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Please close the door and switch on the fun without fail.

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And yet, somehow, I never finished my master's degree
twilight
cleolinda
Okay, so. I saw Eclipse again, because my mother wanted to see it (as she always does), and because this time I could take notes on the scene order (We Do Not Speak Of It). And I feel like I'm a little different from a lot of people in that I can compartmentalize a lot of things. A lot of people--in this case, Twilight fans--will start out liking, say, Edward, for whatever reason, and because they like him, proceed to defend and rationalize everything he does from then on. I'm the kind of person who will take each thing--and this goes for real life as well--and judge it individually. "Saving her from a speeding van, okay, yeah, that's great, that superhero shit, everyone loves that; okay, this cold-shoulder I DON'T KNOW WHAT YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT stuff, he's being a dick but I see why, in terms of narrative arc, it's happening; saving her from a roving gang of attackers, that's kind of hilariously contrived, but more superhero shit, Vampire Volvo of Great Justice, rock AH GOD SNEAKING INTO HER ROOM TO WATCH HER SLEEP WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU OH MY FUCK NO." I take it as it comes, and I critique it as it comes. And I think this is why people who like Twilight have been known to hang out here and not hate me, and yet, why people who hate it haven't felt the need to stage an intervention yet.

I also think that people's reactions to various points in the series--not just the ~*saga*~ as a whole, but specific elements--says a lot about them individually. A sparkly Rorschach test, if you will. And I think it's interesting to talk about these points, because it may help critics understand why the series resonates so strongly with people. I'm just very lucky in that I can pick out specific elements ("Alice is AWESOME") and leave the rest by the side of the road, no harm done. So, because I think it says a lot about me, I will tell you which scene in Eclipse I had the strongest reaction to, and it is: "I would be courting you."

Look, my kink for the old-fashioned is not a revelation to me. I am ridiculously Team Vampire Bill re: True Blood, because he had me at "May I call on you at your home Sookehhhhh?" (And, once again, in the spirit of compartmentalization: I am Team Bill in Those Early Scenes. There's a lot of really, really ugly stuff that happens later on in the books and/or show. I don't feel compelled to make excuses for later scenes or include them in any sense of appreciation.) I can't help it. It is a weakness. Chivalry is incredibly attractive to me, and yet I know it originates from a very antiquated, medieval, women-as-chattel mindset. But there are a lot of things that we've kept the best parts of and left the rest behind. Maybe what I'm thinking of is a quintessentially Southern mindset anyway--I love it when people hold doors for me, and I love holding doors for other people. It doesn't have to be about condescension.

So, this scene, for those of you who did not go see the movie, is when Bella tries to get her premarital freak on (again) and Edward shuts her down (again), explaining that things worked very differently in Ye Olden Days. (The book refers to it as "an Anne of Green Gables flashback.") So instead of getting it on in the bed that HE bought her, by the light of the candles HE lit, to the strains of the soft music HE turned on (Sparkles, WTF?), he would rather be "courting" her. Now, IN MY DEFENSE, I am modern enough to be rather dismayed by the prospect of "long walks with chaperones," and I laughed out loud at "iced tea on the porch." Like, somehow that just tipped the scale from "quaint" to "cheesy," I don't know. And I don't want anyone to ask my father for my hand because I don't belong to him, nor are you going to haggle over how many cows he includes in my dowry, but even beyond that, I have been estranged from him for twelve years, so that point is just super-extra not-happening for me. But regardless: the whole point of the whole "courting" business is to take things slowly. And I think that is very, very attractive to a lot of people. I remember when (she said, leaning on her walker) there was a whole Cosmo-approved rule of thumb about sex on the third date, and the code for "bring a toothbrush" was, "Come over to my place, I'll make dinner." (And even then, as a teenager, I remember seeing this over and over and thinking, "But... do we have to? Is this third-date thing iron-clad? Crap.") But over the last ten years, casual or even immediate hookups (which, as a term, can cover a range of activity) seem to have become pretty common; we get articles about the influence of porn aesthetic on pop culture and panic-stricken studies about how THE TEENAGERS ARE HAVING THE ORAL SEX OMG NO. So if a more casual approach to sex works for you, as a consenting adult, that's great. I'm glad that people feel more open and comfortable with their sexuality, less restricted--particularly women. But if you're younger, shy or less experienced, the social expectation of it can be terrifying. I said something like this way, way back the first time I wrote about Twilight:

