On Twilight, romance, and antifeminist ideas

The other day, Sweet Machine alerted me to a new study about the influence of media on relationship ideals. According to BBC News, the study found that people who watch a lot of romantic comedies have unrealistic and harmful ideas about relationships — they were more likely to believe in destiny when it comes to love, and less likely to communicate effectively with their partners (or, the researchers hazard, to think communication is important). To be sure, I’ve ranted about rom-coms for the same reason, and also from a general feminist perspective — the way they devalue both partners in a relationship, reinforce absurd gender roles, associate femininity with pablum — though to be honest I’m most likely to complain about them simply because they’re awful. But like so many of the studies we examine here, I think these researchers are confused about causation. In this case, I think they have it backwards.

I’ve always hated romantic comedies (with a very few exceptions) and never really suffered from the misconceptions being examined. So to elaborate on this thought, let me move away from rom-com to generic rom, or actually rom-vamp. Dan’s young cousin, who is now my cousin too, is a big fan of the Twilight series. She told me all about it at a time when I didn’t know anything about the books except that they involved vampires and were very popular. (Remember those innocent times before you learned that vampires sparkle and play baseball?) I listened politely as she explained the mystique of Bella and Edward’s relationship: that, as she described it, he loves her because he wants to kill her and can’t read her mind. It didn’t sound like a particularly feminist tome, but neither were the vampire books I read when I was her age, and I just didn’t know enough about the series to say “wow, that shit ain’t right.” (Also I try not to swear in front of those cousins, believe it or not!)

Of course, the more I found out about Twilight, the more horrified I was at its retrogressive approach to romance. For those of you who live under a mercifully insulating rock, a recap: To the best of my understanding, and I haven’t read the books, Bella has no stated interests outside of her devotion to Edward. The two are forcibly abstinent, because his passions would rupture her (or because vampire bun + human oven = death, I’m not totally clear on this point). Edward is obsessively in love with Bella, because she smells like tasty food, except his mood swings make Ian Curtis look like Stuart Smalley so sometimes he acts like he hates her. (The rest of the time he jealously imprisons her, abandons her, or stalks her “for her own good.”) Bella is obsessively in love with Edward and completely subsumes her personality and choices to him. Bella’s mind is opaque to Edward, who is usually psychic, which I gather from my cousin makes her seem mysterious and fascinating to him even though she’s impossibly bland (particularly after committing herself entirely to pleasing Edward). As the books go on, shit only gets worse — Edward’s controlling habits become more active (sabotaging Bella’s car, for instance, rather than just watching her sleep), Bella starts grasping for Edward’s attention by endangering herself, Bella is tormented by Edward’s refusal to make her a vampire (either so they can fucking have some sex already or so they can be together forever etc. — I’d be thinking the former but it’s probably the latter), and finally she nearly dies giving birth to his child, which breaks her back and has to be chewed out of her womb. I guess vampire law doesn’t have a “health of the mother” exemption.

Bear with me for a second, because I’m about to get a little more autobiographical than usual. (I’ll try to keep it short, but I think personal perspective may be more useful than speaking theoretically.) There are basically four relationships that have defined my romantic history and, to a disheartening extent, my personality. The last one, you all know about — through a combination of good timing and the influence of friends, I lucked into not only one of the healthiest, happiest, sanest relationships I’ve ever been in, but really one of the healthiest and happiest and sanest relationships it’s possible to have. (Reader, I married him — no mystery why.) The other defining relationships: Ages 15-18, obsessive teen thing; his fits of rage and frustration weren’t usually directed at me, but he got progressively more controlling and jealous. Ages 20-21, chronic nogoodnik emotional abuser; I supported him financially while he by turns doted on me and punished me for imagined infractions. Ages 21-25, protracted non-relationship with a profound power dynamic; he was intermittently affectionate, scolding, and indifferent, and had me scrambling to learn his rules and his preferences and what he thought I ought to do to improve and fix myself, which seemed to change based on what he wanted from me at that moment. (Sweet Machine, did I get those basically right?) Salient common denominators: learned helplessness on my part, and on theirs, a conviction that I was fucked up and needed to be fixed, or at least contained. It’s important to note that at no point did I completely stop being, in my non-relationship life, a mouthy, stubborn, prickly punk-ass. But I still rolled right over for these men who thought they knew what was best for me.

The point is, I would have fucking LOVED Twilight if it had come out when I was a young teen. The central relationship that I described up there with so much deserved disdain would have resonated so hard for me, my whole body would have rung with it. I would have fantasized obsessively about being fragile, irresistible Bella and deserving to have an Edward of my own, as I’m told millions of teenage girls and grown-ass women do. Twilight horrifies me, but it mystifies me not at all; I know exactly what the appeal is, not just intellectually but viscerally. When I was the age of Twilight’s target audience, I hadn’t had any of those defining relationships, of course, but clearly I had the capacity to find disdain, paternalism, and misused power attractive.

But I didn’t read it, because it didn’t exist. In point of fact I read pretty much everything that did exist, or at least everything that ended up in my line of sight, up until age 12 or so, because I was socially and psychologically awkward. So I probably read some stuff that was just as objectionable — but I also read the delightfully feminist Song of the Lioness series, for instance, and observed the growing partnership and understanding that preceded the marriage of Meg Murry and Calvin O’Keefe [1], not to mention consuming great swaths of YA-and-otherwise fiction that had fuckall to do with relationships, misogyny, or self-respect. Wherever my fascination with muting my personality to try to please undeserving men came from, it wasn’t from my reading. (And it wasn’t from my TV watching, which was and is mostly cartoons.) But if I’d found a book that catered so perfectly to that fascination, I would have eaten it up.

The rom-com study’s conclusions could suggest a simple plan of action: Keep impressionable minds away from “romance” media. I don’t think it’s remotely so simple. It’s not a mistake that romantic comedies, and romantic horrors like Twilight, play on models of romantic interaction that rely on patriarchal gender roles. Women are flighty and adorable or fragile and damaged, or all four; men are at best protectors, at worst superiors whose attention and emotions are a prize to be gained. These tropes predate modern media, and rooting that out promises to be — has proven to be — a lot more difficult than flipping the channel from Dharma and Greg to Buffy, or (say) giving your cousin a box set of the Rebecca Rabinowitz-approved series Uglies.

Because those of us for whom these unhealthy messages are going to resonate? We seek them out, because they represent existing beliefs and desires. Regardless of your opinions on nature and nurture, by the time we’re consciously consuming non-Teletubby media, young women are not empty vessels in danger of being filled with bad ideas. We already got the bad ideas, from the input we get every day, from years of media we might not even have paid attention to, from offhand comments that seemed innocent at the time. We worry about giving kids good models in what they watch and what they read, and I do think that’s an important concern — sure, the bad models are usually more fun, but I believe in making sure kids have access to positive messages (I wouldn’t have asked Rebecca to guest post if I didn’t!). But we absolutely can’t stop there — and we can’t just start there, either. Bad feminist role models aren’t responsible for bad feminists. Bad role models germinate in a society that devalues women, condones misogyny, and elevates unrealistic and regressive relationship roles.

It’s easy for us to shake fingers at Twilight or roll our eyes at Maid in Manhattan, but even poisonous plants need fertilizer to thrive. It’s a feminist act to protest antifeminist media. It’s feminism’s goal to create a society where nobody wants it in the first place.

[1] Let us ignore, for the time being, the really problematic aspects of their relationship, mainly Meg giving up her education/career for her children. I was having trouble remembering all the stuff I used to read, so I asked Dan “what are some books with good relationships I might have read as a kid?” and he said “people don’t write books about good relationships.” Fair enough, really.

173 thoughts on “On Twilight, romance, and antifeminist ideas

  1. I guess vampire law doesn’t have a “health of the mother” exemption.

    To be fair, I gather that Bella actively chooses to keep the kid, to the extent that Bella actively chooses anything. But yeah.

    Great post. Jack Thompsons of the world, take note. :P

  2. No, you’re right, my understanding is that she insists on keeping the kid (probably because, you know, it will cement her relationship to Edward… or because Stephanie Meyer is a Mormon and there’s a huge emphasis on procreating). It’s just that, in the absence of wry cracks about health exemptions, the only thing I can say about that scene is “WTF WTF WTF *quiet whimpering*.”

  3. Let us ignore, for the time being, the really problematic aspects of their relationship, mainly Meg giving up her education/career for her children

    I just reread a whole heap of these books, and in An Acceptable Time Meg’s mom suggests to Polly (Meg’s oldest daughter) that the main reason Meg went the supermom route was actually because she felt she couldn’t compete with her totally beautiful, Nobel-prize-winning-scientist mom. So it definitely got more complex as the series went on.

  4. I am currently working for a small NGO in a very poor area of a Mexico. The women in most of the communities are addicted to telenovelas (soap operas). I’ve never looked deeply into what’s going on here (I can’t watch t.v. without wanting to jump out of my skin) but your article makes a lot of sense to me. I love the women I meet here, and they are very poor, not supported by the state, their religion, or their partners, suffer lots of domestic abuse, have lots of financial problems, are pushed to have *lots* of kids, etc. In the last 20 years divorce has become legal & acceptable here, which was thought to be a feminist response, but instead it’s meant that their husbands can leave easily but the women are not allowed to remarry or even have new partners. So women lead very solitary lives, taking the economic responsibility for the kids, while the ex moves on to another, younger woman to have more kids, and then to a 3rd … Divorced women here are shunned from having any further relationships or intimacy — the ex or his brothers will come over and beat her if she’s found to be having any intimate contact with a new man. eeekkkk.

  5. The only thing I can say about that scene is “OMG they have to get Cronenberg to direct that movie!”

    Great post. I find Twilight horrifying, but not surprising. It’s sad, though–I saw on facebook that a woman that was hugely influential in my feminist growth is really into Twilight. I just don’t understand!

    I am a big, big fan of cleolinda’s recaps on Livejournal, though.

  6. it definitely got more complex as the series went on.

    That’s right, you were just telling me about this, but all I remembered was that we were discussing how their relationship was problematic. I am relieved to hear that Smithie L’Engle pulled it out at the end. :)

    I had forgotten how long the Mr Fucked Up Power Dynamic one went on.

    It only started a couple of months before my 22nd birthday, come to think of it, but still — more than three years of being convinced there was some way I could change to make him happy. Christ, I can’t believe you put up with me that whole time.

  7. This was an amazing post that hit uncomfortably close to home. My husband and I can’t seem to escape these patterns just by being aware of them. It feels like we should: he’s employed by a nonprofit doing antiracist work, and I’m an academic whose work is decidedly (if quirkily) feminist.

    And yes, he grew up in a conservative religious subculture with gender patterns and assumptions that make me bite my tongue so hard it looks like swiss steak. And meanwhile I grew up an only child in a newly-moneyed family where the importance of achieving things and looking appealing the Watching Others — and hating ourselves for not doing so satisfactorily, not that we could ever *talk* about that because nobody likes an insecure person! — was the reason behind absofriggin’ everything.

    So now we bring all those things to our marriage, and also to our attempts at anti-oppression work. It can feel really self-defeating. It is really self-defeating. And I have no idea what to do about it.

  8. gah, sorry, many typos in that comment: change “yes” to “yet” in the 2nd paragraph, insert a “be able to” after the “should” in the first…

    oh, hell, y’all are smart enough to edit as you go. :)

  9. I keep trying to lure Twilight readers to the vampire romance *I* wrote intead… my vampire, while still rather dangerous and nasty in some ways, is also extremely sorry about having fucked up his life and really wants to just make his girlfriend happy now.

    … the majority of readers, when polled, do not choose the vampire as the preferred romantic pairing. The poll winner is generally the psychotic killer instead. Although at least some of them protest that they liked him *before* they found out he was nuts and wish he hadn’t gone all evil…

    (I’m not dropping a recommendation for my work, my heroine is still quite fragile and pretty. Just commenting on fan devotions. :) )

  10. I tore through the first two books in two days and then felt sort of ill. I could feel the strong satisfactions of the narrative while also knowing that all sorts of things were wrong with it. So, what I’m saying is, I really appreciate you spending time thinking about this in a substantive way.

    I’d also like to direct you all to this article in the Atlantic:

    http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200812/twilight-vampires

    Please note, I am not endorsing the premise — in fact, Flanagan’s a big reason I dropped my Atlantic subscription years back — but I did think the piece was interesting. And I’m sure all the good thinkers here could unpack it in a way I’m not currently prepared to do. : )

  11. My husband put it best: “He fell in love with his food”.

    Frankly, it’s ridiculous. It’s not romantic, it’s frickin’ creepy. Plus Edward is what…100+ and Bella is 17 and no she did not strike me as “an old soul” or “mentally super mature” either.

  12. I am so glad somebody finally said exactly what I have been thinking!!! I have read 1.5 of the Twilight books, and they made me a bit queasy as well. Bella is a painfully bland character, who would rather die than live without Edward, who really never did anything to deserve her devotion in the first place. There are dozens of lines like, “Edward picked Bella up like a child..” Creeps me the heck out.

  13. Hello Sunshine, I’m definitely not the first! I googled “feminist Twilight” when I first got wind of the objections and found some reviews and critiques that way, but if anyone’s seen something great on Shakesville or whatever, please pass it along.

