Content Note: Dysfunctional Relationships
Twilight Recap: Edward has beckoned to Bella across the school lunchroom and she's joined him at his empty table.
Twilight, Chapter 5: Blood Type
One of the hardest things about having taken a lot of fun psychology and sociology classes in college is that later you can't remember the names of all the cool stuff you learned. At my book club a few weeks ago, I could not for the life of me remember the names of Kohlberg's moral stages nor the name of the Heinz dilemma and let me tell you that makes it darned hard to google. And now I'm struggling with a concept that I understood very well, but which I cannot remember the precise name for it, so I'm just going to call it "cultural vocabulary". Please correct me in the comments.
Cultural Vocabulary, or the term I'm using it in place of, refers to shared cultural concepts. For instance, if I said "Edward Cullen sounds like he is from Area 51," most of you would recognize that I mean that Edward Cullen sounds like an alien being from another planet, even though I've not used any of those exact words. (The more Delightfully Pedantic among you will note that there is an alternate interpretation wherein Edward is an employee of the United States government.)
Alternately, if someone were to say "Vampires don't sparkle," we could immediately have a conversation about the uses of vampires in literature, how their use has evolved over time, and what liberties authors can be reasonably expected to take in world-building without anyone pointing out that vampires don't technically exist, or that if they did, we could just go get one and find out and thereby settle this pesky issue once and for all.
So basically what "cultural vocabulary" means is that people with shared cultural experiences have a vocabulary that makes sense to them, but which may not make sense to anyone outside those shared experiences, even if they know the objective meaning of the words being used. And one of the nice things about being part of a culture is that you pick up a lot of vocabulary through a sort of cultural osmosis -- for instance, I went into the first X-Men movie having never read a single X-Men comic, but I knew all about the characters via conversations with friends who did read the comics.
One of the major problems with cultural vocabulary is that it's very tangled and you can't really easily remove one piece without getting a major mess on your hands. You'll see this in, say, zombie fiction where the writers want the characters to be absolutely confused and befuddled by the very concept of 'zombie', and so they hit on the winning idea that in their fictional world, there's never been any concept of zombies. As if had George Romero not been born, we'd all have no concept of the walking dead because all his ideas came out of a cultural vacuum. This cultural-vocabulary-extraction technique has obvious problems associated with it.
And now we come to Twilight. I think S. Meyer wants the Twilight world to be exactly like ours, only the 'legends' of vampires (and later werewolves) turn out to be true, or at least partially so, based on the Hot! Google! Action! coming later. So with that in mind:
He chuckled. "What are your theories?"
I blushed. I had been vacillating during the last month between Bruce Wayne and Peter Parker. There was no way I was going to own up to that.
I find it interesting that Bella reaches for "Bruce Wayne" and "Peter Parker" instead of the more ubiquitous "Batman" and "Spiderman". Is this unusual? It seems unusual to me. One explanation, of course, is that Bella is a comics fan, but we've already established that her only interests are reading and re-reading old Regency novels. This lack of other interests also excludes the idea of her visiting the movie theaters for the latest Marvel and D.C. movies. As a last resort, I'd wonder if someone else she knew had an interest in the characters -- her mother? her father? -- but none of them have mentioned anything like that.
Even allowing for the cultural osmosis that would cause Bella to be aware-of and familiar-with Batman and Spiderman, I find it unaccountably interesting that she refers to them by what I imagine are their lesser-known identities. Are we to assume that Bella has already been doing some Hot! Google! Action! of her own and she landed on the Bruce Wayne and Peter Parker wikipedia pages? I'm wondering what key words would have landed her there? Edward Cullen shares Bruce Wayne's affluence and possible stoicism, but not much else, and as fast and strong as Batman is, he can't perform inhuman feats like leaving shoulder-shaped dents in speeding cars. Peter Parker has supernatural strength and speed, but otherwise he's a pretty poor match compared to most of the other superheroes on the list.
It's possible, of course, that Bella is just reaching for the two most famous and best-known superheroes she can think of, but wouldn't she refer to them in that case by their better known identities? And why wouldn't she reach for Superman / Clark Kent, whose supernatural abilities seem a far better fit than "slings webs all over the place, is additionally pretty strong"? And for that matter, if she has already been googling the Cullens -- or at least thinking about them very strongly -- why has she not thought of vampires already? I would expect a girl whose sole interests are Regency novels and presumably Gothic novels to be familiar with the concept of vampires in passing, and probably more so than she would be with comic characters. It's all very puzzling.
"Can you do me a favor?" I asked after a second of hesitation.
"Then can I have one answer in return?" he demanded.
"Tell me one theory."
Whoops. "Not that one."
"You didn't qualify, you just promised one answer," he reminded me.
"And you've broken promises yourself," I reminded him back.
"Just one theory -- I won't laugh."
"Yes, you will." I was positive about that.
He looked down, and then glanced up at me through his long black lashes, his ocher eyes scorching.
"Please?" he breathed, leaning toward me.
I blinked, my mind going blank. Holy crow, how did he do that?
