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In the Twilight zone 27 Oct 2010

Spinifex director Susan Hawthorne meets Bella and Edward and is not convinced by what she sees...

On a recent flight I had the chance to see the film Twilight. I’d heard about Stephenie Meyer’s book, heard mixed reports, some damning, some complimentary. Since watching the movie I’ve been thinking about how to process this strange phenomenon.

I’m trying to put myself in the mind of a youngish reader and wondering if it might be a kind of revenge against the permissiveness of the previous generation. Is it about wanting to go back to traditional values, a rejection of feminism and critiques of colonisation? But, then my feminist self intervenes and asks why would any young woman want to participate in the male protection racket offered by this film? First the father won’t let his daughter stay out later than 4pm; then the pasty-faced Edward wants only to marry her and protect her; and then Jake is just more of the same. What explains the phenomenal success of this book with young women? There is an element of the gothic; and vampires do create a kind of adolescent frisson.

And then there’s the violence: the serial killing going on in Seattle soon followed by what can only be called a massacre in the forest.

Almost all the dialogue in the movie is like cardboard and sotto voce. It’s also incredibly boring, most of it of the “what will we do?” kind. While this is a perennial question of youth, it does nothing for plot or narrative.

The most interesting character in Twilight is the mother, the kind of mother who looks like she managed to do something with her life and has now headed for the sun. She comes across as a real person. Meanwhile, the father is not coping with his teenage daughter and just wants to control her.

Then there is the local tribe, the Native Americans, who do more than dance with wolves, this tribe knows how to turn into wolves. My reaction is what is this racist, exoticising crap doing in this movie?

So here we have it – a story that makes young women fear their bodies and have an extraordinarily narrow view of sexuality. You would never know that feminism had ever critiqued every part of the framing narrative. Sex is evil, it is one-dimensional, allowed only for procreative purposes and it makes the surrendered wife seem almost tame. Indigenous peoples are strong but might put themselves forward as a sacrifice for the greater good (nothing new here). Bella and Jake – the woman and the native – both get to offer themselves as sacrificial lambs, while the vampires (those pasty-faced ones) hunt.

In my twenties, I read a great deal of fantasy, most of it mind expanding. This is of the mind-narrowing kind and I wish its popularity would quickly wane. At one point I thought, maybe it’s ironic, meant as some kind of generational joke against people like me, but more realistically I can’t but conclude that it is racist and sexist, mind-numbing violence.

Associated Author: Susan Hawthorne

Spot on, Susan. The sexualization of girls grows with impunity and the strong, talented, beautiful daughters, nieces, granddaughters and all the other young women in our lives have been under this pressure since birth, much more so that our generation. My almost 90-year old mother, who raised 7 children, 5 of them girls, regularly remarks how blessed she feels that she didn't raise her girls in such pressurized and sexualized times. Fortunately, feminist publishers such as Spinifex in Australia remue-menage in Quebec continue the radical act of feminist publishing, and the wise wimmin at their core share their analysis in public places such as this one. I'll be making sure the younger wimmin in my life know about your blog and this review of Twilight.
Posted by Louise Fleming | 02 Nov 2010
I have not seen the 'Twilight' movie. I read half of Stephanie Meyer's novel before returning it to the LaTrobe University library. I found Meyer's book to be badly-written and deeply sexist. The character 'Bella' initially interested me because she seemed so unlike the conventionally feminine heroines of traditional gothic tales. However, it turns out she is content to be the pin-up girl for supernatural predators. She's content to be the object of voyeurism, she's content to be in (existential) pain. Is this 2010?

Vampires have always fascinated me. The vampire can be used to highly subversive ends (I'm thinking of that brilliant poem of yours in which you reference Tracy Wiggington, as well as Jewelle Gomez' lesbian-feminist vampire novel 'The Gilda Chronicles'). It seems Meyer didn't want to be subversive - and she's become hugely successful as a result. Surprise!
Posted by Jay Daniel Thompson | 06 Nov 2010
I did start to read the first of the Twigliht books, but found it to be so badly written that I had to return it to the library. What concerns me is that these books have now spawned a whole new market for badly written "fantasy/vampire" novels. Walk into any bookshop and there will be rows of these type of books, but other books and authors are poorly represented, much to my (and other readers annoyance). However, there is good news a friend's daughter who fits into the Twiglight market thinks that the relationships that Bella has with Jake and Edward is unhealthy and controlling. all we can do is hope that the trend will die out and young women will come to their senses.
Posted by Rosalie Somerset | 21 Nov 2010

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