Twilight: The Open Thread Fix

An open thread for the Twilight people, because I've been falling down on the deconstruction job lately.

Random thoughts from Ana's brain:

1. I am so very excited that Breaking Dawn part 2 is coming soon. I am saddened, though, that I will probably have to wait a bit to see it, since I want to live-tweet the movie as I see it (unfiltered reactionary action!) and I don't want to ruin it for the other people with my bright phone.

2. I have had to recalibrate my Emotional Abuse Meter after having seen Buffy and read Cirque du Freak recently. Charlie, for all his issues, does not actually throw Bella from the house or yell at her when she's trying to talk. Edward, for all his issues, has not actually drugged Bella against her wishes as part of a complex trap that may or may not result in her death. Jacob, for all his issues, does not use language that suggests Bella is an sex object instead of a person, nor does he take every conversation ever as an opportunity to police her love life. If you'd told me two years ago that I'd be saying Twilight was less abusive than something else relatively mainstream (one of which is regularly held up as a Feminist Icon), I would have laughed in your face.

3. Pursuant to #2, I have recently been thinking more and more about WHY Twilight is so ridiculously popular among young women. I still think Twilight has toxic themes of abuse, racism, horribleness, etc. I still think that despite a few gleaming gems of feminism here and there in the series, the overall property is problematic in the extreme when viewed as a net bundle. But there's also the nagging problem that Bella Swan -- Bella freaking Swan -- has more agency in her story than several of the things I have seen and watched and read recently. Which (a) makes me sad at how far we have to come but (b) makes me think that maybe all those teenage Twihards that are so much fun to sneer at with Obvious Superiority maybe, just possibly maybe, might have been coming for the few glittering gems as much as they were for Edward.



Susan said...

I feel like there are a few really worthwhile things about the Twilight books. (Moderate spoilers, I guess, but Twilight is such a pervasive thing that you already know most of it.)

1. The "getting the band together" bits from Breaking Dawn. SMeyer did a great job hinting at the complex history and politics of the Twampires. Too good, really. Almost any character besides Bella would be more interesting than she is. I want to read about the Volturi beating the Romanian vampires, or the Twampire civil war in the US, not Bella's mopey business! Hell, even The Small Town Adventures of Mustache Dad would be more interesting.

2. Jacob's perspective in Breaking Dawn. I like Jacob. He's a jerk to Leah, but that's author mandate and they get to be friends, sort of. Jacob's a decent kid. Yeah, forcing a kiss on Bella was wrong, but I was more irked by the way the text validated it. If Jacob were the hero of the series, it would be a much better and shorter set of books. It would also be a pretty standard coming of age story with some quirky magic and lycanthropy as a metaphor for puberty. The section of the book narrated by Jacob is more fun than anything that preceded it.

3. Leah. I really like her. It's hard to be the only woman in a hyper-masculine group. Her fears about the lycanthropy messing up her ability to bear children are so understandable. She's not sure she even wants kids, but having the option taken away is really upsetting. Her pack-mates just act skeeved out by it in an ewww, cooties way. Totally immature and not okay, but it might have worked as an in-story thing if Smeyer didn't overtly dislike the character. The love triangle she's involved with isn't as interesting, sadly. I like that she has to do things to extremes to get along in the pack, and I like that she doesn't need to be *nice* when she's unhappy.

4. Breaking Dawn deals with the concept of abortion in a startlingly evenhanded way. Bella keeps the baby because she wants to, not out of a sense of obligation or a lack of options. Could it be better? Yes. But it could also be worse or not brought up at all. The entire book deals with people making life-altering decisions.

5. Childbirth and body horror. Pregnancy is scary! Maybe other books and movies have addressed this, but I can't recall them apart from the Alien franchise. Bella transforms from woman to vampire, and finds that the other side post-baby is not as bad as all that even while the pregnancy wrecks her human body. I haven't worked through the specifics, but it's not a bad metaphor.

6. The whole plot in New Moon where there's a mystery about why all the other guys are hanging out without Jacob, it's weird, he thinks they're in a cult and so on. It takes a backseat to Bella's stuff, but I liked that plot.

7. Bella taking steps to improve herself so she can protect her family in the back half of Breaking Dawn. Go, Bella, use your newly-discovered agency!

