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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

“In ‘Twilight,’ love bites”

­Imagine teaching an adolescent girl that the way to tell whether her sweetheart truly loves her is by assessing whether he attempts to control her every move, prevents her from having any freedom “”for her own good,”” forces her into marrying him through threats and coercion, or constantly undermines her self-esteem.

If that young girl is reading or watching Stephenie Meyer’s “”Twilight”” saga, that’s exactly what she’s learning. The series contains a dark message for its young readers: love should hurt. Not just “”he thirsts for my blood but abstains, how romantic”” hurt; love should be controlling, abusive and cruel.

In a scene midway through “”Eclipse,”” the most recent “”Twilight”” film, Bella, the series’ heroine, attempts to drive to her best friend Jacob’s house. But when she tries to start her car the engine merely whines feebly. Then, with a startling thud, Edward, her vampire boyfriend, appears in the passenger’s seat. “”Did you do this to my car?”” she demands.

Indeed, he did. Edward doesn’t find Jacob a suitable companion for Bella, and resorts to theft and vandalism to keep them apart. Bella, of course, sighs happily because the freakish, abusive action proves that Edward loves her so much!

Both the novels and films in the “”Twilight”” saga are littered with such moments. In a shudder-worthy scene, the reader learns that Edward spends his evenings in Bella’s bedroom watching her sleep for months before the two even become a couple. Throughout the series, he exerts a bizarre amount of power over Bella’s life. When, in the dismal second installment, he breaks up with her, Bella becomes a shell of a human being. She feels like Edward’s absence has blown a ragged hole through the middle of her body, a wound that won’t heal even after months of separation.

Instead of pointing out how unhealthy Bella and Edward’s codependent and obsessive relationship is, the books and films tell the opposite story. This is true love, Bella thinks, and “”Twilight”” fans learn to think it right along with her. Bella’s parents, and even Jacob, her werewolf bestie-turned-heartthrob, sometimes act as much-needed voices of reason, but Bella and her millions of fans ignore them, assuming that they just can’t understand how she feels about Edward. It’s a classic story of a heroine’s passions being underestimated and misunderstood, only in this case, those passions trap Bella in a controlling relationship with a dangerously unstable undead fiend.

This is what girls who love “”Twilight”” are learning they should want from love. Suddenly, their idea of romance involves pain and danger and requires loving one person so much that you’ll gladly give up your life to be with him, and just him, forever. Bella’s condition throughout the series gives new meaning to “”lovesick.”” Loving Edward makes her more than a little insane, and it seems Meyer and her legions of fans think this is how it should be. In “”Twilight,”” love is not patient; love is not kind. Love is maddening and alienating, painful and almost impossible to bear.

The truly scary thing about the “”Twilight”” phenomenon is not how appallingly poor the writing and acting are, although between Meyer’s glut of modifiers and Kristen Stewart’s incessant lip-biting, both leave much to be desired. The real horror comes from how much stories like “”Twilight”” set young women back in the quest for safety and equality in relationships. Feminism-schmeminism; if women are looking for an Edward, they’re setting themselves up for emotional and physical abuse, and learning to equate that abuse with affection. When Edward tells Bella his violent, controlling actions are “”for her own good,”” she buys it, and so do “”Twilight”” fans. If that’s the literature young women are reading, how can anyone expect them to extricate themselves from their own unhealthy relationships?

Bella Swan should be a modern young woman’s anti-role model, an example of all the ways not to have a relationship. Instead, all those bitten by the “”Twilight”” bug envy Bella and her “”perfect”” — read, emotionally abusive and wholly freaky — relationship with her “”perfect”” — read, obsessive, violent and controlling — vampire. It’s hard to see how gender equality and healthy relationships can win when every adolescent girl is hoping to be swept off her feet by Edward Cullen.

­— Heather Price-Wright is a creative writing senior. She can be reached at

 letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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