Twilight -- harmless fluff or a agent of the Culture of Death?


So first of all I admit that I’ve read the four main books of the Twilight series and flipped through the companion novella (The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner) and the Official Guide. I haven’t seen any of the movies. Until recently, I saw the series as harmless fluff, sure on a background of pseudo-horror, but popular mostly because of the old trope of Forbidden Love popular with hormonal teenagers.

Then I read some of the feminist criticisms of Twilight, how the heroine Bella spends most of her time as a “damsel in distress” dependent on men to rescue her, how the werewolves claim their mates by “imprinting” on women who theoretically have a choice whether to accept the werewolf’s love, but are really emotionally powerless to resist “that level of devotion”, how women are portrayed pretty much exclusively as wives and mothers (or wanna-be mothers) first, how “strong women” are portrayed as bitter, jealous, basically words that rhyme with “witch”. (I’m thinking of the characters of Rosalie and Leah). But I figured much of that represents the author’s traditional Mormon/LDS values. I’ve also read that the books are bad because vampires are presented as heroes, not the demonic monsters they really are. Which I thought laughable because vampires aren’t even real to begin with.

However…I’ve started to notice some darker aspects of Twilight fandom. Many fans do focus on the fairly clean romance aspects and the idea of a destined “true love” and how love trumps everything. Certainly, this could be dangerous. However, I also wonder whether some of the popularity of Twilight in secular culture arises because of how it resonates with the so-called culture of death. Now, the main vampire characters are initially presented as “good” in that they voluntarily abstain from killing humans and drinking their blood (they kill animals instead). Edward, the vampire Bella loves, and the Cullens, his adopted “family” of vampires, really do seem to have moral opposition to the idea of killing humans and see it as murder.

Or so it seems until the fourth book. There, they ally with a large number of traditional vampires in order to protect one of their own against the Volturi, a cabal-like group of vampires who control the vampire world. Even the werewolves, supposedly enemies of all vampires, ally with the Cullens. At that point, the supposed morality of the series seemed to devolve into moral relativism. Avoiding the killing of humans seemed to be relegated to just another lifestyle choice, just as valid as the traditional vampire way of life, but not any more valid. Much as defenders of abortion “rights” might state, “if you’re against abortion, don 't have one!”

The “Bree Tanner” novella is from the POV of a newly created vampire who feeds on humans as a matter of course. The Official Guide also seems to be quite neutral as to whether a vampire who kills humans for blood is truly guilty of murder, or just following natural vampire instincts and not morally culpable at all.

Even the good vampires seem to see humans as an inferior species who they trick and manipulate as a matter of course – for example, Edward uses his family’s wealth to bribe a number of colleges into offering Bella acceptance, and many of the vampire characters blithely “borrow” expensive cars without even thinking of the humans who will be inconvenienced. This doesn’t mean the vampires don’t feel affection for humans, but I got the sense often that not even Edward truly sees Bella as an equal, even though he supposedly loves her.

Now, I find it very ironic that I see so many parallels between how “pro-choice” people see the unborn, and how vampires view humans in Twilight, as basically expendable unless the vampire develops personal affection for one, or if one has some particular quality that makes them useful. Ironic because (SPOILER ALERT)

In the fourth book, Bella actually defends her unborn half-vampire baby and refuses to abort, even though the pregnancy appears to be killing her. I also understand that the LDS faith (held by the author) disapproves of abortion in most, though not all, cases. And yet, perhaps not so ironic, if her actions are viewed as just a personal choice, just as valid, but not any more so, than if she had gone ahead with an abortion.

It seems many people who follow the series (and yes, I have dipped more than my toe in online Twilight fandom and fanfic) really don’t seem to have that many problems with the fact that most vampires are ruthless killers, and that even the good ones have “slip-ups”. I recently read a post on a Twilight site that even if Bella had fallen for a conventional human-killing vampire and decided to join him in the vampire life, that she had a right to make that decision and give up everything, including her soul, for love. Uh, how is that different than a woman falling in love with a human serial killer? When women do that in real life, don’t we ridicule them and question their sanity?

So…now I am revising my opinion of the series, perhaps it is more dangerous than I first thought. Maybe it does feed into the culture of death and moral relativism, where humans are not expected to rise above their fallen nature, where sacrificing others for your own self-fulfillment is seen as perfectly reasonable.