I know legit fans of Twilight sometimes think Breaking Dawn is the weakest of the books, but I would disagree. The real problem is that the big confrontation at the end just fizzles out. You expect an epic vampire conflict, but nope.

So... I started out reading these books because I was having a rough few months and wanted to spork them, but now I sort of like them. Not excusing the racism and sexism, but there's worthwhile stuff buried in there.

Nathaniel said...

Any cookies for agency are taken away when that agency conveniently means all choices line up completely with the hoariest of anti-feminist and even anti-woman tropes.

Boutet said...

It's possible that maybe some of the readers went into Twilight for the hidden decent bits. But the majority of what I have heard from fans is "OMG he's so HOT!" and gushing on about the "romance." I think you'd have to look very hard to find enough feminism in the romance to argue that the bits of feminism are the reason readers are sticking around. There's just too much negative drowning it out.

Will Wildman said...

Having been exposed to Fifty Shades through the ongoing decon running at Clevernamepending's blog, I observed at one point that it had managed to take one of the few strongest points of non-bigotry in Twilight and obliterate it utterly - no one shames Bella for wanting to get with hot dudes. Fifty Shades, in one of its fanfictioniest features, supplies us with a 'subconscious' voice that constantly slut-shames the protagonist for sexy thoughts. (This is, to a degree, 'balanced' by the presence of an 'inner goddess' voice that is totally in favour of sexy things, but the inner goddess is weirdly inconsistent and generally unhelpful.)

Twilight: for all that it is super into abstinence and chastity, arguably more sex-positive than the book that is all about banging in unusual configurations.

Silver Adept said...

Bella Swan's agency, though, is always circumscribed by the fact that she's the weak human in a sort about supernatural creatures. It's agency of the "I'll let you do this" type rather than the "You can't stop me from doing this" type. That removes the benefit for me. It just becomes more apparent as Bella is passed off between Edward, Jacob, and Charlie as the guardians of her agency, her sexuality, and her life.

I am hoping we'll make it to baseball - I have Words with that scene, as someone who likes baseball quite a bit.

hf said...

I updated my view of Twilight just now. In the other thread I wrote, "My objection has always been that one could find better porn on the Internet for free." But when I say "one," I actually mean 'a guy with a Library Science degree, who can just move on if he sees something that another person might find horribly triggering.'

Ana Mardoll said...

FWIW, I think BD is the strongest one, too. (I mean, I've not read it, but I've seen the movies!)

And I seriously cannot wait for Leah. Poor Leah.

bekabot said...

I think the reason Bella gets off lightly in comparison to Buffy is that Buffy is a leader whereas Bella is a follower. Buffy occupies a position in which she is, de facto, in charge of the Scoobies (without ever having asked for that responsibility, please note) and in which, though she takes advice from Giles, the ultimate go/no-go decisions are hers. They are hers b/c by the logic of her Slayerness they can't be anybody else's, yet, because they can't be anyone else's, Buffy is held responsible not only for her decisions but also for all of the circumstances surrounding said decisions, and for all outcomes down to the last decimal point. Bella's judgement, OTOH, is chronically bad, but she is forgiven and, indeed, ultimately rewarded — by her lights — for her rotten picks. Bella is forgiveable b/c she is clearly understood not to be in control of anything. Buffy is by comparison an Alpha Queen: she possesses by virtue of her Slayerhood the exact strength, speed, and power for which Bella lusts and which Bella spends most of the Twilight series not-having. Because Buffy is so gifted, and because so much is riding on her success, she isn't allowed any weaknesses. Bella gets away with her puck-fups because her personal story concerns only herself. She can say with justice that she can do as she likes and that her actions will affect, if not just her, only a very small surrouding group of people. Buffy is the head fighter in a war; Bella wants to find a gang to join, and that's about all she wants. (Her love for Edward is a manifestation of this yearning: when Edward disappears Bella is devastated because not only is there no more Edward for her, there are no more Cullens for her.)

The position of a female leader is a highly fraught one and the Buffy series exposes it in all its fraughtness. The position of a female leader is also a position which Bella will never occupy. Bella wants power, sure, but she wants it so that she'll be safe and so that the people around her will be safe. Bella wants power as insurance. Buffy does not want but has power, and her power virtually ensures that her life will be a short and unhappy one. Bella, IOW, does not commit the sin of being a quote, strong woman, unquote; consequently it's not necessary that she be punished for that sin.

chris the cynic said...

