Friday, November 20, 2009

The Twilight Saga: New Moon

Today I sat through New Moon, the second of four entries in The Twilight Saga, based upon the popular books by Stephanie Meyer. I pay attention to these things because, as a student of American popular culture, I consider it my duty to partake in as many elements of that culture as I can. There are plenty of people out there bashing the Twilight phenomenon, and relatively few of them have actually sat through one of these movies.

I've now seen both, and if you haven't seen one, you have no idea just how exquisitely, painfully awful this stuff is.

I finally saw the first film on DVD not too long ago, having missed it in theaters. This makes today's experience my first sample of Twilight with a theater full of teenage girls. What's clear now is that the success of this franchise is built upon two rickety foundations: 1) a terrible actor named Robert Pattinson and 2) the fact that parents must not be watching, because no way would I allow my daughter any sort of crush on this creep.

Pattinson is a truly special kind of bland. He has only two expressions, both of which are most commonly associated with serial rapists. Through most of his role as teenage vampire Edward Cullen, he grimaces in discomfort as though someone just gave him a nasty wedgie. According to the story, this is because he's in love with human Bella (Kristen Stewart) and spends the duration of their relationship lusting after her delicious blood (which he can't drink because he's a "vegetarian" vampire that feeds only on animals ... also she'd die). Occasionally, Bella is able to rend a smile out of him but this only makes him look like a peeping tom that just got his money shot. Both Pattinson and Stewart deliver all their lines at the floor, leading me to wonder if this is where the cue cards were laid.

It's a Romeo and Juliet story - two teenagers from two different worlds kept apart by circumstance. But in New Moon a rival for Edward is introduced in the form of Jacob (Taylor Lautner), a hunky Native American-descended bad boy who can build motorcycles and almost never wears a shirt (he puts one on maybe once). He's a werewolf, it turns out, and so perfect to take Bella's mind off her vamparamour after he disappears for the majority of the film.

What happens is, after Bella almost got killed a few times in the first film thanks to her vampire entanglements, Edward realizes that if he really loves her (which he does, because look at how hard he's squinting) he'll disappear. Just having him in her life puts her in danger, so he leaves town, leading to a significantly reduced role for Pattinson. This also gives Jacob ample time to move in on his girl and to set-up an inevitable vampire-on-werewolf showdown.

The vampire-on-werewolf showdown never really happens. Just when you think something interesting is about to happen, Bella gets in between them and starts emoting at the floor again. This leads to the wolfman actually shedding a computer-generated tear and Edward (and me) sighing heavily. Her ability to talk down the wolf is exactly contrary to several lessons imposed earlier about Bella not wanting to get in the way of Jacob's temper.

Pulsating in the theater throughout all the melodrama (besides my temples) was a palpable boredom. This opening day audience was not only squarely on Team Edward: whenever Pattinson was off-screen they just didn't care. You could check the phone bills and see a direct relationship between Pattinson screentime and text messages sent during the movie. Whenever he did get a scene, there were ooh's and aah's. I honestly don't think any of these girls care about the vampires or Bella or anyone else in the story. They're just here to see Robert Pattinson's (arguably) pretty face.

On my way out of the theater, I saw a poster for Eclipse, the third chapter in this series. Along the bottom was the release date: June 30th, 2010. This has got to be a record turn-around for a franchise like this. My roommate posited that "they don't want the fad to end". I think that's correct, but also, they're trying to preempt a backlash to Pattinson's minimal presence in chapter two.

The only thing I don't understand is what everyone sees in Robert Pattinson. Is it his hair or something? You win, popular culture. I'm completely lost on that one.


  1. I will explain the appeal of Robert Pattinson to you in person, because I don't think this comment box is long enough for me to say everything I have to say.

  2. And it's lucky Amy is around to explain it, because I have to confess I don't see it either. Taylor Lautner is waaaaay cuter!

    Also, you know how I'm usually like "Todd! You should read the book it's so much better!"? I'm not going to say that here. I mean, the books ARE so much better, if a part of their appeal is their unrelenting wretchedness. Because the books are DEFINITELY worse than the movie-- at least the first one was. I can't speak to this one, and I hopefully won't be able to for a long, long time.