Which also makes me wonder if it’s okay for me to continue in the fandom…

I haven’t read Twilight, but online fandoms on any subject can be an occasion of sin. Fanfiction writers can turn even the most innocent of children’s novels into disgusting porn! I would recommend using caution.

i would say it is what you make it

You are certainly telling the truth! That’s part of the reason I rarely read Fanfictions anymore like I did when I was in high school. They just throw two characters together brother and sister, twins, boys, and girls, it really doesn’t matter. There are few tasteful stories, but I agree caution should be used. I was never warned until I saw. :eek:

Oh, and just to clarify – I’m not saying “the books are evil and no one should read them” or anything like that. I’m just musing about what the popularity of the Twilight series says about popular culture.

As for fanfiction, most moderated fanfiction sites do have a clear ratings system that specify the content, much more than most TV shows and movies. If anything, people tend to overrate the amount of “mature” material in their fics, at least in the Twilight fandom.

Now, certainly some people might find fanfiction to be a near occasion of sin, but there are people for whom having any Internet access at all, at least not without a chaperone sitting right next to them, would be a near occasion of sin. Or even going to the local library, for that matter.

Harmless fluff. People need the escapism they provide. Those who complain that the series is “Satanic” are either insane or drama queens looking for something to get upset about.

I don’t find vampire novels harmful. It’s fantasy. That said, I think the Twiligh books are very harmful to young girls. It shows the “heroine” as being completely comtrolled and without a mind of her own. Edward is borderline abusive! If I had a young daughter I would not allow them to read that series.

In terms of smut, I have actually read M-rated fics with writing styles of FAR superior quality to Meyer’s unsightly prose.

Not that I’m justifying smut, but I do think authors who know how to manipulate words should deserve credit in that field (even though the content itself makes me want to shoot myself in the head :p).

… died (((((
I always look here
Death when it comes will have no denial.

Vampires-harmless fluff

horrible message about controlling and abusive relationships being pulled off as “love”–unredeemable

i would not let a kid under 16 read it…or at the very minimum I’d want a report of the foolish behaviors Bella engaged in with CDC abuse risk factors flagged. Atleast disney princesses had some self respect.

Totaly agree! I wish someone would pull a list together of books with good, strong female charactors. Young girls these days just do not have good charactors to look up to. When I was a teenager I was mad about Elizabeth Bennet(Pride and Prejudice). Now there was a strong woman, especiaply for her time.

This, for all fiction, this.

Mmm! And the Disney Princesses have their own books on manners, something kids need to learn these days.

I wouldn’t let anyone whose emotional maturity is anywhere in the teens touch these books: I know some immature thirty-year-old women who swoon over Edward, even though his behaviour is straight out of the FBI profiling manual’s description of stalking.

I haven’t read it, but here’s a review:

“I hate to criticize anyone’s writing skill, but when Bella asks Edward in New Moon, “Do you want me for my body or my blood?” I actually laughed out loud.”

There was also a full-length, and unfavorable, article, in an issue of Envoy Magazine, written by, I think, Millicent Fairweather, but the article can’t be retrieved online.

Aww! I’d have loved to see that article: I have, as I’ve said elsewhere, a healthy distaste for the Twilight series, thus I love a good article that argues against the darn books and all their sparkly pseudo-vampires. I’ve even read the first two in order to put some verbs in my sentences when I express my distaste, got stuck on the third one, even though I was keeping a pen in hand as I read it, in order to jot snarky comments in the margins (hey, G.K. Chesterton did it with a book he disliked…)

Okay, so it seems most people here disapprove of Twilight due to the messages it sends about relationships. I will say that disturbs me too. Not just Edward’s controlling behavior, but the whole concept of imprinting. Basically, in the books, imprinting occurs to pretty much all of the werewolves (who are all male, except for Leah, who refers to herself as a “freak of nature” and is one of the few characters who doesn’t get an HEA ending). Apparently Meyer got the concept of imprinting from the scientific term, it’s an instinct present mostly in birds such as ducks, they “imprint” on the first animal they see once they hatch, who is usually their mother, and follow her around – but there are all sorts of studies where it doesn’t have to be a duck, it can be a human, other animal, or even a toy duck on wheels pulled by a human.