I meant to say when you made this post that I didn't expect it so fast (thanks, by the way) and then I remembered and was on my way here when an earthquake hit (I live in Maine, an earthquake is a curiosity, not a danger, note the boring blog post I wrote about it, so nobody worry) and I forgot what I had been doing.

So now I'm here and ... um ... that's disturbing. It's really disturbing that dragged across the parking lot and threatened with additional violence if she doesn't comply girl has more agency than mainstream female heroes.

Ana Mardoll said...

It's really disturbing that dragged across the parking lot and threatened with additional violence if she doesn't comply girl has more agency than mainstream female heroes.


But consider this! Consider, if you will, that in ALL THE TIMES Charlie has suggested that Bella go to the dance, not once has he told her in front of her friends that she needs to be more like Amada/Faith/Willow/Jessica/Angela/etc. Consider also that just how much Charlie is supposed to be "sympathetic" is wildly ambiguous in canon; Bella's internal monologue frequently feels free to criticize him. Similarly, Renee is handled largely with disdain that is apparently intended to be a response appropriate to her total abdication of her parenting role.

And that's just the difference in how *parents* are handled.


Ymfon Tviergh said...

...And now I finally get the concept of 'splaining. Thank you.

chris the cynic said...

I speak without having seen one episode of Buffy

Seriously? Seriously? Seriously?

You're talking to someone who is watching Buffy right now, and thus has it fresher in her mind than most die hard Buffy fans who have seen the episodes multiple times. Someone who has also, for the record, read Twilight.

You're talking to someone who can compare the two things text to show, without any interference from nostalgia or undue third party influence because she has her hands on both and can therefore see them for what they really are rather than what other people think the are or want them to be.

You are telling this person that she is wrong, and claiming to do so in great detail, while admitting that you have no concept with the source material except "some" stuff filitered through people who, whether they want to or not, bring their own biases to it based on such things as how they present it and what the choose to present.

You are coming from a position of ignorance, clearly stated admitted ignorance, and telling someone coming from a position of knowledge that she is wrong.

So, again, I ask: Seriously?

Please tell me that you are a Poe. Please tell me that the answer to my repeated question of, "Seriously?" is, "No."

Ana Mardoll said...

BAHAHAHAHAHAHA, that was awesome. A perfect example of a Poe. Oh. Oh dear. Do you think that was serious? Ah. Well then. Huh.

Thank you, Ymfon and Chris, for the wonderful responses and for turning what would have been a rage-fest into a laugh-fest. LOL. :D

And it's awesome, because it's such a crystal clear example of 'splaining. I mean, usually the waters are muddied with a three-comments-later revelation that they haven't watched the show for 10 years or whatever, but no, here it is in all its glory: "I haven't had experience with the text, but I HEARD IT WAS AWESOME." OK, then. I'm schooled! :)

So let's use our Poe here for Twilight riffs. I think it's interesting, for example, how much grief Bella gets for the Volturi Eat People scene. I am always ready to zip to the front of the line and decry Protagonist Centered Morality, so I too am very very uncomfortable with that scene, but what I find interesting is that PCM is *not* a new thing. If you told me I HAD to come up with 10 properties (book/show/movie series, not stand-alones) where PCM is not somewhere heavily in effect I'm ... not sure I could.

I'm re-reading Clark's Left Behind stuff from the beginning right now, and one thing that strikes me is how he calls out the protagonists for never, not even once, helping during the apocalypse. Despite the fact that they are presented as having the spoons to do so -- and even if they DIDN'T have the spoons, they still don't even seem to have the impulse. It's either bad writing or bad characterization for people who are supposed (after the first 200 pages) to be filled with God's Holy Love or what-have-you.

But it's not UNUSUAL, this response in literature. PCM is probably one of the most common tropes there is, just because if the Hero/ine gets bogged down in the problems of the "little people", the plot will never get anywhere! <-- Sarcasm? Unsure of my own tone. :/

Ana Mardoll said...

Also available for riffing as a conversational open topic thanks to our Poe: Twilight is bad because it involves clothes, babies, boys, and girly things. WHICH FEMINIST GIRLS SHOULD NOT WANT.