  14. Please note, I am not endorsing the premise — in fact, Flanagan’s a big reason I dropped my Atlantic subscription years back — but I did think the piece was interesting.</i.

    Flanagan is a horror show. Her piece reminds me of absolutely nothing in my own adolescence – (Edward Rochester is an asshole – going blind is the best thing8 that happened to him) – but this explains a lot of her own girlhood trauma. Of course, you could say that about pretty much any Flanagan piece.

    My view of this and any other teen novel is coloured by the constant reminders of how deluded even the smartest teens can be – I’ve seen too many sad, sad, pregnant 8th grades.

  15. On the O’Keefe’s:

    If you read the later books with Polyhymnia (An Acceptable Time and Arm of the Starfish come to mind) you find out that Meg doesn’t actually sacrifice the career for the kids. Because she is good at math etc she actually winds up working on the computer models for Calvin’s research. Oddly enough I still find it an interesting portrayal of married scientists who work on the same research since that doesn’t always work well.

  16. I don’t mean to be snarky, but I am so EXHAUSTED by people who have NOT READ the damn Twilight books calling them anti-feminist.

    Bella is not bland. She has extensive interests, however, her relationship with Edward puts her in danger, so to speak, which seriously impinges on her ability to do much more than deal with what is happening right at the moment. Her actions and her character are no different, frankly, than any other strong female character in any number of fantasy novels that I’ve read. Bella consistently put her choices before Edward’s, often overriding him, and she even goes so far as to nearly have another romantic relationship with a werewolf.

    She does, indeed, want to have sex with Edward and is constantly frustrated that she can’t. She does choose to have her baby against advice–a very pro-choice point of view, frankly.

    The movie does a poor job of portraying the depth of Bella’s character.

    I’m not claiming that the book is a feminist tome. I just don’t believe it’s nearly as bad as some people say. And frankly, it’s a far site better than the romance novels I read at that age–where women were routinely raped and held captive and abused. I’d rather have my daughter read Twilight than that other shit.

  17. Oh, Astrobabe, that’s true — Meg does seem to do some work, though both Pol(l)y and Mrs Murry seem to think that she is not as intellectually fulfilled as she could be.

  18. Question: why is Edward the vampire GOING TO HIGH SCHOOL in the first place?

    I swear to God, for me this is the most ludicrous part of the book. The story is that because Edward and his adopted vampire siblings were 17-18ish when they got turned, they go to high school to deflect questions from people for a few years (then go off to “college” for a few more years after that). Which is fine, I guess, except he’s always complaining about how boring everyone and everything there is, and also they’re superhumanely beautiful, miss school on every sunny day, and don’t talk to anybody, so I can’t imagine they really deflect that many more questions than they would if they just said “We homeschool” or “I’m 18 but I look a bit younger; here’s my ID.”

    Umm, yeah. Edward is creepy and abusive and Bella is the most antifeminist heroine I’ve read in years. But also, the books are just bad.

    BTW, I’m glad to read that the issue of Meg’s career was addressed in later books! I read the first two, and then felt a bit like I had been slapped when I started reading the third. It wasn’t so much that she didn’t have a career; it was that nobody even mentioned it – like the natural assumption would be that she’d marry Calvin and stay home while he went off to be a doctor.

  19. There are some good Twilight recaps posted here, if you would like to know more about the books but feel like time is too valuable to waste reading them. (Like I do. Sorry Twilight Fandom. I’m sure I love things that you think are a waste of time, too.)

  20. “Hello Sunshine” wrote “There are dozens of lines like, “Edward picked Bella up like a child..” Creeps me the heck out.”

    Yup. Edward infantizilies Bella repeatedly. This, along with all the points mentioned above, leads to a horribly unequal, unhealthy relationship.

    I think the appeal is that they are so in love that nothing on earth can come between them. (That’s the tagline from Titanic, by the way, another impossible love story popular with teen girls.)

  21. I remember my mother very much approving of the Song of the Lioness series in large part because, as she put it, Alanna wound up with “the only man who loved her for exactly who she was.” Those and the Anne of Green Gables series were the closest thing to “romance” lit I ever read.

    I also unmarried the scrawny physicist equivalent of House. Wonder what the researchers would make of *that*?

  22. Oh wow, OTM, that’s a great link — the livejournal recaps I linked above are also very funny and pretty illuminating as far as the relationship between Twilight and LDS, but these seem both highly amusing and really comprehensive. I’m going to save them as a treat for when I’m back at work. :)

  23. I find it intriguing that the Twilight fandom gets very defensive about these books, as does Meyer herself, when asked about whether or not Bella is an anti-feminist character. (And yes, I have read them all.) They are indeed deeply problematic, but I also think that they speak to an interesting ongoing cultural shift, since the books are really different from the anti-feminist trash I remember reading in middle and high school. As fillyjonk said above, there’s a reason that books like these continue to thrive, and it’s great to see people exploring them from a feminist perspective, rather than just saying that they are awful and leaving it at that.

    It would be nice if the readers who are manic over the series could see how things like kidnapping and stalking are pretty questionable behaviors, though.

  24. well, cecily, i *have* read twilight, and although parts of fillyjonk’s piece read awkwardly and she’s zeroed in on the hit list of creepy things edward does — possible to sort of skim over or sometimes rationalize in the original text(s), i agree with her. i also have to disagree with your claim that bella is a strong character. she has occasional moments, then goes back to being a dazzled dishrag. the part where he hauled her out of the car to watch them play baseball is what really tipped me over the edge of both anti-edwardism and anti-bella-ism. she protests, he overrides her objections, and then he just dazzles her and she goes all melty and acquiesces to his will. not. a. strong. character. there are other examples, but that’s what set me off, especially when it indirectly led to her getting in trouble with the wild vampires in the first place. most of the other places where she acts against edward’s wishes are just opportunities for her to get into trouble, not opportunities for her to demonstrate any real spark of personality or do anything cool.

    i’d also like to know where bella demonstrates “extensive interests.” she occasionally reads a book, but only gives them a summary surface how-this-fits-my-life treatment in the narrative. she does not say anything deep or interesting or revealing of her character. she isn’t in danger yet at the beginning of the book. what does she do? she does homework, makes dinner for her dad, gets upset with renee for being concerned about her only daughter’s welfare in a faraway state, listens to a cd that had been given to her (not that she chose herself) at loud volume to try avoid thinking (not enjoyment, therefore not an interest), is contemptuous of the normal high school kids (stuff about jessica “babbling” away and her disdainful commentary on jessica’s choice of driving music do not show friendship or personal interests, just snobbishness). she doesn’t like animals. she doesn’t like music. she doesn’t like sports (because clumsiness is her requisite fatal flaw and gives edward extra chances to save her). she doesn’t mention any activities she enjoyed back in phoenix. she doesn’t express an appreciation for architecture or botany, or watch dvds, or even express a liking for any particular website. she has no interests before edward shows up, and none but him soon after.

    so yes. i read twilight. i agree on fillyjonk’s assessment of “antifeminist.” just because there are worse books out there doesn’t make meyer’s into good ones.

  25. Hmm. At twelve I was busy reading The Black Stallion and King of the Wind and Zara and anything else about horses and cats I could find. Still, I have no horse and no particular desire for a horse; so what we read as teens may indeed not indicate our futures. I also adored Sherlock Holmes and yet I’m not a consulting detective. Maybe I’ll yet be Miss Marple or Miss Silver.

    I also like to read romance novels, they aren’t all bad by any means. For teens I’d recommend Georgette Heyer, no fainting heroines there! I too like the Song of the Lioness books, plus her others as well. And, while not feminist, Jane Austen wrote some excellent romances too.

  26. *sigh*
    Can we quit with the LDS bashing? Not all of us Mormons are thrilled that this is the lady representing us in the press right now. Mitt Romney and Stephanie Meyer. Oh fucking joy, what a stellar group.
    I hate the books for all the reasons Kate stated above, they’re total bullshit and not a healthy relationship for girls to emulate.
    But I’m a feminist Mormon, so I probably don’t count.

    And let’s not even get into the part where every Mormon I know, (and believe me, it’s a lot) is mentioning the fact that the whole vampire myth is very anti-Christian in the first place because it’s a perversion of the holy sacrament. (“Drink of my blood so you can live forever? Sound familiar anyone?) Use your brains!

  27. that last line should read “Not a single mormon I know is mentioning…”
    Mess around with your sentence structure too many times and remove the negative, you will.

  28. parts of fillyjonk’s piece read awkwardly

    Sheesh, everyone’s an editor.

    fuzzyoctopus, I linked to an LDS reading of Twilight by an ex-Mormon that’s pretty scornful of the church, but I haven’t seen any Mormon-bashing here. I mentioned the interest in family/procreation, but I think that’s accurate. I’m pretty sure everyone here knows that the most extreme, most famous, loudest, etc. adherents of a religion don’t represent everyone of that persuasion. (At the same time, the existence of feminist members of a religion doesn’t make that religion feminist, as I’m sure you well know!)

  29. The two are forcibly abstinent, because his passions would rupture her (or because vampire bun + human oven = death, I’m not totally clear on this point).

    NO NO NO NO NO NO.

    The two are abstinent because Edward doesn’t believe in sex until marriage. The whole “he’d break her” thing is somewhat secondary.

    Then they get married and they do have sex. Bizarrely, they do it with him on top, so he kind of does break her. (WHY?)

    And then she gets pregz with half-vamp baby (HELLO THIS MAKES NO SENSE) and he chews it out of her so it doesn’t break her. And then Bella’s rejected suitor falls in love with the baby.

    HOLY CHRIST THIS STUFF IS CRAZY and yet at the same age my friends and I were avidly reading V.C. Andrews, so I’m hardly the one to point fingers.

  30. Hah! JupiterPluvius, you and I must be about the same age. VC Andrews creeped me right the fuck out – to the point where I’ve read a total of five pages and still can’t look at the book covers without getting squicked.

    … then Bella’s rejected suitor falls in love with the baby.

    Well, duh. They’ve imprinted! Like you do.

    vomits

  31. I was never a big fan of romance novels or romantic comedies, but especially after getting out of an emotionally abusive relationship I find most of them profoundly disturbing. Maybe because so much of the abuse in my relationship was based on “well you should just know what I want” and “if we don’t fit together perfectly without ever arguing we must not really be in love.”

    But I was thinking about my current relationship with a wonderful, supportive man with whom I can communicate honestly and openly–that “Boy meets girl, they sit down and talk about what they want in a relationship, discover that they have compatible personalities, goals, and interests, and decide to support each other and work out their problems through communication” is not an interesting story. “Boy meets girl, they form a Mystical Bond of Love despite knowing nothing about each other, and live happily ever after” is–at the most basic level, because it’s wish fulfillment: a relationship should be something fun and exciting and spontaneous, we think, not something that takes actual work and commitment to maintain.

  32. … live livejournal recaps I linked above are also very funny

    That writer is hilarious! Now I have to read every single one of her entries, Twilight-related or otherwise.

  33. I have a huge contemporary YA book rec for readers (YA, adult, wev) who like hot het romance AND strong independent women:

    Graceling by Kristin Cashore. It’s vaguely a descendent of Pierce’s Song of the Lioness, in some ways, with the mentally and physically stong fighting female protagonist; but the protagonist’s older at the start, and the romance is steamy AND super feminist; and the action/adventure is heart-stopping. No vampires, but creepy evil galore.

  34. goodbyemyboy, that is basically exactly right. (And is part of the reason why simply substituting positive for negative models in reading material isn’t really an option! Taken to extremes, it would more or less mean “substituting uninteresting books for interesting ones.”)

  35. When I was a teenager, I read R.L. Stine, Christopher Pike, Claire McNally, VC Andrews, and their clones featuring pages of psycho stalkers, serial killers, and families so dysfunctional that Dr. Phil would probably commit himself to the insane asylum. I never liked romance novels, and to this day will not pick up one.

    Although I have not read Twilight, I have read enough of other people’s perspectives on it to come to the conclusion that Stephanie Meyer wishes she were Bella herself. While that’s not problematic, the idea that having a sexually frustrated undead creature stalk a young girl and invade every corner of her life is romantic love AND that it’s marketed to minors is problematic. It doesn’t even have to be from a feminist standpoint, but from a rational human being standpoint.

    I will say Twilight and its sequels are not as worrisome as other vampire fiction, specfiically Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake series. I know people who have read these books, and they don’t hesitate to say that not only are they horribly written, rape is treated pretty lightly in some of the novels and Anita herself is nothing more than an object of lust for every man she comes into contact with and screws her way through the story, consensual or not. It makes Anne Rice’s stuff look like bedtime stories.

  36. I’ve read the first two books, and I still think Bella is absurdly bland and the most Mary Sue-ish character I’ve ever read in actual published fiction. She’s perfect for the reader to insert themselves over her, because her only real defining characteristics are being pretty, being clumsy, and loving Edward.

    The Edward goes to high school thing is, as he explains it, because the younger they start in a new locale, the longer they get to stay. I guess no one ages from 17 to 27, versus 27 to 37? I don’t know. There are a whole bunch of them who would have to not age (family of seven).

