Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Writers Debate The Twilight Effect - Post #2 for the Opponents

The opening post for this series can be found here and includes the background and intent for this debate.  The first post from the Advocates is here.  Feel free to check these out if this is your first visit.

Each contributor in this series is introduced as either an “Opponent” (someone who doesn’t believe the Twilight books offer a healthy and / or harmless reading experience) or an “Advocate” (someone who does believe the Twilight books are healthy and / or harmless). Neither title is intended to offend or divide. Merely to categorize.

Your chance to jump into the fray is the comments below the post. But please keep in mind: While healthy debate is encouraged, trolling, swearing and personal insults are not.

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Disclaimer: In an effort to open honest dialogue, I’m allowing guest contributors to express their thoughts without interference or moderation. Therefore, the views 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.

Kate E. A. Nash writes:

I'm one of the readers who feels that Twilight glorifies emotionally abusive relationships, has a negative and gendered view of sexual relationships, and contains extremely backward messages.

Edward's behavior in Twilight is obsessive and controlling, but depicted as romantic and perfect. 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. Not only that, but I see some really racist tropes at play in Meyer's work, specifically involving the werewolves as Native Americans and savages.

Twilight romanticizes white privilege; the perfect is white, the perfect romance is white, the perfect family with money and education -- they're all white. It's a privilegepalooza in which everybody who is anybody is cis* (actually no one in Twilight isn't cis.), straight, white, and at least middle class. While I realize that Jacob isn't white, at the end of the day, he doesn't get the girl. He's not portrayed with the everloving language that Edward is afforded.

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. While the landscape of YA is slowly changing, with the inclusion of LGBTQI characters in the series of such NY Bestsellers as Cassandra Clare, LGBTQI characters are still largely a minority. Often, even when they are included, disabled, colored, and LGBTQI characters are portrayed in stereotypical ways, or exist as an embodiment of those characteristics. These characters are often defined by that which makes them "other". I'm sure many remember talk of the whitewashing of book covers, which has been going on for a VERY long time.

I don't want to say that every book should be about racial or political things. I don't think that. But I do think that it's important to notice this stuff, to push boundaries and admit that hey, the assumption that the MC of my book should be white, cis, etc, is ridiculous and should be challenged! I have seen Twitter replies to authors where teens thank them for including a gay character, because it made them feel better. That's a small example of why this is important.

* The term ”cis” refers to: "individuals who have a match between the gender they were assigned at birth, their bodies, and their personal identity", as defined by Kristen Schilt and Laurel Westbrook.

Submitted by: Kate E. A. Nash


  1. Great post, Kate (and thanks for posting Aimee!) There's been a lot of writing about how Meyers books are a commentary on Mormonism (and the ideal Mormon family being white and sparkly) - but to me commentary would imply critique - and I'm not so sure she's involved in any active critique. I do think vampires are sometimes used in popular culture to critique racial politics, but I'm not sure how effectively that critique is being done at any level, and to me Meyers is one of the worst offenders:

  2. Hi, I'm really enjoying the posts and the Twilight theme. I have to agree with this post and also raise that Jacob is seen as the unworthy suitor when compared to Edward. He has had a limited education, lives in poor surroundings and is next to being an animal. He is good enough to be a friend but still will never match up to the wealth of Edward. Jacob is also volatile and sexually assaults Bella in Eclipse which is rarely mentioned. This could have been a real chance to explore the history of Native Americans and have a character resembling a human being. It was interesting to see Jacob as one of the main characters. Eventually, though, he descends into the beast we expect him to be. (Much like most other characters of race.) Even imprinting in the book seems animalistic when compared to Edward and Bella’s choice of being in love.

  3. Kim, I'm curious: after learning of imprinting in the books, did you go back and think of how things were with Bella and Edward at the beginning? It seems to me that they had the same experience as Jacob when he finally imprinted, how they were drawn together, as if nothing else in the world seemed to matter any longer now that they'd found each other.

    And in response to the above by Kate, I'm curious: They tell authors to write what they know. As Stephanie Meyer is a white Mormon who very likely has no experience with the queer community at all (and if any, then very little), can this possibly excuse her from the expectation of writing about such things and including such characters? I certainly wouldn't want to read a book written by a white, middle class mother of three in a heterosexual marriage who's possibly nary even contemplated kissing another member of the same sex to write a book about a gay young man.

  4. Hi, Uriah I still think that Edward and Bella's love is seen as a spiritual connection. Jacob and Renessmee is more of a biological thing. Bella's child and Jacob have no choice to be together. It's in their genes and about the future offspring of the tribe. Later in Breaking Dawn, Leah worries about her own body as she appears to no longer be able to have children. This shows that for them procreation is higher then finding a connection with another human and being in love with them.
    Edward still managed to leave Bella in the second book, New Moon. Even if it did 'torture him' he should have been able to see how dependent Bella was upon him. Up until she makes friends with Jacob she sinks into a deep depression that doesn't indicate that Edward and Bella's relationship is healthy.
    Also the Quileutes are a lot like animals. Ultimately Bella rejects their closeness to nature in favour of the accumulation of material possessions which they will do for eternity. She does reject Edward's gifts as to frivolous but eventually much as with the marriage proposal, she submits. The whole point of creating civilisation when any nation colonised another was to force their ideals onto another culture. In our eyes, now, we might not consider a life living near a forest the way Jacob does. This is what happens to Bella.
    She starts out as a somewhat independent heroine (well a little anyway) suddenly she is swept away into the perfect life. This is a world of wealth, beauty and many opportunities she will never receive until she is willing to change. She must accept a life of White Privilege.
    Jacob is aware of how the other word see him. He is always attempting to appear as though he is different from his own people He half laughs at his own legends trying to make sure that Bella is not offended by his way of life.
    When Jacob talks about imprinting it does sound romantic but then when we see he is in love with a baby, it's a little gross. If an older man (in reality) said he felt drawn to a baby because of destiny we'd still question it. To be honest I'd really just love to get some quotes to back these points up if I can.
    This is just my own personal opinion anyway but I will try and back it up if you like.

  5. Kim,

    I think it may just boil down to a difference of interpretation. When I read it again and Jacob is explaining Quil imprinting on Claire on page 176 in Eclipse, he says "There's nothing romantic about it at all" and then "Quil will be the best, kindest big brother any kid ever had." The most interesting thing about it, to me at least, is everyone's opinion on it. No one seems to even be on the fence, they either think it's nifty or appalling. A quick Google search will show that.

    Also, I found this interesting blog that would probably serve as a good mention for this series of posts called "Mark Reads Twilight" and it's completely hysterical.

  6. I agree 100% with Kate. Another place I noticed the issue of race was with Zafrina being introduced in Breaking Dawn. She is coupled with a few very dangerous and deranged vampires from around the world, but as Meyer describes her as the only dark skinned vampire in attendance, she is also the only vampire that Vamp Bella is afraid of. She is also the only vampire that Bella leaves Renesmee with unsupervised. Zafrina immediately becomes the black nanny. This made no sense to me what so ever.

    This quite possibly could be a direct reflection of Meyer's life (I don't spend time with the woman so I don't know) but I did find it rather disturbing.

    And as far as the lack of "fiction written for the wide consumption of an adolescent audience, lacks representation of a lot of areas that are really important", I have to say there are plenty of books that cover all planes of diversity, unfortunately they aren't DISTRIBUTED and MARKETED for wide consumption. Seek and you shall find.

  7. I love the discussion we're getting into today. It would be great if you all would come back tomorrow to take a look at the advocates view and give your opinions. I'm curious how that would sit against this viewpoint.