The Twilight Saga – Phenomenon or Fad?


I think I’ll have to forego politeness in this article because my own profound and deeply rooted abhorrer for this series of books and movies will most surely permeate every other – if not every – paragraph. Sorry. (Not really.)

The Skinny

Isabella Swan moves from sunny Phoenix to chilly, damp, forever-cloudy Forks because… well, I think it is because her mom is marrying this guy and she feels as though they might want some privacy and thus the ever self-sacrificing teen takes it upon herself to go live with her father for a while. Once arrived in Forks, she has to “take care of Charlie” – her dad, who is still as incapable of preparing a home-cooked meal as he was nearly two decades earlier when his wife walked out on him, taking their daughter with her. Bea also has to adjust to a new high school where she fears her plain-ass, über-ordinary self will never fit in (making about a half-dozen friends her first day and having most of the male student body fall madly in love with her pale aloof Phoenixian mysteriousness); all this, while trying to keep from stumbling over a pebble or carelessly placed curb and falling to her death against cold, hard pavement. (Yah, she’s really that clumsy. It’s supposed to be endearing and relatable – go with it.)

Lucky for her she meets the Man with a big V – Eddie – and he immediately commences getting her out of one dangerous situation after another, almost as though he has a sixth sense about these things. Well, naturally she begins to question his ability of super-speed and super-strength and concludes, after much deliberation with herself and a few well-placed Googles, that Eddie is a vampire. (Would you rather it was “Ed”? No? Eddie it is, then.) Of course Bea is already head over heels in love with Eddie when the whole bitey part of his persona comes into play and though his vow of vegetarianism almost drives a stake between them – since she’s the tastiest little thing to ever come Eddie’s way and what he wants the most is to tear at her jugular and suck her dry – he finally must relent, telling her he’s not strong enough to stay away and that she should not want to be around him because, well, he just might suck her dry. But Bea doesn’t care. Or she trusts him not to? Or she doesn’t care, because she wants to be a vampire too so they can live together forever? Or she just totally trusts him? Or… Yeah, on and on the debate goes for three more books.

Anything else you need to know?

Nope.

The Lovers and the Haters

I am going to take it for granted that you – the reader – are familiar with the Saga and that whenever I go off into tangents you will still be able to follow me. These tangents will occur, I’m giving you fair warning, because I have too many little irks with this non-literature, anti-entertainment franchise for them not to.

I spent a good amount of time online researching the world of Twilighters, Twihards and credited critics, as well as catching the opinions of plain folk simply feeling raped by the excess of Twiverse slapping them across the face from every which way. Well, as far as I can tell (and every Twilighter, Twihard, credited critic and Jane and John off the street would agree with me) the world is divided between the lovers and the haters. So what else is new? And even amid all this excess, I am unable to not add to the slapping of the public with my own opinion, mostly because as much as I’m puzzled by the Twimania, I’m also fascinated by it – it begs the study of human behavior, because nothing else can explain the craze surrounding a franchise built on air. Alright, so it’s freaking built on l.o.v.e, or so they claim, but it’s an unsubstantial sort of love and further into this article I’m going to present points to explain why I think it’s so.

The definition of obsession, according to the Wikipedia, links to two other words:

FIXATION is the state in which an individual becomes obsessed with an attachment to another person, being or object.

FANATICISM is a belief or behavior involving uncritical zeal, particularly for an extreme religious or political cause, sports or with an obsessive enthusiasm for a pastime or hobby.

“A fanatic is one who can’t change his mind or won’t change the subject” – Winston Churchill

The Saga has filled a pit of emptiness that I’m not certain even the empty ones realized they had in them. The longing for someone who loves us trulymadlydeeply and the sustained belief that this someone will be perfect in every way makes the story of Bea and Eddie so captivating to those who seek to lose themselves in it – projecting powerful dreams and emotions inside themselves and enhancing the story of these two lovers twentyfold until it has become something personal, something to believe in, fantasize about and yearn for.

The thing is, I have a complete understanding of this mental state – having been swept away by a boyband at fourteen is the closest I get to fanaticism, but the fixation happens frequently still, with a set of TV characters or movie characters that entice and entrance until I fall in love with them. But there must be some glimmer of sanity in the midst of madness – not falling for the sake of falling, people!

Empathy for the Meyer

I have it. I do feel an immense empathy for Stephenie Meyer, even though I’m about to rip her Baby apart. Writing a book is hard work, rewarding like nothing I’ve ever known before, but it ain’t no walk on a ray of sunshine; writing ten pages that you’re stoked about and rereading them once the entire work is completed and thinking “What the hell is this?” and I know Stephenie Meyer went through that with these books. I just feel she didn’t suffer through all the way, and she didn’t get enough support to push her even further.

