Rants tag

Rants, ruminations, and rambling remarks from my mad, muddled, meandering mind.

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Twilight Saga: Romance, Dysfunction, or Abuse??

This post is not about games. Feel free to skip it if that's all you want to read about. However, it was something that I felt I needed to discuss, because it has come up several times on Twitter, and I find myself on the opposite side of the debate from many of the people I regularly interact with. I am sure I will not convince anyone with this post.

I do want to say that abuse in any form is completely unacceptable in any relationship. This is not about condoning domestic abuse.

A rare jump break:
I started reading Twilight about the time my daughter did, just to make sure I knew what she was reading. My aunt and some female cousins had started to read the books and liked them. I got into the story--melodramatic as it is--and finished the series, long after my daughter lost interest. ("I've read better fanfiction," I think she said regarding the then-anticipated pregnancy plot.) Emphasis in quotes is in the original unless otherwise noted.

I remember seeing some comment about Hannah Montana being unrealistic. No one would have a secret identity as a superstar. Uh duh, it's a child's fantasy. What girl doesn't secretly wish she were rich and famous? Heck, I'll take rich, though you can keep the famous. What girl hasn't pretended she and her friends were really famous musicians or actors? It's a fantasy!

The same goes for the Twilight fans. They have an escapist fantasy with a dapper vampire and a passionate werewolf, with a normal human girl in the middle of a love triangle. They may say they are holding out for Edward; but they will eventually realize, if they don't already, that he is a fantasy, a hold-out from the age of chivalry, when the dorky boys around them are more interested in their Xboxes and sports than they really are in girls.

It has been noted that perfect relationships do not make for good storytelling. Drama is conflict, possibly dysfunction. Fiction, especially fantasy, should not be confused with reality or held up as a model--good or bad--of what reality should be like.

I remember seeing a public service announcement as a youth that checked off a series of characteristic behaviors of drug abusers, that also happened to be characteristics of normal teenagers. Seems like everything that I watched as a kid is on YouTube, but I couldn't find this one. An article from Psychology Today covering the movie series compares Bella and Edward to an abusive relationship. Bella "displays three characteristics common in victims of violent relationships. . . low self-esteem. . . drawn to the 'bad boy' . . . [and] excited by violence, aggression, and danger." Unfortunately for the argument, these characteristics are common to a lot of people, male and female.

I don't think Bella is a character so much as a placeholder for the reader. I know there are probably apologists for the Edward=Abuser theory, who will say it is even worse that readers would be expected to put themselves in Bella's place. But think about it. We get very little physical description of Bella. "Bella constantly reminds herself that she's uncoordinated, unsocial, and unattractive." Teenagers often feel they are awkward or clumsy for various reasons. Some people really are clumsy; it's not a symptom of low self-esteem. Many teenagers really are unsocial. Many also see themselves as unattractive, even though they may actually be quite pretty (or handsome). I have been told I am good looking, have even dated regularly and been married twice. But in high school, when I was coming into my own, I still saw myself as the nerdy kid that got picked on and bullied in elementary school. Many teenagers would secretly love to be told they are beautiful even when they don't feel that they are, much as Bella is told by many different characters in the books. Boys are falling all over each other to be closer to her, but she doesn't realize. But maybe Bella is vulnerable. However, an abusive relationship requires an abuser, not just a victim.

Again according to Psychology Today, Edward shows the following abusive characteristics: "his control over Bella and his attempts to isolate her from others . . . coercion to accelerate the development of closeness . . . [and] high levels of jealousy or possessiveness." Edward's sabotage of Bella's truck in Eclipse is mentioned. You know, how he made it so she couldn't go out to La Push and run the risk of the bent-on-revenge vampire Victoria catching and killing her? Not to mention, though he didn't care about the werewolves, he was safeguarding them at the same time because Bella's presence would have endangered them, as they defended their territory from an unknown vampire threat. Edward is very much aware of the danger he himself presents, not because he is an abuser, but because he is a vampire. I'm not sure where Edward coerced Bella to develop a closeness to him; if anything, he tried to frighten her off. "Once Edward and Bella have decided to be together, they spend every night together in her room . . ." Wow, sounds like a lot of young and old couples I know, both real and fictional. In the year and a half I have known my lovely bride, I can count on one hand the days we have not been together, not counting the times I was out of town on business. According to the PT example, we must be in an abusive relationship. As far as Edward's jealousy or possessiveness goes, are they confusing protectiveness with possessiveness? Relative to the Vampires and Werewolves populating the novels, Bella is quite fragile indeed. On several occasions, Edward rescues Bella from danger, both accidental and deliberate. PT says he exhibits stalking behavior, and perhaps he does. On the other hand, Edward's "stalking" is both enabled by his superhuman mind-reading ability, and his other vampiric abilities. Have you ever watched someone from afar, or gone to a location or event event simply because you knew they would be there? You may be a STALKER! Or, once again, you may be a normal infatuated person. Bella was also hyper-aware of Edward whenever he was around, and no one is accusing her of stalking.

