The new Twilight film, New Moon, is setting box-office records following its opening a few weeks ago. But my guess is that it’s not only the studio celebrating, it’s the Christian and Mormon right.
The Twilight books and films are superficially about vampires, werewolves and the supernatural. What they’re really about is pushing a glamourized version of the purity and celibacy campaigns for teenagers that have obsessed the fevered minds of fundamentalists for so long.
It’s no secret that the author of the Twilight books, Stephenie Meyer, is a Mormon who donates 10 percent of her earnings to the church, thus providing it with plenty of money to fund battles against same-sex marriage. The church’s beliefs, especially its abhorrence of teen and pre-marital sex, permeate the books and the movies.
Since the creation of Dracula by Bram Stoker in 1897, vampires have been about sex. Given the fact that they emerge only at night, that they suck blood, even the fact that their bloodsucking kills, sex hasn’t been just a subtext in vampire mythology. It’s been pretty much the entire text.
But in Meyer’s world, vampires aren’t creatures of the night. They not only emerge in the daylight, they sparkle in the sun. They don’t suck human blood and they don’t kill. And they certainly don’t have sex. I mean, what the fuck? Seriously, Meyer’s characters aren’t vampires, they’re eunuchs.
Meyer isn’t just pushing celibacy, she’s deliberately turning even vampires — the very symbols of danger and sexuality — into sexless beings for the teenage world. When all Edward wants to do is watch Bella sleep, Meyer is saying to young boys that if even vampires don’t want sex, how dare you? Well, young girls who take Twilight as their model of the world are going to get a nasty surprise when they get their first boyfriend, or even their first girlfriend.
But even worse, Twilight is eradicating the idea of female desire and sexuality. In the new movie, when Edward flees out of fear of introducing Bella to something dangerous — like his penis, for example — she takes up with a werewolf. And, surprise, she doesn’t have sex with him, either.
She doesn’t want a boyfriend, she wants a chaste mythical figure to protect her and keep her safe and virginal. She doesn’t have or need sexual desire. In Meyer’s world, girls can fall in love without ever wanting to have sex. There’s certainly nothing wrong with the message that girls don’t have to put out if they don’t want to, but Meyer isn’t sending that message: She’s positing a world where sexual desire doesn’t exist.
What these relationships remind me of more than anything are the purity balls put on by the Christian right in the US.
“Take the latest trend in virginity worship: purity balls,” writes Jessica Valenti in her recent book, The Purity Myth. “Fathers escort their daughters to these prom-like balls, where at some point the girls recite a pledge vowing to be chaste until marriage and name their fathers as the ‘keepers’ of their virginity until a husband takes their place.”
Now leaving aside the fact that studies have shown this sort of crap doesn’t work, the whole idea is so far beyond creepy it leaves me speechless. Actually, a recent episode of the animated Cleveland Show addressed this very well. In the episode, Cleveland Brown Jr pledged his virginity to his father, who was forced to point out that the whole idea is to control girls’ sexuality.
In fact, though, the best real-life manifestation of the Twilight idea of sexuality is the Jonas Brothers. The boyband idols made headlines last year for wearing purity rings — as does fellow teen idol Miley Cyrus — because they say Jesus doesn’t want them to have sex before marriage. So all the little girls who fall in love with the Jonas boys or the boys who love Cyrus don’t have to worry about sex rearing its ugly head on either side.
Or take this whole Christian Side Hug thing. There’s a recent popular YouTube video showing a bunch of Christian rappers extolling the virtues of a side hug, because full frontal contact can be too arousing. “This ain’t no front hug zone,” one of the rappers told Britain’s Telegraph newspaper, adding that full frontal hugs should only be permitted after marriage. “Jesus never hugged nobody like that.”
The whole thing seems too ridiculous to be taken seriously. But the links on the video to a California evangelical ministry called The Father’s House are real. And while this is obviously taking things to a ludicrous extreme, it is the same sort of thinking put forward by the Twilight movies and books.
Not only is this an unrealistic version of young sexuality, it’s denying a crucial part of the human experience to young minds and psyches. Contrast the Twilight approach with that of the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, still the best look at teenage life through the prism of the supernatural.
In Buffy, vampires are still bloodsucking creatures of the night. Even the good ones can’t go out in the daylight. And while neither Angel nor Spike kill humans anymore, they do both have incredibly bloody pasts which periodically crop up. More importantly in this context, they both have sex with Buffy — although not, unfortunately, at the same time.
Admittedly, the first time Angel does Buffy, he unleashes a curse that costs him his soul and makes him revert to the evil Angelus, and Buffy has to kill him and send him to hell. But he eventually recovers his soul and becomes good again. The point is that Buffy enjoys the sex and it certainly does not ruin her teenage years. Indeed, it appears to make her happy.
The vampires in Buffy continue to be, throughout the show, representative of real sexuality. Because that mixture of lust, love and danger is what life is about, not the sanitized, desexed, defanged version presented by Twilight and its like-minded religious brethren.