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
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
You can keep that fugly ring, though.