Wednesday, March 31, 2010

New Moon: a New Beginning or the same old Riff-Raff?

**WARNING: Contains spoilers.**

Although I’ve never quite gotten on board with the fanaticism surrounding the Twilight saga, I don’t deny that the combination of werewolves and vampires, in theory, remains appealing to me. As a feminist, sociologist, agnostic, and hard-headed critical thinker, I am oh-too-familiar with the critiques of the Twilight saga, ranging from accusations of sexism, racism, and usage of Mormon-fueled anti-sex, anti-choice, and anti-female agency rhetoric and undertones. When a friend offered me the chance to borrow her DVD copy of New Moon, I figured a bit of research might prove valuable in shedding a bit more insight into the cult phenomenon of Twilight. There were a few things about New Moon that initially struck me: overall demanding language towards Bella (i.e. Edward: Marry me, Bella. Jacob: Stay away from me, Bella. Charlie: Go to sleep, Bella), the construction of relationships (i.e. obsessive “I can’t life without you” mentality), that women must always be “protected,” and the horrible dialogue (if it is any reflection of the books, I am in no way inspired to become a dedicated Stephanie Meyers fan).

I find reassurance and comfort in knowing that a film and book series written by a woman with a female protagonist has obtained mainstream success due to hoards of mostly dedicated female fans , but do take issue with the potential messages it might be sending younger generations (and older for that matter). After conducting a bit more research on other’s perceptions of New Moon, it appears my critiques are rather kind. Concerns from a group of women writers include the following:

“My problem with it is that Bella’s life is given over to pregnancy, marriage and being a vampire all before she hits 20. I would hope girls aspire to bigger and better things.”

“It’s escapist entertainment for girls, so that part of it is okay, as long as girls don’t have aspirations to be her. “

“The idea of someone watching you while you sleep, following you to ‘protect’ you — these are signs of abusive, controlling relationships.”

Additionally, it’s also a bit sad to find out that the female director for the first Twilight film, Catherine Hardwicke, was replaced by male director Chris Weitz for the second installment.

An article in from Bitch Magazine discusses issues of repressed, controlled, and potentially limiting sexuality portrayed in New Moon (and consistently throughout the saga). Author Kelly Wallace asserts that “though I am not denying that many teenagers feel pressured to engage in sex before they're ready, I am also not willing to deny that many young people just want to get laid, and they have the agency to make their own choices” in regards to the arguably anti-sex, wait-until-marriage mentality of Twilight. Responding to an article reflecting on Twilight’s success by author Jonathan Zimmerman of the Chicago Tribune which states that “women want love, not just sex,” Wallace argues that the popularity of Twilight actually indicates girls DO want sex (think ripped and topless “wolf-pack”). Werewolves aside, the sex-as-taboo message, especially for Bella isn’t hard to locate nor is it necessarily difficult to understand its roots or intended implications. To think, all along I thought Sarah Haskins “vampires” sketch about people waiting until marriage to get bitten was a joke until I saw the end of New Moon when Edward stated the only way he would bite Bella (to turn her into a vampire) is if she married him. Guess you really should wait until marriage to have sex….I mean, get bitten.

There is much that could be said and has been said regarding Stephanie Meyers’ messages, the directing of the Twilight films, and if Edward really is bad for Bella. However, it could also be argued that perhaps Twilight is exactly like so many other predictable and limiting love stories of its time, just re-imagined with supernatural “monsters” that might just scratch your face up or suck your blood if you make them angry.

1 comment:

  1. I put some comments on Facebook but thought I'd follow up in a more systematic manner. I'm very sympathetic to the critique of female agency in the books, but I also don't like to hear that people "should" or "should not" have certain desires or aspirations in order to qualify as feminist. That just sounds so punitive and judgmental and hierarchical. It's like Betty Friedan coming down on lesbianism.

    I feel like the books and movies are about the expression of female desire, that it's Bella's desire for Edward that primarily drives their relationship (he is very hesitant to get involved at first; he physically leaves her several times; he keeps retreating). He's sexually repressed but Bella is not. It's interesting to me that the books are about a sexually aggressive girl and a fairly sexually passive guy.

    If you compare tones in the first and second movies, I was also concerned about losing Catherine Hardwicke (that just stinks), but I feel the new director clearly followed in the style she'd established.

    To me it also seems like the books are tapping into a metaphorical dream world. I don't think (speaking for myself here) girls want to translate Bella qua Bella into their daily lives as much as they are revelling in a particular fantasy. On another level, also, I think Bella dreams Edward up. Her desire creates him. And a sadomasochistic fantasy (or real sex life) -- if we call this sadomasochism, which I don't think it quite goes that far -- isn't automatically, necessarily anti-feminist. But this is an old argument in feminism.

    Just a few (subjective) thoughts of my own . . .