Sunday, March 22, 2015

Confessions of a Twihard

Middle school me was a total Twi-hard. That is, I was a diehard fan of Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series. I had the hard-cover box set, the movie posters on my walls, tee-shirts, calendars, pins, cups, and more.   (Fun fact; I’m drinking out of a cup with Edward’s face on it as I write this.)  I had more than one Twilight themed birthday party. I had a black hoodie proudly proclaiming my obsession with Twilight.  Yet now I cringe when I see tween-girls (or anyone else) reading them.  I have to resist the urge to lecture these girls.  While I would’ve ignored any criticism of Twilight as a tween I wish someone would’ve made me realize how messed up a lot of the series’ content is.

     The books focus on the love triangle between Bella, a mortal and flawed damsel in distress; Jacob, the buff boy-next-door werewolf; and Edward, the mysterious and thrilling vampire.  Bella spends the four books navigating between the two boys.  Fans identify as either Team Edward or Team Jacob.  Middle school me was Team Edward, much to my current dismay.  Edward is possessive, controlling, manipulating, and creepy.  Jacob is not much better.  He is immature and aggressive.  I did not once hear anyone mention a Team Bella.  The idea of a Team Bella is exceptionally applicable in the second book of the series in which Bella falls into a deep depression when Edward suddenly leaves her life.  Bella needs a legitimate support team of friends, family, and professionals to help her.  While Bella might be fictional there are many real life women and girls in similar (minus the vampires and werewolves) situations.

Victim blaming is a recurring motif in the Twilight series.  Edward and all the other vampires blame Bella for having fragrant blood.  No one blames the vampires for wanting to kill her.  Bella is blamed for being selfish and foolish when she jumps off a cliff.  No one blames Edward for creating and encouraging Bella’s complete dependence on him and the depression that follows his abandonment of her. 

Edward sucks Bella's blood in order to
save her from turning into a vampire.
One aspect of the story that contributes to Edwards’s creepiness is his intense desire to suck Bella’s blood.  I was eleven years old the first time I read Twilight.  It scares me now to recall how Edward’s behavior raised zero red flags for middle school me.  I saw his possessive nature as love.  I saw his stalking habit as protective adoration.   I saw his disregard for Bella’s safety as him sweetly indulging her wishes.  I saw his abandonment in the second book as a noble effort to help Bella.  Edward and Bella have a veryveryvery unhealthy relationship.

The final book in the series revolves around the existence of Bella and Edward’s child.  Carrying a half-vampire-half-human baby is unheard of and risky.  Edward tries to force Bella into an unwanted abortion.  Some people point to this instance and claim that Edward is finally looking out for Bella’s best interest.  Dictating another mentally capable person’s medical care is in no way sweet and loving.  Bella wants to carry her fetus even though it breaks her bones, rips its way from her body, and brings her to the edge of death.  Some pro-lifers look at Bella and see a dedicated mother.  I see a pregnant teenage girl who has been disempowered into opting out of a life saving medical treatment.  Bella’s pregnancy should not be seen as a rallying point or silver lining.  Can we start the Team Bella social movement yet

There’s a quote from ABC’s Private Practice that rings true for me, “Don't let the perspective you have now diminish the feelings you had then. That wouldn't be fair.”  I can’t delete Twilight from my childhood and I don’t want to. For all its downfalls the Twilight books were a source of comfort to me for many years.  If you see someone reading the Twilight books please don’t lash out at or criticize them.  Take the opportunity to have a conversation about the intense sexism and the demented portrayal of love in the Twilight series. 

I’d also like to recommend two YouTube videos by the talented Laci Green about Twilight.  Search for “Dangerous Role Models: Twilight” and “Twilight, Mormonism, and Meyer” to learn more and join the conversation.

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