I know that it's women who are supposed to be the mysterious sex--"What do women want?" and all that--but I personally found boys to be just as enigmatic when I was a teenager. I mean, yes, boys want sex. But it's not as easy as that--okay, you're a teenage girl, you give in, now you're the school slut, or the thrill is gone and he moves on because you're both, you know, teenagers and probably not ready yet. The real question on a girl's mind is, "What, other than sex, is he thinking about? What, other than sex, do I have to offer someone I'm crazy about?" And if you're a teenage girl with low self-esteem, the answer you're going to come up with to that second question is going to be, "I don't have anything, because I'm not pretty or special or worthy, so if I don't want to immediately put out, I have nothing, and I have no chance." The obvious answer being "sex" actually makes it harder, because you've got that looming in front of you, and maybe a kind of despair--are you going to have to give in if you want a boy to like you? What if you aren't ready? What if you're scared?

And I think this is why you see a lot of girls feeling drawn to the Edward Cullen character, for all his high-handed fuckwittery, because this is someone who is willing to take it slowly. In fact, you can push him as much as you want--you can push it all the way to the edge of how far you're willing to go--and he's still not going to give in. It's liberating for the shy or inexperienced (right up until the point it becomes frustrating as all hell): Edward's the training wheels on your bike.

And when Bella finally gets him to take the training wheels off, all hell breaks loose. (Which is something we did not yet know, back in 2008 when I wrote that first entry.) The fact that she enjoys the bed-breaking and wants more--and eventually has a very fulfilling sex life as a vampire--this says to me that it's not so much intended as a cautionary tale about the dangers of female sexuality, really. In its own way, the last third of that book is a strange celebration of female power and desire, on the understanding--Meyer's understanding, not mine--that they have a "proper," post-marriage place. In fact, I would argue with Owen Gleiberman that the movie series is not a return to the male gaze; it is a very strong assertion of the female gaze. Look, you saw New Moon, and if you didn't, I'll catch you up: Bella spends 80% of the movie in three layers of shirt and a parka, while the camera lovingly watches Edward jaaaaames deaaaaan across the parking lot in indie-rock slo-mo, and Jacob administers shirtless first aid with the finesse of a Chippendale. In Eclipse, the Jacob fan service is so prevalent that a character actually asks, "Doesn't he own a shirt?" (This is immediately followed by competitive embracing, which sounds like it ought to be added to the next Olympics.) The not-sex scene (which is just before the "I would be courting you" part that I'm trying to get back around to) focuses almost entirely on the unbuttoning of Edward's shirt. These are movies that understand that their primary audience does not need or want to see Bella's goods, and they know exactly what their audience is there to see--they're there to see the same things Bella wants to see. That's the female gaze in action.

And if it makes male viewers uncomfortable or disdainful: we, as women, have been living with the male gaze as the cinematic default since pretty much forever. (I apologize in advance for talking about this pretty much entirely in heterosexual terms, but I don't really feel like I'm qualified to talk about anything else here; I'd love to hear a different point of view. There's something to be said for homoeroticism in the "Let's sit in this tent and talk about who's better for Bella" scene, but that's a different discussion.) Is there a reason the camera has to be up Megan Fox's ass (okay, I'm exaggerating. Maybe) in the second Transformers movie? While she's crouched over a grrr-manly motorcycle, no less? Or, more to the point, the reason is because it's hot. But who finds it hot? Maybe this is going to surprise you, heterosexual guys, but I suspect most of the straight women sitting beside you are not getting a whole lot of enjoyment from Megan Fox's ass. And you know what? I do like looking at beautiful women. Hot women being hot, in fact. She's pretty hot in the first movie, even. But there's that, and then there's... the camera up Megan Fox's ass. Guys, you having to sit there and watch the camera ogle these two guys is what life at the movies is like for us.

