Ask yourself: Was I one of the fawning multitudes that rushed to a theater last Thursday before midnight to see The Twilight Saga: New Moon? If the answer is yes, slap yourself audibly.
Second question: Was I surprised at all that the movie sucked? If the answer is yes, you’re probably one of those people who gets surprised when it gets dark at night. (Alaskan natives are the only ones excused.)
No matter which twilight surprised you more, there is the possibility you didn’t fall into either category. Maybe you did something else with your time than see the sequel to last year’s preteen phenomenon, or maybe you legitimately enjoyed the New Moon movie as much as or more than its prequel. The latter group can’t be helped.
Stephenie Meyer, the author of the book series that has morphed into Hollywood’s latest and ugliest cash-cow-with-golden-teats, would perhaps disagree. She might ask you your age. If you respond with a number higher than 12, she might smile politely, but inside her head, she’d be wondering what was wrong with you.
Stephen King wrote a scathing editorial on Ms. Meyer’s series. In a nutshell, the horror author compared her books to J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, minus the talent. Although Harry Potter is decidedly written in unchallenging supermarket-fiction prose, the names of people and places reflects a tendency toward archetype and allegory that infuses Rowling’s characters and settings with mythos and extra layers of allusion to good and evil and even Greek tragedy. Pretty ambitious of a children’s author, no? And the series lasted seven books, with thousands of interwoven stories with little to no inconsistency in detail. Meyer’s Twilight series is another thing entirely.
Traditional criticism would look to Meyer’s Mormon roots and find them scattered throughout her books about a shy high school wallflower falling knee deep into puppy love with a smoldering “vegetarian” vampire and his awkwardly unorthodox vamp family in Washington state. These vampires don’t drink human blood or turn into bats. They choose to survive on animals, goofily gallop vertically to treetops and sparkle in the sunlight rather than burst into ashen flames. That’s right. Their skin sparkles. Like Barbie snap bracelets.
Is Mormonism about glittering at high noon? No, but the austere lifestyle of chastity and piety sure does dwell opposite the deeply sexualized tradition of vampire lore. Vampires hypnotize with deep glares, they cannot come in unless invited and if they are allowed to suck on your neck, you could become prey or an eternally damned feral beast if your fluids intermingle. Replace “hypnotize” with “seduce,” and “eternally damned feral beast” with gonorrhea patient (and perhaps revise the specific type of sucking involved), and vampires are a complex euphemism for the sexual monstrosities of mankind. A Mormon vision of this lore would reduce the sexual overtones of bloodlust to a, well, smoldering sexual tension, a “look-but-never-touch” paradigm that Edward Cullen and his pale family’s tale can hang around in quite comfortably.
It’s too bad that most preteen girls and far too many older women desire the idealized relationship sphere Meyer unwittingly created. Alfred Hitchcock wrote about thrillers versus action movies, the former being the film where the bombs don’t go off. Well, as serial TV shows like Bones and the first few seasons of The Office have shown, nothing sells like the anticipation of sexual release. It heightens the pleasure, tension does. And preteen girls get a shockingly handsome vampire man, in the form of the hunky high school sweetheart, who stays out all night, has immense physical strength, metro-sexual body image issues, a need to protect the weak and, lastly, Meyer’s touch … the inability to act on his desires. He’s the Fonz, the star quarterback, the leather-clad biker boy in the Danzig t-shirt, but he won’t impregnate you.
And like the first time they saw The Backstreet Boys — personalized idols, five slightly different, one for every type of preteen girl — the shrieks filled the night when Twilight became a movie, and Robert Pattinson’s glazed half-smile lit up the silver screen as this unrealized desire manifest … the bad-boy-you-can-take-home-to-Mom.
Meyer wanted to write a fantasy romance for kids that ran deep and true to her values. Hollywood saw the preteen ideal and slapped a seven-digit-plus return on it. Was King fair in his critique? Yes and no. Ms. Meyer didn’t know what her work would mutate into.
And so now we have New Moon, and all the comically awful slow motion fight scenes and lip-biting melodramas have returned, with the added dimension of werewolves, billed as the ancient enemies of vampires. Guess no one really did go see Underworld, huh?
And now Taylor Lautner has beefed up his bod and represents a new protector for the ingénue at the story’s center. When the bad boy breaks your heart, who else to step in to the fantasy but the happy-go-lucky virgin best friend that you forgot wasn’t gay? All the posters now feature a trio of six-packed, tanned young men (supposedly members of the Quileute tribe). And millions, including college kids, are flocking to the theaters for a subpar story involving a vampire Vatican or some nonsense to that effect. What they’re paying for isn’t story or plot or believability, but the continuation of an exploitation of the juvenile female fantasy. I’ll pass, and so should those who don’t wholeheartedly believe they’ll meet their true love in college and marry in Sage Hall.