    I think what’s even more distressing to me about these books is the messages about sex. Edward is the perfect suitor — because he obviously desperately wants her, *and* absolutely cannot/will not have her, because if he did, he wouldn’t be able to resist biting her, so he always keeps control, while she doesn’t. There’s all the eroticism of having sex without actually having any. He’s totally safe and completely dangerous. Bella can let go as much as she wants, with the promise of always being kept in check by Edward. And sex is so dangerous that it would literally kill her. The abstinence message (sex = death!) is creepy enough, but the impossible balance (be sexy but not sexual! Be sexual but don’t have sex! Love passionately but stay completely in control!) bugs me more.

    The other big problem for me is the romanticization of what I would consider really disturbing behaviors… it’s, like, so romantic that he breaks into her house to watch her sleep! It’s so poignant that she throws herself off cliffs just to hear his voice in her head! It shows real love that she wants to die and become an undead monster just to be with him forever!

    That said, the books are kind of addictive in all their badness.

  37. Exactly, fillyjonk. I really enjoyed the first couple Twilight books, but I would agree with every single accusation of sexism against the books. Lots of wonderful books and TV shows and movies have really crappy politics, but it’s not going to kill us to enjoy them, nor can we easily decouple cause and effect. It might kill us to ignore the crappy politics, despite our enjoyment. The rule is not “don’t you dare enjoy anything that’s racist and sexist” (if that were the rule, we’d never be able to enjoy any books or television at all), but “fight sexism and racism”.

    My (probably tl;dr) expanded thoughts are in my own blog. But if you don’t check out that post, you should still look for this great book by Herbert Kohl called Should We Burned Babar?

  38. I tend to stay away from vampire novels out of visceral revulsion; they just ick me out. I read Queen of the Damned and was really sorry that I had. My favorite author, Robin McKinley, (read her books! they’re awesome!) has written a vampire novel which I have avoided, though friends keep telling me it’s good.

    I do have to admit I rather like the titles of the Twilight series, but I have no interest in reading any of the books. The recaps by cleolinda were quite enough.

  39. re: fj’s post reading awkwardly…. there are a few places where it’s clear she didn’t read the books. Mostly, where she marks her own uncertainty. After saying she didn’t read the books. So, uh, I didn’t find that awkward. I wasn’t going to bring them up, because I didn’t think it was worth nitpicking about the plot here (OMG, Bella didn’t put herself in danger for attention, but because when she was near-death, she got to hear Edward’s voice in her head, even though he was in Italy and she was in the Pacific NW, so she jumped off cliffs and things! How could you make such a mistake?!).

  40. when she was near-death, she got to hear Edward’s voice in her head, even though he was in Italy and she was in the Pacific NW

    Yeah, I sort of elided that as “attention” — although, is it supposed to be that she’s imagining his voice? I guess when I read about that I interpreted it as “he pops in and says ‘cut it out,’” but I guess if he’s not psychic for her, maybe that’s impossible.

  41. It kind of bugs me how Jacob (the AWESOMEASFUCK werewolf character who basically saves dearest Bella Sue from herself after Edward ~oh so tragically~ runs away in the second book.) isn’t mentioned in the article or the comments. When around Jacob, Bella actually has some semblance of a personality and isn’t a COMPLETE FUCKING PSYCHO. Edward (scrawny, pale, sparkly fairy boy) bad. Jacob (hot, Native American, super tall, werewolf and made of awesome) good.

  42. I will say Twilight and its sequels are not as worrisome as other vampire fiction, specfiically Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake series

    Yeah, um, except the LKH books are marketed as “these are crap books! read them! they’re addictive!” and intended for ADULTS, whereas the Twilight books are for YAs. Slightly different audience, so different standards.

    Good vampire books? Tanya Huff’s Victory Nelson series. They were made into a TV series which I never got to see, but the books are funny. Also Bloodsucking Fiends by Christopher Moore.

    Also, I have read the first book, and they are at least as bad as FJ implies, so no, I’m not a hypocrite, and neither are quite a few people commenting here, as far as I can tell.

  43. I can’t remember if she’s imagining his voice or if he’s speaking to her psychically… it’s been a while since I read the book.

    I’ll probably get the last two books for Christmas. I asked for them because I can’t justify spending any (more) of my own money on this series.

  44. I opened a ‘twilight’ thread on a local horse message board’s open chat section because I was interested in what they would say, having come across the anti-feminist tag on blogs.

    What were the young girls there saying about the movie?

    “He’s so hot!” (Me; “Eww! He’s all grey!”)

    Them: “I wish I had a vampire boyfriend!”

    “Me too!”

    “Me too! ”

    They want a creepy dead mass-murderer boyfriend who is going to feed off their blood, eat their granny, and can’t come out for a nice sunny picnic?

    The whole idea of vampirism being somehow sexy just weirds me out anyway, even when it is written for grownups. For a start, just think what sort of bad breath they would have! Still, as the old saying goes, there’s nowt so queer as folks! I still enjoy the Charlaine Harris books even if the sexy vampire bit does creep me out. Can’t hack most of the other vampire fiction though. It gets too wrapped up in its own mystique (and supposed sexiness).

  45. I interpreted it as “he pops in and says ‘cut it out,’” but I guess if he’s not psychic for her, maybe that’s impossible.

    If my husband tries that, I will kick his ass. It’s bad enough putting up with (occasional) nagging done the normal way.

  46. I know people who have read these books, and they don’t hesitate to say that not only are they horribly written, rape is treated pretty lightly in some of the novels and Anita herself is nothing more than an object of lust for every man she comes into contact with and screws her way through the story, consensual or not.

    They totally didn’t start out that way. In the first six or seven books, Anita was pretty kick-ass, the stories were pretty entertaining, and while there were rapes and attempted rapes, they were treated as horrifying, not erotic. And then… yeah. What you said. I have no idea what happened. But like Stephanie said, the Anita Blake books are written for adults, who are old enough to tell LKH is working out some weird issues through her writing and Anita’s relationships aren’t anything to aspire to. Twilight is written for and marketed toward impressionable young girls, which makes it more troubling in my opinion.

  47. I have no idea what happened.

    I heard, though not from an inside source or anything, that Hamilton started refusing to be edited, and she was making enough money that her publishers acquiesced.

    Always submit to editing, kids!

  48. @Mollified!, Jacob starts off good, but becomes a classic abuser by book 3. “You know you want me! And I will prove it by forcing you to kiss me!”

    Of course, that’s all “explained” by the bad acid trip which is book 4.

  49. My 11-yr-old is in love with the Twilight series. (She’s read the first 2 books so far.) I’m unimpressed with what I’ve read (first book only), but that’s more for what I perceive as poor writing and gaping holes in the plot than for the reasons given here. But now that she’s into the whole vampire phase/craze, does anyone have suggestions for age-appropriate vampire books I could steer her toward?

  50. The only thing I have to say about the Twilight series is “Eh, I’ve read L. J. Smith’s The Vampire Diaries already.”

  51. OK, I never read past the third book from the whole “Wrinkle In Time” series, and I clearly have some catching up to do. For some odd reason I was under the impression that Meg was on bed rest for a difficult pregnancy in #3, and that’s why she took a career break. Yes? No? Desperately need to re-read as an adult?

  52. I can’t imagine they really deflect that many more questions than they would if they just said “We homeschool” or “I’m 18 but I look a bit younger; here’s my ID.”

    Or even “school sucked, I dropped out”.

  53. …but so anyway, when I was twelve I was reading Song of the Lioness and Deerskin. And Deerskin is creepy and triggering for a large portion of the beginning but yet is an awesome story that everyone should read.

    Teenage girls now need to be reading Valiant by Holly Black.

  54. I actually liked Twilight. It’s not a great book, I’ll probably never read it again, but I did request the next one in the series from the library.

    I think it benefitted from low expectations. Yes, there was a lot of stupid stuff. No, Bella is not the most feminist or strong character out there. But Edward’s not much of a character either – if Bella has no interests other than Edward, well, he has no interests other than Bella.

    It’s mediocre fluff entertainment. Maybe I’d feel differently if I had a teenage daughter, but I read a lot worse when I was a kid (someone upthread mentioned VC Andrews – incest, anyone?) and yet I’m still a feminist in a great relationship with a man. Depends on the girl, I guess, and all the other media she’s consuming.

  55. We should totes devolve this into how awesome Song of Lioness (and by extension, the rest of her books) are. Protector of the Small series, anyone? First female page after Alanna? Keladry kicks some serious freaking butt.

  56. i saw the movie on opening day … went with work people for “research” purposes. it was laughably bad, but the teenie bopper girls in the theater with us loved it. it reminded me of the HBO series true blood. the storylines are similar — young, innocent “damsel in distress”-like girl who has spunk and sass but is still easily manipulated and dominated (or is it love) by a self-involved male vampire.

  57. But now that she’s into the whole vampire phase/craze, does anyone have suggestions for age-appropriate vampire books I could steer her toward?
    .
    When it comes to YA vampires: Scott Westerfeld’s Peeps is one of the more interesting YA books about vampires: it problematizes rather than glamorizes the issue, as does M.T. Anderson’s Thirsty.

    For more brain-candy like reads, I’ve heard good things about Melissa de la Cruz’s Blue Bloods; it was described to me as “a vampire Gossip Girl” for what that’s worth.

    Got Fangs? and Circus of the Darned by Katie Maxwell are funny, chick-lit-y vampire books for an older YA audience. Liza Conrad’s High School Bites is in a similar, um, vein.

    On the not-specifically-YA-but-read-by-young-adults-of-my-acquaintance front, Robin McKinley’s Sunshine is interesting. It’s more of an urban fantasy than a vampire book, per se, but vampires are key to the plot.

    The Anno Dracula books by Kim Newman might be too heavily dipped in historical allusion for her, but they’re really fascinating.

    I think Christopher Moore’s Bloodsucking Fiends and You Suck! are amazing light-hearted romps. There are depictions, not too graphic, of young adults (in their early 20s) having sex and enjoying it, though, so that might not be just right for a reader your daughter’s age. On the other hand, it might be a helpful antidote to the Twilight books’ depiction of sex as a Transcendent Act of Sacrifice (especially Book 4, which is just mind-bogglingly horrible on this front). Maybe look through them first and decide whether they would be right for your daughter.

  58. I haven’t read or seen any of it myself, but from what I’ve read/heard, I must agree, Twilight = pleh. It’s creepy and stalkery, not romantic-sounding, to me.

    And Fillyjonk, *hugs*…I wasted seven years of my life on a fucked up power dynamic (among other issues) before determining that he would never be happy with me and that wasn’t my fault.

    As for good vampire (and witch, werewolf, etc.) books, Kim Harrison’s Hollows series is so awesome that it makes my brain hurt. It has its questionable moments, of course, but is overall pretty feminist and very atypical for the genre IMO.

  59. The Anno Dracula books by Kim Newman might be too heavily dipped in historical allusion for her, but they’re really fascinating.

    I love these – and almost everything by Kim Newman. What I like is that he doesn’t lean to heavily on the sexy vampire trope and gets more into the daily advantages and disadvantages of vampire life and what society looks like when vampirism is pretty much normal.

  60. Scott Westerfeld’s Peeps is one of the more interesting YA books about vampires

    I wonder if I should have gotten my cousin that instead of Uglies. I’m hearing a lot about Westerfeld’s YA these days.

  61. @fillyjonk: Peeps is fabulous, but it doesn’t have a female protagonist. IMO, the Uglies series was a great place to start and if she likes those, set her onto Peeps next.

  62. Depends on the girl, I guess, and all the other media she’s consuming.

    Or maybe it doesn’t have to do with media at all, because the attitudes that make the media appealing are actually instilled long before she consumes that media, and changing what she reads won’t attack the problem at its root. Hey, someone should write a blog post about that!

  63. …but so anyway, when I was twelve I was reading Song of the Lioness and Deerskin. And Deerskin is creepy and triggering for a large portion of the beginning but yet is an awesome story that everyone should read.

    Yes! I love Deerskin – I reread it every couple of years. Such a fabulous story.

    I haven’t read the Twilight series and do not plan to – I have enough books on my ‘to be read’ list to not need to add poorly written tripe. What bothers me about them is that ‘twilight’ is my usual online handle when I’m being anonymous, and whenever I see it written I think it’s about me for a split second!

  64. @ dareva – if you like Robin McKinley, you should try Sunshine (her vampire novel) – there is (mostly appropriate) gore, but I’m usually pretty sensitive to that and I loved it anyway. It’s her best book, in my opinion!

    Another vote here for Tamora Pierce’s YA novels – they are feature strong female main characters who are interesting and badass, yet still make mistakes.

    Another good vampire YA novel (besides the ones mentioned above – Peeps, Blue Bloods) is Tantalize by Cynthia Leitich Smith. It has werewolves as well, and is creepy in a fantastic way.

  65. I think part of the appeal of these sorts of books – on top of the appeal to the already well taught misogynist romance standards – is in that sort of blowsy blowy mystical feeling of ‘this closet COULD contain a door into another world’ or ‘this stormy night COULD deliver us a bunch of human stars to teach and guide us on adventures,’ or ‘my parents MAY have been wizards killed by a dark lord’.

    I haven’t read Twilight, so I can’t speak to it, but the people who capture that effervescent without popping the suspension of disbelief bubble were who I read as a kid.

    Vis a vis romance and the real world: I’ve only been in 3 major relationships in my life, 2 of them what we could call “Another F^@King Opportunity for Growth”, and I absolutely agree that the work of the relationship is communication, and respect and friendship, and not playing gender games that hold a sharply pointed stick to one’s throat. It took me two to figure that out.

