GAWWWWWD can I tell you how terrible this new Twilight movie was? I really don’t think I can keep doing this to Harold. A few years ago I made him watch Beaches and Steel Magnolias in a single day, and I don’t think that day even touches this month. Sex and the City 2 AND Eclipse? Do I hate this man?
To address the central theme of Eclipse, I offer this sample conversation:
Edward: Bella, I vant to marry you and THEN stick you – vith my fangs! AH AH AH!
Bella: Turn me into a vampire now! I’ll always feel this sure of our relationship! Human beings don’t evolve! They don’t!
Edward: One year of marriage! AH AH AH! Two years of marriage! AH AH AH!
Shirtless Jacob: Hey, Bella. Like, pick me and stuff.
Several Members of the Audience, Especially Garland: UNF.
Bella: Go away, Jacob! Your potential abusive relationship isn’t as compelling to me as this one!
Edward: … Three years of marriage! AH AH AH…
Shirtless Jacob: I know you have feelings for me!
They have this same exchange over and over again. Edward, played by Robert Pattinson (FULL DISCLOSURE: The official editorial policy of Tiger Beatdown is that RPattz is “the worst actor in the history of filmed entertainment”) wants to put a ring on it, Bella (Kristen Stewart) wants to put the hurt on Edward, and Jacob (Taylor Lautner) wants to never ever wear a shirt. Which makes it nearly impossible to focus on half of this silly movie.
I would say I’m Team Jacob, but both of them are just such colossal assholes. So little of this movie is Bella telling them about what she wants, and so much of it is the two of them talking about her like she’s not STANDING RIGHT THERE. In one scene, Bella makes it extremely clear: she does not want to bump werewolf uglies with Jacob. He kisses her anyway. She punches him, but BOW she almost breaks her hand. (In the book she apparently does break her hand. I say apparently because I never finished any of the books.) I guess the verdict is in: don’t fight back ladies, it won’t do a damn bit of good.
The Twilight Series has always been a warped, frightening prism through which we are encouraged to view the power dynamics of modern relationships. Bella meets Edward, a possessive man who scares her and invades her personal space, and she cannot swoon fast enough. This teaches young women to ignore the signs that their relationships are abusive and glorifies a pernicious form of Stockholm Syndrome, which society calls The Good, Faithful Woman. For only The Good, Faithful Woman can find TRUE LOVE. What is True Love? Well, you can’t control it, it consumes you totally, and once you’re in it, there is no escape. True Love is like the correctional complex in the 1992 masterstroke Fortress, similar to the prison planet in the atrocious Alien 3, and a carbon copy of the barbaric Rura Penthe, the asteroid Kirk and McCoy are sent to in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. Besides lending itself to gratuitous science fiction references, True Love is a concept that evades criticism and interrogation – it is an end unto itself. The idea that mature adults can actively choose healthy relationships is non-existent in the Twilight universe.
In a bit of seemingly old-fashioned gender reversal, Bella wants to have sex and Edward doesn’t. Which is only gender reversal if you assume women don’t have sex drives. Edward wants to be celibate until marriage, which is his personal decision and we should all respect that. Buuuuuuuuuuut his personal decision comes with this asinine underpinning of weak, sexist chivalry — complete with the toxic fetishism of virginity, which transforms Bella’s into a commodity for Edward and Jacob to fight over. Since the voice of this bullshit patriarchal complex created to control women by controlling their sexuality belongs to this absolute, utter DREAMBOAT, it gets amplified. Amplified in the only way it can in the mind of a young, female viewer who has been conditioned to tie her self-worth to the appraisal of a man. This act of ideological transference is made all the more easy by the nature of the heroine. She has no stable personality. Her one leading characteristic is an inability to know what she wants. It is easy to empathize with a character who is everything to everyone: from the start of the movie you are encouraged to slip into Bella’s place. And when your sexy dead pretend boyfriend tells you “we should wait until marriage,” you can’t help but internalize that to some degree.
I am in full support of people who choose to remain celibate, as I am of people who choose to have casual sex. But there is a difference between knowing your full range of options and choosing not to have sex, and riding to Bonesville on the Marriage Express because you are consumed by pangs of lust and your family or religious community exploits this fact to shove you into a wedding that will negate your control over your own life. This is how people end up with people who they aren’t sexually compatible with. For life.
In Eclipse, Bella is planning to marry Edward after graduation, and then have him turn her into a vampire. There are a lot of scenes with her boring social circle planning graduation, and then her friend gives a really terrible Valedictory Address. They could have sent me 50 bucks and I would have written a better graduation speech in 5 minutes. Everything in the Twilight Universe is so mediocre, every character so bland, that even the vampires that have been around for centuries just bore you to tears.