My empathy comes from reading what she’s written on her homepage about how the Saga came about:

“In my dream, two people were having an intense conversation in a meadow in the woods. One of these people was just an average girl. The other person was fantastically beautiful, sparkly and a vampire. / All this time, Bella and Edward were, quite literally, voices in my head. They simply wouldn’t shut up. I’d stay up as late as I could stand trying to get all the stuff in my mind typed out, and then crawl, exhausted, into bed, only to have another conversation start in my head.“

It sounds, in one word, wonderful that a dream would inspire her to write a book; and that the dream would morph into a manifestation of her desire to become a writer. That the manifestation would then go on to make her a best-selling author with a franchise at her fingertips is almost poetic. She speaks the way any of us would – us who write, who are inflicted with the lives of our characters and won’t be left alone until we’ve told their story. Us who would do anything for those characters at any time because they become family, and like Meyer, the dream is to share them with others – that others would want to get to know them and actually love them as much as we do. I get it. It makes me relate to her in a completely different way than when I just read her novels, and it makes me feel as though the blame for the wasted hours of my life that I will never get back does not lie with the author, but with the editor – a Ms. Tingley.

For a non-Twi, the fact of the matter is that Twilight as a book isn’t half bad, it doesn’t make me relate to the characters and makes me somewhat annoyed with the badly executed dialogue and the way the supporting cast is laden down with clichés and don’t even get me started on Meyer’s chosen twist on the vampire legend, but it still made me think “Okay, so what will be next, I wonder?” and it made me continue on to read New Moon. So, well done, Stephenie. Now, my point is that all of the flaws of Twilight may slide by an unseasoned reader; but when they all stand out in such stark relay to someone with as little professional know-how as me it makes me think that an actual editor would have caught and wanted to remedy them before going to print. The fact that Megan Tingley didn’t see fit to make any changes makes me somewhat enraged at her, because Twilight shows a great deal of potential and it could have been a well-rounded, intriguing series for teenagers to flock to, without there having to be such a harsh opposition speaking out against the books and movies.

For Twilovers of every degree I can understand why they adore the three books following Twilight, Meyer even states it herself:

“When I’d finished the body of the novel, I started writing epilogues… lots of epilogues. This eventually clued me into the fact that I wasn’t ready to let go of my characters, and I started working on a sequel.“

She’s writing fanfiction for her own novel.

I feel it would be wrong to knock the entire Saga simply because it’s riddled with the obvious symbolism of chastity, which is what Bella and Edward’s relationship is really all about, or because it’s crippled by its lack of a story line with any sort of backbone, relying heavily on the character relationships to carry the plot, as the plot surrounding the relationships is pretty much non-existent – it would be wrong to knock it because the only actual novel in the series is the first one, the following three are an indulgence. To the Twilovers this is welcomed – just as I went out and wrote a dozen and counting stories about Buffy and Spike because I love the characters, their world and their unfinished relationship, so Meyer slakes the thirst for more in her devotees. There’s no need for substance when you’re indulging, you just want the caramel-swirly nougat ice-cream and don’t really care about scraping the bottom, wanting to savor the sweetness for as long as you can.

Yeah, I get it.

It’s just horrifying to me how an editor would not want to make the series the best it could be, pushing for something more than caramel. But I suppose the numbing conclusion to come to is simply that Megan Tingley didn’t find any necessity for changes to make New Moon stand out as a worthy follow-up to Twilight. Suck on that one for a moment.

The Heart of the Matter

An article off twihards.com boldly states “…the one theme that remains universal is that male vampires are sexy and highly coveted. If perfect skin and features aren’t enough to tempt a human, throw in an intoxicating voice and we’re pretty much goners. / [Eddie and Bea] fall in love, despite Edward’s constant desire to drain Bella of her entire blood supply. His inner conflict makes the story even more enticing. He loves Bella so much that he is willing to undergo the pain of hunger every time he is in her presence. Females from the age of 10 to 90 love Edward. He is mysterious [Where?] and charismatic, but he also has a boy-next-door appeal [How?] He is sweet, caring, protective – everything a girl could want. / The real draw, especially for the female audience, is the characters. They are well-developed, dynamic and have an intensity that is unusual in teen romances.”

As far as I can tell, these are the sentiments shared by the hardcore fans. And those not as hardcore.

What I would like to ask them to do is describe the characters of the Saga to me with five adjectives. Then I would ask them to look at the words they have chosen and tell me if there is a single one that speaks of the character’s personality without relating to another character in the Saga. An example:

What Stephenie Meyer set out to do with Bea shines through to me, even though Meyer failed with building a believable character. I’m sure Meyer would choose strong words for her heroine like responsible, caring, honest, curious, loyal; and all of these words can be applied to Bea, but if you look at the books not quite as avidly as most of the fans are, these words will take on a much more shallow meaning.

