art feminism

A couple of days ago I watched Twilight, for two reasons — one, I thought it only fair that I watch it before ranting about how terrible it is, and two, I was really bored.

It wasn’t the worst film I’ve ever seen; I wasn’t forced to turn it off in disgust after ten minutes. However, I think that’s probably because I have a lower threshold for boredom than for things pissing me off.

It’s not the plot that I have an issue with, per se, as the characters. I think the same general plot could be reasonably good, given better lead characters.

Firstly, Edward. Let’s start with the age thing. He’s supposedly the same age as Bella — seventeen. However, in his own words, he’s been seventeen for “a while”. Ninety years, as it happens. Why, exactly, is a centenarian picking up teenage girls? In what universe is that appropriate? Age differences are all well and good, but he’s old enough to be her great-grandfather.

It might be okay, of course, if he was slightly less, um, obsessive and creepy. Let’s see — he regularly breaks into her house and watches her sleep without her consent or even knowledge. He stalks her “for her own good”. He repeatedly talks about how he wants to kill her — how, in fact, it’s a constant struggle for him not to do so. How, exactly, is that romantic? If that’s not an abusive relationship, it’s on the way there; apparently he gets even worse in the later books, abandoning her “for her own good”, then returning, only to make her leave her family and friends to be with him (or is it “for her own good” again?).

I wasn’t going to comment on the “sparkly vampire” thing, but as I’ve been writing this it’s been bugging me more and more. There are thousands of vampire legends. They share many features in common, and have many more unique points. If you’re going to write vampire fiction, you could take elements from any of these to come up with something new and unique — a dozen times over, probably. Or you could make up your own, fitting in with the general vampire theme. I quite like how Interview With The Vampire explains which of the vampire legends are true and which aren’t, tying it in nicely with the real world and the millennia of folklore. Or, you could make up something that sounds more appropriate to a My Little Pony than a vampire, explain it away as something that “evolved” as a way of catching prey (vampires “evolved”? how? and how does evolution fit in with Stephanie Meyer’s much-vaunted Mormon faith?).

The problem with Bella is the complete lack of a character. She’s a face, a name, and a bit of backstory. There’s nothing to distinguish her, no reason for her even to exist other than as someone for Edward to fall in love with (supposedly). At first, she demonstrates that she’s relatively intelligent (she recognises the square root of pi being recited, completely out of context, and manages to figure out the truth about Edward through research). However, even that seems to disappear once they become a couple, and once she’s put in a dangerous situation.

That’s the big problem I have: she’s in danger, so she must sit around and be rescued by her boyfriend and his family. Earlier in the film, she was perfectly willing to try to defend herself (though, again, rescued by Edward, who’d conveniently been stalking her for her own protection). Now, though, she just gives up, completely incapable of acting on her own behalf. She doesn’t even seem to play a role in planning her own escape and the trap for the vampire who’s threatening her. In fact, the only part she does play is to put herself in even more danger, so that Edward looks even better when he shows up to rescue her.

Is this really something that should be encouraged? Girls, don’t think for yourselves, don’t live your own lives; just sit around and wait for a controlling, obsessive, abusive — sorry, I mean “romantic” — guy, then live your life exactly how he wants you to, get married and have his kids (even if it means risking your own life to do so — because abortions are under no circumstances acceptable), and so on, and so forth. Just conform to the strictest, most out-of-date gender roles you can — welcome back to the 1950s!

A few links to finish: Buffy v. Edward, an amusing mashup video (Flash, sorry, but links to other formats), and the writeup that goes with it, plus another article: Twilight’s Bella Swan is a Feminist’s Nightmare — I particularly liked a comment that pointed out that if Edward wasn’t good-looking, his behaviour would be obviously unacceptable, but because he is it’s considered “romantic”. I also like all the other comments from fans jumping to Twilight’s defence at the slightest hint of criticism…

(And just one minor point to finish off with: I don’t know what sort of vegetarians Stephanie Meyer has met, but if you eat animals you are by definition not one. Calling yourself a vegetarian because you don’t eat humans is like calling yourself a vegetarian because you don’t eat red meat. Just saying.)

This was written for week 1 of project52.