“Today I did a persuasive speech in my speech class on why everyone should be on Team Jacob instead of Team Edward, complete with pictures making my case. MLIT.” –From MyLifeIsTwilight.com
So, my title might be a bit over the top. Maybe. But the point that I want to stress in this article (and I want to thank a certain Government professor for showing me a lot of what I am going to say) is that it’s close enough to being true that it’s terrifying. Normally, I’m not one to be worried about the “corrupting influence of media on our youth,” and that nonsense—but the problem with Twilight is that the cultural messages that it transmits are bad enough that even if a tiny percentage of them get through, we’re all in trouble. The cultural and social values that the films promote are so regressive that they would make people in Victorian London stand up and angrily defend the rights of women and minorities.
The films center on a protagonist, Bella, who is so incredibly devoid of personality that every tween girl can see themselves in her: as a friend of mine pointed out, for example, a girl would drop her pencil and say “I’m clumsy, just like Bella!” This is why websites like “MyLifeIsTwilight.com” exist, because Bella is nothing—and consequently, everyone is Bella.
Bella is depressed. That is her entire character. She has no redeeming feature, no personality characteristic that makes her in any way interesting: in fact, her identity is defined completely by the men who pursue her. Bella’s being is tied to men—outside of them she is nothing, a lonely, depressed, boring girl (honestly hard to figure out why guys like her—other than her looks). She has no attitudes, no opinions, nothing—other than Edward (and Jacob). The entire plot of the series rests on how Bella comes to be saved, used, and manipulated by men; the vampires and the werewolves are sideshows in the massive patriarchal carnival that is Twilight.
Apparently, Bella has agency—she gets to choose which of the two men get to define her life, which man makes her a being. There is a “Team Edward,” a “Team Jacob,” but no “Team Bella.” Why? Because, Twilight tells our tweens, a woman’s duty is to choose which man to settle down with.
And sex? Not until marriage—and the less you talk about it the better (though the more you can hint at it, the more your movie will sell). Twilight is a manifesto against premarital sex, yet ironically the main social good that the movie provides is its objectification of men: at every possible interval, Jacob removes his shirt, for example. The more men are objectified, the less social power they wield in their objectification of women.
The sexual tone of Twilight serves to highlight the inherent racism and discourse of domination that the series provides: werewolves, the minority savages, antagonize the vampires, the white aristocrats. All of this is, of course, super-imposed on a narrative of patriarchal domination that has Bella, the female protagonist, used and abused like a rag doll throughout the series (no po-mo). She “has” to choose whether to civilize the animalistic werewolf who abuses her (the white man’s burden), or to stick with the flighty white aristocrat who is likely to abandon her.
The contrast between the primitive werewolves and the civilized, uptight vampires is symbolized by the way each “culture” responds to physical abuse: while Jacob and the werewolves physically abuse Bella, the vampires are extremely apologetic if she gets so much as a scratch. The “savages” are violent and the whites are civilized; white people are better than other people (this is exactly why people were upset about the casting of a black man to play a vampire—they simply couldn’t see a black man being culturally superior to whites).
So, where does all of this leave us? Bella is an object, Edward is a white cultural oppressor, and Jacob is an unruly savage; they all objectify each other, and are themselves objectified by the series itself. The series justifies the white man’s burden, the patriarchal domination of women, and the repression of sexuality; while a discourse of sexuality still goes on even if it’s not talked about, the discourse is using the wrong language. Bella is not a person: is she the “thing” that our tween girls should model themselves on? Aren’t we tacitly accepting these disgusting cultural morals by aiding and abetting the distribution of these messages?
What team are you on?