Edward is painted as chivalrous and possessing values from another era in the novels. Some observers choose to view this sense of propriety and chivalry as the sign of a controlling monster. Check for the warning signs outlined by Psychology Today in your own life. But be wary of convicting fictional characters--one of whom is not even human and the other all too fragile--for their roles because of a few checklists.

The PT article at least couches its assertions in the language of possibilities. There was a lot of "may" and "might be." The Sci-Fi site io9 is not so kind. Unfortunately, they use examples completely out of context and/or so false as to indicate a perfunctory scan of passages without really reading to see what is going on. I can't help getting a little sarcastic here, because this piece irritates me. I quote with [commentary]:

Does your partner:
* Look at you or act in ways that scare you?
[VAMPIRE! Seriously, if a meeting real vampire wouldn't scare you, you're stupid.]

* Control what you do, who you see or talk to or where you go?
"Stay away from the werewolves. I love you."
[Did you say WEREWOLVES? The kind that fly into a rage and destroy everything in sight? Hey no problem. Head on over there. See also my comments above regarding the danger Bella posed to the Quileute tribe.]

* Make all of the decisions?
[Oh, like the decision to continue dating the vampire that has tried to scare you off? To continue seeing the werehound said vampire supposedly forbade you from seeing? Continuing to insist that you will become a vampire despite the protestation of your vampire boyfriend? I can think of any number of times Bella made her own decisions. BTW, I almost always insist that my lovely bride choose where we eat or what we do on dates, because I really don't care. Am I being abused?]

* Act like the abuse is no big deal, it's your fault, or even deny doing it?
"If I wasn't so attracted to you, I wouldn't have to break up with you."
[Wait, breaking up with someone is abuse? OMG, send us all to jail! Besides, he broke up with her because he felt their relationship was endangering her life, because of those around him.]

* Threaten to commit suicide?
"I just can't live without you. In fact, I'll run to Italy and try suicide by vampire if anything happens to you."
[Isn't this usually, "If you break up with me, I'll kill myself."? Threats are used to manipulate. If something happened to my lovely bride, I would be devastated. Notice also this was not a threat.  Edward was serious. He couldn't stand the thought of a world without Bella.]

* Threaten to kill you?
On their first date.
[Um, ja. Completely out of context. Edward was trying to show Bella the danger she was in by trying to date something that saw her as food. He was trying to dissuade her from forming a relationship with him. Bella insisted. (Damn it, she made another decision!)]

These are some more signs of an abusive relationship.
Has your partner...
* Tried to isolate you from family or friends.
Bella doesn't have time for anyone else!
[I refer back to my prior statement, new couples are frequently this way. BTW, Bella continues to study and cook for her dad, see her friends, besides forming friendships with the Cullens and the Quileute tribe along the way.]

* Damaged property when angry (thrown objects, punched walls, kicked doors, etc.).
[I gotta reread this part. I know property gets damaged in the books, but I don't know if it was Edward in anger, and not simply collateral damage from Vampire fights and rather intense lovemaking.]

* Pushed, slapped, bitten, kicked or choked you.
Does tossing her through a glass table count?
[Um as I recall, this incident happened when Edward's adoptive brother Jasper was overwhelmed by the sight/smell of Bella's blood at the beginning of New Moon. Would you accuse someone who pushed you out of the path of a bus or a rampaging bear of abusing you, regardless of where you might have fallen?]
* Abandoned you in a dangerous or unfamiliar place.
"We're breaking up. And I'm leaving you in the forest."
[I haven't mentioned this before, but none of these "quotes" are actually from the book. BTW, they were fairly close to her house, she was far from lost. The problem was that Bella collapsed into a heap. And the friendly neighborhood werewolves were on hand to "rescue" her essentially from her backyard.]

* Scared you by driving recklessly.
[Did I mention Edward's superhuman abilities? Apparently one of them is reflexes faster than Anakin Skywalker in a podrace. I just referenced Star Wars, your reckless driving example is invalid.]

* Forced you to leave your home.
She had to run away with him to flee from the other vampires in the first movie, and she had to drop everything and run to Italy in the second.
[Key phrase here: "flee from other vampires" If you had to flee New Jersey and go into to Witness Protection because your husband is an Mob informant, is he also an abuser? In the Italy example, it was Alice who brought her, and they were "rescuing" Edward from his planned suicide. Seriously, these two examples are ridiculous on the face of it.]

