It’s no secret that I’m a Twilight fan. The books allowed me to joyfully indulge in cheesy, fluffy escapist fantasy. And the movies are no different. The first movie in the Twilight “saga” was enjoyable the same way campy b-movies are enjoyable. The effects were bad, the makeup was bad, the script was REALLY bad (er…. “spider monkey?”). It was low budget, and it showed. I giggled my way through it.
This time around, the producers understood what they had in hand: a money machine. So, they threw a little budget at it, changed the director and… voila! New Moon is a very different kind of movie. The special effects are great, especially when the werewolves come on the scene, and the dialogue is actually funny in parts. I mean, on purpose.
Unfortunately, no amount of budget or talent can change one element about the book/movie, an element that will plague the whole series like an itchy nose on a date. The only thing holding this story back from crossing into awesome territory is this: Bella is a freakin’ annoying character.
The title of the movie refers to a new romantic presence in Bella’s life: her friend Jacob Black, a member of the local Native American tribe who, according to legend, are descendants of werewolves. Well, it turns out that, once again, the legends contain more truth than fiction. Jacob becomes a member of the werewolf pack, a group of young men who have inherited the ability to turn into wolves and hunt – what else? – vampires. With Edward gone – claiming not to love Bella, but really leaving because he thinks that he poses too much of a danger to her – Bella turns to Jacob for comfort, companionship, and safety. Of course, his feelings develop romantically and she is confused. Should she stay loyal to her one true love, even in his absence? Should she try to love Jake, for all his wonderful abs – er, I mean – qualities?
Kristen Stewart told The New York Times that she plays her role by pretending that Edward has a real human affliction, like a heroine addiction, rather than that he is a vampire. So, if we follow that logic, this is a story about a girl who is in love with a heroine addict. While tortured boys do have a certain appeal, her devotion to him is completely – and dangerously – romanticized. He’s hot, his attentions make her feel special, but he also has a barely contained impulse to kill her to drink her blood. While that adds a certain level of tension to the story, it makes one wonder about the self-worth this girl has when her boyfriend is the dude who, in response to the question “How can you stand to be this close to her?” responds through clenched jaw, “It’s not without difficulty.”
Add to the list of evidence for her lack of self-esteem, the ultimate red flag: she’s suicidal. She goes for rides with strange, sketchy guys, she dives off cliffs, she crashes her motorcycle, then insists, “I want to go again,” while bleeding from the head. And all because she craves the way Edward somberly appears to her when her life is in danger, wagging a finger in his fatherly way.
Truthfully, there’s no need to wonder about her self-worth. I know it’s zero. Bella tells us in so many words in the climactic scene. After tracking Edward to Italy, she flings herself upon his bare, pale, shimmery chest in order to stop him from exposing himself in a crowded square, then tells him that he can leave her without guilt. She whines, “[Your loving me] didn’t make any sense… I’m nothing.”
When Bella says that there’s nothing left after Edward leaves, she’s kind of right. But that’s not because that’s how love is. That’s because she focused on him to the exclusion of everything else, especially herself. I shudder to think of the young women who might think that it’s normal – and even a sign of ultimate love – to feel that nothing is left when the guy is gone.
Dear, dear Bella. This story does not have a happy ending for me. This is sad. Ending up in a relationship in which you revere and idolize your boyfriend while telling yourself that you aren’t worthy of his affection is not healthy or romantic. Go be with your friend Jake because, while he is also irrationally obsessed with protecting you from harm while he could be doing something more fun, he at least wants to hear what you have to say and wants you to lead your own life. Or, better yet, develop a hobby OF YOUR OWN. Go out with some of your friends. They are very nice and cute. And, amazingly enough, they will still give you the time of day after you wasted three months of your senior year sitting at a table by yourself and staring into space.
Some would argue that a character from a movie need not be a role model for girls and, to that, I say, “Thank goodness.” But I don’t think anyone can deny that there are many girls out there who think Edward Cullen is just peachy and that a boy who watches you sleep, tells you what to do, and leaves you out of the decisions concerning your own life is the boy of their dreams. And, to them, I say “That’s gonna get old fast. ‘Specially when said controlling fella is immortal.”
I leave you with a very funny Twilight-inspired song that I found on Jezebel.com:
Shannon lives in Brooklyn, where she is trying to get over her bitterness that Bella chose Edward over Jacob.
This post also appears on my personal blog I’m thinking…
I agree with you 100 percent on this one!
Lauren Herold – You say girls are able to differentiate reality from fiction, so it doesn’t matter that Bella is a poor role model. As much as I’d like to agree with you, I can’t.
Watching the TV series Mad Men has been a real eye-opener for me – I grew up in Westchester in the 60’s. My parents were Don and Betty Draper. We loved with similar attitudes about minorities, divorced people, and women. And no one thought anything of it – that was just how it was. Now, looking back, it absolutely turns my stomach. Thankfully, in our society, those attitudes are no longer acceptable. But it was A LONG LONG ROAD for the first wave of feminists and civil rights campaigners to chip away at such a massive societal paradigm. I caught the very tail-end; by the time I entered the workforce, it wasn’t weird that a woman would work, but I still struggled with the good-old-boy attitudes of many colleagues, and there were almost no minority managers.
Some day, I’d like to live in a world where the idea that a girl/woman would be treated the way Edward treats Bella (patronizing, she’s-sweet-and-he’s-worldly) is as unthinkable as it is now to see how the Sterling Cooper men treat their secretaries in Mad Men. But we are not going to get there with pop culture like Twilight. Sure, any individual book/movie/whatever isn’t the problem. But add them all up, and you get a poisonous culture that continues to hold girls and women back from achieving their full potential.
A lot of adults/people are criticizing Twilight by looking at the sexist messages it sends. While I don’t necessarily disagree with people’s criticisms, I do think a lot of adults forget one thing: girls already know this stuff. After all, they are the ones who’ve read the books a million times and have already been talking about Twilight for years. I think adults are undervaluing girls’ critical thinking abilities. I’ve never met a girl who likes Bella’s character and I’ve never met a girl who wasn’t frustrated that Bella treats Jacob so badly. I’ve never met a girl who was so obsessed with Twilight that she couldn’t separate fantasy from reality. (ok, that doesn’t mean these girls don’t exist, but I’d bet there are less of them than we think.) By assuming that girls aren’t thinking critically about Twilight, we affirm the stereotype that tweens and teens are shallow, boy-crazy, and easily manipulated.
On another note, I think Stephenie Meyer purposely under-characterized Bella so that any girl could identify with her and want to be her. In a way, she reminds me of Carrie from "Sex in the City"–Carrie is an Everywoman and Bella is an Everygirl. Just like everyone used to say, "I’m a Carrie!", girls today can see themselves in Bella because she has no strong personality and so can be adapted to fit anyone. While that’s so frustrating, it’s also a smart choice for a fiction author.
I hesitate to even start writing this comment b/c I’m afraid I will be here writing for hours and what will come out of it will take much longer to read the the entire Twilight series and will be much less compelling.
I could.not.put.these.books.down. Anytime someone mentions wanting to read them, I insist that they get all four books first before even starting the first one. These books are like crack. In almost every way. Because you have to have them. And then when they’re over, you start thinking about the damage they have done. Are are doing. Shannon, you are so right. I’ve read all of the above, and by the end of the fourth book I was furious. Furious that they were over and furious about Bella. Maddie, she is not compelling. She’s overbearingly annoying and vapid, and just bland.
Where I get the most angry about these books, though, is in Bella’s complete and utter lack of choice. (get ready for some spoilers, b/c it’s the fourth book that makes me the most angry and details will be spilled here). She doesn’t get to choose who she loves, it just happens to her (that’s a theme in these books, nobody gets to choose, they get to be IMPRINTED UPON. how romantic). She doesn’t get to choose whether to have sex with him or not (he gets to decide that too, and only *after* she agrees to MARRY his undead ass) and whether or not he will turn her, which she really wants him to do. She asks for kisses, she begs him to stay with her. He decides it all. And in the grand tradition of the way our country is obsessed with violence and terrified of sex and sexuality, (hello, the VAMPIRE INSISTS that she MARRY him before he will sleep with her?!?!?) the one choice she does get to make (ironic, to keep the baby, which Edward does not want her to do) ends up ruthlessly and violently killing her (which forces Edward to turn her, so she gets that choice too, but not on her own terms). The scene in book four where she delivers her baby is one of the most horrific, violent and disgusting scenes I have ever read. I am an open-minded, left of center, generally uber liberal gal, and I think all parents should read that scene at least before letting their kids read that book. oh, but Tara, it’s getting kids to read! we should applaud that! right? seriously, parents, read it. And in case you’re not going to, let me just recap for you. Bella feels a pain when the super human baby inside of her kicks, she stands up, the baby kicks her so hard, it shatters her spinal column and she starts vomiting blood all over the living room. finally the baby like chews and claws its way out of her paralyzed, dying body, so Edward has to turn her into a vampire or she’ll die. finally she gets her wish to be a vampire! (which by the way, we, as readers, even smart feminist readers, have also wanted for her since book one. mostly so we might get a hot hot make out scene, let’s be honest) A wish she only wants so she can fulfill her life’s dream of what? of being with edward forever. We get an incomplete mostly suggested sex scene after waiting for it for four books, which tells us that sex is so so wrong that no matter how much we want it, it can’t happen without marriage and even then is too sensitive to give details about, and then this awful delivery scene filled with bloods, guts and gore in extreme specific detail.