(I'll stop and note a fun irony here: only the first movie, the one with the least fan service, was directed by a woman. The other two, even the second movie, the one that's so blatant that audiences actually laugh at the more gratuitous shirt-doffing, was directed by a man, and, as far as I know, a straight one at that. But, behind the camera, Chris Weitz adopts the female gaze because that's the audience he's been told to play to. A gendered gaze is a whole thing, something you can consciously change from the default we're used to, turn off and on, once you know that it's there. I've heard it argued that the camera's point of view is inherently male, but I really believe these movies prove otherwise.)

And maybe the male gaze in movies contributes to female sexual anxiety. Are we supposed to look like that? Are we supposed to be hot enough to crouch over motorcycles in a scrap of denim? What if we're not hot enough? Do guys want anything else? Are we just flat-out doomed? No, says Twilight! You may wear fifty parkas and a really unsexy knit cap pulled down to your ears and hot guys will still fight over you! They will fight over you harder than ever! (At which point guys in the audience sit there and go, "Are we supposed to look like that? Do girls want anything else?" Etc. I'm not sure if I should feel glad that the male audience is getting a taste of its own medicine, or sorry that any of us have to taste it at all.)

In fact, the not-sex interlude ends with Our Hero saying, "Stop trying to take your clothes off." ("Oh, do you want to do that?") Speaking of which, the book and movie versions of this scene are actually a bit different. In the book, Bella realizes that Edward wants to "protect his virtue" (and laughs at him for it), and he says that, since he has no soul (or so he believes), his virtue is all he has left. In the movie, she says something about "you make me feel like a villain trying to steal your virtue," and he says, no, no--he's trying to protect hers, because, if she's going to lose her soul for him, he wants "to leave one rule unbroken," I think is how it goes. And then he goes into the whole "courting" speech. But leaving out "I want to protect my own virtue" actually changes the meaning of the scene, if you think about it. Because you know what? I was about to say, "I appreciate your concern, Sparkles, but you really gotta put out sometime," but Edward should have as much control over his own sexuality as Bella does over hers. If he wants to protect his own "virtue," you know what? That's completely valid. "Protecting" hers? Now it's presumptuous and controlling. These two characters abstaining from sex isn't the problem; Edward insisting on controlling her sexuality as well as his own is. He can say no to her, but he shouldn't be able to say no for her. In fact, every stupid, patronizing, infuriating thing he does in these books basically boils down to him making choices that aren't his to make.

SO WHAT I AM SAYING HERE, in this long leisurely ramble, is that the Twilight series reassures certain female anxieties. It's also got A METRIC SHIT TON OF PROBLEMS, about which I have railed over the last two years at some length. But those problems aren't going to help you understand why people are attracted to this series. (And I think the reason I write about Twilight so much is that I feel, for whatever reason, like I can explain--but not excuse--things that give people the raving WTFs.)

So. Uh. That went on longer than I intended. And I may have revealed more about myself than I meant to. But what I was trying to get at, eventually, is that--can't there be some kind of happy medium? Surely, if you are inclined to take it slow, there has to be a modern equivalent of "courting"? No chaperones (oh, God, no chaperones), but yes, you will get plenty of iced tea once I stop laughing my ass off because that's pretty much all we drink down here. But surely we can work out a process wherein someone says, "Look, I don't need you to be bent over a vehicle greased up in tiny denim. I want you for who you are, however you are, and I want to take the time to savor that before we get to the hooking-up part." It's not about a character (for most people) (I hope) (please put that cardboard standup down); it's about wanting something gentler and deeper and, in its own way, sexier than instant gratification: a slower burn.

You can keep that fugly ring, though. 



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Thank you, that's rather brilliant. (And may actually make me watch New Moon and Eclipse in the privacy of my own home where I can LOL and rant at the characters in peace)

Of late I find myself sort of an accidental film scholar (I didn't mean to and then I took a Sci-fi/Horror cinema course and now it's ALL THAT'S IN MY BRAIN) but my primary focus is in live theatre. I find myself wondering how the viewing experience of male and female audience members differs when there's an entire stage to look at and no specific camera angles to tell one where to look. Fascinating. Wonder if they'd let me write my thesis on that...