    That said, and in all three of them I experienced a kind of giddy ‘love at first sight’ rush that had little to do with lust (a different giddy reaction I get). Perhaps that’s a personality type linked sort of feeling; I neither think of it as universal nor infallible, but that sort of instinct is a big player in my life. Even in non romance fields – lead me to Shapely Prose, I think. Anyway, as I do my work, my instincts get more sane; but when I was younger I looked for twee because of my giant capacity for twee.

    So I ended up watching rom-coms etc., even though I *hated* the romance, because I liked the twee.

    So there’s another factor that might attract people to Twilight.

  66. That is a great takedown, even for not having read the books.

    If it isn’t out of line, Mzbitca and I are reading the books and live blogging them. Anyone who wants to join up is welcomed, even if just for discussion!

    The latest post is here, w/ all of the current links.

  67. FJ: Uglies is good, it’s also pretty poorly written, but as for gender roles all of the female characters are as strong and interesting as the male, and usually more so. It has a lot of good messages about why people conform and whether other options exist.

    Twilight, on the other hand, was a steaming pile, I thought. I work in a library and manage about 20 student assistants who are the Twilight age, and we have had some interesting discussions about the difference between romantic behaviour and abusive behaviour, but the prevalence of stalkers, grey rape and raunch culture on campus make me think that these messages need to start at an earlier age.

  68. Regressive YA fiction has always been with us, I’m afraid. You should have seen some of the teen-romance books I got out of the library when I was 11 or 12 and ate up with a spoon, stuff like Wait for Marcy, that I trust libraries have all set afire by now — but only because the outfits are out of date.

    Did reading those books (or, for that matter, watching The Brady Bunch) fuck me up something fierce? Maybe, in that I thought there were actually boys who were like that, sweet and kind and remarkably grown-up but still smart and funny, and I thought there was something really screwy about me because I couldn’t be as girly and pretty and silky-haired as the heroines. But did I get just as fucked in the head reading adult books? Or watching television shows and movies? Or even seeing that McDonald’s commercial that got stamped on my brain permanently when I was 10 years old, where a boy asked a girl out for a Big Mac? Yeah, probably so. Those shows told me, “Just be nice and be yourself and you’ll get a guy.” They forgot to add, “If you have silky blonde hair and killer legs, and ever don’t tell guys anything substantial about yourself. And learn how to manipulate and lie as necessary.”

    This is why I was absolutely a fiend for Melrose Place back in the day. MP, at its peak, absolutely turned all those rom-com cliches on their collective ears, all the “I’m only stalking you because I love you and one day you’ll see that,” all the “I’m playing hard to get but really I’m not,” all the “If I can’t have you, I don’t want anyone and neither should you.” They exposed all that shit for the shameless manipulation and relentless dishonesty that it was, and I loved that. (Although I’m still not 100% sure that was the intended effect.)

  69. I have not read Twilight, so I can’t comment except to say that my students love them with a bloody passion. It is a mixed blessing, because I know they are not great books, but I would rather them read not great books than nothing at all, which is more often the case.

    Re Meg Murray O’Keefe — When you look at all of the books together, it becomes pretty apparent that Meg chose her family over career not because of any problem in her relationship with Calvin, but because she was a bit insecure by nature, and because she wanted to devote her life to her family. She did work with Calvin in his research, and his character was exceptionally encouraging of Meg throughout the whole series. She CHOSE her family over career, she was not forced into that choice. L’Engle is one of the few writers out there who constructed realistic healthy relationships.

  70. I’ll admit I haven’t read any published twilight books, but I did read the leaked chapters of Midnight Sun, the events of the first book from Edward’s perspective, and that is some effed-up shit. Edward’s always mooning about what a monster he is and wracked with guilt, and I gather that the reader is supposed to find this endearing and say “no Edward! I know the truth! You are chivalrous and pure and perfect!” but I just kept thinking YES! YES you are a SUPER CREEPY STALKER and nothing you do is romantic it is TERRIFYING OH GOD. I have trouble seeing how setting a character like Edward as an unquestioned romantic ideal could be feminist no matter what the women in the story are like.

    people don’t write books about good relationships

    Maybe this is why I hate “romance” but enjoy “books with romantic subplots.” Subplots can unfold reasonably over time while the main action is keeping you interested. Of course they still usually end with “they got together and were happy” when that’s really just the beginning, but it’s usually better than the alternative.

    Speaking of which, I have spent the last two days watching episode after episode of the Britcom As Time Goes By, which is an adorable antidote to nearly everything I dislike about typical romance stories.

  71. The only thing I have to say about the Twilight series is “Eh, I’ve read L. J. Smith’s The Vampire Diaries already.”

    YES. Totally agree, Godless Heathen. One of my friends keeps trying to get me to read the Twilight books, and I told him I didn’t want to, because they sounded just like The Vampire Diaries. He got mad. Because apparently they are nothing alike, and I’m just being stupid.

    >:-O

    You have a vampire attending high school, who falls in love with a girl, and treats her like he hates her in an attempt to distance himself. He spends all his time mooning over lost loves and the fact that sexing the pretty little girl from his school will “destroy her”. Their relationship is creepy and obsessive. But these books, they’re nothing alike…

    Which is why when I first picked up The Vampire Diaries, I was half convinced Stephanie Meyer had plagarized them and sold them as her own work.

  72. I second the recommendations for McKinley’s Sunshine– it starts with decency between the woman and the vampire (they’ve been trapped together by another vampire– he refuses to attack her and she helps him survive) and goes on as a magic/suspense story with a pretty sane love story developing in the background.

    Part of what I liked about the Hamilton novels was that Anita kept acquiring political entanglements and trying to deal with them.

    Has anyone been following the Sooky Stackhouse books? I read the first one, liked it moderately, and got bogged down in the second. This was another case of a vampire being attracted to the woman whose mind he couldn’t read, but I don’t remember it as creepy.

  73. A wonderful vampire novel for teens and adults is Octavia E Butler’s “Fledgling”. It deals with race, gender, belonging and nature/nurture. And it’s a cracking good story too.

  74. I might recommend some of these books to my twilight obsessed cousin. (Just started college.) Thanks!

    Everyone has already seen the Sara Haskins Vampires episode, right??

    http://current.com/items/89591135/target_women_vampires.htm

    You know, I think there is something to be said for reading romantic fiction. Namely, learning what NOT to do. And what actually WILL fix the problem so you wont spend all your life in a torturous state of anxiety. I’ve read a lot of it, and I think their is value in seeing how much other people can fuck up their relationships so you don’t do the same to your own.

  75. OK, I never read past the third book from the whole “Wrinkle In Time” series, and I clearly have some catching up to do. For some odd reason I was under the impression that Meg was on bed rest for a difficult pregnancy in #3, and that’s why she took a career break. Yes? No? Desperately need to re-read as an adult?

    You’re remembering right! But that was for her first kid (who became Polyhymnia, star of some later books), and she went on to have seven(!).

  76. She CHOSE her family over career, she was not forced into that choice.

    Except what choice does anyone have when there’s a most socially acceptable default? I mean, “insert rant about women in sciences and the second shift here” and all, but the whole “choice” meme gives me hives. There’s a reason certain jobs and family roles are relegated to women and it has nothing to do with free choice. Girls growing up today are no better off, if my students are any indication.

    But yes, L’Engle is better than 99% of the YA writers out there, depressing as that is.

  77. Thank you, everyone, for your suggestions. I’m now armed with a long list of titles to take to the library, just as soon as winter break is over. That’s because she’s assigned “Animal Farm” and accompanying questions over winter break, which alternately thrills and annoys me. Thrills because I didn’t have that as required reading until high school, and she’s only in 6th grade. And it’s not even for English class – it’s for Social Studies, as a companion piece to their study of the Russian Revolution, Communism, etc. Yay for the education she’s getting at her advanced academics magnet school, but boo for teachers who assign homework – especially long, involved homework – for Christmas vacation. OK, mini-rant and thread-hijacking over. Thanks again for all the suggestions.

  78. and to continue threadjacking — sorry, FJ!

    Everyone is using a meaning of “ignore” I wasn’t previously aware of. ;)

  79. All. Hail. Octavia. Butler.

    I haven’t read that one yet (got it recently), but she was a grand, grand human being, and the world is poorer without her.

    Really excellent media criticism/essay, FJ – I would love to see this land in print somewhere as well as being here.

    I kind of live under that mercifully insulating rock you mentioned, on purpose, so I can’t engage the specifics of Twilight. But I would say vampire lore of all post-Bram Stoker varieties has eroticized the extreme sex-death version/metaphor of traditional gender roles (including with men who are killed by vampires, who are feminized). There’s been a whole lot of feminist writing on this, but of course now I can’t think of a single damn resource. Maybe someone else can remember some? I have no brain today.

  80. Oh, so I meant to say earlier, that I mostly really enjoyed the Uglies series, but there was one thing that gave me hives that I’d be interested in others’ views on . . .

    Vague Spoilers Below

    The second book has a series of scenes that involve two of the characters deliberately starving themselves, partly so they can slip a tracking cuff off their wrist but mostly to keep their minds sharp (to counter something that hasbeen done to them). First, that read to me as something written like someone who has never been hungry for a protracted period of time, because IME it doesn’t actually sharpen your mind but instead just makes you crazy. Second, I’m a bit worried about its effect on young teenage girls who are being bombarded with a “starvation = admirable self-discipline” message all the time as is. Or maybe my personal experience is making me overly sensitive. At the least, I think I’d want to have a conversation with my hypothetical child about it were they reading it.

  81. Well, I love vampire stories and romance novels. They are my guilty pleasure, kind of like deep-fried twinkies for my brain. Mmm. On the other hand, I have absolutely no illusions that they are feminist or even a reliable predictor of what constitutes so-called true love.

    Love is ten years of dirty socks on the floor next to the hamper and he’s still alive, in my real life, and probably a lot of other people’s real lives, too. The kind of intense chemistry described in romance simply wouldn’t ever stand the test of time. But I still love me some romance novels, and vampires are my favorite, although whoever speculated about what kind of awful breath they would likely have cracked me up.

    All that is my long-winded way of getting to my point here (yes! I have one! ;) ): I read Twilight, and I was seriously underwhelmed. Meyer has herself a lovely little cash cow, but I found the book to be anticlimactic and her characters rather flat. I am not as alarmed by the books’ message of submissive behavior by women + constant surveillance by a guy who regularly reminds you that he could kill you = Everlasting Love (still agree it’s creepy) as I am by the extreme devotion of the fandom, to the point that grown women will name-call and TYPE ALL IN CAPS with too!!!! many!!! exclamation points!!! when their choice of literary hero/heroine is called into question. It scares me. I mean, far be it from me to deny anyone the pleasure of reading whatever dreck they want to, because I love my dreck too, but…it’s a book. A character. In a book. And not even one of the better fantasy bad boys, if you ask me.

    Oh yeah, in closing, let me just echo the sentiment that if I was an immortal vampire the last freaking thing I’d be doing is heading back to High School every dozen years or so. That’s what you’re going to do with eternity? Repeat the senior prom and geometry class a thousand times? Ugh.

  82. two of the characters {in ‘Uglies’} deliberately starving themselves, partly so they can slip a tracking cuff off their wrist but mostly to keep their minds sharp

    But that’s because there are tranquilizing drugs in their food, not because starving makes you smarter.

  83. As someone with a history of ED, I didn’t find that bit problematic at all: I read the characters’ euphoria at not feeling foggy-headed as resulting from their coming off months of force-fed tranquilizers, not as any potential pro-anorexia message.

  84. *eyeroll*

    I’ll stick to Anita Blake over Twilight any day. Of course…I’m not a 12 year old.

    Let’s face it, Anita and Bella are both total Mary Sues. Anita is, in fact, the ultimate Author Avatar…complete with fanon knowledge that RIchard is modeled after her ex-husband and LKH’s current hair color.

    That said, at least Jean Claude doesn’t sparkle.

    And add me on to the Octavia Butler love train.

  85. But that’s because there are tranquilizing drugs in their food, not because starving makes you smarter.

    Ohhhhhhhh . . . that completely went over my head. :-)

  86. I remember reading (at cleolinda’s, I think?) something to the tune of:

    “Reading Twilight is like reading Harry Potter, if the books focused on Harry and Ginny’s relationship angst to the exclusion of absolutely every other character and plot.”

    And I think this is pretty much spot-on. I read the first book and emerged feeling claustrophobic. Meyers created a moderately interesting fantasy world, but since everything revolves around this Loveiest Love that Has Ever Been Loved, my eyes kept glazing over.

  87. Oh, a hearty second to Octavia Butler and Kristin Cashore!

    As for Twilight, I’ve read them all, and really enjoyed the first 1.5 as fluff. Meyer did a good job of capturing the all-encompassing swooning that comes with love at that age, and it read as being true to the characters. I wouldn’t have called it feminist, but I didn’t find it to be anti-feminist (at that point) either. Bella Sue (love that, whoever came up with it!) had her own opinions about some things, got pissy and made her own choices (even though some of them were a bit heavy on the self-sacrifice) and was a person, albeit a somewhat boring one.

    After that, there was an increase in the controlling behavior that just put me off. (Had already bought the later ones, so kept reading just to see if it ever got better. No.) She acquiesces when Edward disables her car so that she can’t go visit her other friend. What The Fucking Hell? That was the tipping point for me – I was very much outside the story at that point.

