Friday, December 2, 2011

Twi-night Double-Header

In which we indulge in some immaturity and hyperbole

I guess it's finally time. Finally time to talk about…Twilight. No, I haven't read the books. I tried; I couldn't. I tried to read through Satireknight's text MST3Kings of the books, but even that defeated me.

Honestly, I couldn't get past Bella's stupid whining about her stupid little life. I know this is what a lot of teenagers do, but…it's not fun for me to read. It's clichĂ© to say it, but seeing characters angst about nothing related to the plot or to do with actual pain seems vulgar, like being forced to witness someone's private life. I didn't even want to slog through this for the nastier stuff.

I witnessed the first merry-go-round of Twilight snark. At that time, I avoided saying anything because I wanted to be a good little girl and actually have read something before I talked about it, but now I guess I'll say a few things since everyone else is.

Then and now, I went with the flow as far as opinion of Twilight was concerned. I thought the stories sounded vacant or unintentionally creepy, as well as padded to all hell. Breaking Dawn sounded simply insane.

I also prefer my vampires savage, with Kouta Hirano's Hellsing manga being my favourite vampiric story of them all. Werewolves I have less of an explicit desire in mind, though I usually hate stuff with "alphas" "packs", and bullshit social Darwinism. Meyer's vampires and werewolves simply sound boring. It's not about vampires/werewolves being emasculated because they aren't out eating people, but that her versions have little apparent weaknesses or drawbacks to their status.

Weaknesses are good things. Sure, you can have your werewolves retain their minds, and your vampires be sexy if you want, but their lives can't be perfect. This is because, in a story that's aiming for conflict or drama, even if its roots are in wish-fulfilment or fighting over a teenage girl, imperfection means that things will actually happen. It means there can be danger and suspense, and, god willing, ambiguity. And if there are these things, it means the heroes can be tested, show their true characters.

There's supposed to be fighting in Twilight, right? Some attempt to tie the love triangle to the wider world of vampires fighting werewolves? So I can call it out on that level. Furthermore, it goes back to that voyeuristic aspect--if I'm forced to bear witness to a person's private fantasies, at least jazz it up with external and internal conflict so that it's easier to bear. Twilight apparently doesn't, and maybe it's the perfection in its monsters that's part of the problem.

I think Twilight is sexist. Hardly a new opinion, but I also don't think of Twilight as a source of moral corruption. That is, it won't make girls think someone like Edward is okay, or being a twit like Bella will get them places and make them loved. However, the popularity serves as a mighty good demonstration of some fucked-up things about our culture. Even though it's inspired by Mormonism, there's got to be something in Twilight that taps into that wider female culture, or it wouldn't be this popular, especially with adult women.

Mass culture doesn't express the deepest and unchanging truths of the human psyche--and thank god for that. We simply live in a culture that makes Twilight an appealing narrative for a lot of women. Society has changed over the years, but there are still many places that believe that women should "wait" (to be chosen, to be bedded), that women love "bad boys" and must forgive flaws in their mates, that women can never imagine themselves as the powerful monster, and so on. All of this, and more, is embodied in Twilight. And what is considered normal is often felt as desirable, so the audience is captivated.

There's blurred lines between individual desire and social conformity, between "guilty pleasures" and desires that come to dictate one's life. For this, I won't judge anyone for liking Twilight unless they're insane about it, not knowing from where their interest springs, and it may be impossible to know. I judge Twilight itself, partially for what it says about female culture.

Bottom line: Twilight only taps into that culture as it is now, not as it will forever be, and where it creates the worst obsession, Twilight works on something in its fans that was unfortunately there before. To say otherwise, that entertainment can corrupt the innocent, is the path to censorship and self-regulation. And I don't want that to happen because of fucking Twilight.

Some claim that hating Twilight means putting down female desire, female fandom, and female values. Look, I won't deny that fandom has a problem with women, and female-targeted entertainment is looked down upon, and that men are allowed to voice their displeasure and bewilderment at what women find attractive in popular culture, in a way that can get annoying and insulting. But you know, Edward sounds like such a vapid and creepy character, and Bella's love presented as consuming and all-controlling (such as the part where she's without Edward, and the book literally goes blank) that I continue to feel comfortable in hating what Twilight represents as love.

Twilight isn't the answer to marginalizing female viewers. The franchise just exposes those same ugly attitudes about women that already exist, instead of offering something new and challenging. There is no culture of entertainment so desperate for female consumer recognition that Twilight would be hailed simply for existing, especially since plenty of women also don't like Twilight.

About "female values" well, there's been a backlash in some nerd circles, one that considers it highly important for a female character to be able to prove she doesn't have to "act like a man" to be strong. I still find it hard to take a passionate stance for a mainstream value (and women acting "like women" is still very much that), and maintain that positive traits do not need to be divided by gender. Being driven by love and family is an admirable thing for both male and female characters, when applied with complexity and intelligence--if that's what you're into.

Yet from what I've seen and heard, Bella's anything but a positive example of "female" values, as her choices would be horribly foolish if she didn't have Plot Armour. That goes double for Bella and her demon baby. Maybe that can be read as the part where Bella finally sticks up for herself, says that despite the thing killing her from the inside (death by bad world-building, imagine that) and everyone telling her to abort it, she'll carry it to term.

However, when women's power has been said to lie in our self-sacrifice since time immemorial, and when the rest of the series has been that bad, I don't count it as any kind of sudden agency for Bella, nor even a proud expression of the right to choose, since putting the baby first is always what fictional women choose.

Secondly, I hear her baby, once born, bypasses a lot of the messiness that comes with raising a child by being super-intelligent and fast-growing. It's more of that wish fulfillment, that removal of flaws and conflict so any chance for the characters to face challenges are removed

Also, fuck, Jacob falling in love with the baby, who will speedily grow up into an acceptable mate, after being babysat by her future beau. Ew ew ew ew. Thanks, for finding a way to make predestined love even creepier.

So much of criticism depends on individual taste, what pushes our buttons and what doesn't. The best of us try to hide this, couching our objections in some kind of wider ideal, a platonic image of the Good Story. But since I've already thrown- any pretence to legitimacy or neutrality, let it be put out there: I find Twilight distasteful through only hearing about it. I don't care that it's written to satisfy the id, or that a lot of fictional romances can have creepy subtexts if you think about it--I just don't like this.

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