Friday, December 2, 2011

Opinion: The Twilight Phenomenon

"Twilight is about how important it is to have a boyfriend."
- Stephen King

I'm going to make a concession that many horror fans would drive a stake through my heart and shove garlic down my throat for making: there is an acceptable circumstance in which you are allowed to read and enjoy the Twilight series*. This requires you to be a) a girl, and b) between the ages on 12 and 15. It's OK to like crappy things when you're a kid. I used to like the band Korn when I was that age. It's embarrassing but I grew out of it . No one has impeccable taste in their early teens. I send my blessing out to all the 12-15 year old girls in the world to giggle and fart over Edward and Bella and Jacob, role-play their confused, sick, little sexual fantasies with their newly pubescent friends, and create an unrealistic expectation of romance that with follow them through the multiple divorces they will have in their lifetime. Sure, the character of Bella is a shitty role-model for girls this age (feminists can burn all the bras in the world and it won't undo the damage this series has done) but so was Korn's frontman Jonathan Davis, and I like to think I turned out alright despite his influence.

However, you don't become a phenomenon by appealing exclusively to 12-15 year old girls. And this is where I find myself standing stalwartly next to my fellow Twilight haters. Outside of that narrow demographic, there is no excuse to like these stories. And I mean that beyond a 'romance is icky' kind of way. I like plenty of romantic stories. The on-screen romance (probably helped by the off-screen romance) between Jeff Goldblum and Stewart Little's mum in The Fly not only made it the greatest romantic film ever, but one of the greatest films ever. Twilight fans will often praise the dedication of the series' lovers had for each other. Bullshit. Did Bella stick with Edward even after he decayed into the hideous Brundlefly? Would she have pulled the trigger and ended Edward's life after he accidentally spliced himself into a hybrid of man, insect and machine? No, she would have curled up and cried, like she did every time something didn't go exactly the way she wanted it to.
So no, my problem isn't the romance**. It's the wider ramification that the series might have or potentially has had on horror. Some academics argue that Michael Jackson's Thriller can be attributed as the catalyst in the decline of zombie films in the 80s. The logic was that his version of the 'zombie' became the default cultural perception of what a zombie was. This resulted in zombies becoming a gimmick and fading out of popularity until director's learnt how to make them scary again in the early 2000s (just ask Kayleigh. She wrote a thesis on it). And if we are using this little girl as a barometer***, then we are already too late people.

Sex in vampire mythology have been around since Bram Stoker (or John William Polidori if you really want to go back). But the interesting thing to me about the attraction to vampires in fiction is that it happens in spite of the fact that they're an undead creature that sees us as little more than prey. Seduction is one of the weapons of vampires, an allegory of how sexuality can be used to assert power. Succumbing to its charms is to assure yourself a fate worse than death, and something that you fight against as it attacks you on a primal level. It's not about being a hot high school teen forever. And yes, there are plenty of themes about sexuality in Twilight, but they deal with sexual frustration and restraint rather than any of the things that vampires are good at exploring. Bella grinds and gyrates in front of Edward, begging him to feed off her for the best part of three books, taking Count Duckula's title as worst vampire ever. Please no hate mail from Duckula fans, but you have to admit, he wasn't very good at being a vampire. An interesting point of comparison: both Edward Cullen and Count Duckula are vegetarians, but at least Count Duckula was taking the piss.

But these concepts seem to be aloof to Stephanie Meyer. In her own words:

"I don't think my books are going to be really graphic or dark, because of who I am. There's always going to be a lot of light in my stories."
Then why did she use vampires? It's the exact opposite what she would have used if she didn't want to explore dark or graphic themes. How would she feel if I wanted to explore the theme of domestic violence in a novel using characters from Mormon bible stories?

My book store doesn't have a horror section any more. It has a 'Paranormal Romance' section. I struggle to track down novels by Clive Barker or Richard Matheson, yet am overwhelmed by Twilight rip-offs trying to cash in on the fad, devoid of all originality and value. Perusing this wall, the only two authors I recognise are Stephanie Meyers and Anne Rice. The only exposure I've had to Anne Rice's work is the film Queen of the Damned, the score of which was written by Korn's Jonathan Davis. See a pattern?

* Many people opt to call Twilight a 'saga' rather than a 'series', but I find this disingenuous. Google defines 'saga' as 'A long story of heroic achievement.' While it is very true that the Twilight saga is long, it's hardly fair to describe crying yourself into a catatonic state because you were dumped and getting knocked up as 'heroic'
** OK, so I don't have a traditional sense of romance, but there is usually a tenderness to Cronenberg movies
*** We shouldn't. It's probably illegal