The Problem with Twilight
I have a problem with the Twilight phenomena, but it has nothing to do with vampires that walk in sunlight. It’s how we’ve allowed ourselves to feel threatened as result of it.
Poke around on the internet and you’ll find scathing reviews of Breaking Dawn beyond count. They seem to play the same tune: 2 hours of longing glances, no plot, and brooding, one-dimensional characters. There’s an addendum to these that catches my attention. People seem very occupied with the message of the Twilight series. A lot of thoughtless accusation is aimed at Stephenie Meyer: that she’s indoctrinating young women into thinking that life is pointless without a boyfriend, one should be willing to give up everything for obsessive love, sex is terrifying and painful, and childbirth is a trip through Hell.
Another thing we’ve done over the years is compare Twilight with the Harry Potter series, for no other reason than both were wildly successful at getting kids to lug around Melvillian-sized tomes.
At the height of popularity, we had extremists and naysayers banning Harry Potter and calling for J.K. Rowling’s head as a confirmed practitioner of the dark arts. They imbued one British author with the power to convert a nation full of children to Satanism. I can’t help but feel that we never gave this Chicken Little ignorance the attention it deserved. Are we allowed to turn around and ask how many children are standing in pentagrams and summoning Azmodan as a result of reading about the adventurers of Mr. Potter? I wonder how many feel silly about their accusations in retrospect. I wonder how many of them actually read the books, and if they enjoyed them.
Here’s where the matter gets ironic. Now we have another literary sensation in Twilight, and the same thing is happening from the opposite angle. Only instead of the extreme godmongers shouting until they’re blue in the face, the socially-minded are the new madmen.
Does anyone actually think that Stephenie Meyer is out to get your preteen girls? Does anyone actually think that a generation will pattern themselves off of Bella?
Twilight is not a moral compass. It is not a prevailing cultural identity. Like voodoo, it only has as much power as we invite into our lives. I’m less concerned about the influx of babies named Bella and Edward than I am the Jermajestys and Blankets, who make Bella and Edward seem downright ordinary.
Now, with that said, let’s get mad at Twilight for the right reasons. Let’s get mad because Bella Swan doesn’t carry the weight of complexity or inner-strength to hold her own as a protagonist. Let’s get mad at the craft of this monster. Attacking its morals will only land a glancing blow across oily scales. If we can come to terms with why these books don’t work, then we strike the heart of the beast. The attacks we’ve fired so far have felt directionless, as if we couldn’t agree on what pissed us off more. Look to the writing! Learn from it, and do better! We’ve spent ages refining the process of literary storytelling to arrive at this form. We have a very good understanding of how it works. Stephen King said in On Writing that you can learn more from bad fiction than good fiction, and a book like The Bridges of Madison County can teach you more about writing than a master’s program. Let’s take up the challenge — not because it threatens our young — but because we can do better.
Twilight is not our literary revolution. It will not redefine how we approach writing or cinema. And it will not make a generation of young women into boy-crazy, lackluster facades of humanity. So stop your worrying, or you might feel silly about it tomorrow. Instead, join me at the box office. I’ll be armed with a hip flask and a notebook, ready to learn and to laugh, not necessarily in that order.