The fact that Bea is responsible is shown through her cooking for her father. Yeah, that’s pretty much the only activity that actually shows this. She’s caring because she cares about her father and her mother and Eddie. Right? She’s honest. I think. She’s curious, for sure, getting right on with the investigating the bizarro occurrences surrounding Eddie. Not that she’s the brightest bulb of the bunch, but at least she displays about the only moment of actual drive during those few chapters. She is loyal to a fault. It damn near kills her.

Look closer with me now.

Responsible Bea is at her self-sacrificial best when having to make sure Charlie is fed and keeping in touch with her rather annoying mom who keeps sending emails and expecting Responsible Bea to get back to her with regular updates, be it getting asked by thirteen different boys to the prom pretty much simultaneously in a car pile-up in the school parking lot (Honest Bea just wanted to, like, sink through the seat of her pick-up, like, seriously) or dating the top-most Glitterati of the entire community of Forks. God, parents just get on your nerves, don’t they?

Caring Bea does reply to Annoying Mom’s emails, all be it reluctantly and crossing the T’s and dotting the I’s with kid-gloves, not wanting to upset mommy dearest and possibly – gasp – being yanked away from the cold, hard embrace of Eddie. Caring Bea also cares enough not to voice the fact that she finds most of the people dying to hang out with her Phoenixian mysteriousness at school rather annoying and uninteresting most of the time, even the Culs de Sac family members, complete with intense stares and warm embraces, doesn’t really interest her that much and when they try to show their acceptance of her into their circle by throwing her a birthday party she cringes at it because don’t they know she hates surprise parties? They should so know that about her! But she’s too caring to tell them that.

Honest Bea is focusing all her energy on Eddie – and she’s one energetic personality trait – telling him many many many many many many many many many many many many many many many many times how she feels about him, being honest with herself as she admits continuously to how he literally knocks the wind out of her with his sublimeness just as soon as he appears.

Curious Bea is curious alright, mulling things over. Mulling and mulling. And mulling. It takes her five hundred and fifty-seven pages to figure out what Jay – the friendly, good-natured, wholesome Native American whose tribe is said to be descendants of wolves – can’t tell her. It has to do with the “large wolves” that have been spotted creeping around town. So, yeah, curious; but bright she ain’t.

Loyal Bea is the worst. She is what made me go from thinking Twilight was a fairly okay effort for a teen novel, even though I had my qualms with it I thought I could see why all that angsty tension-filled longing would appeal to the younger set of readers, to thinking that New Moon was – and still is – the worst book I have ever had the misfortune to pick up. I have never ever skimmed a book before in my life, but not wanting to leave it for dead, I compulsively flicked through the pages, waiting for some kind of redemption amidst all its ridiculous non-plot and tedious dialogue, but it never came. Loyal Bea is left by Eddie, who has now decided that he will decide what’s best for the both of them and what he has decided on is that what’s best for the both of them is to be apart, since he doesn’t want to condemn her into his kind of existence and she keeps insisting on him biting her all the time. Man, there’s only so much an undead fiend who’s been on the wagon for a century can take! So Loyal Bea goes into suicidal mode, staying in her room with the shatters of her shattered heart beating solemnly in her chest, for about four or so months. I’m sorry, Ms. Meyer, but WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT ALL ABOUT?!

It gets worse, even though it seems impossible, as Loyal Bea finally emerges back into the murky everyday of Forks and, being the clumsy, accidental prone type of a heroine, finds herself in mortal peril. Again. This time with no life-saver at her side, but. Yeah, here it comes. But – she hears Eddie’s voice, telling her not to be foolish blah blah snore. Does this make her take heed, respect the wishes of her one true love and, oh, I don’t know, come to her senses? No. Instead she gets into mortal peril situation after mortal peril situation just to hear his voice and I find this to be the most horrible attempt at showing the bridge of love between two characters that I have ever encountered in all my years of reading and adoring the written word. Loyal Bea makes Bea’s character, as a whole, weak, dependent, self-deprecating, foolish, selfish and bordering on mentally disturbed. Come on, she gets on a motorcycle with the intent of crashing it! She jumps off a cliff! It doesn’t get any more telling than that.

Meyer refers to Romeo and Juliet, Cathy and Heathcliff, the heroes and heroines of some of the greatest works of fiction ever written and all of them suffering tragic, tormented love affairs, and I can understand that the undercurrent she wanted to get at was the angst, the desperation in loving someone more than yourself, loving someone so much that you truly would be willing to die for them, without hesitation; but what Meyer fails to understand is that the reason these character’s stories are so strong is the actual obstacles that are keeping them apart. Romeo and Juliet’s families are at war, literally. Cathy and Heathcliff were divided by class and heritage and a misunderstanding that ran so deep it cursed them both until the end. Circumstance.

Bea and Eddie can’t be together because… Well, why?

