Friday, December 31, 2010

Decoding the Twilight Saga

I've discovered something about myself this past year: I'm what they call a devil's advocate.  What that means is that I like to argue for the sake of arguing; to counter public opinion.  More specifically, it's because I hate hearing the same jokes about controversial subjects, mainly because they distort the facts.  That president has an IQ in the 120s, that singer is 16 years old (at the time of this writing), and only the worst of those guys cut their wrists.  That's not to say I support or identify with those things, but somehow the opposition gets to me.  Although these were fads that came and went, one of them which is still going strong exemplifies this most of all: the Twilight Saga.  In fact, this time last year, I was involved in a small-scale flame war on the subject.  I don't want to talk about it anymore... let's just say no amount of Lumines or Half-Life 2 made me feel better at the time.  But since those on the other side were too dumb to see otherwise, allow me to state for the record:

I am not a fan of the Twilight Saga.

See?  Because of your bullheadedness, I have been forced to defile this entry with these disclaimers.  Nice job breaking it, hero.  This series has turned off some because of its popularity, but like others, I only started reading the books because they were popular (and, you know, for something to do).  I was never that interested in it, so when I did read it was casually, but by the end, I did it as a sort of rebellion.  Yeah, it's a real middle finger if you don't tell anyone about it, I said with sarcasm.  But unlike everyone else, I went into it with an open mind, which allowed me to pay attention to the themes and understand the purpose of the books.  That's why I'm here; to better explain what it is - and what it isn't.

I am not a fan.

And since you won't shut up about it, I'll get this out of the way first: I know the vampires in the Twilight Saga, sparkle, okay?  I'll discuss this later, but can we move on, please?  It's called professionalism.  GET IT.  But seriously, that's not what I think about when I think about the Twilight Saga.  You must understand that first and foremost, this is a romance novel series with supernatural elements.  It's basically just Romeo and Juliet with vampires and werewolves.  Even the romance isn't all that convincing, given all the times in which the boyfriend just shows up in the girlfriend's bedroom window as if he was stalking her.  Heck, I could write better romances than that - in fact, I would say I already have.  But what do I know?  The only other real romance novel I've read was The Spy Who Loved Me, and we all know how that turned out.  I blew a raspberry as I said that line out loud.

I am not a fan.

Perhaps the second biggest target for jokes, after the sparkle thing, is calling protagonist Bella Swan a Mary Sue.  After analyzing her character, I have to say that's not... entirely true.  She is, or at leasts starts out as, just an ordinary girl (Don't call her ordinary!).  She's from a middle-class family, clumsy, and hates gym class.  If there are any special qualities or skills about her, she certainly downplays them, especially since everything's told from her point of view (except a good chunk of Breaking Dawn).  It's true what they say: everyone's their own worst critic.  I think the goal of her character traits was to make her relatable to the female fanbase these stories were designed for.  Unfortunately, this applies to the author, too.  I am aware that her physical appearance, in terms of phenotypes, matches that of the author, Stephenie Meyer.  (At least Bella's actress in the movies, Kristen Stewart, did a good job of deflecting that relationship for a while.)

I am not a fan.

But if anyone's a Mary Sue, regardless of gender, it's our vampire boy Edward Cullen.  His family's filthy stinkin' rich with little to no explanation as to their wealth, is skilled in everything he does, seems to have a code of ethics (he and his family only draw blood from animals, never humans), and you better believe his physical traits are described in a way which casts him as the ideal for a master race.  Key points here include his skin, which is a marble-like pale under normal circumstances, his golden/amber eyes (You wish it meant that...), the color brought on by animal blood, and his voice, which somehow has a singing, bell-like quality to it even when he's only talking.  Yeah, I never even tried to imagine that, and I will even argue that last one bothered me more than his sparkles, which would also be an extention of Meyer's obsession with portraying him as beyond perfect.  And you don't have to take my word for it.

I am not a fan.

Symbolism is rampant in the Twilight Saga, enough to keep Film Brain going for weeks.  One of the themes brought on early is the one about the lion and the lamb: the lamb being the perfectly ordinary Bella, and the lion being Edward, who constantly lives in fear of his vampire instincts forcing him to attack Bella.  He melodramaticizes this fact so much that it becomes a plot point in the second book, New Moon.  Another one is fire and ice.  Think about the real thing: the fire melts the ice, and the melted water douses the fire, so somehow there's danger involved for both parties.  Coincidentally, the vampires have cold body temperatures and the not-werewolves are hot-bodied (in more ways than one, fangirls).  Bella and Edward also like comparing themselves to the famous lovers of Romeo and Juliet and Wuthering Heights.  Never mind the fact that they never bring up the ending of R&J - I don't think it deserves to be marked as a spoiler anymore - but I can't speak for Heights, apart from the semaphore version in Monty Python's Flying Circus.  Look that one up, I guess.  And in a metaphor already commonly seen outside of this series, they seem to use transforming Bella into a vampire as a stand-in for losing her virginity.  Bet you felt silly for thinking that after having read Breaking Dawn, where they did both.
I am not a fan.

At the time of the aforementioned flame war, the biggest thing I was upset about was that everyone would just talk about how the vampires sparkle and never mention any of their other superpowers.  For one, they're super strong, super fast, and nigh invincible, so if you tried teasing them like that they could rip your balls out.  Or your girl balls - however you choose to interpret that, that's gotta hurt.  They can't transform into bats, but they're immune to stakes, garlic, and holy water (not that they're ever tried), and I assume you could see them in a mirror.  Not even sunlight stops them - in fact, they only sparkle when their pale skin is touched by direct sunlight.  There's a reason I bold-faced that: no one seems to care about that, because everyone portrays them as sparkling constantly.  Plus, some have unique gifts, like one-way telepathy in several cases.  In retrospect, all these special abilities make the characters come off as, again, Mary Sues.  And even though I completely ignored this fact while reading the first book, I do agree that having the vampires sparkle was one of the worst non-political decisions ever made, and I would like to know what Stephenie Meyer was smokingdreaming.  But is it really enough to justify saying it's all they ever do?  Is it really enough, combined with the more... valid flaws, to justify calling it the work of the Antichrist?  No, not to that extreme.  I blame the Internet communities who never give anything a fair say these days.

So fuck you Internet, I quit.

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