    And also, you should read this: This is what I was reading yesterday when you called back, in the middle of apparently working on this. It could probably use a bit of editing for verbosity, but Sady's definitely got a point.

  3. Okay. First of all Taylor Lautner is really unattractive and stupid in the movie. Second of all I would understand you not like New Moon, its not the best movie ever, but my Robert Pattinson? This is unacceptable. Robert Pattinson is passionate about Bella, which makes him look like he is in pain. I do think the Robert Pattinson looked better in Twilight. His smile in the scene where Bella and Robert first start going out makes me shiver, and clap everytime I see it. In the second one he is also very appealing, but there is not enough of him. What makes him so appealing is EVERYTHING: his hair, his smile, his perfectly picked out clothes (especially in Twilight), his perfect complexion, his social akwardness and they way he talks like a romantic from a different century. Also, the phenomenon that you want what you can't have makes the love for him even stronger. I love you Robert Pattinson.

  4. Amy: Looks like Samantha beat you to it.

    Samantha: Thank you for your enthusiastic defense of Robert Pattinson. If there's one thing I can always find a place for, it's passion. I think yours for Pattinson is actually far more compelling than Edward's for Bella.

    Margaret: That article is wonderful. The comparison of Pattinson to Megan Fox is pretty swell; they ask to be objectified in their respective franchises, and all the more power to them, because they both got rich acting without any ability to act.

    My only comment stems back to one point I failed to make in my NEW MOON write-up: these movies are about abstinence. While Megan Fox spends all her screen time in the TRANSFORMERS movies subjecting herself to the boners of the fourteen-year-olds in the audience, making herself an available object for fantasies of fuckery, Pattinson's onscreen persona wants nothing to do with sex (or making out, or even hugging for that matter). At the very least, Fox seems to like it when we get excited over her, while Pattinson, to quote your blogger, simply appears to be "Trying Not To Fart".

    If this is porn for teenage girls, fine. I guess I just wish they had something better to jerk off to. It's only fair.

  5. Todd, Todd, Todd. You're making a rookie error here-- just because Edward won't have sex with, kiss, or even hug Bella doesn't mean he doesn't *want* to. In fact the entire structure of the Twilight narrative is that he wants to SO MUCH that he can't even a little, because then he'll devour her. You KNOW I have a problem with equating the loss of a girl's virginity with the loss of her life or worth or whatever the abstinence message would emphasize, but that doesn't mean a narrative emphasizing that can't still be deeply erotic.

    I'm going to talk a bit about the books now, because I think it's silly to address how girls respond to Robert Pattinson, when what they are actually doing is responding to Robert Pattinson as an avatar for the character of Edward. They aren't assessing his acting ability, they are assessing his ability to NOT interfere with the character they've imagined.

    With that in mind, you shouldn't be surprised that teenage girls respond well to this construct. Considering the enormous amount of shame heaped upon girls who are sexually active, or even openly sexually desirous, considering how the governing narrative of their sexual experience is always about what boys will want from them (and whether or not they should "give it up") and never about what they could, maybe want from boys the Twilight books are basically the ultimate reversal. They are ALL ABOUT Bella's desire. She wants to have sex with Edward all the time, it's all she thinks about for like 750+ pages of the entire series. But he won't allow it. On the one hand, this dynamic is SERIOUSLY squicky, and reaffirms a lot of the gross narratives about female sexuality I've talked about above. On the other hand, it offers teenage girls the PERFECT fantasy: they get to experience their potential for a sexual appetite at great length, but they NEVER have to engage in the actual act of sex, which they've been taught will change them forever/cheapen them/rend them soulless-- not because they aren't allowed to want to, but because the object of their affection loves them SO MUCH that he won't let them.

    Squicky, patriarchal, rapey, pseudo-Victorian: yes. But within the paradigms that govern most adolescent girls' lives: also hot.

  6. Well, yes, I wasn't clear. Obviously Edward wants to get all the way up in Bella's stuff, but he doesn't because he'll kill her. Or something. Essentially he both wants to and doesn't want to very badly. I didn't mean to suggest that Edward doesn't want to hook up.

