Unless you live in a promotion-proof bunker, you know that today is the release date for “New Moon,” the movie based on the second of Stephenie Meyer’s four amazingly popular “Twilight” books for young adults. These hyper-dramatic romance novels about the sparkling emo vampire and the girl who loved him send teen girls squealing loudly enough to kill small animals. And while I enjoy a good love story, there are some seriously creepy messages in “Twilight” about what is and isn’t romantic. I want to know who the hell decided to market “Twilight” to teens and tweens.
Case in point: our 17-year-old heroine, Bella, spends the majority of “New Moon” trying to kill herself because her zombie boyfriend, Edward, has broken up with her. Well, technically, she’s throwing herself into potentially lethal situations because it causes her to hallucinate Edward’s voice screaming at her for being a melodramatic cretin. But if she does die in the process, Bella assures us she’s fine with it, because her life is officially over now and “the sheer beauty of (Edward’s voice) amazed me. I couldn’t allow my memory to lose it, no matter the price.” According to Meyer’s website, we shouldn’t judge Bella for any of this because this is how people behave when they lose true love.
Yeah. This isn’t My Little Pony.
The Yellow Ribbon Teen Suicide Prevention Program, apparently the last people on Earth whose brains haven’t been shorted out by glitter, issued a warning that a movie presenting suicide as romantic might not be such a good thing to show to teenagers, especially if they share Bella’s low self-esteem. Across more than 2,200 pages, Bella moans incessantly about how she is “hideous” and “worthless.” Unfortunately, these are feelings that a lot of teen girls can identify with. Thanks in part to the Ralph Lauren school of beauty, American girls are undergoing what many mental health professionals call “a crisis of self-esteem,” obsessing over being attractive and accepted by peers. This is more than typical teen angst — the last twenty years have seen skyrocketing rates in depression, eating disorders and self-mutilation among young women.
It’s Edward’s acceptance, I think, that makes him so appealing to girls. When you feel imperfect, the idea of a perfect guy who will wrap you in his scintillating arms and whisper his devotion for twelve paragraphs is a powerful and comforting fantasy. But Bella never learns to value herself, continuing her tirade right up until the last book. Instead, she bases her entire sense of self on Edward’s attention. As Robert Pattinson, the actor who plays Edward, put it, “she doesn’t really get fixed, she just gets this addiction … she becomes completely dependent.”
How dependent? When Edward leaves, even if it’s just for a weekend, we are treated to dazzling descriptions of Bella having what sound a hell of a lot like panic attacks. “I would rather die than stay away from you,” she informs Edward, and as “New Moon” proves, she wasn’t kidding around. She confesses she doesn’t have much of a life outside of Edward — friends, hobbies or a personality — because her life is Edward. I should probably also throw out there that Meyer’s characters consistently praise Bella for being mature for her age.
Basing your self-worth around the approval of someone else leaves you wide open for abusive relationships, and Edward often isn’t the best boyfriend this side of a restraining order. He yells, intimidates and chastises Bella as if she were a child. While Bella confesses she’s afraid of his “black moods,” she blames her own inadequacy for his behavior. It takes Edward cutting her car’s brakes and placing her under house arrest to get Bella angry, but even then, she succumbs to his will and never considers leaving him. After all, his sister assures Bella while she’s locked up in Edward’s house that he’s only doing it because he loves her.
I understand that “Twilight” is fantasy, but abusive relationships, dependency and teen suicide are pretty high on my list of things that aren’t romantic. Teen girls are taking the series very seriously, even obsessively, reading the books several times a week. On one thread I ran across on Yahoo! Answers, a reader said, “I HAVE to read it or I break down crying.”
However much we may enjoy the good points of “Twilight,” publisher Little, Brown & Company had a responsibility to make sure the books were appropriate before spending several million dollars promoting them. We’ve been blinded by dazzle. The time to start asking questions is long overdue.
Eileen Stahl is an LSA senior.