The Life & Times of an Auteur.

Commentary on Pop Culture, and maybe creating some of my own.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Just Spreading the Word

I did not write this essay, credit for this piece of work goes to Kathleen Coffin, an English major who wrote it as her final term paper. She got an A.

And with this garbage in theaters and stinking up our pop culture, I really wanted to say something about it. But I will not read them, I will not watch them. So here it is from someone who has.

Romanticizing Abuse, Obsession, and Anti-Feminism Since 2005

“Yes, you are exactly my brand of heroin,” (Meyer, 2005) This quote, from Stephenie Meyer’s wildly popular series Twilight, aptly describes the obsessive, sexist, and often abusive relationship between a vampire and a human which is portrayed as romantic. The main character, Bella Swan, falls in love with a vampire named Edward Cullen, who loves her devotedly but does not know if he can control his rampant lust for her blood. (Meyer, 2005) Their tragic relationship has gained mass amounts of attention and fame. Twilight has topped the New York Times best-seller list and has grown a massive fan-base. (New York Times, 2007)

“I love Edward,” Alyssa, 15, from Muncie IN, proclaims. “He’s my favorite. He’s so sparkly and pretty!”
Her friend Nina (15) disagreed. “I liked Jacob—he seemed a lot tougher,” She muses. “And he never left!”
“Edward came back!” Alyssa cuts in pleadingly.
“He still left,” Nina replied flatly.

When looked at from a feminist and psychological perspective, Bella and Edward’s relationship is anything but ‘romantic’. According to the book Young Femininity, “Young women are encouraged to relate to their bodies as objects that exist for the use and aesthetic pleasure of others…” (Aapola, Gonick & Harris, 2005) When Edward refers to Bella as ‘his brand of heroin’, we can see an exact example of what Young Femininity was talking about. Bella is seen as an object, something to protect and coddle. She is written as co-dependent—the constant damsel in distress, whereas Edward is overprotective and possessive.

In the first few chapters, Edward saves her from a truck that nearly crushes her. When she gets nauseous in a biology classroom, he scoops her up and carries her out the door. When she is in Seattle and accosted by several men, Edward drives into the scene and saves her again. When an evil vampire decides to come after Bella, Edward once again carts her off to a different locale to protect her. Not that it makes much difference. Rather than listening to Edward like a good, obedient, girlfriend, she decides to sacrifice herself. So of course, when Bella decides something on her own, it’s something unintelligent that nearly gets her killed. Naturally, Edward saves the day. (Meyer, 2005) This is only in the first book. In the second, we get to see Jacob Black, an American Indian werewolf, (only briefly mentioned in the first book) enter the picture and also save her when she goes hiking by herself. (Meyer seems to be saying that when a woman does anything on her own it will inevitably lead to a near-death experience) Jacob saves her again when she jumps off a cliff in hopes of hearing Edward’s hallucinatory voice. Not once does this cultural icon influencing thousands of girls save herself.

Bella is not the only female character that represents anti-feminism. The three most prevalent females in the books are Alice Cullen, Rosalie Hale, and Leah Clearwater. Alice and Rosalie are vampires, adopted sisters of Edward whereas Leah is the only female werewolf in Jacob’s pack. (Meyer, 2007) One might think that vampire and werewolf women would represent strong female archetypes. But this is not the case. Alice Cullen rarely disobeys Edward’s orders and bribes, even going so far as kidnapping Bella in exchange for a car. (Meyer, 2007) She loves shopping, adores parties, dressing up Bella, and seems to represent pure femininity. There was more hope for Rosalie as a strong female vampire, especially since she found her mate Emmett, and saved his life by carrying him all the way back to the Cullens. (Meyer, 2005) But Rosalie is portrayed as selfish and vain, obsessed with beauty and good looks. She is shown negatively in all three books and in the final book appears to care for Bella but is more interested in taking care of Bella’s child since she is unable to have any of her own. (Meyer, 2008) Leah Clearwater is the best hope, being the only female werewolf in the entire pack. But yet again, Meyer cannot seem to bear to have a strong female character in her books. Leah is bitter and angry because Sam (the alpha of the pack) ‘imprinted’, or chose as a mate her cousin Emily. She antagonizes everyone and when she joins the battle in the third book, they nearly lose because of her. (Meyer, 2005) Sound female characters apparently aren’t what make the series popular.

