January 9, 2011

The Twilight Dilemma (or why I worry about my students reading this series...)

Okay, here it is, my confession.  I've fallen in love with Twilight.  The thing is, it's the epitome of a love-hate relationship.  When I first read the books in December, I devoured them at a rate I had never anticipated.  When my coworker (a Twilight skeptic) asked me what was so great about them, my response was, "I don't know!!!"  As a liberal feminist and relationship-cynic, every fiber of me screams that I should HATE these books/movies with a vengeance.  But no...I'm hooked.

Having just spent the evening watching New Moon and Eclipse with a friend, I started thinking more about the impact these books may be having on their primary audience: teen & tween girls.  Yes, clearly adults are reading them too, but the Twi-hard base is definitely young girls.  While I have always subscribed to the "Don't limit kids' book options, just get them reading!!!" camp, I am a little wary of giving these books to girls...honestly, to any girls under the age of 18.  And maybe not even then...

Does this make me a hypocrite?  Absolutely.  But please let me explain before you judge.  I love Twilight because, while poorly written, the plots are captivating.  They are an adventure.  While the characters fall flat throughout the series (which gets worse, in my opinion, with every book), I fell in love with the idea of Edward & Bella in book 1, and I wasn't about to let them go and leave the series unfinished.  I'm hardly a romantic, but as a Team Edward member, I swoon with every cheesy lovey-dovey line he throws her way.

Then there are the reasons I hate Twilight...
First of all, there's the bad writing.  I'm not even going to go there...it's really that bad.  But bad writing is really the least of my worries.  That's not why I'm reluctant to share these books with my students.  No, I'm worried about some different things.

*caution, some spoilers!*

1. Unrealistic Expectations:   Edward is perfect.  No really, perfect...well, aside from that whole wanting-to-suck-Bella's-blood thing...but other than that, he really is flawless.  I mean, the two sit in fields of wildflowers while he repeatedly professes his love.  And when, in Eclipse, she goes and kisses Jacob and tells him she loves him too, Edward is totally cool with this.  "Whatever you want, Bella.  You're my life, Bella.  I love you, Bella."  Really?  Um, really?  While I am all for girls holding out for the real deal, I'm not so sure this is the standard we should be setting for girls...
2. Unhealthy Relationship Examples:  That brings me to the HORRIBLE relationship examples Twilight sets.  Yes I love Edward...but their relationship is totally creepy at times.  I've said a million times that the whole series reads like a handbook for an abusive boyfriend.  In book 1, Edward sneaks into Bella's bedroom to watch her sleep...BEFORE THEY HAD EVER SPOKEN!  He is ridiculously protective, and not in the sweet way...more in the scary way.  He even removes the spark plugs from her car at one point to prevent her from going to see Jacob.  In his defense, her life is constantly being threatened so I guess some concern is a bit understandable, but come on people.  That ain't normal.

Jacob is no better.  I'm not a big Jacob fan...well, I liked him in New Moon, but in Eclipse he morphs into a rapist-in-training in my opinion.  For example, he forces Bella to kiss him and doesn't back off even when she tries (unsuccessfully) to push him away.  Then, Bella punches him, breaking her fist on his jaw.  He is unapolegetic.  The cherry on top, though, is that when he takes her home and her father hears about this, he congratulates Jacob for finally going for it and kissing her!  WHAT THE HECK.  What kind of standard are we setting for young girls there, that this behavior is okay??  That it's normal??  Dear god.  (To be fair, Jacob does apologize later.  Bella forgives him.  I do not.)


3. Ultra-Wimpy Female Lead:  Oh Bella.  Bella, Bella, Bella.  Excuse my language, but will you PLEASE grow a pair?  Maybe it's because I read Twilight when I was still coming off my Hunger Games high, a series which has a dynamite, strong female lead, but I pretty much hate Bella.  Here's why:  Bella has basically no life B.E. (before Edward).  She likes reading the classics...but that's about it.  No hobbies.  Few friends (who she essentially abandons once she and Edward are together).  No ambition.  Annd, no personality.  Enter Edward.  Suddenly, her life is full of purpose and meaning.  He is her reason for living.  Her whole life.  Umm, girl, what happened to YOU?  I get it, you're in love.  But...are you still Bella?

Fast forward...Edward leaves Bella.  In a veiled attempt to protect her, he tells her he "doesn't want" her anymore, and that she's "not good" for him.  She translates this to mean she's not good enough for him.  She accepts this instantly, having always KNOWN she was not good enough for Edward.  No "let's talk this over," no "we can work on this."  Nada.  Just a doormat, "Okay."  Then, she self-destructs.  After a week of lying in a catatonic state, she eventually starts going through the motions, but barely eats, sleeps, or speaks for about 6 months.  SIX MONTHS.  What starts pulling her out of this insane coma of self-woe?  Guess.
Another boy.  Because of course, your life is not full without a boy.   But we've already discussed Jacob, so I won't go there again.
Finally, throughout all 4 books, Bella wallows in self-deprecation.  She never believes she is good enough for Edward, and constantly questions his devotion, which he articulates for her pretty much every millisecond.  It is painful.

*end spoilers*

I'm sure you're asking yourself, "Then why the heck are you reading them???"  I ASK MYSELF THE SAME QUESTION!  I have no clue.  But like I said, I love them and cannot stop!  The thing is, though, that I can read them and know that the fantasy isn't just the vampire/werewolf thing.  There is so much more disbelief to be suspended.  And I can read them as a confident woman knowing that the relationships are unhealthy and that Bella is not someone I should be looking up to.

But can my 11 year old female students?  Many of whom have no stable adult relationships in their lives as examples?  While I appreciate the positive, albeit conservative values portrayed in Twilight (one of which is that Edward insists on being married to Bella before sleeping with her, him being from the 1900s and all...) and think that's a great example for young girls, I'm not sure that's the message they'll be taking from the books and movies.

I'd be interested to hear others' thoughts on the topic!

1 comment:

  1. My oldesst, who is 15 1/2, is a huge Twilight fan. I read them too and found Bella to be virtually flat as a character -- she is boring and I couldn't stand her honestly. Spending 6 months staring at a wall over some jerk? No thanks!

    I'm not sure what the huge pull is for Twilight honestly. I read them and did enjoy them, but The Oldest has read them all at least 5 times. She's firmly on Team Jacob but I suspect that is moreso because of Taylor Lautner's naked torso than the actual character in the book!

    I agree with you though. I would steer my 5th grade girls (and boys) to Harry Potter but not toward Twilight. Unrealistic expectations abound in that series.


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