Tuesday, May 21, 2013

TWILIGHT BROKEN DOWN – vampires+sex = success?

Every month, members of teamTEENauthor write a blog post for teens on a specific topic. May’s topic is Twilight.

(Beware, Twilight spoilers throughout)

An extended recording of this article is here… sorry about the interference, I literally recorded it on my way back from watching the film :)

So this blog is a fun ‘writer’s analysis’ of Twilight and why it works. A lot of people, males especially, have asked why it has done so well… I have the answers.

The first cool thing about Twilight is the cover of the first book: pale hands holding red fruit, the cryptic, symbolic apple; the book was based originally on ‘Pride and Prejudice’ which Stephenie Meyer used as a re-creative point for her first novel. Each of the Twilight books also play into great works of literature, from Merchant of Venice to Romeo and Juliet.

The second cool thing is that the whole reinvention of vampires in Twilight is fresh and new. The fact that Meyer’s vampires are able to walk around in the day means readers can relate to characters that can interact with vampires in everyday life.

The third cool factor is that it plays to the archetype to the normal, average teen who tries but always finds themselves lacking. Fantasy novels always deal with this idea; take for example ‘Harry Potter’, unloved by his aunt’s family. In the same way, it’s the clumsy girl, who attracts the attention of an attractive, enchanting man. This is the core of Twilight’s success. It isn’t the fact that Taylor Lautner takes his shirt off every ten minutes (though I have no objections to that either).

The last and most important key to Twilight’s success lies in the way that modern relationships seem to work. Pre 1970s feminism women generally married young and became an extension of their husbands. Only then would they have sex, and then those people for the most part would stay together. Even if men cheated on their wives, it was generally accepted that divorce was not really a viable option.

Now, however, due to the shift of social attitudes, sex has become a commodity. Love, emotions and sex in some ways could be argued to have been divided.  We have Skins, a British and now American television show which trivialises sex, particularly for teenagers and makes it seem like something everyone is doing, all to do with hedonism, and having a good time. I’m not against that idea but I’m thinking that the reason that Twilight is so successful is that many young girls are stuck between two eras.

On some level, many young women want their partner to be kind to them: respect them, wait for them, love them unconditionally, take care of them and stay true them, to put that girl beyond and before every other girl in their life, to try at every turn to make that girl as happy as possible. That’s what I believe Edward represents.

Furthermore, Edward’s affection for Bella is not something that waxes and wanes, peaking at times and dipping at others. At no point in the narrative do we doubt the level of Edward’s love for Bella. It’s a love that lasts. The book is characterised at the end by a love that lasts forever.

This is the real reason that Edward being a vampire is so important. His eternal life is synonymous with his eternal love. This is ultimately why ‘Twilight’ is so successful, because Edward represents the possibility that you might have a relationship that lasts until you die, which is in effect, your forever.

Now for the flipside.

I really like ‘Twilight’. However, I think there are some pretty negative themes which run through the series. I love Stephenie Meyer’s characterisation, her use of allegory. However, when enjoyed on a worldwide scale I think it can be very negative and this is why.

Many young girls see Bella and her relentless pursuit of Edward as a model for their own lives. Because she doesn’t take ownership of her life, it is continually defined in relation to Edward: his existence in her life makes it worth living, what Edward wants is often what she wants, what he is is what she wants to become.When she meets him she can think of nothing else, which I think many young women (and many young men too) have experienced. 

When you fall head over heels it can be obsessive. However, when Edward leaves (New Moon) Bella starts to pull her life back together with the help of Jacob, who she leaves when Edward returns. This can be seen as returning to an “abusive” relationship. Her boyfriend of choice is controlling, one-hundred years older than her and from an incredibly dangerous family. It could be interpreted as saying that dangerous guys who control you will love you in the end.

We also have this whole idea that Bella is deprived of sex from Edward which only makes her want him more. When they eventually do go 'all the way' (Breaking Dawn) she is seen very much as a temptress. He doesn't want to but she coerces him. This positions her as a temptress, as forbidden fruit, as Eve tempting Adam.

Bearing in mind that that they get married because it is something HE wants, Edward then accidentally impregnates Bella almost instantly. This also seems to send a message that pregnancy is inevitable. The child she becomes pregnant with goes on to kill her. I know it’s a fantasy and I know it’s all make believe, however, the images are so interlinked in Twilight, that they become quite dark.
Ultimately, Bella becomes Edward. She becomes part of him as his wife. She becomes the mother of his child. She becomes, finally, a vampire as he is. This is the only moment that she starts to take control. She effectively only becomes herself when she is part of a man in every way she can be.

This is a sharp contrast to what we see in The Hunger Games for example, where Katniss, an independent, strong-willed, courageous, young adult has to draw reserves of courage to fight, who never loses a sense of self. She fights in the Hunger Games, she is completely fierce and knows herself. When Katniss loves, she chooses to love, she is not coerced into it, she realises her feelings over time, giving them long enough to settle, whereas Bella lurches from one emotion to another.

Now I’m not trying to say I don’t like Twilight. I love it. I think it’s beautiful that a love story can be so popular in a modern, cynical age. I think it shows that underneath it all people still want fairytales, they still want loves that last. But I think it’s important to look at all the levels of the narratives which make up popular culture, while we enjoy them. Let me know what you think!

An extended recording of this article is here… sorry about the interference, I literally recorded it on my way back from watching the film :)

Elizabeth Amisu is a writer, reviewer of film and fiction, and lecturer in Film and English. She is the author of The Sacerdos Mysteries. Her novels are available on Amazon Kindle. Sign up for a free short at www.elizabethamisu.com

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