I have to start this post with a disclaimer. I am often way behind the times when it comes to pop culture and rarely, if ever, do I catch up. Keeping that in mind we can begin.
b and I were having dinner at our friends' home last week and the subject of the Twilight series came up. One of my friends, GnomeLady, had discovered and devoured them recently. GnomeLady is also a huge Harry Potter fan--books and movies I am aware of but I have never desired to imbibe. However I had only recently heard of the Twilight phenomenon (and wasn't really aware of the whole teenage aspect to be totally honest) and I love a good vampire story. Grades were also recently submitted and my holiday break loomed ahead of me, so I jumped at her offer to lend them to me. Unfortunately she had already loaned another friend the first book, so at the end of the night I went home with the remaining three.
Generally with this type of literature I expect to be engaged and entertained but also to put up with poor writing and sentimentalism. I think of these books the same way b's thinks of McDonald's--every once in a while you get a craving and while its good going down afterwards you don't feel quite right. I would say that my expectations were pretty well met with the first book I read, New Moon. It was the story of a heartbroken adolescent girl. There was a lot of yearning for something that will never come again and physical pain to mark the overwhelming emptiness that her life now holds. Frankly with all my feelings over Angel's move to college these past few months, it was fairly cathartic.
However with the next book, Eclipse, the tone changed considerably. Now her beloved was back in the picture but he was controlling and emotionally abusive. I have no idea if this is how the romance is portrayed in the first book and movie, but I found myself growing more and more disturbed as I read it. There was another love interest character who was also abusive--emotionally and physically. What exactly is going on here? The girl's true love is technically her age (having become a vampire as an adolescent) but in reality has lived for over 80 years. Given the maturity and knowledge he's gained in that time, the relationship is reminiscent of a May-December romance. Add to that his supernatural ability and the power imbalance is off the charts.
The novel hit home because I've lived it (well sans vampire part). My first husband was 18 years my senior and a person with considerable power and authority in my life at that time. While not supernatural, he was exceptionally strong, tough, and emotionally manipulative. I was a teenager when we first started dating and not much older than many of my students are now when we married. Much of the relationship portrayed in the novel reminds me of those early years--how my behaviors and thoughts were manipulated and controlled to serve his purposes. It was not pretty and not healthy--even though I was convinced I was making my own choices and knew what I was doing. Of course, over time I matured. I learned where I began and he ended--mostly through raising Angel--and our relationship changed and stretched until it finally broke.
I was so taken back by the positive portrayal of this relationship in a book geared for adolescent girls that I started searching the web for critiques. Now I realize this phenomenon is already old and so what I found was written months ago. It seems that the accusation of an abusive relationship surfaced and caused many a blogosphere battle. Perhaps most disturbing were the point-by-point rebuttal by fans, as they sound so similar to what women in abusive relationships say.
So I wonder, what am I missing? I read a number of feminist blogs, news clippings and magazines. Even given my general lack of interest with pop culture, why did it take me so long to find out about this? Why did I need to search to find the feminist response? Am I really that out of the loop or have we so internalized the dominance as romance narrative that even people like my friend, a self-proclaimed feminist, don't see it? Or worse yet, are turned on by it?