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In Defense of Twilight (Sort Of)

  I’m not normally queued into memes enough to really comment on them all too frequently. Granted, some are pretty funny and some are absolutely pointless. But the vast majority of them are bland and inoffensive, so I just kind of lose interest and wander off. One, however, hit a nerve for no other reason than it completely misses the point it’s trying to make.

  The meme/image/lazy attempt at humor starts by taking a sci-fi/fantasy title and comparing it to Twilight. That, in and of itself, is hardly worth getting upset over. After all, Twilight is pretty bland pseudo-entertainment as it is, and comparing it to other work is what people should be doing. Love it or hate it, critical analysis is pretty important. It helps authors evolve or drink themselves to sleep at night.

  The problem I have is the formula that people are using to criticize Bella and the Phosphorescent Vampires. It essentially boiled down to this:

Taking the [trite romance plot line] out of x’s plot line leaves awesome plot left over
Taking the [trite romance plot line] out of Twilight leaves a moping dingbat

Really, internet? You developed a fucking algorithm for mocking Twilight? In case you don’t see just why that’s stupid, let me put it to you in memetic, the language of the internet:

Thanks so much for making me do this, internet. You're a peach.

  Of course if you take out the romance in The Hunger Games it leaves an awesome teenage fight to the death. You want to know why it does that? Because the book is about the Hunger Games, a teenage death-match. The central story arc of the book is not Katniss getting into a relationship with a boy, it’s about her being forced to kill others in an effort to survive. It’s not advertised as romance and it doesn’t even pretend to be. As far as I’m concerned, the “love triangle” between Katniss, Peeta, and generic nobody is barely a subplot. For those who are terrible at inferring meaning from words, that means a side story that has varying - but not necessarily vital -impact on the main story. And, like most subplots, you could excise it entirely from The Hunger Games, and the main plot about children killing each other continues being awesome as though nothing happened.

  But the whole love-triangle thing isn’t the one trite romantic element that people have their eyes on. Another variant of the meme consists of comparing Bella’s despair over Edward leaving her to Hermione losing Ron in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. The idea here is to show Hermione, a strong female character, being all strong and stuff because she didn’t break down after the boy left. The idea is that “When boy leaves in x, girl is strong. When boy leaves in y, girl is sissy! Yea!” Well, first off, Hermione is in a battle to save the world from magic Hitler. She literally has no time for wallowing in despair. Bella, being a typical self-absorbed teenager, proceeds to act like all typical self-absorbed teenagers and mope. If Bella had to fight vampire Hitler (which, holy shit, would have been awesome) I’m sure she wouldn’t have been inclined to be as sad. She even has a super power with being shielded from mental manipulation, either through magic or being spectacularly dense. That’s a pretty handy skill if she were to fight an evil super-powered dictator (hint, hint).

  In short, the whole point the meme is trying to make is completely lost - yes, Hermione is a strong female, but you’re comparing her to bland tabula rasa. That’s really not fair to either of them.

  One big problem with these kinds of comparisons is a matter of scope. If Katniss slows down, she dies and her family will suffer for it. If Hermione slows down, she dies and the entire world is fucked eight ways to Sunday. And not even just the magic world: literally everything and everyone she has ever known, on both sides of the magic divide, will be destroyed or distorted. If Bella slows down, Mustache Dad will be concerned, but most people just wouldn’t care. She’s a non-actor of no consequence to the world at large. And, you know what? Bella acts the part. No delusions of grandeur or hints at a larger, generations-long struggle of life and death. Just a selfish girl being selfish.

  It all comes down to this bullshit idea that by simply removing a doofy romantic plot thread, you can fairly compare something to Twilight. But seriously, people, it’s Twilight: the book is marketed as a romance novel for teenagers. The question becomes “Why are you taking the romance out of it in the first place?” It’s the central (and one may argue, only) plot line. Of course if you take that out it’s going to suck. Taking the bio-pic out of Citizen Kane would make it suck, too. Or taking the convicts out of Con-Air. Why are we excising key plot elements and talking about how crappy the result is? Are we constructing Citizen Twilight-Air out of the spare parts? Will we have a sparkling Nic Cage mumbling about bunnies as a snow-globe violently explodes as John Malcovich ramps Rosebud into wolfman Colm Meaney?

  Because if we’re not, then you really need to stop everything you’re doing, internet, and get on it. Seriously, that is pure gold right there.

  The fact of the matter is that Twilight exhibits a proud tradition of crappy romance novels. You have a doe-eyed woman and a mysterious/exotic man. If there’s some kind of hitch that initially separates them, whether it’s class or having children or pregnancy, great... provided it doesn’t actually attack why society considers those things ‘problems’ to begin with. For bonus points, cram in borderline racism/stereotypes/Australians in the plot, and we’re almost done for our pointless dalliance into soft core pornography!

Australians Are Attractive, Apparently
I see a theme! An oddly specific theme!