I love a romantic comedy. I love love. I love entertainment for entertainment’s sake. I loved these books. I hated these books almost more though, afterwards. When I really started to think about them.
The question is, is Tiger Woods responsible just because *we want* him to be a good role model? Does Twilight have an obligation just because kids are reading it and girls love it, to teach young girls anything about being strong and powerful, and not letting boys dictate your self-worth? I wish it did teach something better. But one could argue that that’s not its job.
I could go on and on. And on and on.
I think this is very interesting. Although Bella is really annoying, I never considered her being suicidal for wanting to be with a man that wants her blood lol. But I think this just reflects poorly back on Stephanie Meyer for not being able to make Bella a strong character. She took the time to develop Edward’s character in and out. But it appears that she spent very little time on Bella, not developing her wants and her desires. That just goes to show that sometimes even women writers internalize the stereotypes about women and perpetuate them. There are other Vampire/Human love stories where the Heroine is far from weak. If you’re 17+ check out True Blood on HBO. Sookie Stackhouse is almost a superhero!
Shannon Rigney Keane
Emily, thanks for your response! I agree that it’s bizarre to see girls hold Bella up as a role model, when the character is portrayed as a victim in need of constant "supervision" (and, you’re right, Edward is borderline bullying her – I’d forgotten about the tire slashing). The only thing she has to offer is her smell. As a side note, I also read Midnight Sun, which is Twilight from Edward’s perspective, and explains why he loves her. Which, essentially, comes down to how good and self-less she is. I don’t appreciate SM portraying self-lessness as an admirable trait. Why not create a character who attracts the boy’s affection because she is so strong, so opinionated, so much fun, etc?
I cringe to admit it, but I have not read Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. You’ve inspired me to do so now.
I personally don’t really like the twilight saga, but it’s okay-ish. I did see new moon and I have read all the books. I thought Shannon’s blog was great because it really analyzes it well. I think Bella’s choice is a little freaky because a lot of the girls in my school want to be Bella. Well, not like with the vampire/werewolf aspect but with the same personalities as the said ‘hereos’. Bella is not a good role model. Edward is borderline abusive, if I’m correct, practically slashing her tires so she can’t see Jacob. I’m not exactly team edward or jacob or swizterland because if you’ve read the books, then you see she’s made a lot of comparisons with Wuthering Heights. After reading the twilight series, I read Wuthering Heights. Stephanie Meyer took one of the greatest love stories of all time and wrote her own ending to it. Edward is supposed to be like Heathcliff, while Bella is supposed to be Cathy, and Jacob is sort of like Edgar, supposedly. I think this is rather insulting to Emily Bronte’s book, because sure, Heathcliff and Cathy belong together but don’t end up together. But Bella and Edward do. Emily Bronte’s characters are much better, and although Cathy is not an ideal role model, she doesn’t idolize Heathcliff, so I would rather her as my role model than Bella.
Maddie, Thanks for the comment. Yeah, I know… It’s silly to try to analyze Twilight because, once you do, you immediately find so many holes that you wonder how the whole thing stayed together in the first place. And, yet, somehow it does, and it captures the attention of SO MANY people.
And, yeah, the characters’ fascination with Bella is totally confusing because she’s such a boring and flimsy character. I don’t know if I think having no personality is that different from thinking you’re nothing. I do think that acting as if you’re some vessel who doesn’t exist unless a boy comes along to fill you up is about the dumbest and least interesting way for a person to be. I agree that the relationships and story in the books and movies seem odd because they all totally revolve around such a person.
Jake, Edward. We could argue forever (but I’d never budge), so I’m glad we can just agree to disagree.
Great post Shannon! I don’t know, something about analyzing Twilight seems unnatural and makes my brain hurt, but now that you’ve got me started, yes, Edward’s relationship with Bella is totally unhealthy and creepy as hell.
To me, Bella isn’t annoying because she has no self worth, it’s just becuase she has no personality. She’s supposedly this brilliant girl that is so beloved–not for her apparently "average" looks–but because she’s this speical, amazing, person. But then she spends all of the books acting like a whiny lovesick puppy with no independent thoughts or charm. Because Bella is such a dull character, it makes all of the other relationships in the book so superficial and confusing. I don’t care about Edward/Bella or Jacob/Bella, because I just don’t care about Bella. I think that contributes to the whole creepiness of Edward’s obsessiveness, it seems to come out of nowhere. He smells her and then all of a sudden he’s "in love" and stalking her and watching her sleep. It’s just sketchy…
Reguardless, somehow when I actually read the books it didn’t matter. I read all of the books in a two week Twilight frenzy and when I read New Moon, I was just waiting for Edward to come back and for them to be together. What is it with these books? I can’t wait to see the movie, I’m just bummed that the dialogue has improved:(