Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Is Twilight Porn in Print?

I read an interesting review of the Twilight books that went to great lengths to explain why the books should be considered porn in print. The following was my response:

1) Pornography without sex is not pornography, in my opinion. Just as we should avoid restricting our definition of pornography in such a way that we allow soft core porn to go unlabeled, we also need to avoid the Victorian impulse to widen the definition to such a degree that it encompasses nearly everything that arouses sexually - including lingerie and erotic language and other things that are perfectly appropriate within a marriage. It's a fine line, but it's a line that can be as destructive on one side as on the other.

2) Why is "sexless romance" a bad thing for teenagers? These are teenagers! What's the proper alternative for those who feel they love each other?

To deny sexual attraction and tension in teenage relationships is very dangerous and ignorant. I know a young woman who grew up hearing that sex was dirty and horrible (and that "good girls" don't like sex before marriage). When she first felt aroused and realized how good it felt, she automatically labeled herself a bad girl and decided she might as well enjoy it. A teenage pregnancy later . . .

Again, why is sexless romance a bad thing? We live in a sexually arousing world. My teenagers are going to be sexually aroused - my boys AND my girls. Writing about sexual tension and desire that remains unconsummated is a bad thing? What should we do - write things that don't mention sexual desire or write about giving in to it? I only see those three options. Am I missing one?

3) I understand intellectually the concerns others have about the books, especially some of the messages it can send girls, but I like the message it sends to boys. Bella really loves Edward, and, like many young women, she is trusting and vulnerable - and it would be easy for Edward to take advantage of her. He doesn't. He respects her, literally rising above his nature in more ways than one to exercise self-control and help make the relationship work and flourish without sex. Yep, what a lousy example that is for teenagers. Girls certainly shouldn't fall in love with boys who have excellent self-control and don't try to have sex with them.

4) My daughters are huge fans, and they understand the issues everyone highlights. Their response to me when we discuss the books is the same one I hear from nearly all of their friends:

"We have a choice between books that glorify sex (or assume it's no big deal and unavoidable), sappy books that deny sexual attraction altogether or books that admit it up front and say it's OK to not give in - and that says boys are just as responsible for that as girls. Which option is the most realistic? Which one would you rather have us read?"

I understand what they are saying and, given many of the alternatives out there, I can't argue with it.

5) Plus, to reiterate for those of you who haven't read the books or seen the movie, Edward is not a "bad boy". He only looks like a bad boy to those who don't know him - who judge him based on his appearance. There is a huge difference, and it gets botched constantly in reviews by adults I read. Again, the alternative is to look at someone and judge them based on first visual impression. How is that a good thing?

Do I love the books? Not really. I just disagree strongly with many reviews, and calling them "porn" really, really bothers me.

11 comments:

Cynthia L. said...

Haha, oh, memories. I think I actually agree with your analysis more than the other points of view (including my own post!). Funny how sometimes that happens--I write a post saying one thing, and the commenters actually succeed in talking me out of it.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you.
I only want to add that from what I remember about being a teenage girl, the hormones were all about wanting a guy to be in love with me. That is where the "danger" lies with a lot of girls. They want that emotional closeness.
Twilight really tapped into that. I didn't read all of the books but I have seen all the movies. The third movie, for instance, has two boys completely in love with Bella. It is a little too intoxicating.
I think that talking to girls about their emotional needs being extra strong because of their "hormones" is helpful rather than just talking about hormones as a physical thing (which is the more typical male experience). Its not that girl don't experience the physical, but I think it is a little more likely that it is the emotional neediness that is pushing the physical.
So while I think describing Twilight as "porn" is completely out of proportion, I think that it is entertainment that pushes those particular buttons and as an adult woman I can feel it pushing those buttons and see what it is tapping into.
Twilight is definitely a good discussion book with teenagers. I definitely talked to my daughter about the Romeo & Juliet suicide theme in the second book as well as the idea that if a guy breaks up with you you ought to be able to walk the 100 yards home, not collapse in the woods and need to be rescued.

SilverRain said...

One of my biggest issues is that Bella is so vapid. And I believe that those who say it isn't porn don't account for the differences in male and female sexuality. It may not be classic porn, but I think there is value in drawing the parallel.