Aapoloa brings up the point on how the norm in society is for a teenage girl to have a boyfriend. Young women provide evidence of their maturity and worldliness by having boyfriends—being accepted by young men is represented as an accomplishment. (Aspola, Gonick & Harris, 2005) When Bella arrives at her new school she is immediately lavished with attention from admiring boys and halfway through the book Edward declares himself her boyfriend. She is the envy of all the girls—some who try to befriend her and some who are merely catty towards her because of her popularity. As she befriends Edward more, it is clear that the entire relationship is hanging upon him and that he has the perfect right to order her around whenever he pleases. “‘Are you going to tell Charlie I’m your boyfriend or not?’ he demanded.” (Meyer, 2005) “‘I’m not going along with that.’ ‘Then I’ll have to stop you.’” (Meyer, 2007) This presents young girls the idea that relationships are up to the men and they will be outcasts until they get a boyfriend. This is not generally a good thing to impress upon young adolescent girls who are just starting to develop their identity and are insecure because of it.

We also see over and over the claim that Edward and Bella are passionately in love. That’s the point of the series after all. But nowhere in the books, in any of the books in fact, is the explanation on why these two love each other. Meyer compares the lovers to Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett, (Meyer, 2005) Romeo and Juliet, (Meyer, 2006) and Heathcliff and Cathy. (Meyer, 2007) All of these characters (with the exception of Romeo and Juliet, their love was more of a ‘love at first sight’) had specific reasons for why they loved each other and how they fell in love. Though Meyer has the gall to compare her paltry vampire series to the great classics, she never explains why Edward and Bella love each other. We get description after description of Edward’s dazzling beauty (over 100 counted in the first book alone) but that is it. What’s the difference between Bella’s relationship with Edward and her relationship with say, Mike or Eric, one of the many guys that vied for her attention? Mike was just as overwhelming as Edward, even friendlier to be honest. (Meyer, 2005) The difference was that Edward was devastatingly beautiful, whereas poor Mike did not sparkle like a sequined prom dress. There is nothing in Bella and Edward’s relationship that does not go beyond sexual fantasy and personal appearance. So what does this teach adolescent girls? That the primary reasons for dating someone should be based on physical appearance? “The meadow, so spectacular to me at first, paled next to his magnificence.” (Meyer, 2005) What use do the beauties of nature have when you have an attractive boyfriend?

Another topic to discuss is if Bella and Edward’s relationship is necessarily healthy. Not just because he craves her blood—is the relationship as a whole a good relationship? This is particularly significant because thousands of girls wish to have what Edward and Bella have and might not recognize a dangerous situation because of these fantasies.

According to a volume of Journal of Women’s Health, the authors state that dating violence usually has three types: emotional and psychological, physical, and sexual. (Teten, Ball, Valle, Noonan, & Rosenbluth, 2009) They define psychological abuse as isolating a partner from his or her friends and family, controlling or jealous behavior, and acts of dominance such as assertion of power over decision making. (Teten, Ball, Valle, Noonan, & Rosenbluth, 2009) The most immediate example of how this relates to Bella and Edward’s relationship takes place in the third book Eclipse. Within the first chapter, Bella has to ask Edward’s permission to go see her friend Jacob Black. To make sure that Bella doesn’t disobey him, Edward goes as far as dismantling her truck to keep her from sneaking off to visit him. (Meyer, 2007) He claims he does it to protect her, for her own good—and because he loves her. How many times have women in an abusive relationship plaintively say that their significant other beats them because they love them?

The main problem with Bella is her lack of personality. Any of these flaws and messages could be acceptable if she was purposely written as a pathetically weak female character. But she is not. Meyer herself claims the character is ‘realistic.’
But the problem with Bella is that since the entire book series is a complete wish-fulfillment fantasy, it’s easy for young girls to insert themselves as the main character. Bella is shy and quiet—in the beginning of the first book she nervously wonders how she will fit in at her new school. (Meyer, 2005) What adolescent girl doesn’t worry about fitting in? Bella is terribly clumsy—girls go through adolescence stumbling and tripping as their bodies struggle to catch up with them. Suffice it to say, Bella is every teenage girl, which is why the ideas presented in this series are so very poisonous.

Bella is the hapless victim in a story that objectifies women, victimizes women, and romanticizes abuse and obsession. But thanks to a physically attractive savior, a mania painted as tragic, angst-ridden love, with just a dash of bodice-ripping sexual fantasy, we have a bestseller. One can only hope that girls will be able to recognize psychological abuse when they see it and not see it as something to aspire to.
Because that is what Twilight is really about—anti-feminism, sexism, and abuse.

Here is a link to the essay on facebook.

And here is a link to Kathleen's blog.

1 comment:

  1. There a few couples who so utterly deserve eachother like Edward Cullan and Bella Swan. It's a timeless tale of Obsessive Control Freak meets Manipulative Sociopath.