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Friday, October 31, 2008

From the Pop Culture Trenches: The Sexy Side of Scary

Twilight, a novel turned movie by Stephenie Meyer, has resurrected the immortal baddie back into mainstream literature: the vampire. Every few years this blood-sucking fiend seems to reappear as popular as ever, reminding us of our fascination with a little bit of terror and the grotesque. There is a reason why the phase comes and goes, so how long will it take for the inevitable wooden stake?

The series deemed the "next Harry Potter" has taken the written world by storm. Meyer's novels have had a wide reception, surpassing age and gender expectations. In fact, shortly after the release of the seventh and final Harry Potter book, New Moon (Twilight's sequel), beat HP out of the #1 slot on the New York Times Best Seller list--where it remained for eleven weeks. Translated for over 33 countries, over 5.5 million copies of the Twilight Saga are in print worldwide. Several reviews have pointed out it is not a literary masterpiece, but extremely compelling due to the relentlessly tense romance. Vampires have always been the sexiest of scary beasts, and Meyer exploits it better than anyone has in quite a while.

The novels are loaded with Victorian style super suppressed sexual tension. The strange mix of fear, attraction, adrenaline, and danger provoke an erotic response--what is not erotic about a carnal craving for someone? Edward Cullen--vampire protagonist--is constantly battling his desire to either kiss or feast on Bella--narrator human protagonist--realizing it's probably best to avoid both as much as possible (admittedly not a new idea). So the action between the star-crossed lovers is always with some caution--and presented PG for readers. The horror sci-fi genre mixed with romance has a definite appeal: it allows readers to indulge in the over-dramatic and borderline masochistic love story under the innocent guise of only a few heated kiss scenes.

But here is where breaking dawn has incinerated our nocturnal fiend:

1--the books are all products of minimal revision. No plot checking, no tightening, BIG PROBLEMS.
2--the characters lack humanity. With too much perfection, especially in the big series ending, why bother reading it?
3--It's all surface--all adjectives and no substance (in EVERY WAY)
4--Meyer is oblivious.

The fourth and final book of the Twilight series, Breaking Dawn, received such bad reviews that it has tainted the saga as a whole. By the end of the series, Meyer managed to provide a literally "perfect" ending for her protagonists, at only the small cost of their individuality and character-humanity. Their story ends void of responsibility, choice, or proper consequences. All the "good" or "redeemable" behavior of the good guys is really only as surface-oriented as Bella's view of Edward. (Honestly how many ways can the same person called beautiful before you start to question if anything else is appealing about him??) Looks like readers and Bella were in lust, not love.

With the transformation of inadequate-feeling-Bella in the end, the moral of the series seems to be: if you relentlessly reject yourself enough, eventually you'll be rewarded with all the superficial things you've been craving. The scariest part of all is none of this travesty was intentional on Meyer's part. In keeping with the fantasy genre, the author seems to also be living in La-La Land, ignoring all consequences of the real world. By forgoing any possible tragic results, the true tragedy of the series emerged, leaving readers feeling empty. For all that preaching about denying lust and embracing self-sacrifice above all, I don't think readers have ever been so wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am-ed by a series of quite this magnitude.

So perhaps in writing about the sexy side of scary, what we really got in the end was the scary side of sexy--luring, and empty. Hopefully the movie will be better.

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