* Prevented you from calling police or seeking medical attention.
Check. Even in the hospital, nothing is a big deal.
[Trying to remember when Bella was ever in the hospital because Edward beat her. The first time I can remember a hospital visit was in Twilight when they went to the ER to be checked out after the van almost hit her (which Edward saved her from, BTW) and at the end of the same book after after JAMES (not Edward), the vampire who'd been hunting her, had almost killed her.]

* Views women as objects and believes in rigid gender roles.
Well, they are Mormon... (I know, I know, cheap shot.)
[This statement alone invalidates pretty much everything else said. Since when is it OK to use religious bigotry as an argument? Mormons may have rigid gender roles, but so do many other churches, and Mormons are not as strict as a lot of denominations. And women are certainly not viewed as objects in Mormon doctrine, but daughters of God and equal partners in Eternity with their husbands.]

* Accuses you of cheating or is often jealous of your outside relationships.
Check, wolf-boy.
[I don't think Edward ever accused Bella of actually cheating with Jacob. He does accuse Jacob of trying to steal Bella; which, if you read the books, is pretty spot on. Bella on the other hand, frequently uses her relationship with Jacob to manipulate Edward.]

Done with that checklist. Let me reiterate, if any (I really want to say "if several") of these items is happening in your relationship, you need to have a serious heart-to-heart with both yourself and with your partner. That doesn't mean you are actually in an abusive relationship, per se, just that there is a danger of it.

A special note on Bella's collapse and withdrawal for much of the year during the New Moon. Edward's breaking up with has been held up as manipulative. How so? He felt their relationship was endangering her, and so tried to convince her he didn't love her and left. He was not trying to induce some sort of crazy in Bella. He cared for her welfare to the point that he gave her up because he thought that was the best thing for Bella. She went into a depression for the better part of the school year. As a teenager, I had a girlfriend (I thought the love of my life, who doesn't think that as teenager?) who broke up with me. For the first and only time in my life I was so depressed that I had no appetite. My guts were in such turmoil that half of what I did eat came back up, it seemed. In the course of three months or so, I lost 20 pounds (11% of my body weight), becoming 160 at 6'3". Was this healthy? Of course not. Was the relationship dysfunctional. Yes. Was it abusive? Absolutely not. Bella's depression was not healthy. That doesn't make her relationship with Edward abusive.

Rachel Vampirely set up a blog dedicated to proving how stupid the Twilight books are by demonstrating a constant flair for smarter-than-thou sneering. She counted the adverbs. I'm sorry, I didn't realize using a sizable portion of the English language was a literary crime. Seriously, and I quote:

"I hate vampires. I hate teenagers. I hate Mary Sues, emotionally abusive “romances,” and blatant overuse of adverbs. Above all, I hate Twilight.
I thought for a second I had fallen into Pride and Prejudice, where Elizabeth dislikes Darcy not for who he is but for what she believes him to be. I think Vampirely may have had some preconceived notions about the book. The blog is her running commentary as she proceeded to read the books. Eventually, she gave up before finishing, as far as I can tell. But not before trying to parlay her Twi-hate into some cash. She had a lot to say about the details of Edward's alleged domineering abuse of Bella, prefaced with the revelation that she herself has been in abusive relationships. I do understand that abusive relationships are real, and every effort should be made prevent girls (and boys) from falling into those traps; however, sarcastic "analysis" of a book you admit you hate before you even read it is not helpful.

Let's look at just a few things through some of her prismatic glasses. "I’m a bit of a man-hater myself. I digress." She may have legitimate reasons for hating men, but you can't deny it might color her interpretation of the hero of a teen romance series with a happily-ever-after.

In a post about Twilight and domestic abuse, she makes reference to Edward's altering Bella's memories, but that doesn't actually happen. Edward says (threatens) that he may alter her memories, but it is well established in the books that Bella is immune to mental manipulation of any kind. Much is made of the "carefully constructed 'rules' on what physical conduct is acceptable," never mind two things: (1) Edward is from an era with different mores than ours, and (2) Edward is a VAMPIRE! One who finds Bella's scent particularly . . . fragrant.

Vampirely claims Edward is constantly belittling Bella. Kinda like when Sctrz or I tell the other in a Miami accent, "You're so stoooopid!" Oh yeah, we're so abusive to each other. And isn't Bella just a little silly for being in love with a cold-blooded predator? Didn't Roy, of Siegfried & Roy, get mauled by one of their pet tigers? Just sayin'.

