Monday, March 23, 2009


(Spoilers. If you care, stop reading this blog, it's for people over 18.)

Last night, (for shits and giggles with a couple of hard-core horror fans who mocked and howled the whole way through) I saw Twilight. It's a terrible movie in so many ways--if Our Vampires Are so Different that the sun just makes them sparkly and they don't hurt people, why is it even a bad thing to be super-strong and immortal?--okay, and why the fuck are they attending high school?--but I really just want to talk about the sexual politics.

I had heard that Twilight was "the one with the abstinence vampires," but that's not painfully explicit in the movie. It's true Edward and Bella don't fuck, but they don't make a big deal about "hey look at us we're not fucking" so whatever, it's not objectionable. There is one scene where they're making out on her bed and he suddenly leaps back with a horrified "I can't control myself," but it's not clear whether he's talking about sex or vamping out so, again, okay.

(Perhaps he was afraid of turning into Edwardus. Man, Buffy did it all so much better.)

Following in the grand tradition of vampire literature since... pretty much always, biting is the real sex. And a good 75% of the movie is Edward either saying or twitchily emoting that he really really wants to bite Bella. In fact, he straight up says that the reason he's attracted to Bella is that he wants to bite her. (It sure ain't her personality. The high school is full of people being friendly and accepting to her and she invariably grunts at them and wanders away mid-conversation.) Oh, but he mustn't.

Which is where the metaphor breaks down. Biting is a one-sided pleasure that destroys the passive partner. There's no safe biting, no consensual biting, no maturing and becoming ready for biting. Most importantly, there's no mutual biting. "Boys/vampires have to exercise restraint so that they don't selfishly take advantage of girls/victims by biting/fucking them" is a problematic message in so many ways.

Creepily, I think Edward's agonizing self-restraint is what's supposed to make him so dreamy. The movie sure plays all the scenes of him going "want... mustn't... ngghh... want... but I won't!" as money shots--the film climaxes with him denying yet another blood-drinking temptation--and I have a feeling that this is where teenage girls are meant to swoon. "Oooh, he's so repressed! There's a man who'd never allow himself to enjoy the things he desires! So romantic!"

I guess, in some bizarre way, the idea is to make abstinence--metaphorical and literal--sexy. To make a sex symbol out of a guy who won't fuck you. "I wish my boyfriend tormentedly refused to touch me!"

My only hope is that whatever Stephanie Meyer intended, the teenage fans' real motivation is "I'd totally crack that nut."

Also, Edward is just a plain ol' creep. He's supposed to be about 108 years old, but apparently he hasn't done anything with the last 107 of them. He's still attending high school classes, for Chrissakes, and he seems to have all the life experience and emotional maturity you'd expect of a 15-year-old. He falls in love with Bella about a week after meeting her and is teenagerishly obsessive and dramatic about it. You'd think a 108-year-old would've been around the block a bit more than that.

At one point quite early in their relationship, Bella wakes up and Edward is in her bedroom watching her sleep. Um, creeeepy. (Also, how'd he get in without an invitation? DAMMIT STEPHANIE MEYER WHAT KIND OF CRAPPY VAMPIRES ARE THESE ANYWAY.) Several times he follows her around for no damn reason, and several times he more or less kidnaps her. I don't require all my fictional characters to be moral paragons, but nonetheless I'm disturbed by the idea that Edward is being held up as the ideal teenage boyfriend.

Girls, girls! The awkward, broody older guy who follows you around and starts saying "I can't live without you" stuff in the first week is not dreamy! He is a Level III Offender. Don't get in the van.

P.S.: An unnamed accomplice who is a Pacific Northwest Native would like to add that he is not "descended from wolves," does not have a wolf or any other "totem spirit," that American Indian mythology does not consist of "anything you want to make up as long as it sounds naturey," and that American Indians are not, in fact, adorable woodland creatures that exist for your amusement.


  1. Man that's funny, and sad, and creepy. Someone else observed that most vampire stories are elaborate closeted rape fantasies and this one seems to follow suit.

    I only wish my niece weren't involved with this particular nihilistic fantasy.