"Er, what?" I asked, dazed.
"Please tell me just one little theory." His eyes still smoldered at me.
"Um, well, bitten by a radioactive spider?" Was he a hypnotist, too? Or was I just a hopeless pushover?
I'm tempted to start mashing the keyboard again. Um, okay, I can do this. *deep breath*
I'm disappointed that Bella only uses "holy crow" one more time in the book, as it seems like such a delightful saying. I'm disappointed that Edward has magic glamor powers -- YES HE DOES WE JUST SAW THEM -- but I'm pretty sure we never see them again, and it won't stop him from berating Bella for being dumb enough to be with him when oh my god, you have magic glamor powers, what is she supposed to do?! I mean, either he has magic glamor powers or he was originally supposed to and this wasn't taken out with the rest of the edits.
Or, I suppose, he could possibly realize the sensual hold he has over Bella, but considering he doesn't understand anything else about her because a century of mind reading makes you crappy at body language, I highly doubt it.
Oh, and also, I'm sad that we're back to Bella insulting herself for being human.
"That's not very creative," he scoffed.
"I'm sorry, that's all I've got," I said, miffed.
YES. YES, HE WON'T LAUGH BECAUSE HE PROMISED, BUT HE WILL MOCK AND INSULT YOU. STAY CLASSY EDWARD.
"You're not even close," he teased.
And now he is laughing. Wonderful.
"Kryptonite doesn't bother me, either," he chuckled.
"You're not supposed to laugh, remember?"
And just in case we forget, this conversation is about how Edward can do impossible things. This is something he promised to tell Bella about if only she wouldn't make a scene in front of the paramedics about how he impossibly saved her. Bella trusted him, but when they were alone at the hospital, he not only went back on his promise, he threatened her and tried to pretend there was something wrong with her and her memory. And now he's badgered her in to talking about her theories on the subject so he can smirk at her and call her uncreative.
So Edward doesn't just break promises to protect his family from discovery, he breaks them for fun.
He glanced over my shoulder, and then, unexpectedly, he snickered.
"Your boyfriend seems to think I'm being unpleasant to you -- he's debating whether or not to come break up our fight." He snickered again.
And this is very interesting. Another piece of common cultural vocabulary is that when young men assign boyfriend status to other young men in an unprompted setting, it's supposed to be an opening for the young woman to jump in with oh, he's not my boyfriend, I'm single and totally available clarification, if she chooses. It's a way to clarify relationship standing in the early stages of (for lack of a better word) courtship, and if it's handled well, it can be passably non-awkward. Most people understand this, and the conversation usually slips by quickly without the young woman saying, "Wait, why would you think he's my boyfriend again?" because she recognizes that that wasn't the real question.
But... Edward isn't just any young man. He's a telepathic young man who can read everyone in the room except Bella. So why does he say this?
Edward must know that Mike isn't Bella's boyfriend. Even if Mike was somehow thinking that Bella was his girlfriend, Edward knows that Eric and Tyler still think they have a chance with Bella and Edward also knows that Jessica is excited about taking Mike to the dance. He doesn't need Bella to clarify their relationship for information purposes. He doesn't need her to clarify for Masquerade purposes either; him knowing that the two aren't an item shouldn't be secret or surprising since the whole school should know by now that Bella isn't going to the dance with Mike, but Jessica is.
So why does Edward call Mike Bella's boyfriend, even though he knows the term is incorrect? Does he just want to hear Bella deny it for his ego's sake? Is this an attempt to provoke her into talking about the situation, and clarifying for Edward why she's not attracted to the other controlling guy with anger issues in her Biology class? ("Tell me, Bella. I'm richer than Mike and prettier than Mike and more controlling than Mike and have more anger issues than Mike. Is that a good thing in your eyes or a bad thing?")
But there's another thing here, assuming Edward is telling the truth: Mike wants to break up their conversation not because he wants to steer 'his' girl from Edward Cullen, but because he doesn't want Edward Cullen being unpleasant to her. Edward says Mike "seems to think" Edward is being unpleasant, but he thinks that because Edward is being unpleasant! He's been unpleasant the entire conversation, and apparently that fact is written enough on Bella's face to cause at least one of her friends real alarm.
Edward doesn't take this "reading of Bella by proxy" diagnosis on board and start being less unpleasant to Bella because... he just doesn't seem to care about her feelings, or maybe it's that he doesn't give any credence to other people's assessment of the situation.
This is a problem.
It's one thing for Edward to not know how to respond to Bella because his lack of mind reading severely handicaps him after years of relying solely on it; it's another thing for him to read other people's assessment of Bella's distressed mood and blow it off as Not His Concern.
Edward isn't abusing Bella out of ignorance, because his "ignorance" is carefully constructed to be maintained as long as he wants to benefit from it.
Twilight Life Enrichment Moment: (Because I like to be positive now and again.) Over Thanksgiving weekend, I kept telling Husband how much I'd miss him while he was gone to see his family. I said, "Husband, I've removed the engine from your car so you can't leave me." He smiled and fake-sniffled and said, "I love you, too."