This is the first post in a roundtable on female creators here at HU. Tom, Miriam, and Cerusee will have posts up on this topic as the week goes on.
As threatened, I did in fact see the Twilight movie this weekend. It was actually a good bit better than I thought it would be. I Admittedly, all the actual suspense and vampire stuff is incredibly clichéd – the good vampires vs. the bad vampires; the oh-so-painful need to keep from sucking human blood…the darkness! The tragedy! It’s Buffy light, which is saying something. Even the effects are mediocre and half-assed for the most part. Still, there were good parts. I’m not especially in to the pale slight goth-looking thing myself, but I have it on good authority that if you are, Kristin Stewart is something special. Moreover, her acting was quite good — she manages to come across as both painfully awkward and definitively intelligent, which is not all that easy to pull off. Indeed, the cast as a whole is a lot less cringe-inducing than you might expect. Partially I think it’s the director, Catherine Hardwicke (who also did the very decent Tank Girl movie) who seems to have a real talent for awkward high school interactions. The moment where one of Bella’s friends is asking her to the prom, and she’s so fixated on staring at Edward that she doesn’t even hear him is pretty priceless. Meeting the families was quite funny too…the vampire clan is both cute and freakish, and Edward’s exasperation with them is about exactly what you’d expect from a regular 17 year old dealing with a regularly weird family. I wished more than once that Stephanie Meyer had just written a teen high school drama without all the fantasy crap.
Though, of course, it probably wouldn’t have been popular enough to get made into a movie in that case. The movie seems almost scientifically designed to appeal to the tween-girl hindbrain. Several commenters over at this Robot 6 roundtable noted that the relationship dynamic between Edward and Bella is extremely creepy – and, yep, that’s the case. He’s a complete romanticized stalker, breaking into her house every day for weeks to stare at her sleeping, constantly talking about how his love for her compels him to hurt her. When he first sees her, he stares and stares and stares and is utterly creepy.
So right; encouraging teen girls to romanticize their stalkers — bad. Except that…the whole point of the story, what’s exciting about it, is that Edward will never hurt her. In fact, he won’t even have sex with her. He’ll barely kiss her. There’s a scene where he shows up in her bedroom, and he makes her hold still so he can kiss her…and things start to get hot and heavy, and he leaps away from her, bashing into the wall of her room. Then they spend the night talking, until she falls asleep in his arms. Her mom asks her “are you being safe?” at one point and the irony is that she isn’t, of course — Edward’s anything but safe! But the bigger irony is that she’s being super, ultra, duper safe. No condoms needed here. You might as well say that the story is fetishizing virginity as that they’re fetishizing stalking. Indeed, the whole point seems to be that they’re fetishizing both. The appeal is that you have all the darkness and danger and sex and lust you want, all the magic irresistible power of female sexuality – and its all utterly defanged. You can be dangerous and cool and sexy and stay completely safe and untouched.
What’s funny about the Twilight/San Diego Con flap, in fact, is that, if Twilight belongs anywhere, it’s at a comic convention. It’s the perfect female power dream complement to the male power dream inaugurated by Siegel and Shuster, and still running Superman is a fantasy for boys about having secret power and being invulnerable. Twilight is a dream for girls about having a secret lover who will keep you invulnerable. They’re both utterly transparent and infantile and clueless; Superman wears his underwear on the outside and that’s supposed to be tough and glamorous? Edward drives a Volvo and plays baseball and that’s supposed to be dark and cool? But that cluelessness is also a kind of innocence, and a charm. I don’t necessarily want to read the Twilight books, and lord knows I don’t ever need to read another Superman comic. You could argue that either vision is damaging or dangerous, as you could argue that any fantasy is unhealthy and unrealistic, I guess. But I don’t know. I was a kid, and, for that matter, a tween. I can see the appeal.
Update: Cerusee posts on Ordinary People, Jane Austen, and Zombies.