The Twi-moms’ Lament

I’m going to irritate a lot of my friends here.  Apologies in advance, but hear me out.

Leave the Twi-moms alone.  They are hurting.  And no, I don’t think I’m one of them.

The Twilight series, for those who have not read the books — and notice I did not write “for those who have not seen the movies” or “for those who have been living under a rock,” because the books and the movies and the stuff people say about them are three different artifacts of expression, and we need to acknowledge that — is about a late-adolescent girl, Bella Swan, who moves across the country to live with her father in her junior year of high school.  She has a relatively smooth transition, largely avoiding the usual problems of displacement such a situation might bring, but encounters conflict when she falls hopelessly, fecklessly into consuming, co-dependent love with a vampire.

Oops.

I saw the first movie before I had read the books.  I saw it opening night with a couple of girlfriends who were fans of the books, in a theater filled with giddy, squealing teenage girls.  It was a raucous weird time.  I didn’t entirely know what to make of it all.  The movie, a tortured melodrama fraught with good music, poor acting, and worse direction (1), was weak at best.  My friends and I stood around in the lobby of the movie theater for an hour afterward making fun of it.  We all went home that night and changed our Facebook status lines to read, “What is he doing in that tree?” (2)

But I read the book the next week.

And let me explain why I did that:  I love vampires.  Some other time we can get into a discussion, if you like, about what they represent from a literary or psychological point of view, about why they are so different every time a new author reinvents them, about why they come back into mainstream pop culture every half-generation or so.  We can get into that stuff later, maybe.  But I could tell from the movie that Stephenie Meyer was clearly doing something unique with the mythology, and I wanted to know more about it.  I had heard her recent interview on NPR and was intrigued by this apparent literary phenomenon.  Paranormal romance?  A story based on a dream?  Best-selling books written by an ordinary mom?  Written for a younger audience and will probably take me all of one day to read?  Sure, I’ll bite.  Plus, I love vampires and am willing to give a cute story a chance.

So what happened when I read the book?  I became a little bit of a fan.  It wasn’t great literature — it wasn’t even particularly good writing — but it was really entertaining.  I went back and saw the movie a second time with another friend who had not seen it yet but wanted to, this time in a nearly empty movie theater.  It was a profoundly different experience.  Now I could hear all the dialogue, now there wasn’t any giggling around me, now I had the context of the novel in which to frame the movie.  It was still poorly acted and poorly directed, but now, well, it wasn’t so bad.  I sort of got it.  It was easy to willingly suspend my disbelief, to let myself sink into the goofy fantasy of it for a couple of hours.  And I admit it was a little embarrassing to be able to do so when so many of my friends had such disparaging things to say about it, but oh well.  To be blunt, most of them had not read the books or seen the movies.  Though I love my friends, I could get only so worked up about what they thought.

Then I read the rest of the books.  From a writing standpoint, I was curious about how Meyer could possibly sustain the driving tension of the first novel across three others.  From an analytical standpoint, I was interested in her redefinition of what’s at stake for these vampires:  what exactly was the downside, again?  What was so compelling about this story?  Sure, it was fun —  a big bowl of candy, in fact.  (Generally enjoyable but not a lot of nutritional value.)  And the male leads are, in their fashion, irresistible. (3)  There’s plenty of romantic tension, which is fun, if you have inside of you a person who believes that sex is not something one does with just anyone.  And so what if Meyer was putting forth a philosophy?  She has the right to do that, it’s her book.  If you don’t like it, don’t read it. (4)

But beyond that, I think this series has been incredibly popular with teenage girls and mature adult women for one particular reason that is the same for both very different age groups:  Bella Swan is incredibly flawed.

Bella is a convincing teenage girl who has fallen deeply in love for the first time.  I think many women who fell into true love in high school can recognize themselves in her.  She has the trappings of youth:  clumsiness; an inability to see her own beauty or even, at times, self-worth; poor judgment.  And her love for Edward is fierce and dependent, much like true love really is.  Audiences may scoff at her martyr-like attitude and find her choices to be frustratingly bad.  They might even criticize her for the way she thinks, and in this modern time, they have a good point.  (Linda Holmes has an excellent review of the latest movie installment, which I agree with in pretty much every way.  Here’s the link to it:  http://www.npr.org/2011/11/17/142248824/dawn-breaks-and-much-baroque-nonsense-ensues.)

I criticized Bella, too, until I remembered my own youth, remembered experiencing these emotions in the first place, remembered being seventeen and so desperately in love that I was willing to make really stupid choices.  Perhaps I saw in Bella what I regret about my own life.  This can make any protagonist – and frankly, any person, in a book or not – annoying.

But Bella is worth my attention for her proverbial warts.  Not because they are unusual – they aren’t – but because they do not prevent her from being loved.  And not just loved, but adored – and not just by any old loser who can’t do any better, but by a demi-god.  (Two of them, even.)

This makes these books, well, a little bit inspiring.  You know, on a subconscious level.  Who doesn’t want to feel like she (or he, for that matter) is so lovable, warts and all, that the object of her (or his) affections could possibly reciprocate them with such passion?  It’s wonderful to imagine that we are more than the sum of our flaws, that others can see past the imperfect body, the neurotic habits, the lack of self-confidence, the constant need for reassurance and just love us.  Adore us, even.  Find us so compelling that their need for us is just as intense as ours is for them.

So why do I say the Twi-moms are hurting?  (And sure, some of them aren’t.)  This story just might represent something they feel they have lost.  Even if they haven’t — even if what they think they’re missing is only buried deep down under layers of marriage and children and the demands of a career and household minutiae and far too busy weekends and having to actually schedule date nights with their spouses and a general lack of time for themselves — this story just might remind them of that thing inside of them that is young and vulnerable and desirable.  It’s like a princess story for grown-ups:  a damsel in distress hidden within the trappings of the modern age.

So go easy on these vulnerable matrons.  Absolutely, teach the young kids enjoying these books and movies that Bella is messed up hard-core, that her choices are weak, that her priorities are badly skewed.  Teach them that life does not in any way resemble this fantasy, and teach them why, and teach them how to avoid being victims.

But if enjoyment of this story isn’t interfering with real life, if it’s not hampering the fulfillment of their duties and obligations, if it’s not messing with their sense of reality, let the Twi-moms enjoy themselves.  Don’t be haters just because you don’t understand.

And if you know a Twi-mom and don’t think her obsession with Twilight is healthy, then give her something else to read.  You know, something with literary merit.

Like Jane Austen.

(1)  For more examples of Catherine Hardwicke’s illustrious career, check out IMDB (http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0362566/).  She has six directing credits, including Twilight and a project not yet complete.  The only other one of those movies I’ve seen, though I’d heard of them all, is Red Riding Hood, and I’d like to have that hour and a half of my life back.  RRH was one of the worst movies I think I’ve ever witnessed in my adult life.  I thought about blogging about it, in fact, but to do a good job of it I’d probably have to watch it again, and I just can’t suffer that much for my art, unless there’s really a demand for it from my audience.  For more objective context, I think it’s interesting that all the little user-generated lists that pop up on the right-hand menu bar for her IMDB page are lists of “bad directors.”

(2)  The answer to this question is that he is demonstrating his Otherness.  You know, in case you were still wondering.

(3)  Totally talking about the books here.  The choice between Taylor Lautner and Robert Pattinson is laughably the choice between Child on Steroids and Child Unwashed.  Barf.

(4)  I had heard and read the criticism that she was injecting religion into her story, but honestly, I don’t think it goes that far:  the issue of morality is not belabored any more than in any other thoughtful exploration of the Human Condition, and the question of whether Edward has a soul isn’t truly answered.

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20 thoughts on “The Twi-moms’ Lament

  1. You have said what I’ve tried to say to those people who can’t understand why I go to the movies, and read the books. I was that 17 year old girl who gave up everything for love. And I did it again at 20. And 23. And 28. And 33. I’m pretty sure I’m done now, but having reinvented myself 5 times, I understand a bit of what drives Bella. Sure, it would have been great if she could have figured out a way to go to college, get an advanced degree, cure cancer. But she isn’t a real person – and who wants to read about real people? At 17, I didn’t care about any of those things, and neither does she.

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    1. angeliquejamail

      Thanks for that, Margo. I think you’re right: she is a realistic character in many ways. She’s 17 and has her first boyfriend. We can’t expect her to act like a grown-up.

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  2. Thank you for a highly enjoyable article! Despite the best, if somewhat cunning attempts of friends to read the Twilight series, I saw the first movie and though “Pah”. If there can be ten minutes in this film of lingering staring and lustful staring and heavy breathing-staring and all other kinds of staring, I don’t want to know how she writes about these long moments on paper. You may have convinced me, however, to pick up the book.
    Cheers again!

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    1. angeliquejamail

      Thank you! I will say that some of these things are handled differently in the books, if I remember correctly. The books are 1st person p-o-v, so there’s a lot of what we might think of as internal monologue, i.e. Bella’s thoughts while all that staring is going on. That sort of thing doesn’t often translate well onscreen because it isn’t spoken aloud.

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  3. heather

    Say what we will about the books, I’ll be forever grateful to Meyer because it got my 10-year-old late-reader to love reading. Now I cant get her to clean my kitchen because her nose is in a book. (meaning I have to get my own nose out of a book to work on the housecleaning with her).

    The movies have a strong abstinence undercurrent that was curiously offset by a pro-choice message in the last film. Bella and Edward can barely kiss because he has restraint issues and finally can give in once they’re married. But the message then is “do ‘it’ once and you’ll get pregnant.” So far it’s pushing abstinence (even, weirdly, in marriage). Then she finds she’s pregnant and everybody acknowleges that it’s HER choice to keep the baby or not. I stopped reading the books after the first one (way more fun to hang with Sookie) so I don’t know if the “pro-choice” message was in the books (and thus is part of Meyer’s ideas) or is only in the movies.

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    1. angeliquejamail

      You make a really interesting point, Heather. I think the fourth book definitely has a strong “Bella’s choice” theme, although it certainly isn’t referred to as “pro-choice” in any way. It’s treated more like “anti-abortion,” as one might expect. It always bugs me when people forget that the choice to keep a baby is a choice, just like when people assume the choice not to keep a baby isn’t fully considered. But this line of conversation could get political real fast, so I’ll stop. 😉

      After reading the fourth book, I sort of wondered what Meyer’s pregnancies were like, whether she spent them on bedrest. Or what motherhood was like for her, whether all the people in her life expected her to give up her sense of self once she became a mom. Unfortunate for her, if that’s the case, but she seems to have a real life now, so okay. 🙂

      Interestingly, today when I was out and waiting somewhere I picked up a magazine that contained an interview with Kristen Stewart, conducted and written by Stephenie Meyer. I read the interview, thinking it might be interesting to get to know the “real KStew” as Meyer claims to know her (according to the magazine).

      Yeah. It was exactly like what you might expect it to have been.

      As for Sookie, well, gotta love her. I’ve enjoyed all the Sookie Stackhouse novels and short stories as well. Like Meyer’s books, Harris’ are not high art, but they sure are fun, and they’re filled with just as much literary symbolism and neuroses to chew on as Meyer’s, and then best of all, they’re populated by adults, doing adult things and also realizing consequences for them. Sure, some of those are “bad things” (har har har), but hey, it’s entertainment. Go Team Eric.

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    1. angeliquejamail

      Thanks, Christa! I’ve been enjoying your writings, too. 🙂

      You might catch these later when your cherub is older, assuming it’s still considered by then. And if you get the bug to do it, choose the books. You can get them read in a week, I’ll bet, and it’s at least mildly interesting to have the context, considering our student population. The book covers also make good fodder for a discussion about allusions and symbolism.

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  4. Dana

    Love the “Child on Steroids or Child Unwashed. Barf!” Totally made me laugh out loud. But I get how the image of “Bella” as an everywomen who finds true love despite her flaws would be a major draw for a lot of people. I read the first book and saw the first movie and haven’t managed to get myself to go any farther. I like my vamps a littler edgier and not so sparkly. Sookie and Buffy FTW!

