Saturday, June 11, 2011

Man bites: The fetish cheese that is Twilight

In a 12-hour span yesterday, I went from being blissfully ignorant of the Twilight saga to having seen two of the three movies (New Moon and Eclipse). It's not my fault, I promise.

Bravo to Hollywood for thinking outside the box on these movies. Typically, producers of mainstream motion pictures insist that their products have elements that appeal to diverse demographics; this is why virtually every awesome action movie hiccups with romance and toys, and why Sex and the City has “sex” right there in the title. Because it’s impossible to appeal to literally everyone, attempts to do so usually do a disservice to the final product.

Well, the Twilight saga has none of that. It’s targeted to women the way restaurants calculate the perfect balance of salt, sugar and fat to make your entree delicious. The movies play so perfectly to a variety of feminine emotions that watching them is like taking a multivitamin for the soul. Or maybe narcotics for the soul.

Every close-up of Edward lasts 37 minutes. Jacob never wears a shirt, because why would he? Bella’s angsty angst shines through even when she isn’t in the same country as the scene unreeling. In the name of love, lust and emotional conflict, amen.

The Twilight series, at its core, is a soap opera. I spent many a childhood summer afternoon watching soap operas with my grandmother, and even then I noticed a disconnect between the drama on screen and the relative banality of my daily life. At some point, I asked, “Why are their lives so dripping with conflict?” I imagine this happened soon after I learned about the word “conflict.”

Granted, any good story has to have conflict. To paraphrase the teacher who taught me about conflict, you don’t want to hear a story about how someone had the best day ever.

True. Something like that would only ignite the angst within me.

On the other hand, I have the same issue with Twilight that I have with any Ayn Rand book or movie: the protagonists are often hard to relate to. And by that I mean, you root for their happiness and success, but it’s difficult to picture them ever having a happy or otherwise light moment. Bella, in particular, broods so much that I found myself looking forward to Edward and Jacob fighting with each other, because at least that’s relatable. As cranky, snarky and cynical as I can be at times, I still have long stretches where life is normal and fun. Because who needs this kind of conflict swirling around you 24/7?

Which is why, over the course of watching the films, I created my own Twilight character: Jim. I introduced him in a scene where Bella, Edward and Jacob were together and the tension was smoldering like an appletini. The scene represented the classic choice that Bella must make, as does anyone torn between two loves: who to choose? It’s a loaded cinematic trope, one that keeps even casual fans on the edge of their seats. Indeed, any edge of any seat throughout the history of film. It gets to the very essence of the human condition.

Being me, of course, I wondered aloud, “Why are these drama-laden guys her only choices? Wasn’t there a Saved By The Bell episode where the girl rightfully chose neither?”

Enter Jim — a guy not only as ripped as Jacob and as appealing as Edward, but who also has the benefit of not being a bloodthirsty animal. He swoops in, takes Bella by the arm and says with an unreal level of charm, “Forget all this bestiality. Come with me!” Bella falls head over angst in love, and they live happily ever angst.

I’m not saying that would make a better movie, but it would be funny to me, at least.

But I do understand the appeal of the Twilight series: porn. It’s porn for hopeless-romantic women. That’s why the camera lingers over the men, and they show Bella only from the neck up. And why they talk so much about how they’re (mostly) over 18, in accordance with Section 18 U.S.C. 2257.

I’m fascinated, and pretty much always have been, with how pop culture depicts and dictates what makes a guy sexy. And I’m sure many of my fellow men can attest to how crummy it feels when that person looks and sounds nothing like yourself. So thanks, Edward and Jacob! And Justin Bieber!

And Savage Garden, while we're at it. “I’ll be your dream / I’ll be your wish / I’ll be your fantasy.” Man, that’s work! And work is for motorcycles.

Which reminds me...New Moon has a segment involving the rebuilding of motorcycles, with one shot of parts organized across a blanket. And for that brief moment, those parts were my Edward.

So ladies, Twilight away. But never forget, all of us guys have something special within us, even if we aren’t Robert Pattinson with sparkly scarecrow makeup or Taylor Lautner with bite-me abs. If nothing else, we’re real at least.



venessalewis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
venessalewis said...

Ok, been meaning to comment in full once I had some time. Although, we've discussed a lot of my issues last night already. First, you rock for watching not one but both movies in a day. Although, if I really thought you'd hate it, I wouldn't have subjected you to it. I knew, at the very least, you'd get some laughs and good blog out of it. As usual, I was right ;)

If I were evil, I would have insisted you watch Legend. But I knew you wouldn’t be entertained by that, I that would just be selfish of me. Ridley Scott tries too hard and I love him for it. Legend is a movie to be visually devoured and appreciated and it is not a movie you can do running commentary on.

Twilight touts absolutely no pretense, and that's part of the charm, frankly. It's completely self -indulgent, like eating a huge chunk of buttercream cake and washing it down with a cherry snowball. You are right about the porn bit- it appeals to women the same way that sports or superhero movies appeal to men. It your base biological desires on display in a perfect world. But, while the movie swirls with angsty conflict, it allows the viewer to escape to a place of fun, beauty and romance if only for a little while. Any movie that can do that is successful IMO. There's a time for serious, meaningful art/cinema, but sometimes people just want a cheap thrill, especially when their day to day lives are a trudgery of monotony. I adore movies like Braveheart and Gone with the Wind, but different moods call for different movies, and Twilight never fails to make me smile and get excited about life, love and magic.

I told you this, but I want it preserved for posterity here. I worry less about people who get swept up in Twilight than I do about people who hate on it so spitefully. It isn't the men....sure, men aren't the target audience and probably have the same sort of shoulder shrug disregard for it that I have for oh, football. It's women who have a superiority complex and deem anything mainstream too distasteful for their discriminating palates. It is the hipster faux elite attitude in full force and I refuse to be manipulated by that. I base my tastes on my gut reactions to the experience, not what I perceive my intellectual friend's notions of me will be when they find out what my likes and dislikes are, because people are much deeper than that.

So, bring on Breaking Dawn! I know you’ll never admit it here, but I bet you’ll watch it, you might even be a tad excited. I know you, and there’s hope for you yet. :D

Becca said...

Ian -- what kind of appletinis are you drinking, man??

Okay, so you can brand me one of the haters, but seriously, there's only so much of the angst I can watch. It's not me hating it because it's mainstream, it's me hating it because Bella is stuck in this rut where she gets everything handed to her little teenage self, and she has no idea how ultimately bad it would be to get everything you've ever wanted wrapped up and presented to you. She doesn't want anything better for herself, but simply a guy to love, protect, and control her every move. It really irritates me, and if that makes me guilty of having a superiority complex, then fine, I'll take it. I'll take it, knowing that I've read all four of the books, so it's not me judging it on anything else other than my own experience with it.

*steps down off of her soapbox and waits to but advance tickets to Captain America*