I wish you would! I for one would like to read that.

Yes. Just. Yes.

You are awesome, and this is awesome.

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Heh. But seriously, that's exactly what he DOES, every single time. "I'm going to treat you like shit at school because I'm dangerous for you, rather than let you decide if you want to be friends!" "This relationship is bad for you, I'm going to end it by lying to you!" "I'm going to disable your truck because I totally have a say in where you go and who you talk to!" Etc.

Honestly, him watching her sleep is not creepy per se. We see him do it all through the movies--she has him lie beside her in bed every night. Because she wants him to. She chooses to have him stay. The creepy part was when he invited himself in, OILED THE WINDOW, and made himself comfortable in the corner without her even knowing. Because that wasn't her choice.

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Okay this: You can keep that fugly ring, though. plus the entry tags = literal sniggering at my desk.

I don't want to get all creepy fangirl up in your journal, Cleo, but I really love it when you get all TL;DR about things. You always have such an interesting perspective and you express it in such clear and entertaining ways.

I think this plus your entry on Twilight and the importance of tenderness are really poignant examinations of (many) female romantic expectations and attitudes.

In conclusion: your post, I likes it.

Heh, thanks.

I notice that I seem to come up with more interesting angles when I put something of my own psyche into it it, which is a little uncomfortable in terms of feeling vulnerable, but maybe that makes it a little more than just film/lit crit posturing.

This is brilliant. (Such sparkling wit. Heh.)

Really, though, I'm just thinking yes yes yes why has no one written about this before this is genius yes yes yes.

Also: seemingly anti-feminist Meyer contributing to a feminist point of view is once again amazing. Though I do think that dialogue with Bella is kinda boring and Edward and Jacob are way more entertaining. (Not sure what that says about me.)

You can keep that fugly ring, though. HA HA HA.

Thank you, this is fantastic.

See, I had a problem with that scene. They cut out the part that explains why Bella changes her mind about marrying him (and the part that explains why "letting" him buy her expensive things is a concession on her part).

There's the part about rejection, and the part where Book!Edward actually gets to crack a joke, ("No, I like my agreement much better.")

I actually like that a male director can work for a female audience (and recognize that female audiences dig action sequences). It's the sort of thing that was asked of female directors for ages. And directing is the sort of job that shouldn't be limited by gender. I mean that a studio shouldn't have to say, "Oh, but so-and-so is a man/woman and we really need a female/male perspective."

I say you go for a master's in comparative vampire studies, with your thesis emphasis on Twilight.

God knows I've earned one by now.

This is just fantastic. Thanks for unpacking some of this for me.

I haven't felt as much annoyance with the books and the films and many others have. I love going to the films on opening day - not because it's a great movie, not because of TayLau's abs (ok, maybe a lot little), but to watch the audience dynamic. Sure, it's mostly teenage and early 20-something girls, but there are older men and women there as well, even unaccompanied by teenage daughters. But I personally don't respond to a lot of the "meaning" in the books or films - they don't resonate. They're just pretty and fun.

That being said, I did respond to what you wrote about insecurity and putting out because it's all you have to give that's seen of being of worth. In a society where we're all told to be insecure about everything, no wonder sex holds such a different place in society than it does now. Granted, I wish that sex weren't taboo, and that we were a responsible and permissive culture, but also that it were a gift again, even if it's just between friends. Instead, if it is indeed the only thing of value a teenage girl feels she has to offer, then it's no wonder that it remains mysterious and shameful.

Yay, film theory! That was super interesting.

I do think there's a point to be made, somewhere, that inverting the male gaze does not necessarily make the female gaze, but rather reinforces phallogocentric regimes of visual pleasure. I don't know how one would go about creating a purely female gaze, though--it's not like Mulvey's films were any good.

Does visual pleasure have to be phallogocentric, though? I don't have very extensive background in film studies but am interested by this question. I understand that the way a sexually appreciative gaze is usually directed is (by default) male, but thinking about it, I'm not convinced that regimes of visual pleasure can't be female, too.

