So, I saw the Twilight film a week or so ago. And since then, I've been trying to work out how I feel about the whole Twilight phenomenon.
NOTE: The film itself is horrendously, hilariously awful. It IS worth seeing, if only for the lawls.
I'm of at least two minds on the Twilight thing. I sometimes feel like people (including myself) who've criticized Twilight for being a bad example for teenage girls don't give teenagers enough credit.
When I was was in 7th grade, I devoured (no pun intended) Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles. I remember getting in trouble from by 7th grade English teacher because the book I was reading had 'Damned' in the title. In terms of unhealthy relationships and explicit sexuality, these books went far beyond anything Twilight has ever dreamed of. By the end of the year (remember, I would have been 13 at the time), I was reading Rice's gloriously over-the-top, incredibly sexually explicit BDSM epic Sleeping Beauty Trilogy.
These were, to say the least, not books meant for children. Though I openly read the Vampire Chronicles in front of my parents and at school, I was well aware that the content of the Sleeping Beauty trilogy was not something I "should" have been reading at such an "impressionable age," so I kept it to myself.
But despite the ever-present themes of sexual domination, surrender and sadomasochism (seriously, if you haven't read the books, go check one out. Open to a random page and see what you find), I didn't seek out relationships that mimicked those in the book. I understood that what's in those novels is fantasy. And fantasy is not only okay, it's a good thing, in my opinion.
So, what's so different about Twilight?
Well, I'm not entirely sure there is a real difference, but if there is, this is it:
The Sweerthearts box above isn't a 'shop job, but is an actual product available at your local grocery store. This whole commoditization of BDSM sexual fantasy for teen girls (albeit without the intercourse) is just bizarre to me. Seriously? A sexy-vampire-themed conversation heart that says "lamb" and "bite me?"For kids? Mmm, delicious.
When I was reading Rice's Sleeping Beauty, I knew it was subversive, that it was so enrapturing in part because it contravened society's boundaries. And it wasn't the only thing I read. I was reading works of literature, poetry, news, science and nonfiction. I was raised with values of gender-neutral self-empowerment and principles of free inquiry.
Twilight, on the other hand, has gained a reputation in some circles as a shining example for the nation's children, what with the traditional gender roles stuffed down your throat and the no-sex-until-marriage stuff. Girls are reading this tale of an obsessive relationship where a girl pretty much subsumes her entire character and identity into a guy she just met. A guy who secretly spies on her and sneaks into her room at night to "watch her sleep." A guy who vomits at the thought of their sexuality, and yet draws her in closer and closer. And we're all supposed to accept that this just means he loves her, and not that he's a creepy stalker. Any why? Because they don't fuck until they're married. And that makes it an excellent moral lesson, apparently: If you're going to get into an horrible, abusive relationship that will, quite literally, result in your death, be sure you get married before you find out if the sex is even good.
Like I say, I think we do teenagers a disservice when we thing they're not capable of understanding the difference between fantasy and reality. It's hard to put yourself back into the mindset you were in at 13 or 14, but I know that I wasn't totally ruined by the books I read. To the contrary. I think that nearly anything that gets people -- kids or not -- to read more is a good thing. Twilight is certainly not a shining example of classic literature, but is it going to lead to a generation of girls specifically seeking abusive relationships? No, I don't believe so.
That said, when it comes to empowering, positive vampire tales, Buffy could totally take both Edward AND Lestat with both hands tield behind her back (and no, I didn't mean that as a bondage joke... though I do now).