ESPECIALLY once they are married. It has definite overtones of BDSM, which to me is entirely inappropriate in OR out of marriage.

Michael said...

Remember that Edward is a couple of hundred years old and Bella is 17. That is pure perversion and abuse of the young, is it not?

Jettboy said...

I understand what you are saying, but I disagree with your analysis of the innocents of these books. To say its porn might be going too far, but I would very much not consider it a good example of teenage romance. No matter how much in self-control Edward is, the situations he puts her in can easily lead to going all the way. Saying that isn't denying teenage hormones of boys and girls, but acknowledging it and protecting against the possible inevitability of unformed maturity.

Bella and Edward are very serious and constantly alone. Half that alone time is in his or her bedroom. He stalks her and gets in jealous rage at times. These books are filled with bad choices where the words and outcomes of the characters aren't realistic if it (minus the supernatural) really happened. What happened on the consummation of the wedding would have taken place the first few months of High School; beaten up and pregnant with an unwanted baby.

One argument I am sick of is that he is more than 100 and she is in the middle of her high school teen years, therefore its pedophile. That is taking the literalness of the story beyond the self-contained world of the text. He and his siblings, no matter how many solar years they might have, are perpetual teenagers who finish High School. This is known as a conceit to fit the book's story for dramatic purposes. The critic might as well say that Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a teenage mass murderer.

Rich Alger said...

I really think that I cannot characterize it as porn or not. If it does effect women in a somewhat similar way perhaps. I tend to agree with what you posted.

Maybe this is a threadjack but SilverRain posted what I thought was one of the best series on what pornography is and why it is so destructive. It was the connection to the destruction of agency that was so enlightenting.

Why Pornography is Wrong (It's Not Really About Sex)

Of Course There Is Nothing Wrong With Porn

Proud Daughter of Eve said...

I'm not a big fan of the series. I do like the aspects mentioned in the OP about male self-control and responsibility but there are a lot of other overtones I see, like Edward being just plain controlling and Bella not having any emotions or thoughts that do not involve Edward.

Edward is not actually centuries old, though. He was "turned" during the Spanish Influenza in the early 20th century. He is still quite a lot older than Bella but I wonder - if his brain didn't finish developing as it should have, then technically, he's just a 70-year old 17-year old. He has the age but not the maturation.

Anonymous said...

I have to add that I absolutely do agree that I consider it a positive thing about that book that they don't have sex and it is the guy who is holding off. While other things might be a little problematic, I think that this was a positive thing.

SilverRain said...

Thanks, Rich!

Anonymous—That argument is more than a little spurious to me, considering the creepy and controlling tendencies he has in every other way.

In my mind, he holds back because that is one of the things that inflames women, not because he's of a noble OR respectful mindset.

Papa D said...

I've been traveling all day and unable to check in, and I just lost a long response, so here's the summary (*grin):

Cynthia, I thought you'd recognize the reference.

Anonymous, excellent mention of the emotional aspect of romance and attraction.

SilverRain, I agree about Bella being vapid. It's one reason I didn't really like the books.

Michael, what the others said in response. Not an issue for me at all.

Jettboy, I also don't like all the time they were alone - or the stalking - or the unreality of it. That doesn't affect the porn debate, however.

Rich, great posts. I thought so when I first read them, and I appreciate you linking them.

PDofE, I agree - more reasons why I didn't really like the books all that much.

SilverRain, honestly, I think there is a bit of projection happening in the last paragraph of your last comment. I don't buy it that he holds back in order to inflame, since we never read of him letting go once someone is inflamed (and after marriage doesn't count for me in this case with regard to the issue of the post, your valid concerns about the nature of the sex that is mentioned notwithstanding). His relationship with Bella is the only one we have, and I just don't see that motivation in that relationship. I think he holds back because he comes to love her and doesn't want to take advantage of her in that way - all the other issues aside.

SilverRain said...

I don't think I explained what I meant very well. I don't mean that Edward held back because HE wanted to inflame. I think that he held back because Stephenie Meyer wanted to inflame, whether consciously or subconsciously. I believe that in her mind, she was trying to create the most attractive possible man, and that man was Edward.