Twilight and Domestic Violence: Eclipsing Strange Desires

It’s very possible that not only have you not seen Twilight, but you have actively avoided seeing it. I completely respect that. I was doing the same thing until this past cold rainy Saturday when I said screw it, ate mac n’ cheese and watched the eternal romance unfold rapidly before me in 120 minutes. That’s why I’m way behind the times on this one – Twilight was so last year but I  hadn’t gotten depressed enough to  watch it until last week and oh boy, it  was pretty hard to watch. I don’t  have a soft spot for teen movies and  never watch them but sometimes  teen movies are just good movies  that teens happen to like (Clerks,  Rocky Horror Picture Show, The Toxic  Avenger -right?)

As happens to be the case, Twilight is  pretty true to its demographic. Not  only can the vampires survive in  sunlight, they sparkle in it. What kind  of vampire movie is that? It’s  undoubtably for kids, or prepubescent  “tweens,” who can relate to the trials  of boredom (hence the fantasy that  befalls a teenager in a small town)  and that feeling of “being different”  that most teenagers think they alone  feel. And somehow because of  this, Twilight is the difficult-to-watch  movie that I’ve now watched three  times since Saturday. It’s ridiculously  easy for the female lead Bella  (played by Kristen Stewart) to get  Edward (Robert Pattinson) to admit  he’s a vampire, although this could  be chalked up to predestined  romance. He is visibly jealous when  Bella is asked to prom by a  classmate. Edward’s 109 years old,  you’d think he could keep it together  a bit better than that. Regardless of  the superficial plot, the special  effects (the glitter effect on Pattinson is terrible and he just looks like he’s out of focus) or the slightly morose and yet paradoxically pop soundtrack–think The Craft– this movie, and perhaps even more emphatically the sequel New Moon, has actually managed to stir up some intriguing and possibly urgent controversy.

 

Now I must admit I have not


read the books, so I have no idea how true the movies are to their fictional origins but at

least as it concerns the cinematic plot, it’s pretty obvious that Bella is in an abusive relationship. Well, what would you expect? Her boyfriend is a creature that lives off blood and her best friend is a werewolf. This is supposed to be a dangerous situation by the very fact that the vampire and the werewolf are two of the most enduring monsters in Western mythology however normalized they have become. I’m certainly not alone in my observation and a quick Google search shows me that others have considered Bella as a victim certainly of emotional abuse who endures multiple physical traumas from other violent characters that Edward can never fully protect her from. Some of the arguments are stronger than others with the most convincing ones reminding viewers that these characters are celeb-style humanized and idealized to the point of almost being made of sex and cotton candy (remember: glittering vampires who live in International style modern homes and drive Volvos.) Although monsters, the male leads have simultaneously adopted a “harmlessness” about them that even Bella shares throughout by repeating to Edward “You won’t hurt me” but maybe it’s more hope than a statement of fact. Not to mention both monsters are played by handsome and in the werewolf’s case, beefy, men that only encourages a sympathetic anthrocentricism towards their disposition as tortured rather than torturer.

I’m going to sidestep the debate on whether or not Bella actually is a victim of domestic abuse because others have written convincing and well-researched arguments on both sides (the majority of them being on the side of “YES”). That debate is actually pretty typical of people assuming that everything that is on television indicates an approved way of life – as if just by virtue of being televised, the subject is worth emulating. I think it is true that being televised remains an honor that stalls objective analysis but primarily people will make an opinion- critical thinking is very much alive if you look for it in other forms, such as fan fiction. I also give readers/fans of that age a good deal of credit in their ability to identify when someone treats them like crap. What I find compelling about the debate is that it suggests that somehow a relationship with a vampire has the possibility of not being abusive. The vampire’s erotic allure is infamous and used successfully in many fictions, namely those by Anne Rice and Poppy Z. Brite. I believe the attraction rises out of the possibility for exception. The vampire is attractive when one survives that vampire’s desire – either one becomes a vampire or is the “special exception” that escapes victimhood. The debate should really be about why vampires are attractive (or sparkly) rather than their abusive personalities. I do recognize that these “monsters” are beautiful, emotional men that young girls might be drawn towards, but isn’t that the danger of these monsters – that they are attractive? Some intriguing insights into sexual politics, such as the spiritual connotations of female blood, and the inverse power dynamics of sub/dom relationships might be better considered when asking this most basic question about the attraction to vampires instead of normalizing our attraction to monsters as some sort of undeniable fact.

 

 

Molly Shea

Molly Shea is a Master's student in the Visual Culture program at New York University. She received a Bachelor's degree in Art History at Smith College in 2006 and has been exploring media studies as a way to inform her interest in contemporary video and installation art. Her current research interests include: cyborgs, transgender studies, memory studies, zoology, tactical bio-politics and apocalypse narratives.