  2. Tom - Rape or not, I like a lot of vampire stories because they at least make sense, are fun, and treat the audience respectfully. Twilight isn't rapey, but it's creepy, condescending, and frickin' boring.

  3. The really tragic part is that the movie is dramatically better than the book in both story and execution.

    Seriously. Read it. That woman has a degree in English, you'll either cry or laugh yourself sick.

  4. aebhel is SO RIGHT. It's sad. You really should read the books. They're TERRIBLE. My English major soul burned when I read them, which I had to do because I was metaphorically pissing on them so much and people were getting angry that I hadn't. Oh man.

    Actually, I think it would be hilarious to make Twisty Faster read them. She's so batshit, it would be wonderful.

  5. A friend who loves these books pretty hard told me that, in the book, SMeyer explained away some of the weirdness regarding Edward's behavior despite his age with vampires being stuck at whatever emotional/mental stage of development they were when they died.

    Whatever, still retarded.

  6. Also, I am now reminded about how funny/creepy it was that Buffy spent of her series, including her junior in high school, in relationships with men who were ten-fifteen times older than she was. Not that it was really bothersome, because they, too, kind of acted like teenagers.

    It's funny to imagine how ludicrously inappropriate it would be for season five Angel (on Angel) to be in a relationship with a seventeen year old.

  7. Er, that would be me. Oh my God! Now everyone know my first name. And this is my third comment in a row, and I have a bad habit of not knowing when to stop serial commenting. So this is it, hopefully.

  8. Re the Native American thing- oh God yes, that pisses me off SO HARD. Whenever I hear "native American spirituality/religion" I want to shriek "WHICH ONE GODDAMMIT?!" at the top of my lungs.

    There are twenty-one tribes in the Pueblos ALONE. They are all DIFFERENT, dammit!

  9. You indians need to face the fact that you're basically Ewoks and get over it.

  10. Braaaiiins - Even if he does have the emotional development of a 17-year-old (although, in 1918, was that really so far off from adult anyway?), he's still got 108 years of life experience. That ought to count for something.

    For one thing, if he's the sort of person who can fall in mad love in a week, you'd think all this would've happened about 500 times before.

    Aaron - Buffy raised some of the same issues, but--in my perception, but fuck it, I'm right--did a much better job of presenting them from the teenagers' point of view. Buffy captured the furtiveness, naughtiness, and eventual regret of dating older men your friends and family don't approve of--Twilight just glosses over these things.

    LabRat - Twilight actually does specify a tribe and it's a real one, the Quileute. However, most of the details about Quileute mythology and lifestyle are stuff off the top of Stephenie Meyer's head that sounded naturey and spiritual and stuff.

    Don Gwinn - That casts Return of the Jedi in kind of a disturbing light, now that you mention it.

  11. i appreciated that PS - there is a huge difference even between tribes of the same nation (i'm thinking, like, Lakohta and Mohawk, for instance). i am Cherokee... and people keep trying to ask me if any of my family still on the rez *really* sleep in wig-wams?
    hello!? the Cherokee are originally from GEORGIA!

    erm... sorry.

    i had to read these books (i am the pre-reader for my niece) and, well, there is a VERY big deal made about the no-sex thing made in the 3rd books. VERY big.
    and the 4th book is... well.

    actually, the critiques that i have read that make the most sense are the ones that take Twilight on as Mormon fiction (which i didn't run into until i had read them all). not that the Mormon take is the *only* take.

    but really, the books are just appalling to me, from a feminist viewpoint. fun, light reads if you don't know much about vampires, werewolves, Native Americans, or Life. so, ok i guess for a 14 year old, in a Romeo-and-Juliet sorta way.

  12. If I remember correctly, in the first book it was mainly the blood attraction thing stopping him. Of course, she's the only author who's written about vampires that I know of who makes the point that creatures who can crush rocks and tear steel would make dangerous bed partners. Sorta like all those bad jokes about superman sex.

  13. @Ravenstrike

    Laurell K. Hamilton acknowledges that superhuman characters can damage human ones while fucking. There are several comments from her horrible Mary Sue of a main character about how good it is that she has superhuman attributes or she wouldn't be able to handle this superhard fucking.