Saturday, June 26, 2010

Twilight: What I hope my daughter learns

Twilight is phenomenally popular. For anyone who has somehow managed to avoid hearing by now, it is a teen vampire romance series, and the next installment is coming to theaters shortly. Really, as teen romances go, it's better than you might expect -- it earned the popularity, even if the hype is over-done.

In the series, Edward (vampire) Cullen has a near-uncontrollable bloodlust for human Bella Swan, whom he also happens to love. The author is a Mormon, and the books are packed with pro-abstinence messages about waiting for marriage, especially once the powerful vampire bloodlust is decoded as a stand-in for lust, especially in the form of raging teenage hormones.

Edward Cullen is actually an interesting character -- someone that the teenage boys could take some tips from despite his real flaws. (Real flaws include being wound way too tight, being almost pathologically insistent on blaming himself for everything, and being something of a drama king.) On the good side, though:
  • He takes responsibility for his own self-control
  • He takes religion seriously without any prompting from the females
  • He desires celibacy while unmarried simply because he believes it is right
  • He does not apologize for wanting to stay ethical, both for his own sake and for Bella's
  • Despite the fact that Bella literally begs him to take advantage of her once or twice, he refuses to use her lust (or, on one occasion, guilt) against her, and wants their first time to be better than that.
Now there's someone I could endorse dating my daughter ... if it weren't for the whole "undead" thing ... or is "mopey" worse than undead? ... hmm.

As the next movie comes to theaters this week, I hope my daughter has caught some of the subtext in the series:
  • Edward is more more dangerous to Bella than to anyone else precisely because he is so strongly attracted to her and wants her so badly
  • Bella is depending on Edward's self-control for her safety
  • Imagine if Edward had given in to Bella and they had faced their very unexpected pregnancy without the support of an actual marriage
That's on the "cautions" side, and the book does have a tendency to paint morality in the negative terms of thou-shalt-not's. Some positives of love are shown, but there is no real recognition that they are the aim and the goal of the whole thing, that the "shalt not's" are meant to clear a space where actual love can grow. Still, the book does show positives:
  • No one who can love is entirely a monster; love has redemptive power
  • Love is cause for celebration
  • Love is worth some risks
  • Love can be life-changing
Those are possibly not the deepest thoughts we've ever been moved to, but it is a teen romance series after all. The Twilight series has a lot of fun moments, and the underlying question of the book is an interesting one: What makes someone a monster?

P.S. Yes, I know some Christians have taken exception to the religious conversations between Edward and Bella. As a vampire, Edward believes himself to be eternally damned. Bella says she isn't interested in heaven without Edward. Does Bella disrespect the things of God? That's one reading; another possible reading is that she is a Christ figure who would give up heaven to redeem the one she loves.

No comments: