Twilight is upon us again. New Moon is taking the box-office by storm. Hordes of marauding, hormonal females swarm into cinemas across the country, nay, the world, and work themselves into a gibbering frenzy at the prospect of another couple of hours in the company of pasty, glittering vampires and buffed up, semi-naked werewolves.
New Moon is going to be a huge hit, no doubt about it, but it is unlikely to reach very far outside its core audience, remaining a mystery to those of us who were not won over by the original film's ponderous teen-angst. This inevitable popularity is a source of much morbid fascination to me; what is it about this series of books and films which can cause so many people to overlook its myriad shortcomings and deem it the best thing since the invention of the bread knife?
The backbone of the tale of Twilight is a love story between a vampire and a human, but their love is a gratingly simple, love-for-love's-sake romance, with little actually connecting the two characters beyond him properly wanting to eat her, and her thinking he's, like, totally hot and mysterious and stuff. They mooch around a lot and then some bad vampires show up to introduce a bit of third-act jeopardy, and then the first film ends.
New Moon sees the introduction of a bunch of werewolves or something who are literally so hot they have to have their tops off all the time, and they don't like vampires. The main girl cock-teases one of these wolfmen to prove she's still got it when the vampire ditches her for her own safety.
There's a lot of teenage self-importance, as everyone acts like any given event is the most important moment in their entire life, and the main girl mopes in a chair for three months when she gets dumped, before jumping off a cliff. This is the protagonist. The person we are supposed to root for.
It is this inability to relate to the characters that puts me at an immediate disadvantage. Bella is a selfish, self-important child, who actually wants to become a vampire. Everyone knows that anyone who wants to become immortal, especially a vampire, is cruising for a bruising, but she just sees it as a surefire happily-ever-after clause for her and the human glitter-ball.
Edward is an overbearing weirdo. He's a hundred years old and still goes to high school? He and his "siblings" go to school, sit at their own table, don't interact with anyone and sit through lessons they've experienced a hundred times before. Why? Is there nothing better to do with immortality than hang around the playground? Is this a character with believable motivations, or is Edward at high school simply because the author needed him to be there for the story to start and to make it relatable for her teenage target-market? "I could start a new school and meet a beautiful stranger who turned out to be a vampire and could turn me into one and we could live happily ever after! Sqweeeee!"
This "aspirational fantasy" tone is the source of a lot of the problems with these stories. Author Stephenie Meyer has taken established vampire lore and put her own spin on it, for certain, but her version of vampire mythology is singularly uninteresting and dramatically muted.
What was compelling about vampires was always the concept that immortality came at a price. Hey, you wanna live forever? Well, you can! But you'll be eternally damned, unable to walk in sunlight without burning up, cursed with an insurmountable bloodlust and generally lead a miserable, brutal, lonely existence.
Meyer's vampires are presented as some kind of romantic ideal, as something to aspire to. Vampires via the Ikea catalogue. The Cullens are a middle-class family who live in a smashing, modern house, they're all beautiful and friendly and don't burn up in the sunlight. They twinkle in the sunlight. Twinkle. Like they're covered in glitter. Teenage girls love glitter, right? And they love hot guys, right? BINGO! Hot guys that GLITTER! It's like printing money...
The vampires of Twilight are vampires with the sharp edges taken off. De-fanged. Neutered. Their curse is one of eternal mediocrity.
And now, from what I've seen, she is giving werewolves the same treatment. Lycanthropy is, again, traditionally a curse. What made it interesting was the idea that a person could entirely lose control of the metaphorical beast within and unleash a literal beast, often without ever knowing it. The transformation will be agonising and debasing, as the human is essentially consumed by the primal animal.
New Moon seems to depict its werewolves as another teen-friendly tone-down of this concept. The ability to change instantaneously and at will removing any of the dark burden of the beast and making it more like a neat superpower. Compare the transformation in "American Werewolf" with Jacob Black's mid-air "POOF! I'm a wolf now!" routine in New Moon, and you'll see what I'm getting at.
Meyer creates a limp narrative which is simple, blank and inoffensive enough for the reader to paint their own image onto. Readers can yearn for their own Edward, think how awesome it would be to become a vampire, to be friends with a werewolf, without ever being presented with the essential conflicts, questions and resonances that the best literary and cinematic examples of these supernatural creatures express.
A common defence of Twilight is that it is "not-to-be-taken-seriously" and is a "bit-of-fun", and while I have found much to laugh at in both Twilight and New Moon, I doubt much of it was intentional. The films and books have a relentlessly po-faced, moody air of angst to them which renders the superficial conflicts and overwrought drama unintentionally camp and hilarious. Plus, any film series that refers to itself, without a hint of irony, as a "Saga" is taking itself very seriously indeed.
So, does a love of Twilight stem from an inability to recognise the flaws in both the novels and the films, a conscious disregard for these problems, or an all-out embracing of them? I leave you with the single greatest defence of Twilight-love I have ever heard:
"i do understand that its shit but its like kfc, you know its made out of disabled chickens but its still delicious."
You can't argue with that.