This is a random ass side note, but I work at a restaurant and a couple came in the other night and drank like, twelve gallons of sweet tea and had the Georgia accents and said they had been "out West" for a week and "they don't make sweet tea out there" and I laughed and laughed. Because I'm sure they do serve sweet tea all over America, but they don't add fourteen cups of sugar like everywhere south of the Mason-Dixon line. And I say this as a resident of Southern Indiana, which isn't that Southern.


On topic, I'm inclined to agree with you. The idea that Edward is so attractive because he is your training wheels makes a lot of sense, even if he's still a patriarchal douche. (As is Beeeell, which is interesting because why are Vampire Loves always so controlling chivalrous?

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That... makes a lot of sense. I never thought of it that way.

I recently went back and read some of the stuff I wrote about Twilight when I read it first, and didn't harbor as much disdain as I do now. And I wondered why.

This is it. This is why I read the historical romance novels. This is why I liked Twilight (for a little bit anyway before the wtfery took over).

Thank you for shinning light on my subconscious.

This makes me anticipate "We Do Not Speak Of It" that much more. You are quite brilliant.

I REALLY like what you have written there. There is a time when women want to be the sexual agressor and times when they would prefer for their partner to be the agressor. But it is really hard to figure all that out in your teenage years, for sure....

Secondly, I was looking forward to the "Bella-feels-rejected" and Edward's "It's the only thing I've got left unsullied" silliness. I was - I don't know exactly why - disappointed in that scene, almost as much as the "I am a strong woman" dispointedness tacked on at the end there (I do tend to vere on the feminist side of an issue...maybe because it was to less then genuine feeling, including the fake chagrin of Edward's comment during the last scene as well...).

Lastly, our Target has "Let the Right One In" available for $10. High thee to the Tarjay, I bid thee!

Right, and one more thing

You're really right about the "female gaze" thing--I've never heard it put quite like, but I agree. Whatever else its problems, it is kind of cool to watch a movie that's not over-absorbed with T&A. But one thing I always remind myself about when reading (too many times) and watching Twilght -- Stephenie Meyer never intended these books to be picked apart as they have. While it's every reviewers' right to do so, in a way, it's so often badly done as to be useless, and almost unfair to the work, and the author. Almost. And it's why we long for Midnight Sun so much--because it explains Edward's behavior. He KNOWS he's being weird. He might be 100 years old, and been in thousands of people's heads, but he's never been in love--he's a newbie. He's learning about emotion and relationships -- and he's not a very fast learner. But why I think Stephenie forgives Edwards for his controlling-ness is this: Because the author knows that Edward loves Bella SO DARN MUCH, WHETHER SHE DESERVES IT OR NOT. Everyone seems to forget what he says in Midnight Sun (as much as we cry around about howmuchwewantstephenietofinishitpleasepleaseplease)--regarding why he falls in love with her (and disregarding for a moment--back to the 'mystery' of women in general, and Bella, in particular, for Edward) about her goodness, her lack of 'self,' her caring for others over herself. (Even if we think he's nuts.) Stephenie is basing their love story not on 21st century standards, but something even older than Edward, something from those classics she (Stephenie AND Bella) loves so darn much, you know, a LOVE THAT WILL LAST FOREVER kind of thing. Against All Odds. A Cathy and Heathcliffe kind of love. So anyone who wants to use Bella as a role model, or worship Edward as the perfect man--JUST QUIT. Because it wasn't written to be the modern-day model for true love or abstinence or equality in a relationship (although, once Bella embraces her inner sparkliness, their relationship goes mature pretty quickly, if one remembers from Breaking Dawn). And as much as I cringe inside thinking how badly the whole first half of BD can be screwed up...and probably will (although I do hope they leave in the 'not clear, Rosalie,' bit)...at least once Bella is a vampire, her relationship with Edward becomes much more balanced. (And boring.) OMG sorry, I've rambled and done exactly what I said not to do. Sorry. I just feel as if I've spent way too much time being a Twilight apologist to people who ask me about it.

Re: Right, and one more thing

A Cathy and Heathcliffe kind of love.

You haven't read Wuthering Heights, have you?