    Anyway, what makes it so preposterous (aside from the basic notion of abstaining teenagers) is that, at least in the two movies I have seen, nobody has mentioned sex at all. It's all about "turning" Bella. "Yes I want to be a vampire too but let's wait until graduation."

    But anyway, so it's not even about giving girls a sexual fantasy, it's about giving them a fantasy of having a sexual fantasy? I understand, according to your argument, what it is girls like about these books. It just seems to be perpetuating the stigmas attached to giving up your virginity. Especially given that - and I don't want to delve too deep into Meyer's ridiculous mythology but I feel this is worth mentioning - Bella ends up pregnant with a vampire baby that almost kills her. If Edward Cullen is on bedroom walls because he's *not* going to fuck you, then ... man, I don't know.

    Let's take one hundred 13-year-old girls and show them TRANSFORMERS then take one hundred 13-year-old boys and show them NEW MOON, then ask everybody what they've learned about adolescent sexuality.

  7. It is definitely perpetuating GROSS stigmas about giving up your virginity. Again, I am not saying it is GOOD that girls like this, I am only saying that it makes sense that they might. Basically, Edward Cullen is like one big rape fantasy. Only with abstinence.

    It's interesting that you bring up the terrifying vampire pregnancy, because:

    a) it allows me to link to this gif: (scroll down past the discussion about the felted copy of Bella's womb)

    b) It's really kind of a separate issue. Like, you know, it wasn't enough for Stephenie Meyer to tell a story that was just about abstinence. She has to make it about being pro-life too!!! So, yes, Bella gets pregnant, and yes, the birth is gruesome to the extreme, and the baby BREAKS HER SPINE and she almost dies and the whole time everyone around her except one baby-crazy vampire wants her to abort the fetus but then the baby is the greatest thing ever. And then once she and Edward are both vampires all they do is have sex all the time, because they don't have to sleep, because they're vampires!

    c) AND ALSO this is also the part of the books the fans responded worst to. There was FURY in the Twihard community over how awful Breaking Dawn was. People were so angry they were returning the books to stores after they'd read them. There were fan made petitions, basically, asking for Stephenie Meyer to take it back and write another last book.

    So, essentially, girls would take Meyer's nonsense, up to a point, but then they were like ALRIGHT ALREADY. Can't they just have sex and not have it be awesome and NOT result in a horrible and traumatic experience?

    But, really, the money shot is in your last comment because, at the end of the day, it's not like Transformers is good porn either, or even like porn porn is good porn. Sure, Megan Fox's role as boner giver might be more clear-cut than Robert Pattinson's as Ultimate Tantalizer, but both are aspects of a gross, retrograde sexual system where men exist as sexual aggressors and desirers and women exist as objects to be desired. Both are hot because they toy with subverting these norms (Megan Fox talking all the time about how she loves sex, and Robward Cullinson being basically "the girl" in how he's objectified and the one saying no to sex all the time and only interested in marriage) but without actually challenging the overarching paradigm in any way. And, ultimately, that's pretty sad and stupid because BOTH boys and girls deserve a better model for sexual relationships.

  8. Oh, and here is the blog post I wrote on Twilight, the book, addressing some of these issues and my overall frustration with how fantasy relationships are talked about these days:

  9. I went to see it with my friends last night. They were all going together and I didn't want to be left out.

    I wanted to gouge my eyes out with rusty teaspoons after about 4 minutes. 30 seconds in the movie was ALREADY too fucking long. It hurt. It was, in fact, WORSE than the book, which I could never have imagined.

    One thing that was better though: the perpetual shirtlessness of the werewolves while a) being pretty was also b) WAY MORE HILARIOUS on the screen than on the page. On the page you're like Shirtless Youths, eh, whatever, moving on. On screen, however, the thorough ridiculousness is really driven home. Are there no "No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service" signs in La Push? Do teachers at the "rez" high school not look askance at all the 17 year olds roaming the hallways with identical cutoffs and broad expanses of gleaming manflesh? So many questions!

  10. I only got as far as the first line: "second of FOUR"...?! Shit.