This post is in response to the debate on this blog last week regarding the influences of YA fiction (specifically the Twilight books) on young readers. My comments here will be based on the arguments presented in the previous four posts, so if you aren't familiar with them, feel free to check them out here.
I spent last week in a breathless, sitting-on-hands state of heightened mentalness.
As a champion debater in a former life, I struggled to keep my mouth shut. By the time Friday rolled around, some of the viewpoints were getting inside my head. I'd begun debating with myself. And that, while always interesting, can be dangerous.
I discovered every post had points I agreed with, and points I didn't. But the points of contention are so much more fun, aren't they? So... I'm going to take advantage of being the 'owner' of the blog, and indulge my need for a voice in some of the points raised by both sides of the debate. (NB: This isn't in any way intended to disrespect the prior contributors - I really appreciate the time and energy they put into this series. These are simply the comments I would have made if I'd been engaging in the debate as it happened).
I'll only make one disclaimer: I don't believe a fictional character can (or should) ever TRULY be taken literally as a role-model. But I see the argument, so am addressing these comments in that vein. But if I had my way, none of us would see Bella in that light.
Feel free to barbeque me in the comments. I'm a big girl. I can take it. And I'll try to respond to everyone.
Ready? 'Cos here we go:
Re: INTRODUCTORY POST - Jasmin said...
"...I hate this series. I hate it with a consuming passion that has become the focus of my academia...."
"Hate" is an incredibly strong word - especially when levelled at the work of an individual you don't personally know.
I would actually be more concerned about teens hearing a strong, intelligent women using that word so implicitely against someone / something else, than the messages Twilight may (or may not) send. I believe it implies that either a) the speaker is intentionally trying to stir up strong feelings in the audience, or b) there is some reason to believe the speaker cannot view the subject matter objectively.
I don't believe either of those was your intention, but I wish you had chosen another way to phrase it. On a specific point:
"...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."
And you can. Except, that isn't why he did it. The characters' conversation and the circumstances surrounding this incident very clearly demonstrate that Edward's desire is to keep Bella away from dangerous werewolves - not from a friend she cares about. He does nothing to separate her from other friends - in fact, he spends the entire series encouraging her away from himself and into the more 'normal' circumstances and relationships available to her.
This kind of statement - to me - smacks of someone using circumstances or basic facts, without recognizing the underlying 'spirit' of the situation. Is it dangerous to be in a relationship with a guy who would rip the starter out of your car to stop you seeing a friend? YES. Is it dangerous to be in a relationship with someone who would rip the starter out of your car to stop you from going into a life-threatening situation? NO. In fact, we should all be so lucky.
When read in context, I believe this incident demonstrates a great deal of selfless love. Edward knows Bella will be upset with him for doing this. He does it anyway because his fear for her life outweighs his fear of losing her to Jacob.
my teenage nieces to seek out a love that is willing to sacrifice self and comfort, for the good of the other person. When both people act with the other's best interests in mind, both people's needs will be met.
Did you ever ask yourself about Edwards intentions, or only get hot under the collar about the way he chose to inact them?
Post #1 - Joshua Weed said...
"...If I were her counselor, I would be focusing my therapeutic efforts on building Bella's self-esteem and trying to resolve the attachment issues she has with her father in order to broaden her perspective about relationships with the opposite sex."
There's no doubt Bella's relationship with her father was stilted, particularly in the beginning of Twilight. But I think anyone who believes a teenage daughter's relationship with her father doesn't come under some serious remolding during those years is sadly mistaken. Bella and Charlie go a long way to show love for each other - even demonstrating care when the other doesn't know it.
Before Bella becomes 'obsessed' with Edward, she chooses
to move out of state to allow her mother the time and space to develop her own marriage; to feed and care for her Dad when it's obvious he doesn't really know how to do that for himself; to remain quiet even when friends around her are demonstrating typical teenage foolishness. All very mature and self-aware demonstrations of understanding and love.
In fact, the only areas I see Bella fall into feelings of inadequacy remain generally under the headings of 'beauty' and 'physical prowess' - and let's be honest, as a teenage girl those themes are unavoidable.
Yet, despite these feelings , Bella doesn't sabotage the relationship, go fishing for compliments, start a diet - or do any of the things we ladies are often guilty of doing even into adulthood: trying to change ourselves to make ourselves good enough for the person whose attention we'd like to attract. Instead, she recognizes her feelings to herself, then keeps right on living in the way she thinks she should.
That is, in my opinion, a fantastic role model for any young woman. I'd like to see more IRL people taking that approach to insecurity. And I would hate to see that 'counselled' out of anyone.
Post #2 - Kate Nash said...
"...The book explores a relationship in which a girl changes everything about her life for a boy, because he is perfect and she is flawed."
See the notes above re the previous post. I'd like you to qualify this statement, because I can find no evidence that Bella changed anything about herself for Edward. In fact, their ongoing conflict is usually sparked by her insistence on doing things as she believes they should be done, regardless of his opinion / desire to protect her.
"...I really feel that fiction, particularly fiction written for the wide consumption of an adolescent audience, lacks representation of a lot of areas that are really important...Often, even when they are included, disabled, colored, and LGBTQI characters are portrayed in stereotypical ways, or exist as an embodiment of those characteristics..."
Firstly, writers write what we know. The call for minority group novels should be made to minority group writers. My personal experience: I've yet to find an atheist who realistically (and unstereotypically) depicts the internal struggle for a teen of biblical faith. I'd be offended if they claimed to fully understand my journey. For the same reason, I wouldn't think to impose my ideals and imaginings on an LGBTQI teen because chances of me getting it more right than wrong are so slim, I'd probably hurt them more than help.
