[Content Note: Sexism, Ableism, Racism]
Ana's Note: This one is going to be all over the map, folks. What can I say, it's the nature of December. Apologies in advance.
Husband and I watched the totally-not-Twilight movie "Little Red Riding Hood" a few weeks ago. We watched it purely for snark purposes -- I'd already deliberately spoiled myself on every major plot element, and we were largely looking for some good times with the RiffTrax. We were not disappointed.
But here's my dirty little confession.
I didn't completely, totally hate the movie.
Can I admit that? This is a safe space, right? I mean, I want to stress that a huge part of my enjoyment came from the really awesome RiffTrax, and can I just link to that again because this was a solo-riff by a not-MST3K cast member and that in itself is pretty awesome because I generally don't like the solo riffs as much, so here's more linkage to give this guy props. Because, seriously, I do not recommend this movie without the RiffTrax, this is not one of Ana's 5-star reviews saying that this is the Must See Movie Of The Year because it's not. At least not in my opinion.
And yet... again, I didn't totally hate it. So then of course I had to lay awake in bed wondering why that is, because this movie is really trying so hard to be Twilight.
There's the little things, of course. It's one movie instead of five. There's no real effort made at sustaining a love triangle -- the Heroine is clear from the get-go that she loves Jacob always and forever and Edward can take a running jump. There's the wonderful sensibleness of Edward accepting that early on and not trying to change his fate and my god a love triangle character who reads the signs early on and backs gracefully away someone alert the gorram media because more of this please. There's the fact that while the Heroine keeps being referred to as this super-sweet Good Girl, she's also playful and edgy and brave and scary but not in massive shades of any of those things. She sort of feels... real. Like a real person instead of some kind of One Trait Heroine.
Not that any of this makes the movie terribly good. The acting feels like the director told everyone to ham it up as much as possible, with huge sweeping gestures by Oldman and Significant Glances by everyone to everyone else, and there are plot holes so big you could drop a cow through them, but still... I didn't totally hate it.
As much as this movie was marketed as by Twilight people for Twilight people, I was surprised and amused to see that the ending is really almost the logical opposite of the Twilight franchise. Instead of the Heroine being absorbed into an adoring extended family, with the privileges and wealth that that implies in order to marry the socially appropriate preppy boy, she instead goes off to live by herself in the cold forest in abject poverty and total isolation in order to marry the socially poor werewolf boy.
Yes, this is the movie the Team Jacob fans have been waiting for.
Which is probably why I didn't totally hate it, because as far as the Twilight movies go, I've always felt that if I must root for one of the boys, I'd prefer Jacob over Edward. But then it struck me that no matter which of the two established teams you root for -- Team Edward or Team Jacob -- you're really in some ways rooting for the same fantasy, but with slightly different accoutrements. It's still a fantasy of heterosexual romance providing life-long happiness and sexy-times. It's still a fantasy of being loved and worshiped by someone powerful and passionate. It's still a fantasy of finding your happily-ever-after before you have to venture too far out into the scary adult world so that when the scary adult world does come knocking, you'll already have that whole happily-ever-after thing taken care of.
And I'm not sure how I feel about that.
The first time I saw the Twilight movie, I really didn't like it at all, but I still turned to Husband and said, "I can see why someone would like this." What I think I meant was I can see why I would have liked this. And I think maybe I would have, a long time ago, when I was basically a very different person with different experiences and different perspectives. There's something very powerful about this fantasy of being worthwhile and loved and cherished and utterly protected, both from Scary Bad Guy threats but also from the cold, cruel world at large, and I recognize that. It'd be nice to go to college for fun and never have to worry about whether or not I'll have to make a living from my major because my husband has all that wrapped up. It'd be nice to be able to take off a few years from life and just do my own thing because we're richer than Croesus. And sure, that doesn't work in Real Life because real life husbands can take away that wealth and leave you with no education, no meaningful skills, and no job experience, but the fact that a fantasy doesn't work in Real Life does not automatically invalidate that fantasy. Does it?
I'm serious: does the fact that This Fantasy Does Not Work, Do Not Try It At Home automatically invalidate the fantasy? Can we still enjoy it at home in private, knowing that the fantasy is just a fantasy and nothing more? I think maybe we can. Certainly I've maintained since my first Twilight post that liking Twilight isn't a bad thing that makes you a bad person. I think that's true for almost any book.
Randy Owens -- who is freaking awesome, and deserves an extra dollop of thanks for sending me Twilight things to navel-gaze about -- sent me this picture on Facebook a few weeks back as something worth adding to the ongoing Twilight dialog.
I'm not sure how I want to react to this. It doesn't seem quite like a fair comparison. I haven't read all the Harry Potter novels yet, but by gum I've watched all the movies and I remember there being a fair bit of angsting about romance in those movies. And I haven't read all the Twilight novels yet, but I've watched all the movies and I remember there being a fair bit of kung-fu-chopping-of-evil-vampires-who-want-to-eat-you-and-also-becoming-your-true-badass-self-who-has-super-psychic-shields in those movies. So there's that.
Plus, as much as I respect Stephen King, I don't remember the Grand Feminist Poohbah giving him a cookie in the last Grand Feminist Newsletter. I might have missed that.
I find myself now in the strangest position of wanting to defend Twilight. And that's a weird position. I really do think that Twilight has enough problems to devote a multi-year deconstruction to it, else I wouldn't be doing that very thing. I mean, we're still in the first half of the first book and what do we have so far? The conflation of whiteness with beauty. The casual co-opting of real disabilities in order to provide comic relief and make Bella more attractive to the character in text and the audience at large. The similarities between our romantic hero and a hardened abuser. The stereotypes that Renee and Charlie embody and the dysfunctionality of the Swan/Cullen family dynamics. Bella's clear depression that is never taken seriously in the text. Her utter disinterest in any one or any thing except books she's already read and housework. The male privilege on display with every male character in text. This is just off the top of my head. There are problems in Twilight, people. I mean it.
And yet... the problem of Twilight isn't that the heroine wants a boyfriend. There are problems with wanting a romantic partner more than anything else including your own safety, yes. There are problems with feeling like another person is necessary in order for you to be happy and fulfilled, yes. There are problems with giving up college because you want to get married and have sex all day, yes. These are serious issues that should and do need to be addressed with the Twilight text. They are issues that I'm going to assume Stephen King was alluding to but which he couldn't delve further into without ruining the pithiness of his quote. I understand that. This is not a STEPHEN KING SUCKS post.
So what kind of post is it? Several of you -- Kit most notably, if I may point with happy fingers -- have consistently made the point through the Twilight deconstruction that (a) yes, there are a myriad of problems with Twilight that can and should be addressed but that (b) some critics of Twilight have a worrying tendency to blow past the in-depth issues and instead dismiss the whole thing with 'criticisms' that could be leveled at any fantasy written by, for, and to a largely female audience. Like, you know, the sentiment that a whole book series revolving around having a boyfriend is so dang fluffy and self-indulgent when Harry Potter is clearly a seven-book epic about shooting lightning from a stick and nothing else.
And that kind of criticism doesn't help. It sounds suspiciously less like "less racism and sexism in books, please" and more like "less girly things in books, please". And I need to be extra-super-careful to not sound like that because part of the Deconstructionist's Vow is to first do no harm. And I appreciate all of you keeping me on track with that and reminding me of that, thank you.
"Little Red Riding Hood" is not a 5-star movie. It is not a 5-star movie because it is poorly acted, poorly directed, has plot holes large enough to accommodate falling cows, and is a period movie where one of the main characters clearly requires a bottle full of hair gel every morning despite such a thing ostensibly not existing in the given period. "Twilight", in contrast, is not a 5-star franchise because it has serious issues with racism, ableism, and yes, sexism.
But neither "Little Red Riding Hood" nor "Twilight" are bad simply because they are romantic fantasies intended to resonate with a heterosexual female audience who can well accept that the fantasy would not work at all in Real Life and are looking for a few hours of escapism to sink into. That, in itself, is not necessarily a bad thing.
The solution to Twilight, I think, isn't to stop crafting romantic fantasies designed to appeal to women. The solution to Twilight is to start crafting better ones that don't contain Race Fail, Ableism Fail, Feminism Fail, QUILTBAG Fail, and so forth. We don't need fewer female fantasies on the market, we need better ones.