Despite their differences and against all odds or better judgment, he falls for her or she for him. There are trials and tribulations (usually revolving around some permutation of the ham-fisted ‘hitches’ listed above), but all those hardships do is serve to make them love each other even harder.

  These aren’t hard plots to predict, nor do they really serve a purpose other than to moisten the loins of the lonely. They appeal to the idea that love, true love, can exist and find everyone, even people who have given up on romance. They give people a hint of erotic excitement while in the safety of their world. And the absolutely ridiculous number of these books and their ‘Find and Replace’ duplicates clearly indicate that they serve some kind of purpose in our society. Not a good one, or even one that doesn’t make me lose a bit of faith in humanity, but hey.

  If you’re going to criticize the book, do it on its own failings. Holding a critical lens up to Twilight is like sandblasting an egg yolk: it’s easy to do and yields interesting results. Talk about how Bella fails as an active female protagonist or how Edward’s a creepy stalker. Talk about the inherent stupidity of the author including historic rationales for character behaviors then goes and ignores the fact that history still happens later. Talk about the inherent (though possibly inadvertent) anti-feminist message of the book or discuss how the ancillary characters are far more engaging than the protagonists. Have an open and critical analysis about just how a book written for a female audience seems to hate women so much. Discuss Jacob’s role in asserting white male dominance over women. Speaking of him, talk about how he has the hots for Bella (the author/reader stand-in) when the author has a brother named Jacob (sorry about the nightmares).

  But do not, do not, do not waste your breath whining about how Twilight isn’t good at something it never intended to be. It makes you look like a petty jerk.

  You know what’s a really terrible comedy? Gone With the Wind. And hey, remember that really awful drama Galaxy Quest? And Amelie was just a poorly constructed horror movie, I don’t care how many awards it wins.

  Do you see how stupid this is? The Battle of Algiers does not make a fun romance movie, Akira is pretty god awful at being a light-hearted teen sex romp, and Mirror, Mirror is just fucking terrible.

  No joke in that last one. Sorry.

  Anyway, calling Twilight out on having a crappy romance plot does nothing for anyone other than prove that you are paying attention. And even then, I’m not entirely convinced that you are. At the end of the day, all this kind of behavior does is make you feel good for having an opinion. Aw, you like Firefly more than Twilight? So do I, but it doesn’t mean a whole lot. How about you compare the female characters to one another and try to discuss why one is stronger than the other? Because it won’t fit on a photo with impact font?

  I guess the biggest problem I have with this is that it isn’t earnest criticism. It’s just mockery. And it’s not even well-constructed mockery, like the Oatmeal’s or Cracked’s endeavors in the discussion which at least deconstruct the material in an effective manner while mocking it. Recall the formula all the way at the beginning. You’ve reduced earnest mockery/analysis to a simple equation. If it were any lazier, it would require negative thought. No one really gets anything out of this specific meme. If anything, you become dumber because of it.

  If you haven’t read the book or seen the movie, you’d look at that description and just shrug and think “I guess it kind of sucks.” And if you have, you either agree without thinking about it or disagree and ignore it. It doesn’t encourage discussion. It just appeals to your initial emotion and leaves it at that. There’s no back and forth outside of people sharing the image or posting an incoherent mess of a retort only to be endlessly mocked because rage-posting is a really terrible idea.

  I guess the entire point of the exercise is apparently to reduce Twilight into a shell so that other forms of entertainment look better. But is this what we really want? Our entertainment to be able to beat up motherfucking Twilight in an even more ridiculous version of “My dad can beat up your dad”? What’s worse is that we’re siding with heavy hitters against an anemic anorexic. Of course it’s going to be a knockout punch: your opponent weighs six pounds and hasn’t eaten since last Thursday, you goddamn bully.

  By all means, compare elements of books from different genres. Questions like those of masculine and feminine identity are things that can transcend the limitation of genre. Just like you shouldn’t mock an orphan for only having a photo of their parents, don’t fault Twilight for being a silly little romance novel, because it has nothing else.

  If, and I’m not saying you should, but if you want to continue doing this, actually use the evidence you have to make sense as opposed to being a dick. So The Hunger Games has spare plot after removing the whole Peeta/childhood-friend-zone-dweller thing from it? All that does is prove that it’s more complex than Twilight. But, then again, if I were to take the gladiatorial combat out of it, The Hunger Games is reduced to reading about a girl starving to death while she gets free bread from a guy who has a hard-on for her. If I take the gladiatorial combat out of Twilight, I’m left with a love story with vampires. I guess it’s all in how you look at it.

  But you know what? Fuck it. No one is going to listen to me. And if people are going to insist on being obnoxious, I’ll show you how it’s done: a Reuben is a sandwich made of five components: sauerkraut, corned beef, thousand island dressing, Swiss cheese, and rye bread. If I take out one of those components, I still have four left over. Twilight is made up of one component: romance. If you take it out, you have no Twilight. Ergo, a Reuben sandwich is more complex than Twilight.

And I'm Done

  If you’re going to be a jerk, you might as well confuse everyone while you’re at it.

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