Through Alice’s premonitions and some really shoddily done fake in-movie local news reporting (I would have preferred spinning newspaper headlines, frankly) we learn that an unknown vampire is raising an army full of new recruits. It is explained that newborn vampires are stronger than older vampires, because of the human blood that lingers in their tissues. Which is just bullshit. I have never, ever seen a vampire mythos in which age doesn’t confer strength. Underworld. The Vampire Chronicles. The Last Vampire. The Sookie Stackhouse Novels. Older vampires are stronger, faster, deadlier than younger vampires.
The vampires and the werewolves call an uneasy truce, so they can fight the vampire army together. Did I mention the werewolves are all Native Americans? Thanks, Native Americans! We appreciate you putting your cultural heritage under a modify/adapt for-profit creative commons license. We were trying to tell a story about dead white people, and instead of tapping into the rich European lore of vampires, we’ve decided to transfigure your myths for our purposes. Don’t worry, you’re well-represented in this story. For instance, none of you have real personalities of your own, but instead you form a hive mind, making decisions as a group because that’s a much more Native-Americany way to do things. You’ve very insular and suspicious, often violent, but you’re always ready to help a white man in need!
There are a few scenes I like, including the grand battle between the vampire army and the vampires and werewolves of Forks. In the glorious haze of battle the vampires and the werewolves work as one, forming momentary alliances based on skill and speed and slaughter. It is one of those scenes you spit out right after, ashamed at how much you enjoyed it. Because the world is larger and more complicated than simple alliances.
When Jacob finds out that Bella has agreed to marry Edward, he flips his shit and tries to run off to get himself killed in battle. So Bella kisses him. Bella seems to have two weapons in her persuasive arsenal: Sex kitten and shallow waif. She doesn’t seem to trust her own powers of non-sexual reasoning. And why should she? From the first page of the series she tells us how clumsy and boring she is, she lets everyone walk on her, and the man she loves consistently teaches her that her only function in life is to be the one he loves.
The only likable person in this whole film is Bella’s father, Charlie Swan. Charlie Swan, regionally ranked pornstache owner/noble sheriff of Forks, Washington. During one scene in the kitchen, he awkwardly tells Bella he hopes she is using birth control with Edward, and she informs him that she is a virgin. (NONE. OF. HIS. BUSINESS.) He responds by quipping to himself that he likes Edward more now, which is the wrong message to send about sex not being a physical necessity and instead being this bullshit ritual with very strict rules about who should be ashamed of themselves for addressing that physical necessity. This sexual coercion mangles the mind, putting a permanent buffer between all of us and our own sexual impulses, a buffer which can rob us of sexual satisfaction, a buffer which takes years to unload. This is the culturally-accepted Father’s Approach to Sex: encourage the boys, discourage the girls. Turn everything into a fucking war between the frisky lads and the frigid ladies. But Charlie Swan is often the voice of reason. When he thought his daughter was having sex, he mentioned contraception. When he sees how totally emotionally attached she is to Edward, he tries to create space between them. He is our tunnel out of Sullen Vampire Chastity Land, but his constant reminders of how terrible his own love life has been undercuts his message.
Stephanie Meyer has done the impossible: she has written a sexy morality tale. Twilight has all of the elements of “social guidance” films like Reefer Madness or Boys Beware — painting society in broad caricatures of the fallen and the chaste — but it is wrapped in this tween-friendly packaging, the media onslaught of which is hip and appealing and seemingly sex-positive. (It affirms young love! It lets us objectify men!) Young men and women are not going to stop having sex because of Twilight. But they are going to do all of the ignorant or emotionally damaging things people do when they are mortified by their own sexual impulses. Comprehensive sex education, in the classroom and in the culture, gives young people options. The more they are informed of their options, the less likely their sexual development will be marred by large amounts of toxic shame.
There is an important distinction to be made between Twilight fans and Twilight Inc., the runaway cultural phenomenon/sales Goliath. There are so many narcotic things about the Twilight series: it creates a sense of community, it allows sexually-repressed people a tightly-constrained sexual outlet, and it gives the reader something to long for. People have many complicated reasons for liking things, and mocking them incessantly only drives them deeper into their own insular communities, making it less likely that they will look at the series with a critical eye. Some of the criticism of Twilight and its fans is so sexist and homophobic (Sample Facebook Group: “Back in my day Vampires sucked blood, not cock.” Fuck you, Internet) that being a fan of Twilight can sometimes seem like the lesser of two evils. Dividing people into the righteous and the fallen is exactly the sort of shit we fight against, even if we don’t always like everyone’s choices.
Make fun of and eviscerate cultural artifacts and behaviors, but not people. When you meet a Twilight fan, don’t spit out Harry Potter agitprop at them or ridicule them for their choices. Just ask them if they feel at all conflicted about the series. More than likely they are familiar with the criticisms of Twilight and just need a little time to think about how these things have a negative impact on their own self-image. They don’t need you reaffirming their suspicion that the outside world will never understand them and that Twilight is the only thing they can trust. This is big tent community building. This is inclusiveness. This is necessary. Otherwise you’ll chase off all the complicated, imperfect people and the 50 or so of you with your shit totally together will have a big party without us.