    I agree with FJ that many of the problematic ideas that may draw people to stories like this are already within us – these books may not be helping, but they’re not the cause of the problem.

    However, I will say that books with strong female protagonists who fight against these sorts of societal expectations *can* be very helpful in combating these problems – they offer idealized road maps of how to get out of that mindset. We’ll always have fluff, but we really need to support authors and works of art that go beyond the pure indulgences and into more creative, evocative stuff.

  88. (Though, JupiterPluvius, think about it more, do you think it was just the tranquilizers? Because I thought the implication was pretty clear that not eating kept them “bubbly” the same way putting themselves in physical danger did.)

  89. Twilight to me was like being in love with my Peanut-Butter Sandwich…

    It’s just not healthy to love your food that much, let alone marry it, express morals, and have a baby (Unless you’re Weird Al)

    Just strange, needed more reasoning…

  90. Thank you, this is something I hadn’t thought of that instantly clicked.

    Personally, I blame my f*cked up relationship habits on my parents, and all the Golden Age SF I read as a kid.

    Romance novels have largely moved away from the overbearing, controlling, rapist “heroes” – the romance review site SmartBitchesTrashyBooks wrote a review of Twilight that boils down to “WTF reads these alpha hero romances anymore?” Which doesn’t mean those plots arent’ out there, but they’re more like 10% of what’s published as opposed to the 80% it was 20 years ago.

    I wonder, going with your idea that people who feel this way seek out this media, if the shift in romance means that not only are publishers willing to print more egalitarian relationships, but that readers in general have a more feminist experience/understanding of life?

  91. (Though, JupiterPluvius, think about it more, do you think it was just the tranquilizers? Because I thought the implication was pretty clear that not eating kept them “bubbly” the same way putting themselves in physical danger did.)

    Well, they didn’t have access to food that didn’t have tranquilizers in it except when they were on the outside (when they are depicted as eating).

    I can see how you had that reaction, though, and even though I didn’t take it in that way (and as I said, I’m someone who spent a lot of my adolescence starving myself), it probably wasn’t sage of Westerfeld to leave that implication open when writing for a young audience.

  92. I am a HUGE vampire novel fan. I read them (as well as pretty much everything else) as a kid, and I still read a whole heaping pile of them. They’re my favourite ‘easy’ read.

    I have read the first Twilight novel and hated it. Not just because of the unhealthy relationships but because of how horribly BAD it is. It’s an overused plot done very poorly, it cannot compete to previous books that follow the same subject, and I spotted a number of grammatical errors in my copy, not to mention awkward wording.

    I am about as far from a book snob as you can get considering I’ll read pretty much anything, and I have low standards for grammar, etc, since I tend to slip up there myself. But Twilight is the first book in a long time that’s really annoyed me enough to post bad reviews and warn others away from it. It just reads as utter drivel to me, and it makes me sad that so many young people (and adults but I am not going there) think it’s so wonderful.

    I’m probably being a little more harsh than usual because of the fans who find any post or comment and rush in to call you a ‘jealous loser’ or defend this dribble as the next best American novel. It’s one thing to write an awful book, and another to not be able to talk about it anywhere without being swarmed by frothing fans, some of which are old enough to be my mother! Getting called a ‘jealous little bitch’ by someone in their 40s does not happen to me everyday. xD

    But, it’s a fad and, like all fads, it’s going to go away eventually. I’ve been pointing the younger fans who get angry with me towards series that I feel handle these kind of plots much better, like the L.J.Smith series. Hopefully, they’ll give them a look.

  93. Thanks for this post. Now I’m wondering what hidden relationship fantasies are still lurking, as I really love a good romantic comedy (though, granted, I do watch them with a bit more criticism than I did as a sixteen-year-old).

  94. Whoa!
    Okay, I haven’t *read* Twilight. But everyone here says that it’s about a dude being in love with his food. I have heard a lot of chatter about vampire stories over the years, and this is the first characterization I’ve found like that.

    So, I wonder. Is this reaction because of the nature of this forum or because the vampire here is expressing some sort of societal/masculine FOOD shadow self? Vampire stories as we know them sprung up round the 1800s, right, and there was a tie to desire/sexuality. But food seems to me our new puritanism – tied to women and women’s bodies and desire. It sort of makes sense to have the vampire’s hunger all of a sudden show up and be more important than the vampire’s desire – which was always hunger, but it was also lusty, sexualized hunger.

    Is this vampire is different than, say, Anne Rice’s homosexual subtext + way creepy sexualization of children thing, or Stolker’s straight up hetero latency, because of our society changing? Vampires were never NICE people, but how they were creepy changed – this one sounds less manipulative and game playing and more straight up crazy-controlling. Is that the case? Are we looking at the Diet Vampire instead of the Sex Vampire?

  95. I haven’t read the Twilight books. But getting obsessive over fictional characters was kind of my thing when I was 11, so I imagine I would have loved them had they been around 20+ years ago.

    I read just about anything I could get my hands on – mostly Danielle Steel quality (ha!) trashy novels. And I love rom-coms. Still have a dozen or so in near-constant rotation. They’re good fun. (aside: I saw parts of Pretty Woman the other day and it killed me – so distasteful I wanted to hurl)

    I never sought out the kinds of relationships I read about or saw in movies, thank goodness. Though I did fancy myself a little like Molly Ringwald (circa Pretty in Pink) and like Mary Stuart Masterson (Some Kind of Wonderful). My relationships always mirrored your typical parental bullshit.

  96. I still find it weird to see the Laurell K Hamilton Anita Blake books compared to Twilight or even romantic fiction. But then I’m like LKH in that I discovered Robert B Parker’s Spenser series in college and got WAY to imprinted on them. I also read Sue Grafton and Sara Paretsky, but I’m with LKH that the women had to feel really really bad if they killed someone, but Spenser can just feel that “It was him or me, and I’m glad I’m alive.”

    So to me Anita is Spenser without the he-man aspects. And about as realistic as Spenser is too :)

    Re: RomCom, Flowers in the Attic was out, and Petals on the Wind. Oh, and speaking of rape-as-seduction, there’s Kathleen Woodiwiss’ The Flame and The Flower. But then I discovered the Loveswept line, starting with Kay Hooper’s Something Different, and I was in another world.

    (Oh, and Spenser is pretty damn nonsexist compared to the Phillip Marlowe & Travis McGee books I’ve read.)

  97. I find the huge wave of criticism of a wildly popular series — especially when it comes from people who haven’t actually read it — queasily reminiscent of the religious right’s opposition to the Harry Potter books. I’ve only read the first book in the “Twilight” series (uh, that would be “Twilight”), and I liked it OK, although not enough to spend money on the rest of the books in the series. Then again, I’m not a teenage girl. My babysitter, on the other hand, thinks they are absolutely the most awesome thing EVER. And I’m not about to start telling her that they’re somehow bad for her. I’m pretty sure my babysitter will make it through “Twilight” at least as successfully as I survived my Barbara Cartland years.

  98. I’m 15 years old and all my friends are going nuts about this book.So i gave it a try and right when i read the part when his skin sparkles in the sun…I immediately thought it was stupid.Vampires aren’t supposed to be like this! They’re supposed to be mean and vicious creatures who thirst for blood and will do ANYTHING to get that satisfaction.

    Anyway,I’ll stop rambling now.I think your post rocked and you gave Twilight a better meaning. : D

  99. I read Twilight and Ithought it was absolutely awful. It is in no way comprable to Harry Potter. HP isn’t a literary masterpiece, but the characters had depth. Bella and Edward and whoever else was in that novel were just F’ng boring. You kept being told too that Bella was some sort of profound, unique girl when all she did was read some Bronte by herself. And Edward, aside from being sparkly, was far from being interesting.

    If I had read it when I was 12, I probably would have loved it– because, like most girls, I probably would have thought this is how relationships were supposed to work. The idea of some guy stalking me at 19 isn’t sexy or alluring. It’s creepy, a real threat, not a fantasy. Furthermore, (as HP proves) you can write “interesting,” fun, suspenseful books without having to resort to the obsessive, overprotective, murderous boyfriend plot.

  100. Thank you thank you for this post! I, too, have HUGE issues with Twilight — also stemming from the notion that I would have devoured these books as a teen. Luckily, I hit upon Robin McKinley and Tamora Pierce instead. Alanna from the Song of the Lioness quartet was my HERO … hell, she still is!

    Anyways, my own little Ranty McRant is here if you’re interested: http://perusals.wordpress.com/2008/12/06/

  101. But I would say vampire lore of all post-Bram Stoker varieties has eroticized the extreme sex-death version/metaphor of traditional gender roles (including with men who are killed by vampires, who are feminized)

    Theriomorph, I concur. Vampires are all about our creepiest fears and fascinations, which is one reason why I tend to love vamp stories. A few years ago I saw a production of Dracula by the Colorado Ballet Company, and the feeding from/rape of Jonathon Harker was pretty explicit considering it was depicted by two fully-clothed dancers.

  102. It makes me so happy to finally see an anti-Twilight post on one of the blogs I frequent. :D

    Edward is… an abusive creep, to be honest… I don’t get why girls fall all over him. Is it that “bad boy” thing? Is it that they want to be coddled? I don’t get it… and even though I am myself in the target audience, I may never get it.

  103. I find the huge wave of criticism of a wildly popular series — especially when it comes from people who haven’t actually read it

    What about when it comes from those of us who actually HAVE read it? And read a lot of other books besides? Including books about how to read other books?

    That’s one of the things I think book reviewers do well: warn people away from eating attractively packaged shit sandwiches.

  104. Great great great post!

    I read Twilight with two minds, thinking on the one hand that I wouldn’t trust Edward as far as I could throw him, and on the other hand that there was some part of this story that very nearly grabbed me by my roiling teenage subconscious. It didn’t, quite. Maybe because I’d already had an emo controlling possessive boyfriend and I knew it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

    I really don’t like the Twilight books, but I don’t want to turn this into a “women shouldn’t like THIS and THAT and THE OTHER THING.” Lots of us DO like those things. Why? Are we to blame for that conditioning? Can we just be allowed to take pleasure in what we take pleasure in, and figure out the rest for ourselves? Can we use the intensity of desire in a book like Twilight, and a recognition of the dangers of that kind of relationship, as a springboard for thinking more deeply about relationships and how men and women should act in a relationship?

    That doesn’t stop me from laughing at caesarean-by-fangs, mind you.

  105. Sniper, yeah – I think the feminist level of power dynamics in vampire stories are even easier to see when it’s homoerotic; it goes around the gender training that makes the power dynamic seem ‘normal’ and all of a sudden it’s more visible.

    Train o’ thought: I used to like vampire stories a lot, and the figure of the vampire was psychically very powerful for me. FJ sez:

    When I was the age of Twilight’s target audience, I hadn’t had any of those defining relationships, of course, but clearly I had the capacity to find disdain, paternalism, and misused power attractive.

    And I think that’s right on (though with an abusive and narcissistic father, I had had that kind of relationship, so I was already trained to respond to that archetype by seeking its love – true for a lot of girls, we know). Speaking only for myself (truly, not telling anyone else what to think or read), having seen that gendered power-imbalance training so clearly as an adult, I’m not sure how I feel about reclaiming (or ‘transgressive’ uses of) the archetype. I mean, the woman desiring the thing that kills her has become so tied up with patriarchal roles and abuse of them that my feminist worldview gnashes its teeth in almost every instance. That said, I do wonder what a full exploration of the archetype divorced from gender roles could be – or could it be?

    Vampires are all about our creepiest fears and fascinations, which is one reason why I tend to love vamp stories. (Sniper again)

    If it could be a cathartic engagement with this sans passivity training and the eroticizing of the abuser, that would be great, but I think vampires in particular – more than werewolves, ghosts, whatever other supernatural but desire-inspiring monster thingy – are so very tied up with the Victorian ethos of sexual repression, rigid gender roles, sexual possession of women (and feminized men), all that. I don’t know how you separate that stuff out, given the literary and media history and accumulated meanings.

    A single or trans gender straight-up vampire-BDSM ballet overtly chasing the power dynamic in gender-role-smashing ways? : )

    Seriously, I think a full divorce from the accreted roles and meanings would require turning to the oldest forms of vampires in non-American and European contexts, or at least to the pre Stoker ones. Does Octavia do that in Fledgling? She’s usually all over making something new of something old, and often by going way back to early ideas about it. Wait, never mind. No spoilers.

    Those ancient vampires, though? Would not satisfy the hotness expectation. They are flat out scary.

  106. Fillyjonk, your take on the study was fascinating. I have been thinking a lot recently about the cause-and-effect nature of romantic ideals in the media – mainly to the tune of “how on earth could I, the daughter of feminist, supportive parents, who watched virtually no TV as a kid other than PBS and was equally out of the loop when it came to movies, have internalized unrealistic, misogynistic, and painful ideals of romance and femininity that kept my relationships screwed-up and off-kilter until my mid-twenties?” Your conclusion that these “ideals” are embedded in our society really resonated.

    Meanwhile, I have the second book in the “Twilight” series on hold at the library – and despite being creeped out by the power play, emotional abuse, often-submissive heroine, and clunky writing, I am nonetheless looking forward to reading it. There definitely is a part of my psyche that still longs for an alpha male – thanks for getting me thinking about that.