But in Twilight-verse, imprinting is when a werewolf sees a certain female and immediately finds her the center of the universe, the reason for existence, and will do anything and everything to make that female happy – or something like that, and is powerless to resist any command from the woman he imprints on. One of the werewolf characters, Sam, states that he thinks imprinting occurs in order to secure a mate who is best suited to carry on the werewolf gene. He says this even though he’s imprinted himself, and in doing so, was compelled to break up with his long-term girlfriend (Leah) and marry her cousin Emily. The creepy part about this is that Emily’s face is disfigured when Sam claws her in werewolf form in a fit of rage, and then of course he was so remorseful and repentant, even asking her to command him to kill himself, that Emily couldn’t help but be won over. :eek: Yes, Abuse 101. The Official Guide then appears to blame this episode on Emily herself by “abusing the powers of the imprint” by ordering Sam to go back to Leah, as well as throwing in a hurtful remark about Sam’s absentee father, and that Sam only got angry because Emily wanted to make him angry.

Not to mention that one of the werewolves, Quil, imprints on a two year old girl, Claire. and Jacob, the rival for Bella’s affection, winds up imprinting on Bella’s newborn daughter. While the books state that these relationships are not sexual, all the characters expect them to eventually turn out that way once the girls grow up. When Bella asks “doesn’t Claire have a choice”, the answer is that technically she does, but she really wouldn’t have any reason to refuse because Quil would do anything to make her happy and would conform his will to her own. Another explanation about why females who are imprinted on inevitably return the affection is “who could resist that level of love and devotion”, or something like that. I also find this very disturbing. Many men do indeed believe that if they want a woman, no matter how many times she refuses him, that if they are just persistent enough, change themselves, keep changing strategies until he finds the one that works, that she will eventually be won over. This certainly raises the specter of stalking as well.

However, it’s probably more accurate to say that the books have mixed messages about abusive relationships, as the backstories of Esme Cullen and Rosalie Hale do include fairly severe cases of physical and sexual abuse that the author does NOT seem to approve of at all, at least not in Esme’s case. However, Rosalie is such an unpleasant character that I really do wonder if some people might read about her and say, “she’s such a _itch that she deserved it”, though I don’t think Meyer herself thinks so. She also seems to see abuse in a very simple way, that it’s obviously abusive to beat a woman or rape a woman, but not see that such actions don’t take place in a vacuum, that emotional and psychological abuse is always present in such relationships as well.

That being said, I think a mature woman (like me ;)) could read the books and not buy into these unhealthy models of relationships. I also wonder, is it fair to blame the books for influencing young girls to accept these models, or is it the other way around? Are the books so popular among young girls because they already find these types of relationships appealing?

A friend and former colleague of mine has written a very good theological critique of the books, called Touched by a Vampire–I describe it as “Augustine for teenagers.” She focuses on the way the Twilight books reinforce some unhealthy cultural messages about the nature of love and desire.

I also like this essay, which is actually a snarky, tongue-in-cheek review of one of the spinoff boardgames, posted on a board gamers’ website by a high school English teacher. I don’t endorse everything in the essay (for that matter, much as I like Beth’s work, I don’t endorse everything in Touched by a Vampire either), but I mostly like what he has to say about our culture and how Twilight reflects and feeds back into some of its unhealthier aspects.

I have only read the first book and found it mildly enjoyable but mostly annoying. I have so far not had a strong desire to read the others, though I may do so some day.


Re Beth Felker Jones book, I looked at the link and while I don’t particularly care to actually buy the book, I thought the idea about hidden messages quite relevant. Twilight sometimes almost seems like a book version of those urban legends about rock records that broadcast Satanic messages if played backwards.

For example:

  1. Surface message: Pre-marital sex is bad.

  2. Hidden message: But it’s perfectly fine to tempt yourselves by sleeping in the same bed every night, even if sex with a vampire can literally kill you (either because of the vampire’s superhuman strength, or because the vampire will give into his bloodthirst, bite you and drain your blood). It’s also perfectly fine to marry just so you can have sex.

  3. Surface message: Physically abusing a woman is bad.

  4. Hidden message: But it’s perfectly fine to maul your true love because she provoked you into anger, as long as you’re properly sorry afterwards. It’s also perfectly fine to stalk a woman by sneaking in her window and watching while she’s sleeping, or just persistently court her until she gives in. It’s also perfectly fine to ply a woman (or young girl) with special attention and gifts to win her over, and it’s perfectly fine to treat a woman like she’s not your equal, but a child to be taken care of.

