Why Twilight Is Screwing Up The Next Generation, By A Former Teen Mag Editor

In a previous life, some of us may have spent more time thinking about The Twilight Saga than your average 14-year-old girl. Well, not just the average 14-year-old. We're talking about the girl with the Edward or Jacob cardboard cutout in her room (yes, Nordstrom did used to sell those). Don't worry. We're not crazy, but we did used to interview Twilight stars (amongst other things) for a living. Since we know you're wondering, with a few sullen exceptions, they're mostly lovely, enthusiastic kids excited about parlaying the franchise into major-movie-star status. Once, on a set visit in Vancouver, we were actually held up by Canadian immigration authorities who felt the need to interrogate us about our potential involvement in the nightmare that was ruining their town (or bringing oodles of tourism dollars to it, but you know, potatoes, potahtoes).
But the point we're making is this: We have a lot of thoughts about the entire franchise. And what the phenomenon really means. Particularly for the next generation. Especially after reading this. And this. And this. And after realizing that the most recent movie has made $589,073,698, worldwide, in the past two-and-half weeks. That's a lot of swooning teenage girls.
That said, we’re the first to get all up in arms about people who complain about lipstick feminism or even Taylor Swift and her arrested-development take on fairy-tale romance. After all, feminism is about choice. That’s the entire point. Women are supposed to have the freedom to live their lives the way they want to, and all of those choices should be treated as equally valid (in a perfect world, anyway).
And in an objective sense, we’re totally on board with the heroine of the Twilight movies following through on all of her choices, whether they’re ones we’d deem healthy or not (Seriously, giving up your life? That’s the going rate for true love these days?). But we’re not being objective here. We're being honest. And Bella Swan gets under our skin in a major way.
Partially, the thing that makes her most appealing to young girls is the thing that troubles us the most about her. She’s a blank slate. She has occasional moments of stubborn insistence, where she takes a stance on things, but it’s always about protecting someone else (her family, her baby, her precious Edward) rather than about believing in something for herself. For young girls (and some grown-up women as well), this makes her the perfect canvas to project themselves onto. They can read the books and watch the movies, and with almost no effort, slot themselves into Bella’s shoes. Because there’s so little of her own personality to get in the way (apart from, you know, selflessness, and who doesn’t want to see themselves that way?), readers can easily project themselves into the shoes of Edward’s beloved. (Because that’s what the books are really about, right? That perfect guy who will come along and save you time and again, and fight for you, and see only you. Or at least that’s what a 12-year-old girl recently told us.)
But for us, she’s a romanticized archetype of a helpless heroine with absolutely no agency whatsoever. And what kind of role model does that make her? And by the way, yes, we do get to have the discussion about whether or not she’s a crappy role model. Because Bella isn’t a real person thrust into the spotlight, just because she wants to sing songs about cute boys who break her heart (Hi, Taylor Swift.). She’s a fictional character in a YA book turned into a blockbuster movie franchise that is actually changing the way young girls see love and romance, and teaching some very heavy-handed lessons about chastity and the dangers of female sexuality, in the process.
So, yes. It’s possible that Bella is more true to how many of us (including this writer) often feel about love and romance and all of that good stuff, than say Buffy or even Veronica Mars ever were. Sometimes we get swept up in it. Sometimes we’re not the ones setting out to save the world. And sometimes we get all up in our heads and can’t communicate properly with the rest of the world. But that’s nothing to aspire to. Bella is essentially a romanticized version of all of our worst, weakest impulses, put up on a pedestal, and mixed in with a major dose of Mormon proselytizing, and that makes her dangerous. We are all about living in a world where women can choose whichever future they like for themselves. But we also want to live in a world where a sense of kinship and female-camaraderie allow us to step in when our friends are screwing up. And that’s all we’re doing now. We’re saying: Bella, we wish you would aspire to more than a sparkly, mopey dude in bad makeup who gives crazy-pants quotes and is more than a little afraid of his fans (who us, conflate fiction with reality?).

Photo: Courtesy of Summit Entertainment

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