondescript character has the advantages of becoming a chameleon to match any reader… but there simply has to come a point where Bella stops being a manifestation of everyone -- thereby making her no-one -- and starts being herself. If that ever happens, it doesn't happen in 500 pages. :-P

Their "love" is also disappointing. The only basis explained for his affection for her is her smell, and his inability to read her mind. If it had been any other girl who smelled so "deliciously", or whose mind he could not read, he would have not cared a bit for Bella. That kind of replaceability is not the basis of love, I'm afraid. In turn, the basis for Bella's love towards Edward is betrayed by the adjectives she chooses throughout the whole book -- synonyms for beauty, exclusively.

Now, I have actually met, in real life, men who are so obscenely beautiful, you can't help but think that they're visiting from some Gattaca dimension. Two come to mind; in both cases, their beauty becomes only a backdrop to the far more fascinating stories of who they are -- whether they paradoxically shy and deeply uninteresting, or whether they are surprisingly sweet and shockingly balanced. See? They just became more interesting already.

But Bella, despite "loving" Edward, never looks further to see what makes him interesting -- all she ever articulates is his beauty, his likeness to statues, models, etc. (And frankly, I've seen statues with more depth of personality.) But that's probably better, in some ways, because Edward's moodiness and borderline emotional abuse spell out that, beneath the sparkly surface, he's a bonafide jerk.

More than the characters or story, I am most disturbed by the vast popularity of this book. Now don't get me wrong -- I am the last person on Earth who will denounce saucy fiction about infatuation -- but I am seriously bothered by the prospect of young women absorbing the message that love is supposed to be co-dependent, shallow and abusive. :-P

Anyhoo, for the three of you who may still be reading, I'll plug a Twilight-esque book I'm enjoying, a manga called Fruits Basket. Same formula: young girl with no present parental figures falls in with mysterious not-quite-human family harbouring a big secret, scintillating love triangle follows shortly thereafter. Fruits Basket features kinship based on kindness, on reaching out to those who are isolated. And plus, there's no Mormon propaganda in it. ;-) Check out your local library and give it a read!

1 comment:

Lisa B. said...

I just saw Twilight for the first time this weekend (I have not read the books.) I was supported in this endeavour by a fellow movie buff who insisted that it was so bad I had to watch. After the movie, I immediately introduced my friend to Buffy (she hadn't seen a single episode, poor thing) by showing her "Surprise" with the result that we have a new recruit!

The only good thing I can say about Twilight is that it's drawing people's attention to other, much better entries in the vampire canon, such as True Blood, which I adore.

Here is an article that picks up on a lot of the points you've made and contrasts Bella to True Blood's Sookie Stackhouse:

And in the more fun than academic category: