Monday, January 31, 2011

The Twilight Effect - Writers Debate the Influence of Teen Fiction

When I wrote the first post on the last year titled The Stephenie Meyer Effect attempting to get to the bottom of why writers seemed so up in arms about the writing in the Twilight books, I never expected to uncover issues with the content.

It was the comment from Jasmin Elliot (a Tweep, writer and English Lit grad student) that got me mulling over the ethical responsibilities of how authors portray YA characters.

So, in honor of Jasmin’s kick-it-off-etness I’ve decided to use her comment on the original post as our opener.

I'd encourage you to give real consideration to her thoughts, tell us what you think in the comments, then tune in tomorrow for the first contributing viewpoint.

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Disclaimer: In a genuine effort to open a dialogue around the ethics and responsibilities of writing fiction for teens, I’m allowing guest contributors to express their views without interference or moderation. Therefore, the thoughts and opinions expressed in this blog post do not necessarily represent my views and opinions. If you’re not sure – ask. I’ll tell you.


November 28, 2010 @ 1:49pm - Jasmin said...

I've read the entire Twilight series several times over. I am a writer and an English Literature graduate student.

And I hate this series. I hate it with a consuming passion that has become the focus of my academia. I've spoken on Twilight at three conferences now and I don't intend to slow down.

I hate the saga not because it's badly written and popular. Plenty of things qualify under that umbrella.

I hate it because it is marketed to young women and has extremely backwards and damaging messages about how teenaged girls should expect (and want!) to be treated by men. I hate it because so many uninformed adults -- and mothers -- don't seek to interrogate these notions with adolescents, because they're just so glad they're reading, and they either don't know or gloss over the worse implications of the text because they are pleased with its message of abstinence.

What I hate about Twilight is that its level of media saturation means there are a lot of girls who to varying extents look at Bella as a role model, and I think Bella is an extremely dangerous role model to have if a girl is meant to develop a healthy sense of self-worth in her interpersonal relationships.

So. Is it as easy to read as it is to eat a potato chip? Yes, and I will admit to often enjoying novels that are that simple. But I reserve my right to hate a narrative that wants us to adore a guy who rips the engine out of his girlfriend's truck so she can't go to see her best friend.

Jasmin Elliot
http://twitter.com/#!/JasmineElliott


Jasmin raises some interesting issues. What do you think? Comment here and come back tomorrow for the next contribution!

19 comments:

  1. My Characters Don't SparkleJanuary 31, 2011 at 11:28 PM

    Honestly, I don't know. I've read the books, seen the movies, and while I agree to some point with Jasmin's view, I can't help but wonder if the choice between bestiality and nechrophilia is worse than controlling boyfriends :P After all, are there any 17 year old guys who aren't complete asses?

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  2. *Cough*

    This is me trying not to laugh because i want to have a real debate, but...

    *Chortle*

    Yeah. Well said.

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  3. First I would like to say I'm a writer, but not a YA writer. I write dark, adult fiction that no kid needs to read, but I was a kid at one time.

    Jasmin is one of the first people outside myself and a couple of friends who get the true reason I despise Twilight (I refuse to call it a saga). Discussing something like this makes me grateful I'm not raising kids. If I had a daughter she would not be reading Ms. Meyer's work.

    My belief is YA writers have a responsibility to present positive roll models for our future generations. Bella is neither a positive or responsible character to present to an impressionable young audience. Yes, Ms. Meyer has young girls reading, but at what cost.

    Parents should be concerned about what their kids are reading, watching, and listening too. I see people every day flip out over the things that have not as much influence as this. Kids are taking Twilight to crazed levels and it's message is one no self-respecting decent parent would want their child to see.

    Bella bases her self-worth on a male who walks a thin line between abuse and stalker behavior. Meyer glorifies a relationship that has no business being glorified. The fact she doesn't get that and she's a parent worries me on how her sons are being raised.

    What's even sadder is the fact society wonders why we have such a high rate of abusive teenage relationships and teen pregnancies. Allowing our youth to steep themselves in such negative material with no communication with parents allows our youth to make poor choices.

    *steps off soap box*

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  5. Let me say first that I did enjoy the series, it got me back into reading and for a while I was pretty die hard. But there were always things that bugged me.

    I agree that Bella is not a very good role model. She refuses to see how strong she can be. In the first book she rushes to protect those she loves from a vampire! Yet all she does is whine about how weak she is as a human. She never realizes it either. Her strength only is realized after she becomes a vampire, thus enforcing her belief that she was weak as a human.
    I agree Edward is pretty much stalker and too possessive and Bella is as well. She ignores everyone, even as a human she was willing to forget her friends. (while the bonds were strong, her classmates were ready to be friends)

    I enjoy the story but I agree there are many unhealthy themes in the book and Bella is not a role model girls should model themselves after.

