Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Guest Blogger Alena McAllister: Twilight of the Stupid

When my good friend Andrew asked me to guest blog for him, we spent some time brainstorming about what exactly I might want to write on. Nothing was getting me motivated until Andrew thought of a topic that was timely, culturally-relevant, and got my ire going enough that I'd be able to ramble on about it for a few hundred words. What Andrew asked me was, "How do you feel about Twilight?"

Now at this point I think it may be important for you to know a few things about me. First of all, I have a B.A. in English literature. What that means is that when I read something, I suck all the life and fun out of it until the text is a mere shell of what it once was. I'm sorry. That's what we do. Second, most of my research focused on sex and gender in texts, so that is what I see when I read. The head of my department was fond of saying, "If it's just a blade of grass, then you've missed something."

It's not the size of the stalk that counts.

I read Stephanie Meyer's Twilight and the rest of the books in the series last summer, right in the middle of the hype surrounding the fourth book. My coworkers were addicted to the series, and they quite literally held me down, taped my eyelids open, and forced me to read them. That, by the way, is exactly how it happened.

They thrust the first book upon me less than a week before the fourth was released, and within that week I read all of them. They were awful in a way that made me physically unable to put them down. Awful like a train wreck - no. Awful like a herd of kittens and puppies with newborn babies strapped to their backs meandering through a railroad crossing while a train filled with gasoline and fireworks bears down on them.

So, yeah, I read them and I couldn't stop. Don't think this makes you better than me, because you're not. Despite this, the Twilight series really, REALLY pissed me off, and for basically two reasons.

First up, Meyers treatment of teenage sexuality in the books. Ok, so kudos to you, Steph. I get that you were attempting to give us a more realistic, more modern portrayal of sex in high school. I can appreciate the plan, just not the delivery.

She spends the first three books teasing readers with hints of the night that Bella and Edward will one day share - only, that is after they're married. Edward, since he is supposedly the perfect gentleman, insists upon that. (Let's not discuss the fact that he's actually the perfect pedophile, given that he's something like eighty years older than Bella. He may look like he's eighteen, but the bottom line is that he's not even close. Not important! Look the other way!)

You want some candy, little girl?

Edward sneaks into Bella's bedroom almost every night, sharing her bed and then leaving before her father wakes in the morning. "Nothing happens!" Meyers tells us, practically bashing us over the head with the supposed innocence of it all. "Nothing happens until they're married," she promises in one breath, while describing all the intimacy of their contact in the next. By the fourth book, readers are on pins and needles; they know what's, um, coming.

But then, just like the girl in high school who used to let you get some under-the-shirt but over-the-bra action after the football games, Stephanie Meyers won't go all the way.

Meyers to readers: "Promise ring, bitches!"

In the biggest rip-off I've seen in a long while, Meyers pulls out the old "fade to black" on us, managing to gloss over every bit of the happy couple's wedding night in a few quick paragraphs. Now, to clarify, I'm not asking for porn, here. If that's what I wanted, I'd go pick up a Fabio-covered Harlequin romance from Half Price Books and be done with it. Or I'd just break out some Updike.

My gripe with Meyers treatment of the honeymoon is about consistency. Don't claim that you're striving for a realistic, gritty portrayal of teenage sexuality and then shy away from actually doing the deed. Don't describe passionate kisses and intimate moments, but then balk at the thought of actually having to write about the physical realities of sex. Send more of a mixed message, Steph? How precisely is that displaying a more mature understanding of the questions and situations that teenagers face when it comes to their sexuality?

That brings us to issue number two: Bella's complete and utter lack of a personality.

What do readers really learn about Bella through the course of the books? Bella loves Edward, check. Bella wants to be with Edward, check. Bella thinks Edward is the most beautiful thing evar, check. Bella wants to be a vampire like Edward, check. Are we noticing a pattern here?

There is nothing Meyers tells us about who Bella is that isn't dependent upon her relationship with Edward. What are her interests, hobbies, goals, motivations? I dunno. Oh wait, yes I do - Edward, Edward, Edward, and Edward. Bella's personality is about as multifaceted as dirty dishwater, and it only gets worse as the series goes on.

Eventually it is revealed that each of the vampires in Twilight has a special power. You know, like the X-men. One can see the future, another is especially strong, another can read minds. You know, like the X-men.

My skin shimmers in the sunlight, too.

Bella's power is finally revealed in the last book, after she becomes a vampire. Imagine my excitement as I realized that this was coming. "Finally," I thought, fool that I am. "Good old Steph is finally going to redeem herself and give Bella a chance to shine!"

I'm a moron.

What is Bella's power? Well, it turns out that Bella can act as a shield. She can focus on a vampire or vampires and block them from using their special powers.

Please excuse me while I smash my face off my keyboard.

So what did Meyers give Bella? A power that is entirely dependent upon the ACTUAL powers of the other people around her. Her power is nothing, in fact cannot exist at all, except within the context of other vampires. She doesn't get to act - she gets to react. Hooray for the victory of damn dull dishwater.

To make a long story short (too late), the Twilight series is a fantastic read if you can stomach the notion of a personality-free heroine who spends roughly the first 1500 pages dreaming and plotting about how to get a man eighty years her senior to marry her just so she can have sex with him.

"I don't remember selling the rights to my autobiography ..."

Like I said, I read all four books in a week.


  1. very nicely done...it's never good to judge a book you have never read..this it not one of these times. I hate this book and I don't even know what the cover looks like.

  2. Twilight always seemed childish to me, but then again, I've never read it.