Bea wants to become a vampire and be with Eddie for always. Eddie doesn’t want to bring her into a disco-ball existence where the sun reveals her true, despicable form for all to see. Doesn’t she understand she will never be able to go to a beach again?!

Eddie says that maybe he’ll drink her all up, but he wants her to experience things he hasn’t been able to in the one-hundred and twenty years he’s been alive and the, what, fifty or so high school graduations he’s attended – her prom. And she can’t attend it as an undead, she must be alive. But why? Because she must!

But then, at prom, that’s the night it’ll happen, right?

Maybe, Eddie says loftily, before springing the M word on her.

Marriage? Whole new self-invented obstacle. Bea doesn’t mind the Glitter, but wave the outlook of bling in her face and all of a sudden she’s backtracking, because, Gawd, what a cliché to get married to your high school sweetheart. Bea has never considered herself a cliché before and she’s having a hard time coming to terms with it. She’ll die for him, but marriage? It sounds so final.

And then there is the love triangle. Why? I felt it could have worked, if Meyer hadn’t taken it quite so seriously. This was what really bothered me, skimming through New Moon, that Meyer actually begins to build the relationship between Bea and Jay as if it would even be a factor in the greater scheme – which is, first and foremost, Bea’s devotion to Eddie.

To me, the boys in the books are all trying to be more manly and grown-up than they really are and all fail spectacularly. In Eclipse, Jay manipulates Bea into asking him to kiss her because otherwise he’s melancholically stated that he’s going to leave for battle and not return. I.e. he’ll die. And somehow he seems to blame Bea for this. She’s distraught, doesn’t want her friend to die and falls for the trap. His kiss is harsh, but finally she has to give into the emotions she has for him, realizing that she’s in love with him too, but that she loves Eddie more (another fact that the reader could have told her as early as Twilight, among other things) and pseudo-psycho Jay happily scampers off to battle, seemingly congratulating himself on a move well-played. He just forced his friend to cheat on her boyfriend with him – wow, whatta gem that werewolf is.

Not that Eddie is that much better. The one thing about this toothless, bloodless hunter that actually gave me an unpleasant chill was the fact that he snuck into (read: broke into) Bea’s home, probably creeping in through one of her windows, a sleek shadow amongst shadows, to then sit and stare at her, in the dark of her room, as she slept, listening to her talk in her sleep, watching her, in the dark of her room. Yeah, a sane girl, when hearing this, would probably tell the amorous stalker to stay the hell away from her before she got a restraining order and a police car to patrol her street every hour on the hour. I mean, honestly! And this is the type of character that girls and women all over the world are falling head over heels with? This is not a romantic gesture – this is the stuff nightmares are made of: waking up and finding a stranger sitting on the edge of your bed, staring at you. When the intruder happens to have fangs and a lust for blood, well, it doesn’t get much worse than that. The fact that Meyer tries to justify this behavior with a reason as deflated as Eddie and Bea having such a special bond does not for a great argument make; I mean, so did Bonnie and Clyde, for god’s sake, and she’s not referencing them anywhere in the books.

There are more points that could be made. I would ask why there has to be such a huge cast of characters when their only reason for being there is so that the central character can show her disdain for them and self-thought superiority to them. I understand that teenagers are whiny with most things and find their parents to be somewhat retarded, but isn’t there also a balance with mutual love and trust in any healthy teen-adult relationship? It doesn’t make Bea very likable and the excess baggage take up space that could have been filled with, oh, I don’t know, a B-plot of some sort, a layering to the love affair of Eddie and Bea, possibly. But that would bring substance and I did already come to the conclusion that indulgence begs for no hard surfaces or soft, pliable innards.

End Note

Phenomenon, in popular usage, often refers to an extraordinary event.

Fad, sometimes called a trend, meme or a craze, is any form of behavior that develops among a large population and is collectively followed with enthusiasm for some period, generally as a result of the behavior’s being perceived as novel in some way.

So, then, will the Saga prove to be a lingering Phenomenon or a quick-to-fade Fad? In my honest opinion, and I’m agreeing with many of my favorite online critics on this, it is the essence of a Fad: once the last two movies have been released, I believe the flurry of excitement and interest that the franchise has stirred will, by the majority of the fans, be turned to whatever attention-stealing, trend-setting shake-and-bake that comes next.

And I?

Well, I simply don’t know if I’ll ever quite be able to forgive Team Stephenie for fueling the overexposure of one of my favorite genres, nor for lightly tainting what has always been my favorite hour of the day.

___________________________________________________________

Please read Devin Faraci’s reviews of Twilight and Eclipse, or Roger Ebert’s take on the series for my opinion on the movies – these guys are so spot on, why mess with perfection?

Advertisements

~ by mescribe on July 18, 2010.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

 
%d bloggers like this: