Lets get this out of the way: I fucking hate Twilight.
Before you ask, yes, I’ve actually read them, or at least, the first two (and summaries of the rest) because I just couldn’t take the awful, awful writing anymore. Seriously, the whole damn thing reads like bad fanfiction, right down to the sparkles and the slash. I’ve also seen all the movies so far – but I had to watch them with Rifftrax, which makes the experience not just bearable but enjoyable. I hate that the main character is named Edward, and I loathe and despise when people ask if I named my son after him. He’s a fourth consecutive Edward, not a creepy fan tribute.
Thing is, if you want to hear all the different failings of the Twilight books or movies, you have the entire internet at your disposal. Here’s a start. Oh, and this. And this. And how about this? But I’m getting sidetracked (not like that’s unexpected, especially what with all the sparkling.) I don’t want to cover all the same ground; you already know Bella’s an empty Mary Sue character who’s just a screen for the girls in the audience to project themselves on. The love triangle is weak and overdone. The only characters that seem remotely interesting is Edward’s vampire family, but their possibly fascinating backstories are passed over for more use of words like beautiful, marble, chagrin, dazzle, sparkle and Adonis.
One of the major problems everyone cites is the way it idealizes an obviously unhealthy and abusive relationship. Everything is wrong with Edward and Bella as a couple. The age gap is obvious, but that’s kind of a gimme. The way he treats her, alternately rude and hurtful and overly loving and reverent attention. And that’s leaving out the fact that Bella’s life is constantly in danger. No, not eaten-by-bad-guy-vampires danger, and not Bella-can’t-fucking-walk-without-almost-dying danger. I mean, Edward openly and repeatedly says that he is barely restraining himself from killing her.
That is serious psychological abuse, and it makes me very uncomfortable to see that marketed to and idealized by adolescent girls and vulnerable women. The dynamic between Edward and Bella is so creepy, it actually turns my stomach a little. That “watching you sleep” stuff? Seriously, I don’t care if you do never sleep; go get a book or an iPod or something. And every time he says she smells so good, it’s just another reminder of that whole “I’m thiiis close to killing you” thing, which is really, really wrong.
That part has been talked about plenty (like here and here), but I’ve never seen anyone mention the reason I think Twilight is most dangerous: Twilight provides a blueprint for predators. Not just encouraging girls to accept that kind of treatment. Not just idealizing it so that she’ll have lots of social support to stay in a relationship where she’s threatened. I mean it actually lays out a lovingly constructed step-by-step plan for how to seduce a vulnerable female.
And then there’s the extra level, which is where I ended up. There are a lot of things about Edward and Bella’s relationship that hit way too close to home for me. I may have been seduced by someone in a different Fandom, but the method was the same. Little steps that she puts together herself. Edward doesn’t just introduce himself OH HAI I IZ VAMPYRE. Once she’s finally pieced together all the hints he’s given her, he makes her say it to him. Vampire…
That’s the same way I ended up believing in hobbits. Letting me (and others who came to believe later) figure it out ourselves was definitely key. It was always one of the strongest pieces of “proof” we had, and that scene of Bella googling all the Vampire myths makes my skin crawl. It’s just a little too on the nose.
There is a lot of the story that would be almost impossible to recreate; The Cullen family home, the Quileute tribe, the fact that he really is a vampire, etc. You’d be amazed how much of that can be faked, if the victim is a willing enough believer. And Bella wants to believe, because she wants to be special. Loved. Understood. She thinks she’s a unique flower that will bloom only with juuust the right gardening. She’s lonely and sad, and she wants someone to just make things ok for her, give her a reason to keep going. She is so uncertain in her new life (having just gone through major personal changes) that she is able to completely submerge herself (including any disbelief that her boyfriend is a fucking vampire) in his story, begging to become a part of his secret world, offering herself up to him.
So turn it around. What if Edward wasn’t a vampire at all? Aside from all the actual supernatural stuff (like the running through the trees and the whole baseball thing) what if he was just stringing her along? Always holding out the promise that someday she’ll be something amazing and special and important. Meanwhile, he’s slowly isolating her from her friends, all the while pretending to encourage her to spend more time with them. He is more and more open that being with him will involve massive sacrifice on her part. But as long as she believes he is a vampire, she will obey, choosing him above all others, because he is above all others.
I know I’m not the only one who’s been hurt by this kind of predator. I’ve already met several women who were victimized by predators similar to mine. More than one has been actively based on Twilight. This kind of abuse is usually only recognized when it is based on religion. But our cultural mythology is more wide-reaching than just orthodox worship, and it’s the unorthodox nature of these sorts of relationships often is their specific appeal. That, and being a part of something secret, special and bigger than you.
Now imagine how Bella would feel if she suddenly realized that Edward wasn’t really a vampire at all, just a pretty boy who got her to turn her back on everyone? How would she react? It’s so horribly embarrassing to come back from believing in something so overtly fictional. No one wants to admit they erased themselves in slavish devotion to someone who was just fucking with them. It’s terrifying.
I hope that by speaking out about this kind of abuse I can help others get out, or recover if they’re already out. I hope I can make it a little safer to come back to reality, knowing you aren’t the only one. But given what’s been going on with the premier of Breaking Dawn, I don’t think just one voice is enough.