    Plus if my bf EVER tried to keep me from talking to a male friend I would kick him very hard where it matters.

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  6. I don't want to enter the debate myself (yet), but I do want to clarify one plot point which seems to be recurring:

    In New Moon Bella does not throw herself off a cliff to kill herself OR to get Edward's attention.

    She does what's called 'cliff diving' - she jumps off a very high rock which she's previously seen Jacob's friends jump off. She's seeking an adrenalin rush because whenever she does anything physically risky, her brain conjures warnings from Edward.

    Feel free to debate the merits of risking your health / wellbeing for what is effectively a hallucination, but I want to make sure when people are commenting they've actually read the books.

    Bella was never suicidal. In fact, at that point in the story she's starting to come out of her depression. If anything, her association with Jacob is what put that idea in her head.

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  7. Holy cow. Someimes I wonder if we are reading the same books or not.

    I never saw Bela as anything but a strong role model with the normal teenage hormones.

    Edward’s development stopped at age seventeen. Yeah he is, er, 108 but still mentally seventeen. He had no experience with women.

    He tried to control Bella because of his fear for her safety not to keep her or own her.

    She lost her patience and said, “I am Switzerland. Get over it.”

    Bella’s character developed from shy (with a smart mouth at times) to an adult. She couldn’t compete with the vamps or werewolves in strength but used brainpower instead. In the end, she was the most powerful of all of them in every way.

    People are reading something in Twilight, garnering some obscure message that just makes no sense at all to me.

    And for the record (and I say this LMAO), in a Twilight website, I introduced a thread asking why people hated it. These were people who LOVE the Saga (yes, it is a saga). Readers responded with such vitriol that I had to shut the discussion down. They took offense when I even suggested there were people out there who hate it.

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  8. Huntress, as i said in my comment. My big problem w/ Bella is she never REALIZED what a strong person she was as a human. Being made a vampire only proved she was a weak human, she sold herself short in so many ways. I would have liked to see her realize "I can kick ass as a human but my decision to become a vampire still stands."
    Your point on Edward I can see as valid since once turned the vampires were frozen, therefore their state of mind could be as well.

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  9. "she never realized what a strong person she was as a human..."

    Typical of any teen who hasn't realized their full potential. Second guessing themselves, usually short on self-esteem.

    Yep, yep, a typical teen. Color me tired of the strange teenage girl who is 'strong'. I never saw any as a kid. But then, I didn't have a lot of vamps in my life either. *G*

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  10. I didn't have a lot of vampires in my life either *sigh* lol
    I'm not saying she had to be strong through out the whole book, I'm saying I think it would have been better if she realized that fact while she was still human. Because she did realize it, but it was after she turned.

    That makes me feel like the message is 'you can't be strong as who you are and have to change.' I guess that's my point I'm trying to show.

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  11. Conversations like this make me heated. lol. I get really into them, but I only have one thing to say in response to many of the comments. Yes, Edward does sabatoge Bella's truck, is quite the stalker, and is very involved in Bella's life, but let's remember that Bella is not your good ole normal gal. Most normal girls are not in imminent danger at every turn. Poor Bella is a perfect clutz and has about 3-100 vampires looking to rip her throat out!!! And since Edward loves her, her protection comes first. He knows she's mortal and could die just by walking out the front door.

    One thing I advocate above anything else is family reading. READ WITH YOUR CHILDREN!!! EXPLAIN things to them. Tell them what's real/not real, right/not right, etc. They're SMART! They'll get it and not go out and find the first vampire-posing-jerk-face to marry.

    AubrieAnne @ http://whosyoureditor.blogspot.com/

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  12. There's a great (and very educated) response to this post from @ronvitale here - http://www.ronvitale.com/2009/11/twilight-and-regaining-the-the-heros-quest.html

    Definitely worth a look. He considers Bella's role through Jungian interpretation.

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  13. I read the books, and I'm still a little iffy about them. I'm old enough not to be considered in the YA range, but it wasn't that long ago, so I can see the problems with Bella as a role model.

    The main character that Ms. Meyer tried to create was someone that saw herself as nothing special, battling with her self esteem constantly. It was, IMO, the biggest relate-able personality trait. The problem with that, though, was she never grew out of that until she was no longer human, so in that regard, I agree completely with Patricia Lynne.

    I can respect that fact that Edward did put her safety first, though he can across as very possessive. I don't care how hot a guy is, or whether or not he sparkles, but if he is going to tell me what I can and can't do, its done. I know there aren't a lot of teens willing to give up a guy that tells them what to think and do, and making a main character that girls everywhere can relate to be so subservient is sending a terrible message.