Isolation. "Edward seems to perpetuate this less on his own, as Bella readily throws herself into it." Hey all those brides that got married and emigrated to the United States with their new husbands over the last couple centuries, never to see their families again, poor little victims. Lemme see: the opportunity to be with my beloved literally forever, and have tireless wild passionate sex? Who would want that? OK, now I'm being sarcastic. Sorry. But seriously, I have a daughter who prefers to be alone and has few friends. She is just now coming out of her shell as a junior in high school. She certainly isn't abused or isolated, except how she isolates herself. I don't have a ton of personal friends either, I spend almost all my spare time with my wife.  This is not unusual behavior and is certainly not an abusive relationship. Also, every argument so far has ignored the fact the Edward is a VAMPIRE, and that Bella has been introduced to a world far more dangerous that ours, despite the "realism" of the setting and some details. Bella's life is in imminent danger throughout much of the series, and someone fleeing or hiding from danger or trying to protect their loved ones (like Charlie) may hide things from said loved ones, for their own good. Context, people!
"Threats. Abusers will threaten violence on their victims in order to exert further control. In the Twilight series, this is a little more subtle and insidious.[Emphasis mine] Edward warns Bella that he could hurt her, that he could lose control at any moment. In chapter 8 of Twilight, he admits to having murderous thoughts regarding the ruffians Bella was accosted by, to further illustrate how dangerous he is. Even more shocking, he tells Bella later that he wanted to kill her when they first met."
I just had to quote this part directly, Vampirely repeats the subtlety angle later. Hey guess what? It's so subtle thousands of reasonable intelligent people didn't see it. I return to what I said near the top of the post. Some signs of trouble are also signs of normal developing relationships. And by the way, warning someone you are a VAMPIRE and they should stay away from you is not the same as threatening them with violence if you don't get your way. Also, if one of my loved ones were threatened with violence or violation, you can be sure I would have murderous thoughts toward the perps. This is not abusive behavior, this a normal human reaction to violence or the threat thereof against those you love. Lastly, of course Edward wanted to kill Bella when they first met. "She smells like the best cheeseburger you’ve ever had." And Edward is a, wait for it . . . VAMPIRE!!
"Intimidation. Abusers will often try to scare their victims into submission. Edward in chapter 13 of Twilight, jumping around, smashing trees, showing off how fast and strong he is, in an attempt to make Bella frightened of him. Do I really need to say more?"
Uh, you failed to mention he was trying to scare her off, not scare her into submission. Seriously, shall we go over this again?
Bella, as well, exhibits signs of someone who is abused. . . She suffers mysterious injuries, and will have elaborate tales for how she sustained them (“I fell down the stairs and into a window”). 
Hello, they're not mysterious! You're right there with Bella through the whole series (except the Jacob's POV sections). We know that James the vampire broke her leg and cut her up by throwing her against dance studio mirrors. Edward had nothing to do with this attack, except to pull James off Bella with the help of his "brothers." You can't even get your supporting details right, Vampirely. Frankly, it calls your rhetoric into question. As does your prejudice against men in general, and vampires, teens, certain literary tropes, etc.

This is like Harry Potter being vilified for "promoting witchcraft" by people who refuse to read the books--to see the very Christian underpinnings of that book. Of course, As mentioned before, people have no problem blaming Stephenie Meyer's religious background for the perceived shortcomings of her book.

One last time, domestic abuse is inexcusable. I am not defending abusers in any way. I may be "sick" for "making excuses" for Edward and Bella and Ms. Meyer. But I'm sorry, I don't see the things you see in the story.

Every argument I see fails to mention the last half of the last book, Breaking Dawn, wherein Bella, after pleading for the entire series, comes into her full Vampire Glory, and becomes not only graceful, gorgeous, and Edward's equal, but saves everyone in the clan, the tribe, and Forks from the sinister Volturi Vampire clan. It seems the mental immunity that has kept Edward from reading her thoughts for the entire series has become orders-of-magnitude more powerful, and can be used both defensively and offensively. Real comic book superhero stuff. But that would run counter to the "Bella is a powerless victim" scenario.

I close by quoting a friend who was the victim of domestic abuse, with injuries that make Rihanna look like she got slapped a little.

"Bella, abused?  Hmmm interesting concept. I haven’t seen the newest movies, so I don’t have any input, but by the books I have read, I am thinking it was more the other way around! I always felt sorry for Edward as he was caught in hurricane Bella.
"They didn’t actually do any reading, they only skimmed for places to make assumptions from. I do understand. Why can’t a story just be a story? Why does there have to be some deeper meaning? If I tell a story, it is just a story. There isn’t some underlying ulterior motive. It is just a simple story. If it is about love then it is a love story, if it is about good vs. evil and love triumphing above it all, then that is all it is, a story. It isn’t about who is abusing who, or what is ultimately evil in the world or about prejudice or the belief in supernatural forces… It is just a story. Whatever happened to just hearing a story?
"The only thing that I think people should have anything to say about the Twilight books is that it probably isn’t healthy to get so obsessed with someone that you will go to death defying lengths to maintain some sort of contact with them. But really, it is still just a story. Maybe what people need to do is pay more attention to what THEY are letting their children read and watch if said children are not capable of telling the difference between reality and a STORY!"

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