BEHOLD. My latest anti-Twilight piece. Performed this past Saturday to a dour post-Ghana loss crowd at Ricochets in Lincoln Square. Enjoy.
This week in culture. For those of you just emerging from Monastic retreat and/or a coma, there exists a book and film series known as The Twilight Saga. Chronicling the romantic entanglements of teenager Bella Swan, vampire Edward Cullen, and werewolf Jacob Black, the quartet of young adult novels have made their author, Stephenie Meyer, the second bestselling writer of the decade, topped only by JK Rowling. Thus far, the first two film adaptations, Twilight and New Moon, have grossed more than 1.1 billion dollars combined. Suck on that, Sex and the City series. Or, as I like to call it, Sex and the No-Effing-Way-Will-There-Be-A-Third-Movie-Praise-Allah-Peace-And-Blessings-Be-Upon-His-Name series.
In any event, after such dizzying financial success (New Moon almost doubled the box office of Twilight) there was no question of whether or not the third book would receive the big screen treatment, only whether Eclipse, opening this coming Wednesday, will satisfy the emotional bloodlust of the fans, known as Twihards. Since the movies have transferred the books thus far with unstinting faithfulness, one can only imagine that Eclipse will be a tremendous success.
Wait a moment. How do I know that the films are so true to the books? Well, you see. I have watched them. And, as of this week, I have read the first three books. Why? For this writing assignment. Christopher Piatt owes me some motherfucking scotch. Truly, though, I did it to myself. I believe strongly that knowledge of a subject is key when taking up arms and opposing it. I am not unlike the Christ in this regard. You’re welcome.
What is Twilight? Oh. Allow me to catch you up.
Bella = new girl in town/ponderous asshole. Everyone digs her. Edward = hottest guy in school/vampire. He sparkles in sunlight. He also has serious stalker tendencies, which in the Twilight universe are romantic. They love each other SO HARD. Like WHOA. But they can’t have sex without marriage/mutual vampirism, because Edward’s magical vampire cock would snap Bella’s weak, mortal vagina in half. On top of which, Bella’s always, like, physically threatened by other vampires, and stuff? She can’t DO anything about this, but luckily her stalker boyfriend Edward, or pseudo boyfriend Jacob (Native American/werewolf, ’cause in a Mormon fantasy brown people are shape shifters. Natch.) are always there to save her whining pale ass. Ever after. The end.
Outsold only by JK Rowling.
Stephenie Meyer has an origin story similar to Ms. Rowling, who envisioned the Harry Potter epic during a train ride. Mrs. Meyer, a Mormon mother of three, claims that the story of a young girl and the sparkling vampire boy who wants to fuck her, eat her, or both, came to her in a dream. This is not unlike the birth of Mormonism, which began when Joseph Smith claimed that an angel had visited him at night, and delivered unto him a book of golden plates chronicling the one true God. His “translation” of said golden plates became The Book of Mormon. Both Meyer and Smith have inspired cult-like followings. Both have had criticism leveled at them for their gender and racial politics. Both have made a metric ton of money off of their respective fantasies. Joseph Smith envisioned a faith in which a man could marry as many women as he wanted. ‘Cause he was a fuckwad. Stephenie Meyer envisioned a universe where an emo wallflower can inexplicably attract hordes of men whose fascination with the inner workings of her empty mind exceed even her own. ‘Cause she is a fuckwit. That both found such rabid literary success with next to no writing skills is a story that could only exist in America. Go team.
So what’s the appeal? Bella is a bizarrely inactive protagonist. A typical bit of Bella brood-porn: “Jacob was better, but not well enough to call me. He was out with friends. I was sitting home, missing him more every hour. I was lonely, worried, bored… perforated—and now also desolate as I realized that the week apart had not had the same effect on him.” Honey… Also, for all the protestations that Twilight is the new greatest love story ever told, Bella’s two suitors treat her with contempt most of the time. However, Edward and Jacob, when not forbidding Bella from driving her own car, telling her how idiotic she’s acting, or laughing goodnaturedly at her general uselessness, can barely stop talking about how fascinating they find her. This fascination, more than the existence of vampires or werewolves, is what makes the franchise a fantasy, and a drug. In many ways, Twilight is a perfect emotional time capsule of what it’s like to be a thirteen year-old. At the moment in our lives when we are quite possibly the most insufferable, we believe that the thing to which we are most entitled is someone who finds everything we do riveting. Edward sneaks into Bella’s room just to watch her sleep. It’s not creepy, it’s romantic that he’s so drawn to her. Jacob swears he’ll protect Bella from a evil vampire bent on her destruction and then in the same breath blames Bella for her own predicament. He’s not condemning the victim, he’s looking out for her. Both boys want her so much that at any moment they could lose control and drain or maul her enticingly fragile female body. This inexplicable and condescending fascination might explain why adolescent girls are binging on the stuff, but it also renders their devotion unsettling. I don’t believe Bella Swan will draw young woman to vampirism or Mormonism any more than I believe Harry Potter convinced a generation to pursue sorcery, but while Rowling’s universe sports a healthy, “Friends work together to overcome adversity” dynamic, Meyer has constructed a world that idealizes one-sided power dynamics and romanticizes a woman’s suffering. Bella’s love hurts her, so it must mean more. It ain’t love, really. It’s obsession, but that’s all we have to go on when we’re thirteen and don’t know anything about partnership. Also, vampire abstinence? Just as boring as human abstinence. It’s 2010. Fuck already. I’m all for young girls being told that choice and waiting are viable, honorable options, but not when the only reason to wait presented is the fact that your sexuality is dangerous, can turn a man into a beast, and that you will die as a result. Counter-productive, Ladies.
