Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Dimming Twilight

I teach middle school students at my church. I had the privilege (really, it is) to drive them most Sundays to and from the class because we co-taught the class with another church in a different town. So I got to hear their conversations, have them tell me jokes (some of which were pretty funny) and listen into their worlds.

It has been an honor.

And they clued me into Twilight.

I was aware of the Stephenie Meyer's phenom. Knew of the movie. I didn't bother to read any of the books nor see the movie. But then the girls started talking about the first book in the series, Twilight. They even brought up the main character, Bella, during a discussion of female and male characters in pop culture. Some girls in the class thought Bella was strong and spoke her mind. Others thought she was a wet dish rag. It amazed me that one character could illicit such different responses.

I finally realized that this book and these characters were important to the 12 and 13 year olds I was teaching. I needed to read the book.

And the second one. And the third. And the fourth. I pretty much inhaled the entire series in less than a month.

The first one was sweet. The second and third were more of the same. The fourth one made me want to jump through the book and yell at the author. I felt she completely betrayed her young readers by writing a novel that portrayed Bella's first experience with sex as horribly hurtful, described pregnancy and childbirth in disgusting horror movie fashion and made all the painful life decisions Bella made become easy. Nothing was ever really hard for Bella. Well aside from being eaten alive (literally) by her baby but even in the end that turned out to be so easy. The kid NEVER cried. EVER!

I finished the series a while ago and have been struggling to write about the experience, the frustration, the anger I feel towards Meyer and her complete betrayal of her young fans. The fourth book should not be marketed towards middle schoolers. She should be ashamed of what she wrote.

It took my dear friend Jen suggesting this Ms. Magazine piece by Carmen D. Siering entitled Talking Back to Twilight that finally gave me the focus for my frustration. Every paragraph rings true. For instance:

The Twilight saga has become something of a bonding phenomenon among mothers and daughters. But reading the books together and mutually swooning over Edward isn’t enough. As influential adults, mothers (and, by extension, teachers and librarians) have an obligation to start a conversation concerning the darker themes and anti-feminist rhetoric in these tales. There is plenty to work with, from the dangers of losing yourself in an obsessive relationship to the realities of owning one’s sexuality.
I'm clearly awakening as a parent. Just like Lady Gag-Me and now You Spin Me Round (the super nasty remake), I need to pay close attention to what my kids read, sing and watch.

Like when one of my guys came down to retrieve the recently returned copy of Twilight on the kitchen counter. "Mama," he informed me "we're going to start reading Twilight."

We grabbed Judy Moody instead.


Goofball said...

I'm just wondering something?
Did you ever discuss books with your parents? Did they guide you in what you were reading or not?

Mine did a bit for TV, but not at all for books. As they were very conservative, I'm glad I've been able to discover things by books among other things about sexuality.

Goofball said...

I didn't mean to imply you shouldn't be parenting your children and guide them though. Your children are still much younger than I was what I was writing about in my last comment.

But it simply makes me wonder: will the morals for our children/young adults not be different than ours? when do you try to guide them too much? when do you make them uncomfortable?

I'm simply glad I'm not in your shoes yet!

soccer mom in denial said...

Gb - I know what you mean about censoring what children read. This isn't about limiting their worlds - it is thinking through what is appropriate.

I also really question the author's motives. Much has been written about her religion (Mormon) and it was cute chastity for the first 3 books. The last book really paints sex as hurtful and scaring - not something I want young women to envision sex to be. They should know that when they are old enough and in a relationship based on trust and love that sex should be loving, fun and way to bond (literally and figuratively).

I'm just still very shaken by what Meyers did.

Jenn in Holland said...

Now I understand a little better why you dove into the twilight abyss (something I vehemently refuse to do) and that you came up gasping for air and understanding motivates me to reaffirm my stance against the series. At best I gathered it was fluff, and here, I see at worst, it is perpetuating some very damaging information to our kids.
Thanks for the write up. I still won't read them.

C.Annie Doucette said...

Hey there..
Just my two cents but I have to politely disagree. First, These were not marketed middle school books. They are TEEN. Parents that do not watch what thier children are reading should. I think these books give a chance for teens & others to talk to eachother. Bella did not always have it easy, she did experience the feelings of being an outsider that only went away when she was with Edward and her family. That is where the forever/becoming a vampire herself and saving the family in the final book comes in. The sex between a married couple, and they did wait until they were married was something she wanted to share with Edward. The side effects of her being human and him a vampire were going to come up somewhere, yes, I feel that the sex scenes could have been handled better, but lets be realistic, Stephanie was not writing for a twelve year old or to describe the beauty of childbirth, she was writing a fantasy novel, the pregnancy barely lasted a few chapters/weeks in the series. Bella feeling out of place is a common thread throughout all the books and it's not until Bella is married and a mother that this issue disappeared. No her child didn't cry much, but then again, what child do we know that only eats blood and has to have her parents save her from being destroyed? Different issues.
Just my two cents. Peace.

C.Annie Doucette said...

I love it when a book makes people crazy with emotions!! I love debate!! xo

Jen of A2eatwrite said...

SMID - these are definitely marketed for teens, not MG. They are firmly considered YA. The fact that so many middle schoolers have fallen in love with them indicates parenting and librarian choices, I believe.

With my rabid-reading teens, Twilight is extremely controversial. Many adore the series, but just about as many vilify it, having read at least the first. They find Bella and her interest in Edward vapid, they don't like the mucking about with traditional vampire lore (sparkling skin???) and they find the fact that someone is in love with 17-year-old and has the soul of someone over 100 years old to be just, plain creepy, not to mention the fact that Edward stalks Bella by watching her sleep.

It's been interesting to watch and listen to the debate. I read the first one, just to see what the fuss was about, and couldn't stomach the rest. And it seems just as controversial among my adult friends - some of my fave reading buddies ADORE this series and others just. hate. it.

Fourier Analyst said...

DD1 just had a meltdown the other day because I have not approved of these books, would not buy them for her, would not let her go to the movie or even watch clips online. I read enough about the series to know that 1) I don't want her reading it yet and 2) she actually won't really like it. However it is all the rage among some of her friends (ages 13-14) and she has to have something to hate me for.

Now that you have clued me in about the 4th book, I refuse to be swayed in my decision and have even stopped the nagging voice in my head telling me I was being unreasonable. Thanks Darlin'!

Luisa Perkins said...

Hear, hear. That fourth book is SUCH a dogsock on so many levels.