  107. Yeah, I read all four and honestly, they were so poorly written that I was too busy fuming over the abuse of the English language to even notice the rampant misogyny at first. The movie actually wasn’t bad, considering the source material, but that was mostly because Robert Pattinson played Edward as he’s written (creepy, obsessive, socially dysfunctional stalker) rather than as we’re supposed to see him (mysterious, compelling, special).

    Companions of the Night by Vivian Vande Velde is a good YA vampire novel. It’s dark and somewhat morally ambiguous (the male protagonist is an unrepentant murderer and the heroine has some Serious Issues) but it doesn’t gloss over the more twisted aspects of that sort of relationship.

    Twilight would, I think, be a decent series if it was more honest. It’s not the relationship between Bella and Edward that bothers me, it’s that it’s presented as normal and healthy. If Meyers could just admit that it is fucked up, she might be able to do something interesting with it.

  108. I have to agree with the commenter(s) who said that they are sick of people who have not read the books criticizing them. You cannot really know what you are talking about unless you have actually read them.

    First of all, yes, the books are fairly poorly written, which made me feel somewhat bad for reading them; Stephenie Meyer is an amateur author and it absolutely shows.

    Secondly, you really cannot compare vampire stories to real-life human relationships. There are tons of vampire books out there – I have read many – and if there is a relationship between a human and a vampire in the story, then one of the main themes is the bloodlust of the vampire and the fragility of the human. It goes both ways – these are found in stories of female vampires and male humans, too!

    This is all to say that this dynamic is not specific to the Twilight series, and people should really do their research. If you have a problem with this dynamic, criticize the vampire story sub-genre as a whole, not just this one particularly popular series. Yes, Bella certainly had some unusual reactions and characteristics (i.e., not being shocked to find out that vampires exist, and not being scared of Edward), but she is not a weak character. The weakest thing about this series is the quality of the writing.

    (Another perpetual “reality” in vampire stories is the age difference between the vampire and the human, so if this age gap bothers you, I would recommend not reading vampire stories.)

  109. I read Twilight basically because of peer pressure–all the woman at my new workplace had read them, and I wanted something to talk to them about! I thought that they were ….. okay. Your average teenage wish-fulfillment crap–Bella’s soooooo special (while totally bland and ordinary) and of course Edward is sooooooo perfect (gag) and loves poor plain Bella sooooooo much. I agree it’s not an example of feminist literature; but I think it’s relatively harmless.

    As I was reading, I was aware of some of the more aggravating points–such as Bella being forcibly carried places, etc. At least in these books, it’s presented as Edward/the other vampires are doing this because they’re strong and indestructible, rather than because She Weak Girl, He Big Strong Man (like some of the romance novel crap I read as a teenager). Yeah, Bella decides to put off college/any life of her own to be made a vampire, but I’m pretty sure she states at some point she’ll have forever to go to college. Taken in that context, they’re perhaps not so objectionable. But of course, the problem is that teenage girls aren’t going to be mentally dissecting these things like (some) adults would. Still, I think Twilight is pretty harmless compared to a lot of what’s out there.

  110. If you have a problem with this dynamic, criticize the vampire story sub-genre as a whole, not just this one particularly popular series.

    Congratulations, you’ve just won the Missing the Point Award for this thread!

  111. I, too, was thoroughly underwhelmed by Twilight. I can see the attraction, but decided the first one was enough of a time-waster for me.

    As for LKH, I wondered what happened. The first half dozen Anita Blake books were not bad — the parallel with Spenser someone made earlier in this thread is a good one — and then it turned into lots of Anita fucking in every possible configuration with anything and everything even remotely male with the sex scenes linked together with minimal plot, and I gave up. Everyone needs an editor — even pornographers — but LKH apparently doesn’t realize that.

  112. I am surprised nobody has mentioned the very popular Vampire Kisses series, a self-consciously fluffy series about a goth girl (in Dullsville, the suburban not far from Hipsterville) who falls in love with the new vampire in town. Adorable, pointless, and very fun. The heroine, Raven, I think strikes a nice balance between really wanting her boyfriend to love her and having an enormous amount of her own personality and initiative.

    @erin, it’s true that Meg Murry chose her family over her career, but as you say, it was because of insecurities. Yes, the books depict realistic relationships, and it’s realistic that a female scientist and mathematician would be insecure about her abilities but that is also the product of a systemically sexist society (both in and out of the books). It might depict something that happens all over the world, but it’s not necessarily a role model we want. And after all, if any romantic hero would be able to convince his wife to overcome her insecurities — and incidentally, share the child care responsibilities — it ought to be sensitive new age Calvin.

    By the time Poly/Polly is an adult, it’s pretty clear Meg is unhappy with the choices she has made.

    Sadly, the Austin/O’Keefe books also depict a pretty unpleasant representation of lesbianism in House like a Lotus, although as contemporary young adult books go it was revolutionary just for having semi-positive lesbians in the first place.

    @LilahMorgan, I think Pretties and Specials pretty clear about the fact that all of the self harm, including the starvation, are problematic. I actually find their descriptions of self harm incredibly compelling, since they recognize that cutting and risk-taking behaviors are problematic, but don’t romanticize the people who do it as completely broken waiflike victims

    .

  113. If you have a problem with this dynamic, criticize the vampire story sub-genre as a whole, not just this one particularly popular series.

    Another idea is that I could criticize the culture that makes the vampire and romance sub-genres appealing even when they are clearly dysfunctional! BUT APPARENTLY THAT WOULD BE TOO HARD TO READ

  114. Is this sarcasm….? “Or maybe it doesn’t have to do with media at all, because the attitudes that make the media appealing are actually instilled long before she consumes that media, and changing what she reads won’t attack the problem at its root. Hey, someone should write a blog post about that!” I think so…haha.

    Cause this is really the point, right? “Regardless of your opinions on nature and nurture, by the time we’re consciously consuming non-Teletubby media, young women are not empty vessels in danger of being filled with bad ideas. We already got the bad ideas, from the input we get every day, from years of media we might not even have paid attention to, from offhand comments that seemed innocent at the time.”
    And I have 0 thoughts about Twilight, except I wish I could make that much money on something I think is stupid. I could go live out one of my fantasy lives. BUT, I really like where you went with this FJ, because I sit around thinking, is it all those books I read as a kid, or the rom-com movies, that have totally screwed me up when it comes to relationships, and why I haven’t found a guy I can put up with nonetheless keep around? I mean, I grew up reading adult romance books (mother approved, so no explicit sex scenes) and watching old movies with Rock Hudson, Doris Day, Cary Grant, Audrey and Katherine, you get the point…and fell in love with movies like When Harry Met Sally and You’ve Got Mail. But I loved the wittiness of these movies and how the guy and the girl were always verbally sparing with each other, hated each other, and then fell in love. I especially loved this in Desk Set with Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn, because she was such a strong character. But, IRL, that sparing doesn’t always mean good things, sometimes it just means the guy is an asshole. OR, that the guy likes to talk to you, but will want to fuck someone else. Very disappointing. So, yes, really, I think about this a lot. Doesn’t keep me from watching the movies, I just realize it’s so far from real life. However, on the tail of that, my newest theory of life. You know all those new Apatow, etc. movies? Like 40 year old virgin, Superbad, Zack and Miri, Knocked Up? I’m convinced these are the rom-coms for the guys. They are out there telling guys you can be a schlub, be unkempt, smoke pot, be lazy, socially awkward, etc, but if you just try to be the nice guy, you can get that smoking HOT girl that is way out of your league. It’s the happily ever after for the menz. Can you tell I think about this a lot, I wasn’t kidding around.

  115. Those ancient vampires, though? Would not satisfy the hotness expectation. They are flat out scary.

    Those are the kind I find most interesting. Stoker’s Dracula, however, for all the movie sexay, was also flat-out scary and repulsive. He had hair on his palms, as I recall, and his breath stank of the charnel house. He was a filthy, entitled, aristocrat glutting himself on the pure souls of the rising middle class. Stoker couldn’t write a female character to save his life, and his Lucy and Mina are just too pure to bear, but his male characters aren’t too far behind. They’re like boy soldiers, all innocent ideals and shocked sensibilities.

    I don’t read the Rice novels, or anything else where the vampires are gorgeous and charming. I like Suzy McKee Charnas’s take on the issue – the vampire who tries to pull a rape there ends up with a bullet in his guts. He’s sympathetic, weirdly enough, but not admirable. I also like comedic vampire stories and, as I said earlier, those that explore the practical aspects of being a vampire. Kim Newman has a bit of a problem with vampires being too pretty (the ones he likes) but he has many more who are barely-living grotesques. He has a novel called “The Bloody Red Baron” about WWI – the best flying aces are vampires, and one ends up so badly mangled he actually becomes one with his plane – war as a literal horror show.

    Forcibly drags self from book talk because I could go on and on…

  116. He had hair on his palms, as I recall, and his breath stank of the charnel house. He was a filthy, entitled, aristocrat glutting himself on the pure souls of the rising middle class. Stoker couldn’t write a female character to save his life, and his Lucy and Mina are just too pure to bear, but his male characters aren’t too far behind. They’re like boy soldiers, all innocent ideals and shocked sensibilities.

    This cracked me up. Exactly it. And you’re so right that Dracula had remaining traces of the pure-scary/gross – and the class analysis is dead-on. Heh. The hypnotic sexual swoon he induced introduced a whole new thing, though – or, not new, exactly, but a new archetype was born from a mixture of old stuff. The Kim Newman Red Baron one sounds interesting – war as literal horror, the fusion of human and weapon?

    Another idea is that I could criticize the culture that makes the vampire and romance sub-genres appealing even when they are clearly dysfunctional! BUT APPARENTLY THAT WOULD BE TOO HARD TO READ

    This also cracked me up.

    Sometimes when I’m teaching or discussing cultural criticism/media crit I think: ‘The Truth Will Piss You Off!’ to remind myself there are all these layers of personal reaction when we dismantle and examine the meanings of the things we take for granted, have accepted in our socialization, and/or rely on for ‘escape.’ Even being conscious of this, to this day if someone applies cultural criticism to something I’ve been really into, I have an initial moment of ‘don’t take that away from me!’ as if I personally and my personal coping strategies generally are the critic’s target, rather than the culture of which I’m a part (which makes those coping strategies necessary and circumscribes the available imaginative options). I try to sit through that initial reaction, trust that there will still be comfort and escape for me even if I do decide something I used to find relief in is now a source of teeth-gnashing, and argue the larger principles rather than the individual critic or author. Which is all to say: FJ’s original post is about the larger culture through the lens of a specific cultural phenomenon (Twilight), so engaging the larger phenomenon is engaging the point. Or that’s how I read it, anyway.

  117. Ya know how I knew the Twilight series was crap? When the biggest misogynist, douche bag that I know recommended it.

    I knew then and there it couldn’t have any redeeming qualities.

    You can learn a lot from a dummy.

  118. Even being conscious of this, to this day if someone applies cultural criticism to something I’ve been really into, I have an initial moment of ‘don’t take that away from me!’ as if I personally and my personal coping strategies generally are the critic’s target, rather than the culture of which I’m a part (which makes those coping strategies necessary and circumscribes the available imaginative options).

    This is such a great way of putting it.

  119. A wonderful vampire novel for teens and adults is Octavia E Butler’s “Fledgling”. It deals with race, gender, belonging and nature/nurture. And it’s a cracking good story too.

    Second the promo for Fledgling. I read that this year and loved the hell out of it.

  120. Re: the study, the only part that didn’t rest on correlation was where they randomly assigned students to watch one of two movies, and those who watched the romantic comedy later were more likely to say they believed in destiny. But it doesn’t sound like it was *enough* later to really tell us anything, or even that it influenced their behavior or worldview other than a fondness for the word ‘destiny’…

  121. The Kim Newman Red Baron one sounds interesting – war as literal horror, the fusion of human and weapon?

    Exactly, and it’s really fucking awful. Also, vampire soldiers heal very well, so once they’re over their horrendous wounds, it’s back to the front with them and they get crazier and crazier- how convenient!

    There is an element of “sexy” fang abuse that comes out in one of the stories where a vampire woman who was considered very plain in Victorian times (freckled and ginger-haired) discovers that in 1959 she’s all hot and gamine. She abuses her new-found power and suffers some consequences because of it. She’s a vampire who can’t see her own reflection (some can, some can’t, depending on bloodlines) so she’s stuck in 1880 as far as self-image goes… until she gets a taste of sexual power. I found this one of the creepiest parts of the book, and I think Newman intended it to be.

    Also, I’m making a pot roast and it smells so good. I think I’m going to pretend not to like it, then hang around watching it sleep. Maybe I’ll dust myself with that glitter powder from Lush so I can sparkle whenever I get near my delicious, beautiful, virginal pot roast.

  122. I understand your point about the anti-feminism in Twilight and rom-coms, but I still love them. I guess it depends on how impressionable a person is where they apply concepts they see in larger-than-life movies to their own life and go about it the wrong way. And even though I believe in fate, destiny, soulmates, and all that hopeless romantic stuff, I believe I understand both sides of the spectrum, and I know where life is vs. the ideals.

    A few things about Twilight though, Bella is frail only because she’s a human and in danger from non-vegetarian vampires. She is constantly worried about everyone else’s safety, even though her powerful friends aren’t in much danger compared to her, and is increasingly self-sacrificing. That’s a strong part of her character.