But these are the trappings that of the worst kind of fan fiction, the stuff that’s little more than a hastily scribbled wet dream. And Twilight is its own fan fiction. Twilight is what happens when a teenager rewrites Wuthering Heights with vampires and lots of references to Wuthering Heights. That the quality of Twilight’s prose is on par with bad fan fiction only adds insult to injury. To give you a taste, I will now present a dramatic reading from Twilight:
“Chapter 13: Confessions. Edward in the sunlight was shocking. I couldn’t get used to it, though I’d been staring at him all afternoon. His skin, white despite the faint flush from yesterday’s hunting trip, literally sparkled, like thousands of tiny diamonds were embedded in the surface. He lay perfectly still in the grass, his shirt open over his sculpted, incandescent chest, his scintillating arms bare. His glistening, pale lavender lids were shut, though of course he didn’t sleep. A perfect statue, carved in some unknown stone, smooth like marble, glittering like crystal. Now and then, his lips would move, so fast it looked like they were trembling. But, when I asked, he told me he was singing to himself; it was too low for me to hear. I enjoyed the sun, too, though the air wasn’t quite dry enough for my taste. I would have liked to lie back, as he did, and let the sun warm my face. But I stayed curled up, my chin resting on my knees, unwilling to take my eyes off him. The wind was gentle; it tangled my hair and ruffled the grass that swayed around his motionless form. The meadow, so spectacular to me at first, paled next to his magnificence.”
My personal favorite writer’s tic of Meyers’ is when she picks adjectives for the Native American Jacob. To describe his decidedly unsparkly skin, she uses the word “russet.” A lot. She goes to the “russet” well not once, not twice, but 12 times, and that’s in New Moon alone. Honey, we get it. His skin is reddish-brown in color. Pointing that out every time does not make you post-racial. It’s fine if you have Reservation Fever, but you have to own it.
400 pages a book. I did it for you. [Drinks scotch.]
I could go on and on about how I believe Stephenie Meyer has done a lot of harm against “womens,” or “bitches.” But, at the end of the day, it’s just an inexplicable cultural phenomenon. There will be more, and some will appeal to me, and some will not. Also, it’s important to remember that 13 year-olds are people, too, and that it’s not easy to be a teenager. Stephenie Meyer was 13 once (and always). I bet she was a shy girl, big eyes focused on her dog-eared copy of Wuthering Heights, . In fact, in the interest of research, I recently purchased her 1987 diary on eBay. From which I will now present an excerpt. [Pause.] No. Really. I swear.
[Opens diary. Begins to play “Angel of the Morning” by Juice Newton.]
“October 30th, 1987. Dear diary. I have now unlocked the secrets in the song “Angel of the Morning.” It took 139 listens, and two ruined compact discs, but I have done it. I understand. It’s almost Halloween. I love this day best. It’s the only day when we’re free to show the world who we really are. Isn’t it ironic that we’re dressed like monsters when that happens? I wish someone besides me understood that. I wish I could go to school everyday and have people understand that deep down inside, I should be Juliet in Verona or Alice in Wonderland instead of Stephenie in Phoenix. But even if told my friends that, even if I dared bare my tattered soul, it would be for nothing. I have accepted this. If I could be anyone in the world, I’d be Catherine Earnshaw from Wuthering Heights. Either Catherine, or that Baby Jessica who got the world to love her by falling down a well. But, probably Catherine, since not even love could save her from the well of her soul and I know exactly what that is like. I was having a conversation about Wuthering Heights with my soulmate-to-be, who does not exist yet, but I’m only 13 so he has at least four years to show up.
Side note. Diary, I know it’s a sin but sometimes I pray that God makes “Angel of the Morning” four books long instead of four minutes. It is the greatest love story ever told.
Anyway, soulmate-to-be and I were arguing sweetly. He doesn’t understand how I can read the same story over and over, especially since he finds Healthcliff and Catherine to be co-dependent, self-destructive psychotics. Boys. His eyes were vivid with real interest now, trying – again – to unravel the convoluted workings of my mind. He reached across the table to cradle my face in his hand. “What is it that appeals to you?” His sincere curiosity disarmed me. “I’m not sure,” I said, scrambling for coherency while his gaze unintentionally scattered my thoughts. “I think it’s something about the inevitability. How nothing can keep them apart – not her selfishness, or his evil, or even death, in the end. . .” His face was thoughtful as he considered my words. After a moment he smiled a teasing smile. “I still think it would be a better story if either of them had one redeeming quality.” “I think that may be the point,” I disagreed. “Their love is their only redeeming quality.” And he understood. Because we go together so well, we’re just like a bucket-a milk and a basket-a toast. And tonight he will watch over me as I sleep. I will sleep beneath his dolorous gaze, his hand hovering just over my hair as I slumber, fingers powerful, strong, mighty, wistful, and godlike enough to crush my face. And when the dawn comes I shall awaken to him singing “Angel of the Morning,” and he WILL LOVE ME FOR EVER AND EVER AND EVER SO THERE. That’s all for now, Diary. You’re the only one who understands. Or comprehends. Or gets it. Yours in Christ, Stephenie.”
Eclipse opens June 30th, 2010. Take your soulmate of choice.