    All in all, I think teens should read this book, but I think it should be something talked about afterward. I think parents should be aware that this is what their kids are getting in to, and it should be explained to girls by their parents that this is not ideal behavior for a boyfriend, or a best friend, because lets not forget, Jacob wasn't perfect either.

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  14. Great comment Haley Jo. I agree w/ the last paragraph. Too many parents don't read what their kids read and it can be a helpful tool for dealing with kids, especially teens.

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  15. I didn't like Twilight and found the book dragged 3/4 of the way through, so I just stopped reading it. I never read YA and it disappointed me from the start in its lack of vocabulary, but I tried to chug away to see what the fuss was all about. I never found out.

    A friend of mind wrote a YA book called WICKED COOL, by @dianefarr a paranormal book where the young teen protagonist is a positive role model, someone whose morals you'd want your daughter to emulate. THIS is the book parents should buy for their young teens. You could start with this book at age 11 onward. The vocabulary is excellent for a YA book--they will learn smart, new words along the way. It's terrific, and I wouldn't steer you wrong.

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  16. The depictions of abuse and incestuous rape I gobbled up as a teen in VC Andrews novels did not form a blueprint of what I want in a boyfriend. I never dated my brother, or a boy who abused me, or similar. I also devoured historical romance novels of the 80s, "bodice ripper" variety. My sense of self-respect, abhorrence of rape, and general feminism somehow managed to survive.

    So no matter how objectionable you might find the depictions or characters in Twilight or any other YA novel, please accept that the teen readers are more intelligent than you are giving them credit for. They know the difference between fantasy and reality.

    This is not a new argument. From the birth of the novel, academics (mostly men) have been ranting and raving that we have to protect women from the corrupting examples to be found in tales of high adventure and romance. It's a regular argument among certain facets of religious fundamentalists that romance novels are "porn" that teach its women readers to have unreasonably high expectations from their husbands. This is nothing more than the latest salvo.

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  17. Well said, Diana! That's just what I was saying towards the end of my rant. :)

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  18. After reading all the comments I felt that I had to voice my opinion. I have been deemed by my friends and family as most likely to give a collegiate lecture on the literary merits of Twilight.

    As someone that has read the books repeatedly, seen and own all the movies, and written fanfiction using all of the characters I understand the argument that Edward has stalker qualities and that Bella is a weakling that doesn't get her self-worth. However, I think the thing that has really only been briefly touched on is the fact that she is seventeen.

    At seventeen most girls are self conscious about their bodies, their emotions, their lives. They don't know their own strength and if they do then other's teen in school normally label them queen B's which is another topic that gets just as much heat. The point is that as teenage girls we are all confused and looking for something that makes sense.

    To me Bella was a wimp in the sense that she became heavily involved in a co-dependent relationship, but she was also stronger than you here are giving her credit for. She knew her own mind and although Edward could be a stalker and bully as well as Jacob, her werewolf best friend, she stood up to both. She made a decision about her life and even when Edward left she still held true to it. Even during the incident that so many have mentioned where Edward broke her car to keep her from seeing Jacob she still managed to go and to tell him that she wasn't turning her back on her best friend.

    I grew up watching and reading vampire lit as well as romance novels and lots of YA fiction but I understood that it was just that fiction. There were discussions around my home about what I was reading and plenty of read alongs with my mother. And although I read these fictions I read plenty of other things too.

    That is my point. Even if the parents aren't reading with the teens they should be providing a well-rounded reading list. If you read Twilight but then also read "We Hate Everything But Boys" or a more recent YA where the girls are "stronger" then you get a better understand. It all boils down to variety and knowing yourself and in that respect I think Bella makes for a decent role model.

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  19. I have been mulling all of these thoughts over in my head and I realized something.

    I kept thinking about the suicidal Bella comment (or the fact that she actually wasn't) and I realized that, with all of the discussion of both Bella and Edward, I have never heard anyone complain about Edward's suicidal tendencies.

    While he protects Bella from the surrounding circumstances, it is Bella who has the inner strength to move on when Edward breaks up with her, while she ends up having to come to Edward's rescue and save him from himself.

    I just find it interesting that I can't remember ever hearing people discuss this. Edward is SO wrapped up in Bella that he would rather kill himself than live in a world where she doesn't exist. That's pretty horrific.

    But most people view it as tragically romantic? (I don't know, that's my guess, since I've not heard it discussed) I just think it's an interesting commentary on what readers expect from both male and female characters.

    Note: I do enjoy the books. I just like playing devil's advocate against myself at times. :)

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