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  5. Lou Anne Leonard

    Yesterday I heard a cautionary tale the upshot of which was also the advice delivered by the Wise Old Man in the story, “don’t be cynical; it’s intellectually lazy.”  That you would take time to develop kindly but still thought-provoking analyses of flawed heroines in mass media crowd-pleaserssnob, refraining from both snob-appeal and slob-appeal — this really says something for the breadth and flexibility of your literary sensibilities.  (It also says something for the role of self-acceptance if we are to maintain discernment in out critiques of fictional people, real people, and politicians, but I digress.)

    Thank you for your essay. Especially, thank you for making the point that not all explorations of moral motifs are religious in nature.  Have you read the author’s sci-fi offering, The Host? Alas no pretty vampires but even so an ethics of Otherness permeates the story.

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    1. angeliquejamail

      Thank you very much, too! And yes, it irks me when people cannot seem to separate issues of morality from religion. Yes, I understand well the concept that religion provides (ideally) some moral framework, but religion doesn’t have exclusive rights on the concept.

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    1. angeliquejamail

      Thanks for your interesting response and for the link to the article, which was informative. It’s true that I’m not excessively familiar with LDS teachings. I’ve known and/or been friends with maybe a dozen members of the LDS Church, and with some of them we just don’t broach that subject. (It’s a really personal one for me, and I tend not to discuss spirituality with most people.)

      My initial assertion was that I didn’t think that Meyer’s book was overtly religious in nature, based on what I’d heard and read on the subject. I still stand by my opinions on those ideas I mentioned, although the article you linked to in your comment was new information for me, and stuff I can reference later if I ever find myself in that discussion again.

      One of the nice things about literature worth reading is that it gives the audience plenty to think about and dig into. Even if Meyer didn’t consciously put those themes into her stories — maybe she did, maybe she didn’t — if it’s part of her life, it has the potential to come out, and also to be recognized by readers who are more attuned to those themes and ideas. Literature does not exist in a vacuum.

      Thanks again for posting.

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  6. Mindi M

    Angelique,

    I really enjoyed your post. I have also found it difficult to explain why an otherwise intelligent adult woman would get so hooked on the Twilight series. The best I can say is that it’s “brain candy.” I got sucked in (no pun intended) quite by accident. Shamefully, I have read the entire series several times and absolutely love it. As much as I should fill my brain with scholarly literature and well-crafted prose, sometimes I just want to send my mind on vacation for a while.

    From a psychological perspective, I also admit that I identify with Bella’s inner monologue a little too well. I remember the feeling of “otherness”…the awkwardness of my adolescence…all-consuming, unrequited crushes…and finally my first taste of requited love (which was all wrong and ended disastrously, of course) which marked my entry into adulthood. I remember dreaming of “the one” during my teen years, only to discover “the one…for now” so many times during my early 20’s. Twilight reminds me of…well…me before the harsh realities of adulthood took hold. And without the vampires and werewolves, of course.

    It’s interesting that you mention the moralities discussed in the book. I agree that Meyer’s message isn’t overly religious; however, I’m sure that her personal value system found its way into the story. For example, I have wondered if she was trying to make her book “suitable” for teens by not setting herself up as an advocate of premarital sex, but I’m not qualified to speak to her intentions. One could argue the religious implications of devilish nature of vampires, the sanctity of life, and the frailty of the human soul, and I’m sure that makes for a lively discussion. Personally, I choose not to read that much into the story. It is what it is.

    I’ll quote my mental dialogue when I discovered the Twilight series: “Vampires…a love story…what’s not to like?”

    P.S. Another commenter mentioned “The Host.” The writing is a bit more adult, and the story is quite compelling. I really liked it!

    P.P.S. Team Eric 😉

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    1. angeliquejamail

      Thanks, Mindi. I think a lot of people share your experience and subsequent wondering of “why on earth am I loving this story so much?”!! 🙂

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  7. This is very interesting, You’re an excessively professional blogger. I’ve joined your rss feed and sit up for in quest of extra of your fantastic post. Additionally, I have shared your site in my social networks

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