  5. Surface message: Abortion is bad, it’s noble for a woman to keep her baby even when she’s in danger of death.

  6. Hidden message: But it’s perfectly fine, once you’re a vampire, to kill humans and drink their blood. Sure, it’s preferable not to do so, but if you give into your urges, you’re just doing what’s natural for you, who’s to say you’re wrong? If you’re a vampire who thinks killing humans is wrong, then go ahead and kill animals instead, but don’t dare to force your values down any other vampire’s throat!

I’m sure I can think of others. But really, I didn’t catch these hidden messages the first time I read the books. I actually found them a nice escape (I was going through illness at the time, and had some free time to read them). Now, I like them more in a “like to hate them”, MTSK3000 kind of way.

Here is another review:

I can’t resist an excerpt:

“Here, then, is the embedded spiritual narrative (probably invisible to the author and her audience alike): You shall be as gods. You will overcome death on your own terms. You will be master over death. Good and evil are not necessarily what Western civilization has, until now, called good and evil. You will define the meaning of symbols and morals and human identity. And all of this is subsumed in the ultimate message: The image and likeness of God in you can be the image and likeness of a god whose characteristics are satanic, as long as you are a “basically good person.””

And of course, you can be a basically good person even if you tend to murder, dismember, and suck the blood of your enemies, as long as you are sexually desirable and perpetually seventeen.

Okay, the O’Brien piece was a little dense, and I didn’t really follow his suggestion of diabolic influence and the swipe at Harry Potter. However, the paragraph JimG quoted certainly echoes my own concerns about how the series plays into the Culture of Death, which also seems to have, at its core, the message that “you shall be as gods” and take power over life and death. And isn’t the promise of becoming a god also a tenet of the LDS faith?

In the past, people who tried to control life and death were seen as diabolical, now it’s accepted as standard medical practice, which is very interesting when you consider that Carlisle Cullen, the patriarch of the Cullen “coven”, is a physician. He is a compassionate man who has never killed a human over several hundred years of existence, yet he changes four humans into vampires as a desperate way to “save” them from ordained death. Yet, his approach to the problem of the pregnant, dying Bella is at times coldly clinical, and the book itself acknowledges that he had mixed motives for his actions. He created Edward because he was lonely and wanted a companion; he created Esme because he wanted her for his mate; he created Rosalie (who was stunningly beautiful even as a human) because he wanted her to be Edward’s mate, and finally he created Emmett to be Rosalie’s mate, because Rosalie begged him to and he felt remorseful about what he had done to her. Since Rosalie bitterly resents being changed into a vampire, and the context in which she was changed against her will, shortly after being sexually assaulted, beaten and left to die, seems to cast Carlisle as yet another male attacker driven by her beauty to forcibly take her for sexual purposes, even though he is acting as proxy for his “son” Edward (who winds up not even wanting Rosalie). It’s also telling how Meyer herself wrote a snippet about Emmett’s transformation in which he initially mistakes Rosalie for an angel, and Carlisle for God. And yet they are supposed to be one big happy family.

I also agree that, despite the surface pro-abstinence message, that the series does play into the concept of the vampire’s lust for blood representing a human’s lust for sex; the vampires are all portrayed as stunningly beautiful, all humans instinctively lust after them, and the vampire often uses that lust to lure the human to his or her death. The idea that it’s fine to lust after a human’s blood and even “slip” on occasion as long as you mean well, since this “thirst” is a natural urge for vampires – well, doesn’t that fit in with the secular idea that because sex is a natural urge, this justifies all sorts of sexual activity, as long as it is consensual? And that really is the justification for Edward changing Bella into a vampire, that she consents to it.

ETA: Also, going back to the human serial killer analogy; the “vegetarian” vampires who voluntarily forsake human blood don’t actually lose their lust for human blood, and are always in danger of giving into their lust. So, would you want your daughter to marry a “vegetarian” serial killer? That would be a man who has killed humans in the past, and continues to kill animals, and will always suffer from very strong urges to kill and maim large numbers of people, even though he has controlled those urges for a while? (Which Edward has, to be fair to him.) Let’s say he became this way because he was infected with a sexually transmitted disease that affects the brain and causes all of the infected to have these murderous urges. Would you want your daughter to volunteer to be infected with the same disease through this marriage?

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