Blueinkedfrost said...

Apologies - I overreacted to the comparison. I've been exposed to things Buffy and (more) things Twilight; as a female reader I define Twilight as having *nothing* I want to read as a feminist reader, and I define Buffy as having a lot of what I value as a feminist reader. But I'm okay with people having different tastes in media and finding different problematic things more triggering/disturbing than other problematic things. I'm sorry for not being clear about that.

I'd like to rephrase on a meta level and say that the post makes me interpret it as if a question asked is 'what defines a more feminist story', and a possible answer is 'female characters with agency'. The post made me think that 'agency' is too reducive an answer. I'd make a list of other traits that are important to me.
- Having a range of different female characters
- Having a range of *interesting* female characters (defining 'interesting' is more subjective than defining 'different to each other')
- Passing the Bechdel test
- Proactive rather than reactive female characters
- Female characters who defy sexist stereotypes/sexist roles in some way

Defining more than just 'agency matters' means that I can feed various media into the equation and not come up with an answer of 'Bella Swan Is More Feminist Than Thou'. I could list the ways Bella is not a feminist character, except that has been covered by a lot of previous discussion. It's not my expertise to give a defence of Buffy, other than to say that as a female reader I feel like Twilight and stories like Twilight try to place women into a box of 'submissive pawn to men, exists to gain marriage and babies, nothing without a boyfriend'. And I feel that Buffy and stories like Buffy try to place women into 'go out, save the world/achieve your destiny, have lots of friends, boyfriends or girlfriends may happen along the way, even if true love doesn't work out you are complete in yourself and can move on'. That *doesn't* mean that Buffy should not be critiqued, and it doesn't mean that frustration with the problematic elements of Buffy is at all wrong.

Ana Mardoll said...

as a female reader I define Twilight as having *nothing* I want to read as a feminist reader, and I define Buffy as having a lot of what I value as a feminist reader.

Since you are being polite, I will engage.

How "feminist" a work is/isn't is not an objective thing. (Unfortunately. Life would be easier if it were!) We cannot weigh television shows against a single feather and come up with some kind of metric of feminism. There are certainly some people who will watch Buffy and think "OMG STRONG FEMALE CHARACTER" and that will satisfy a genuine need; there will be other people who may find Xander Harris, Professional Nice Guy so triggering that they can't watch past Season 1. Neither of these people are wrong to have the reaction that they do; art is subjective.

Moving away from the Bella/Buffy divide, let's look at The Hunger Games. I think THG is an amazingly feminist story: the series is LOADED with issues of romantic and reproductive agency. There are notable feminists who disagree and who point out that the fact that Katniss ends up (a) child-ed by nagging and (b) married to the Nice Guy society demanded she married BOTH negate any kind of point that the series was trying to make. I respect that opinion not because they come from people who are Better/Worser feminists than me, but because we interpreted the text differently. I would argue heartily that EACH interpretation is as "correct" as the other.

I don't think there's anything wrong per se with comparing and contrasting things that one has experienced only tangentially. BUT, if you do understand that How Feminist Is This? is a subjective question, then the response is emphatically NOT to play compare-and-contrast in an attempt to prove that X is more feminist to Y. It would be far better, in the future, to say "these are my needs, here is how X and Y failed/managed to meet them". Then we have a conversation about Subjective Aspects rather than Objective Totals, and everyone wins and a good time is had by all! :)

Ana Mardoll said...

(A good example of this contrasting approach between Subjective Aspects and Objective Totals:

I haven't seen Avatar: The Last Airbender, but I have seen Dragonball Z. It would be rather silly for me to argue that Avatar is more feminist than DBZ, what with not having seen the latter and having very little to hinge my opinion on PLUS the fact that the Objective Total Score is silly already.

But I could say: My issues with DBZ are that the female characters are regularly less-strong than the male ones, and I cannot think of any female characters who do not neatly fit into Mother/Wife/Daughter categories. It is my understanding that Avatar has a wider cast of female characters in terms of having as-strong-as-the-men female characters as well as nurturing ones, and it seems like that fits my literary needs better.

Here I am discussing an aspect -- variety in female characters -- without setting up one thing as More Feminist Than another, which could very easily fall apart if Avatar fails badly at something else that DBZ does well.

My two cents at an example of what I mean.)

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