    As far as the “health of the mother” goes, Bella wanted to have the baby from the very first instant she knew and wouldn’t listen to anyone regarding aborting it. Edward wanted Bella to abort it because it was harming her health.

    If anything, I would say Meyer is writing about that huge romantic ideal, love against all odds. She may be writing about the biggest odds one could think of, a vampire and a human, but you could still apply that to real life in a way. Huge fights, financial difficulties, deaths, personality differences, moving, new jobs, children, and all the perils that life throws you. If a couple can survive all that, they aren’t far off from what Bella and Edward have.

  123. Also, I’m making a pot roast and it smells so good. I think I’m going to pretend not to like it, then hang around watching it sleep. Maybe I’ll dust myself with that glitter powder from Lush so I can sparkle whenever I get near my delicious, beautiful, virginal pot roast.

    Sniper, I just totally snarfed Diet Pepsi all over my sweater.

    Classic.

  124. Also, I’m making a pot roast and it smells so good. I think I’m going to pretend not to like it, then hang around watching it sleep. Maybe I’ll dust myself with that glitter powder from Lush so I can sparkle whenever I get near my delicious, beautiful, virginal pot roast.

    ha ha ha ha ha ha ow ow the pain of the laughing (and you just made the hiccups I’ve had ALL DAY come back, curse you)

  125. @Valerie, the Twilight books *do* have redeeming qualities, for all they show negative gender roles and are amateurishly written. Trust me, the vast legions of women and girls who gobble them up aren’t just reading them because they are victims to the ideals of a sexist society (there’s plenty of other books we could be reading i that’s what we want!).

    The books very successfully create a form of unresolved sexual tension, working with the romance tropes of a hero who desires you so much he can scarcely control himself — but loves you so much that he does. To many of us, it’s an appealling storyline. Moreover, one of the criticisms of the books — that Bella is a non-character, a blank slate on which the reader projects herself — is also a large part of their appeal. They are very cleverly constructed, and I found reading the first few quite enjoyable.

    They’re just, you know, sexist. And a wee bit racist. And encourage self-harm.

  126. I’m sorry to report that my pot roast is no longer virginal. On the plus side, we will be one forever… in a sense.

  127. I am not exaggerating in saying that the Song of the Lioness Quartet was formative for me. Perhaps more so than anything else I read. Alanna provided a model for feminism, sexual empowerment, non-patriarchal spirituality, and pretty much everything else that I already desired but hadn’t articulated or seen in print. I’m almost afraid to reread them with a more critical eye, because they laid such a strong foundation for my identity.

  128. Nan: it’s not just the mad amounts of sex in the more current books,(I guess LKH gave Anita supernatural healing capabilities just to deal with the CHAFING) it’s also the long loooong annoying arguments. Three cheers for editors!

  129. Sad truth: I was disappointed by the Twilight books because there wasn’t enough biting. (I have a bit of a vamp kink. I feel a little guilty about it from a feminist perspective, but there it is.)

    Cleolinda makes the interesting point that Bella is assertive in one area: she’s the one who’s determined to find up what Edward’s deal is. After she figures it out (“[Y]ou will know them by their speed and their strength and their cold white marble skin and their butterscotch eyes and their inability to talk to girls”) she’s then the one who’s determined to be with him, while he’s the one who’s hand-wringing about her missing out on life’s experiences, i.e., everything after the age of seventeen. Of course, once she’s secure in her feelings for Edward, she pretty much gives up being interested in anything other than when she can be married/have sex/be vampired and in what order. The introduction of Jacob as a possible complication is just laughable, because he never has a shadow of a gleaming of a chance.

    The Twilight phenomenon I find mostly amusing (Genuine Vampire-Look Body Glitter for sale at Hot Topic!) but it’s punctuated with things that I find genuinely alarming. Young women wearing shirts that say “Stupid Lamb” on them? I sort of want to go up to them and suggest gently that they travel in flocks.

  130. Er. That isn’t to say that a young woman wearing a shirt that says “Stupid Lamb” on it deserves anything bad to happen to her. Of course not. I just… gah. It seems to me casting the relationship between a man and a woman (or a boy and a girl or a vampire and a girl) in a predator/prey light is already pervasive enough in this culture without promoting it by wearing a shirt that basically says, “Tasty snack!”

  131. It’s interesting to read the criticisms of the Anita Blake series because my biggest criticism back when the books were still fairly good was how Anita went on (and on and ON) about how DIRTY sex is. Only BAD GIRLS have sex for fun or pleasure. Good girls are always in a relationship before the pants come off. But then she’d turn around, have wild and enjoyable sex, and then berate herself for it.

    Even as a teenager (showing my young age here; 23 year olds represent!), I couldn’t stand this! It was so sanctimonious and hypocritical. By the time the books delved into creepy sex of questionable consent, and page after page of how amazing Anita is in bed, how everyone wants her, and how her whole appeal became about her body, as opposed to her strength, capability, or personality, I was ready to say ‘goodbye’ to the series.

  132. Theriomorph, you are clearly the kind of advanced patriarchy-blamer who makes me understand why I bother writing stuff in the first place. :)

  133. I would not give 2 pins about the Twilight books if they were adult fiction, because they’re not much worse in message than a lot of other excrement that gets published. Though from the excerpts I’ve read they are a sight below on the “you can’t do that to the English language scale.” That pisses me off. My 12 year old niece is a better writer than smeyer and so am I, for that matter.

    I want to write down my vapid fantasy about a hunky werewolf who falls in love with my young nubile avatar and not bother with anyone proofreading the manuscript for grammar or logic and then sit back and rake in money, while denying I was pushing my religious message about how a woman’s only purpose in life is to marry and have kids, and simultaneously admitting I would leave my husband for my fictional romantic hero in a heartbeat because I’ve lost all touch with reality.

    On second thought, I’d rather teach for the rest of my life than be smeyer. Though the Twilight phenomenon has taught me the phrase “abstinence porn” which may be worth it all.

    I spent most of my summer, when I wasn’t reading the archives here or packing, obsessively reading the posts on fandom_wank about Twilight and watching these women act like deranged loons over this stupid series of books. I don’t judge, because I’ve fangurled like crazy over things not worthy of adoration, but the levels of insanity at work in Twilight and the Twilight fandom are special. And since I will never on pain of death read this trash, I could enjoy the nuttiness without having to suffer any emotional attachment.

    The best part was “horrify the Twilight newbie” where someone would discover that batshit/implausible part of the books they thought was just a joke was for real. As a friend of mine said, “Twilight means never having to say you’re kidding.”

    I’m also unsurprised at the defenders coming out of the woodwork here, because they’ve shown up every place I’ve seen a critical post about this series. Bella Swan is the ultimate Mary Sue because she’s EVERYONE’s Mary Sue, not just smeyer’s. She is every reader, because she is such an empty vessel. So when someone with sense attacks Twilight and especially Bella, devoted readers feel like it’s a personal attack on them and react accordingly. Hence all the wanking.

    I for one can’t wait for this fad to run its course and go away. “Do not go into the sparkle!”

    DRST

  134. I just re-read my comment and the comments following it, and I realize that it does sound like I missed the point, but I don’t think I did – I just wrote that comment when I was super tired and evidently not very eloquent.

    Basically, I suppose that I view Edward and Bella’s relationship and actions as both believable and not sexist because it’s a vampire-human relationship – predator-prey. If a normal human guy treated Bella the way Edward does, that would be pretty terrible, but seeing as he is caught between being attracted to her and trying to not kill her, it makes sense to me and doesn’t seem antifeminist. Like I said before, this dynamic appears in many vampire novels, and to me, it’s just an element that is not all too uncommon for a relationship between a predator and their prey.

    It’s not that the male vampire thinks that the human woman is weak and needs to be protected and also told that she should try not to be so irresistible because she’s a woman – he does those things because she’s a human, and a particularly special one at that.

    It may still sound like I am missing the point, because I can see someone responding to me with a “but that’s just re-framing sexism in the context of a vampire story, which subconsciously makes this behavior/dynamic seem okay”. Honestly, I do realize that that may be true…but using myself as a model for whether or not this negatively affects people, I am pretty sure that this did not sink into my subconscious any further than my sexual preferences, because I am no pushover when it comes to relationships, and I am certainly a feminist, and so is my fiance, so it is difficult for me to see how someone could take the dynamic in vampire stories and think that it is a good model for real relationships.

  135. Oh, and I would like to make it clear that I have no particular love for the Twilight series – like I said, Stephenie Meyer is a very amateur author, and it shows – because, after all, I have read many vampire stories, most of a higher quality than Twilight (so if someone is looking to read books about vampires, I have better recommendations for them).

    But the criticisms I am seeing among these comments touch upon something that is not uncommon in vampire stories, and it is an idea which I do not believe to be particularly sexist, pretty much any way you frame it, because these are not just normal human relationships.

  136. Has anyone else been reading Buffy series 8? The baddies in it are named Twilight, it can’t be a coincidence.

    This all reminds me of the issues in Buffy regarding Spike. It seems that Whedon tried to make him repulsive by having him attempt to rape Buffy but the fans lapped it up. He was never supposed to be so sympathetic but there is always an audience of women and girls who like those conventions in fiction. It is troubling.

    But in criticizing things like Twilight for being anti-feminist there is a danger too in dismissing something that is written by females for females (and in the case of the film directed by a female). While I agree that these books are crappy in their messages I am also pleased with the success of the film for example as it confirms young women are a valid audience. I would like to see this done better obviously but it is clear too (from reading fan comments about Twilight) that there is a great deal of reading against the grain going on.

    As a child I was obsessed with James Bond films and wanted to be him. I was brought up feminist and pacifist and was aware of how this wasn’t reflected in my hero and how offensive he was. But by analysing and questioning his appeal I learned more about patriarchy and culture. I then began to learn more about real spies like Violette Szabo who had a really interesting life. Girls aren’t idiot sponges absorbing this stuff although you’re right when you say it matters what other culture is being absorbed.

    Anyhow, while romantic comedies are dangerous I believe that all of us do read and watch more critically than imagined. With romcoms the danger is in their supposed normality. Vampires and gothic romances don’t hold the same level of acceptance as there is already suspension of disbelief going on.

  137. Oh gosh. I remember when I was 13 years old and reading “The Empire Strikes Back”, continually flipping to the “romantic” stuff between Han Solo and Princess Leia. They had quite a tumultuous thing going. He was a scoundrel, and she a haughty, mouthy princess. Their fighting was eh, such a great role model back then for me lol. I took it that if a guy was a scoundrel, and he fought with you, was rude and arrogant, well, that meant he MUST like you. :P

    But seriously, Twilight is a vampire story, and after watching it so I could personally see what the brou ha ha was all about, I really didn’t *get* the whole “Poor Bella has no life other than Edward and this is a dysfunctional story”. It’s simply entertainment, as was Star Wars back in the day, or any other not so good films and television shows in my youth.

    I’m apt to give most young women the benefit of the doubt in realizing that …..vampires are not real. Being treated like an object won’t equate to romance, and again, vampires are fictional characters, romanticized in many different ways since vampire stories came to be. We could say Bram Stoker’s Dracula was quite a womanizer too. Abusive, sick, stalkerish, and yet, his character is romanticized as Winona Ryder falls all over herself for him, powerless as could be.

    I just think each generation will be exposed to the lesser than ideal, ideas.

  138. It’s simply entertainment

    Right, and the whole point of this post is that things are not just “simply” entertainment — they derive from and feed into cultural norms. We are not talking about a 1:1 correspondence between girls reading Twilight and then getting into abusive relationships. We’re talking about what the popularity of that series might tell us about our cultural narratives of desire, agency, and power.

    Abusive, sick, stalkerish, and yet, his character is romanticized as Winona Ryder falls all over herself for him, powerless as could be.

    Which is Coppola’s take on Dracula, not Stoker’s — in the novel (as we discussed above), Dracula is repulsive and controls people by basically enchanting them, not by being Count SexxyPants. So maybe Coppola’s choices about how to portray female sexuality in the 1990s tells us something about how female sexuality is regarded differently from how it was in the 1890s.

  139. An enthusiastic review that brings up a bunch of different angles– frex, how much having divorced parents and a recent move is used to set up vulnerability in YA girls’ fiction, and how much the Twilight series is set no later than the sixties. The reviewer overgeneralizes from her experience to all teenage girls, but she might be on to something about the large majority.

    My tentative theory on all this is that a lot of teenagers want danger. The boys may prefer motorcycles and the girls may prefer scary guys, but it’s the same impulse.

    This might be a good place to ask– it seems as though vampires which are intended to be basically frightening to the reader are written by men, and vampires which are intended to be basically erotic for the reader are written by women. Any notable exceptions?

    Pratchett’s comic vampires are neither frightening nor erotic, but the joke is that they’re in a 12-step program. What’s being played off is the fear, not the eroticism.

  140. Just got done reading all these posts (one of MY more delightful occupations on this snowy day at work–well, while trying to avoid work). I read all the Twighlight books–bummed em from my niece (just to make clear that i didn’t purchase them!) and flew through them in guilty-weird pleasure land, kind of like I feel when I read cosmo or people mags, but with more questions:
    Why do vampires spark such interest?
    Where do girls go to find their stories?
    What are the stories of girls?
    Where do girls/women go to learn about how to love boys/men in this patriarchy?
    And why, after taking my neice to see Twighlight (just saying so it’s clear I didn’t go for ME!!!!!! ), am I still left with the sweetness of being with and watching all those girls–it was a whole theater full of girls–and their excitement, their laughter, their hysterically funny conversations…..
    I don’t have many answers to my questions. I do wish that that theater full of girls had viewed a different kind of story, one in which love could be explored in way so as not to consume them, or render them inhuman. But I undersatnd how hungry they are for stories of how to do the whole love thing in a world which often demands they submit to, or suffer with, the horrors of consumption, in one way or another…..
    great posts and thanks for an afternoon of delightful wonderings and ponderings

  141. I haven’t read any of the Twilight books (in fact, I didn’t even know they existed), but I watched the film on Friday and enjoyed it very, very much. I am a feminist, my blog is a feminist blog, and I can imagine the Twilight story getting much worse in terms of sexism, but for now, I thought it was just plain erotic. I have to agree with a critic who said “Abstinence has never looked so sexy”. For me, the film said much more about “two teens really, really wanting to have sex” than “let’s wait to have sex after marriage”. I know you weren’t talking about the film, but we can’t judge the Twilight storyline based on the writer’s intentions. I only found out the writer was Mormon after I watched the movie. Sure, I was saddened by that (because Mormons are not exactly famous for their feminism), but, frankly, based on that first movie alone, I would never say the story is sexist. Sexy? Hell yeah.
    My film review is here: http://escrevalolaescreva.blogspot.com/2008/12/crtica-crepsculo-saga-do-vampiro-virgem.html

  142. Lola, I haven’t seen the movie myself but my understanding is that it really honed down the book to the bare bone plot. The Twilight books as a series are definitely sexist, and it gets worse as the series progresses. If the movie didn’t show that, I consider that a major plus.

  143. Soirore, re: Buffy

    Spike/Buffy made my skin crawl. I don’t know a single person that supported “Spuffy”. Spike was a likeable villain in Season 2 when he was evil and with Drusilla, then his subsequent returns sent him into “Badass Decay”. By the time that scene in Season 6 came around, he was beyond pathetic and that scene was merely another part of the downward spiral.

  144. ***Right, and the whole point of this post is that things are not just “simply” entertainment — they derive from and feed into cultural norms. ***

    Okay…but… it is entertainment. It’s up to the people in society to dictate what they do with it. After reading so much about Twilight on the net, I’m seeing more people not liking the story as those who do. I’m not feeling concerned that people aren’t thinking for themselves here.

    There’s always been waves of popularity in culture. I was influenced to dress like Madonna or Lisa from Prince and the New Revolution in high school. My “madonna days” lasted all of a few months, and off came the lace gloves and I was wearing something totally different. I believe that these influences are somewhat normal among teens who are searching for something to identify with.

    Then guardians or parents come into play here, to help guide youths to find understanding in what they are seeing as entertainment. I’m truly unmoved by the whole mass of swooning girls over Edward, as it too will pass when he is long gone and replaced by another. Just like my mom was as a teen with Paul Mc Cartney or John Lennon.

  145. A friend of mine tried to put me on the books. Quite frankly, I couldn’t stomach them. I was three pages in Twilight before I put it down in disgust. The writing was bland and unimaginative. First-person stories should have more life, but Bella was written like she had absolutely no realization of the world.

    My friend later went on–after I told her I couldn’t read the book, it just wasn’t my thing–and told me all about the plot. I picked up the messages of an uninteresting female protagonist with a wildly amazing male counterpart in her description.

    Being a teen aged girl, I found it rather…pathetic. Edward was described as obsessive, compulsive, over-protective, and not in love, but in denial of his own instincts. I can see girls wanting to be protected by the mysterious introvert, but what my friend told me of Edward made me suspect a harlequin romance with a drug addict more than a YA novel with a vampire.

    Being a fan of the better written vampire tales out there (I read Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’ in the sixth grade and graduated to ‘Carmilla’ a year later. I still have the copies in my collection), it irked me that she would take such a refreshing new look on the species (though it’s not the first vampire I’ve read of being able to go into sunlight) and managing to screw it up with a cliched and stereotypical plot. It’s basically a bad Romeo and Juliet renewal with a sprinkling of B-movie vampirism.

    The worst part of it though, is that females from their preteens up to aging housewives are all so enthralled by this series. Are people really that…easy? I mean, Twilight sounded predictable–what I’ve heard of the rest of the books makes it seem just as bad. Have people stopped thinking? Whatever happened to novels that took absorption and time to get through? Doesn’t anyone want to think any more?

  146. WOW. I am sorry to have arrived late to this party.

    It’s funny, because I have been thinking (and journaling) a lot about this sort of thing lately. And IHeartChocolate, your reply really resonated with me! The kind of stuff that goes into fantasies definitely isn’t formed in a vaccuum.

    I’ve been writing a new story, and doing something very different from my norm, which is that in addition to writing it I’m also drawing the thing out in storyboard form (in case a few of you haven’t heard of a storyboard: think sloppy, sketchy comic book sort of deal). Actually, the whole story came to mind because of a botched drawing, but that’s not the point. The point is that looking at the characters and situations in a visual sense as well as in text form has made me come to some interesting realizations. This particular story is like some kind of subconscious journey for me, it’s been almost like journaling as much as writing a story. The main way this has manifested is that my villain is seriously some kind of merging of all my crappiest relationships. I haven’t decided yet what it says about me that I wrote him as having a tragicly abusive past which sort of “explains” why he’s such a dick (does not excuse it of course, he’s still a complete douchehound) and then in the end he is run through with a sword.

    It’s just creepy. I was looking at one of the scenes I’d doodled out, and there he is, being mean to the female lead again, and he’s biting her on the neck, and something’s tweaking in the back of my mind about her pose (she’s wide-eyed with surprise and clutching his arm), and I realized that the reason the pose looked so familiar was because I’d DONE that. I looked a few other interactions between them. Holding her arm so he can touch her elsewhere, grabbing her face to make a point… shit, this dude’s got all the physical mannerisms of guys I’ve been with. He even looks vaguely like one of my exes. I know evil-wizard-villains are supposed to be creepy, but that’s creepy on a different level.

    Makes me wonder what kind of relationships this Twilight author must’ve had. The fact that it’s the romantic lead instead of the villain with all these horrible traits is fairly disturbing. At least my romantic interest is non-abusive, supportive, and caring… even if he has a completely overblown sense of responsibility towards basically everyone and everything.

    And, BeccaBoo, to answer your question… sadly, thinking isn’t “in” in the literary world lately. Now it’s all about shock value, trauma, and despair. Later, we can get together in a dark coffee shop and talk about how “gritty” and “real” everything is in the story about the homeless pre-teen girl who does drugs, gets raped by every male character in the book, and whatever other godsawful things we can think up to happen to the poor wretch before she dies in a fire at the end. YAY DAT’S GOOD READIN RITE THAR.

  147. I don’t read anything like that. I simply can’t stand the drama. I mean, teenagers deal with enough of that shit all ready. It doesn’t need to be in real life, in the media, AND LITERATIRE. Jesus christ (apologies to the Christians), it’s just pathetic.

    And the worst part of it is, personally, that I’ve been writing a vampire novel since 2005 (I went back and rewrote it twice) and from what my friend told me, there are some freaking bits and pieces that people will claim I ‘stole’ from SM even though I never really read her crap books (despite the fact my friend/editor assures me are far and few in between, I can’t help but worry) . And anything else written with vampires in mind will get compared to SM, just like everything got compared to Anne Rice when her books were still setting shelves on fire. It’s pathetic. Anne Rice’s books were magnificent (the movies were pathetic), but SM’s stuff is just embarrassing to American YA literature.

  148. Okay…but… it is entertainment. It’s up to the people in society to dictate what they do with it.

    So we should never ever complain or examine the content of anything because each individual is fully capable of reading the source and comprehending all the levels of message and meaning and deciding independently what to do with it, completely without regard to lifetimes of moral and cultural messages they have absorbed through the media? Give me a break. If that were true, we might as well fold up this site, feministing, Shakesville and all the other sites on the Internet, not to mention all the universities that have English or literature or film/media departments and give up, because nobody would need to keep a critical eye on the messages our media and our “entertainment” are sending to us and instilling in us from birth.

    Not all cultural influences are “fads” like your Madonna phase of dress. And whether you’re aware of it or not, the fact that you dressed like her and idolized her may have affected your view of women, feminism, sexism, fashion and music in ways you might not be conscious of. But I guarantee you that a whole gamut of people have strong opinions about the message of the Madonna phenomenon. I know for a fact scholars were writing about her back then, talking about whether her image was a positive or negative one for young girls (people are still arguing about this).

    If you personally don’t want to examine the Twilight books or anything else on a critical level, that’s fine. There are plenty of shows or stories I don’t want to think about that way because I want to enjoy them without analyzing them. But to say nobody should think that way because it’s “just entertainment” is ridiculous.

    DRST

  149. EbonieRose – I rather share your opinion of the Spike/ Buffy situation but I do know plenty of people (mostly teen girls at the time) who loved bad-boy spike. As well as reading spike positive comments on the web from women who really should know better. You obviously just know more sensible people than I do.

  150. I love the books, but I’m a grown-up. Even though they’re ostensibly YA books, I don’t think they’re appropriate forr young teens.

  151. I just stumbled across this post now, but I have to say that I’m another who agrees with what you’ve said about Twilight, and I’ve read the first three books. My mother is a middle school teacher, and her youngest students, who were really into the books a while ago, kept offering to loan the series (book four wasn’t out at the time) to her. When I’m visiting home, I often agree to read such books in order to give her a recap so that she has a relative knowledge of what’s big with the kids (she had found the writing quality of the first page of Twilight so terrible that she couldn’t get past it). Personally, the books are not for me, and I am certainly not the target audience (incidentally, Meyer meant the books to be for adults, it was her publishers who decided that they would be YA), however my biggest problem was not with Bella and Edward (who were both so dull that I had to skip most of the sections comprised of just dialogue between the two of them), but with Jacob, who, as another commenter pointed out, proved to be quite the archetypal emotionally abusive man. Meyer, for some unknown reason, has Bella go along with this, like there’s nothing wrong and Jacob’s a great man. Before reading book three of the series, I have never thought that a writer produced something so irresponsible that I felt the need to do something about it, in this case to tell kids I knew who had read the books that if they ever found themselves in a relationship with someone like Jacob, to let me know and I would go kick that person’s ass. As I’ve said, I have avoided book four, and I have no intention of reading it, but I’ve heard that when Jacob looks into the eyes of Bella and Edward’s baby daughter for the first time, he decides he’s the newborn’s soulmate. That’s a bit weird.

  152. I find it really painful that Meyer has outright stated she considers Bella a “normal girl amongst superheroes”. That’s literally her explanation for the character of Bella being so wishy-washy. I nearly choked when I read that line, because I’m a teenage girl who’s grown up on superheroes, and I swear that Kara Zor-El could kick Isabella Swan’s ass to Thanagar and back. ;)

  153. Hello everyone!

    I’m a relative newbie to this blog, so I’ve just been browsing the archives…but I stopped here because I feel like I might have to be among the minority in coming to the defense of the “Twilight” series…lol.

    I have to say that I have read all four books (multiple times, please reserve your judgement) NOT because I identify with Bella or want Edward to bite me (quite frankly, I’d rather he didn’t) but because I fell in love with them from a literary standpoint. Meyer is clearly an avid reader of classic fiction, and I find the deliberate comparisons she makes to works such as “Pride and Prejudice” and “Wuthering Heights” fascinating (especially viewed through the lens of fantasy) and a good way to get young adults to think critically about literature–were I an English teacher, I think I would take advantage of this fad!

    Don’t get me wrong–if you are a fan of Anne Rice or other “hardcore” fantasy works, this series will probably seem stupid to you. This is strictly Abercrombie & Fitch vampirism here–brooding, over-glamourized, and yes–sparkly. However, after attempting to read “Interview With the Vampire”, I have to say I’ll take Edward’s moping over LeStat’s cruelty any day.

    In regards to the feminism stuff, Meyer herself says (on her website) “I am not anti-woman; I am anti-HUMAN.” And she’s right–look more closely at the supernatural females: Alice, Kate, or even Jane–they are strong and powerful; and the kicker: SO IS BELLA…eventually. The entire point of the series is that Bella does not fit in with the human world–she is destined for another life! When she acheives it, she rapidly becomes a force to be reckoned with.

    Also, I never got the impression that Jacob was an abuser of any kind! He is a cocky teenager with some SERIOUS late-pubescent issues (*wink*) who is only trying to prove to Bella what she already knows–that she loves him, too.

    For the record–the vampire baby thing creeped me out at first, too–I am not usually a fantasy person! I gave it a chance, though–and I agree that it does actually present a very pro-choice argument (even though the choice made is not the typical one you would associate with it!) And you really have to be paying attention to the other books before you call the “imprinting” thing creepy–it’s magic, dammit! :p

    I guess my take-home point to this is, don’t read so far into it unless you’re going to read farther into it! Get it?(Mysterious enough for y’all? lol, it’s late!)

    In other news, loving this site and the things you ladies stand for–keep up the good work! (And Kate–I totally ordered the book!)

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