That doesn't mean I don't care for or want to see literature released for teens who live those issues every day, only that I'm
not equipped to write for them.
Secondly, I think this is a much more pragmatic and business-based issue than you may want to admit.
Publishers are in business to sell books. Minority demographics will never buy as many books, because there are, by their very definition, fewer of them. I don't believe any publisher turns a book down because it's 'not white and priviledged enough' or 'the characters are too sexually fringe'. They turn a book down because their marketing department tells them they'll only sell 1000 units - whereas that book over there will sell 100,000.
I agree that issues of race and sexuality are prominent for teens and good books addressing these issues should be published.
But I am not going to hold my breath for the Big Six to start buying and marketing them because the pure truth is: democracy and capitalism are built on the majority. And in America the majority of book buyers
are white, cis, and want to read about similiar characters because they find them more accessible, and relatable. Change that fact and you will change the Big Six marketing plans, you'll change the landscape of YA literature - and more power to you.
For now, this is where independent publishers, self-publishing and e-publishing have a huge role to play. I'd highly recommend you do some research: Stories, novellas, poems and even books based on the kinds of characters that you want to see (and, more importantly, written by authors who themselves fit into those minority demographics, so can write them realistically and without cliche) are out there. They just aren't on the front table at your Barnes and Noble.
Post #3 - Erica said...
"...In Twilight, Bella Swan is so entranced by Edward that she ignores what may be good for her (i.e. school, Jacob, real friends, Mike Newton) you know, some degree of normalcy. In fact, author and assistant professor of Theology at Wheaton College says, “The romance in Twilight is all consuming…the books use words like obsessed or consumed to describe Bella’s feelings for Edward” (Jones, 2009, p. 20)..."
Why are Jacob and Mike Newton classed as 'real' and 'good' things, but Edward classed as 'bad'? Because he isn't - to use your word - normal?
An overriding flaw in the teenage psyche (or the adult psyche, for that matter), is the inability to believe they can step outside of social norms and cultural rules to find love, peace, contentment.
More teens need
to experience a consuming love that is all-encompassing. Most wander through their childhoods feeling lost and alone. Someone loving them despite their flaws, with their best interests in mind, and without reservation would be a good thing.
If my sixteen-year-old niece met a young man whose concern for her demonstrated anything like Edward's determination for her health and wellbeing, I'd be happy to see her consumed by it. Selfless love is a beautiful thing, and far too rare in this day and age. That, in my opinion, is the very crux of why
this book (series) has been so successful: Deep down, we all want to be loved that way - and we'd happily give up our 'normal' existences to have it.
Post #4 - Kat Kruger said...
"The shallowness of Bella's character, to me, is in her inability to define herself as a person without being in a relationship..."
Did we read the same book? If she defined herself by the relationship with Edward, she wouldn't defy him so dramatically on so many different occasions. As well, this is a girl who left her established, apparently happy life in Arizona to make the incredibly selfless and mature decision to give her mother the freedom to enjoy her new marriage. Her personality, sense of style and value-set remained unchanged for the duration of the books. She does not define herself by this relationship - she does define 'true love'. And if, in real life, someone found a genuine 'true love', I'd defy anyone to find fault with working towards a compromise in order to keep it.
If you are implying it's possible to be in a successful relationship without compromise or flexibility, we might as well stop talking. Mutual
sacrifice is very the foundation for a strong relationship. It doesn't mean we don't have boundaries we won't cross, or lines we won't hold to. It does mean figuring out which of our previous lines and boundaries are actually important. It means when conflict arises, we have to find a medium ground - somewhere we're both happy. And it only works when both
people are willing to do it. If Bella insisted on remaining static, unmoved, inflexible on everything, she wouldn't be in a relationship at all, let alone defined by it.
"...She's completely consumed with Edward because he's gorgeous. She ditches all her friends to enter into a relationship where he has all the power. And really she has no depth written into her character in any way..."
First: She is attracted to Edward because he's attractive. She falls in love with him and continues to admire his beauty. Who of us doesn't want to continue to find our love attractive after the novelty has worn off? But aside from that, though she speaks to herself about his beauty, she is consumed by who he is and her love for him, not what he looks like.
Second: She is, realistically, melodramatic and isolated by the breakup with Edward. Most of us who thought we were in love in high school have been there at some point. It isn't a bad example, it's an honest one. Bella, thankfully, returns to other relationships BEFORE Edward comes back - again, a realistic depiction of the natural flow of these things.
"...I just feel like girls need stronger female role-models than that, not weepy damsels who fling themselves off cliffs when they're dumped by a boy..."
I'll say it again: Bella didn't fling herself off a cliff because she'd been dumped. She'd seen Jacob's friends cliff-diving and decided to try it, in search of an adrenalin rush that might evoke an hysterical hallucination of sorts. It was a dumb thing to do, but she's seventeen! She wasn't trying to kill herself. She wasn't trying to get anyone's attention. She was just doing something she thought would make her feel better. Stupid? Yes, but not a damsel in sight.
To sum up: Read the books, people. Stop spinning events to match your desire to argue them.
Oh, and regarding the 'girls need stronger female role-models' comment... see tomorrow's post.
So that's my two cents.
Your thoughts? Responses?
I'll be listening and happy to discuss any of these points in detail (and via gentlemanly debate) in the comments or via email if you prefer.