I went to see ‘New Moon’ with some friends at the weekend and had a helluva lot of fun. Ever been to the cinema in the USA and remarked just how much the audience gets into the film? Well, Saturday night’s audience was like that. This does NOT happen in Britain. Seriously, people were laughing, ‘aww’-ing, clapping, and even hooting when Taylor Lautner took his shirt off. And when Edward proposed to Bella at the end, everyone cheered. It was the most fun I have ever had at the cinema, full stop.
Nevertheless, I thought the film had some interesting dynamics re: gender and sexuality (and not necessarily in a good way). The usual stuff of Bella being entirely defined by which fella she’s with, the slightly ominous domestic-violence undertones (boys will be boys, especially if they’re uber-strong monsters), the constant damsel-in-distress act…Regarding sexuality, of course the vampire genre has long been used as a forum for dealing with society’s fears and questions about sex, and Stephanie Meyers reconfigures this plot is a metaphor for abstinence:
[Bella’s] physical safety becomes a symbolic substitute for her virginity, and Edward guards it with overprotective zeal. Now that’s a real fantasy: a world where young women are free to describe their desires openly, and launch themselves at men without shame, while said boyfriends are the sexual gatekeepers. Twilight‘s sexual flowchart is the inversion of abstinence-only/purity ball culture, where girls are told that they must guard themselves against rabid boys, and that they must reign in both their own and their suitors’ impulses. But even while inverting the positions, Meyer doesn’t change the game…Men, or vampires, are still dangerous and threatening while females are still breakable and fragile.
(via Sarah Seltzer)
Thus, Bella’s virginity is symbolised by her physical safety, which gives rise to the extremely problematic eroticisation of domination and violence and the association of sex with danger. As mentioned in the above quote, however, there are moments of ‘discursive struggle’ in the film wherein cultural norms are negotiated – namely, the inversion of the common paradigm of women as sexual gatekeepers. In Twilight, Edward is the one constantly holding back and restraining Bella’s desire for him, aware of the consequences of acting on his feelings, whereas Bella is uninhibited in the expression of her longing. This arrangement directly inverts the paradigm of not only contemporary American abstinence culture, but that of many other patriarchal societies throughout history, in which women are the gatekeepers of sexual morality. In this model, women are taught to guard themselves against uncontrollable male lust, and that they must take responsibility for not only their own desires but those of their male suitors. In Twilight, however, it is Edward who puts the breaks on whenever their desires threaten to consume them. However, despite this subversion, sex is still equated with death and masculinity is still coded as dangerous or threatening.
There’s a deeper implication in the romance between the main character Bella — a human teenager — and Edward — a vampire immortal — that strongly suggests Mormon notions of sealed, eternal marriages and a god-like afterlife.
Generally, Mormons believe that true marriage is eternal, not temporal. If properly sealed in a Mormon temple, that marriage lasts beyond the earthly life into one in which human beings become godlike. The ceremonies occur in temple rooms walled by mirrors which reflect infinitely, suggesting the everlasting nature of the marriage being sealed. Even whole families can be sealed, not just spouses.
Wowzer! (Stephanie Meyers is, of course, a Mormon.) Interesting theology, although obviously problematic by Christian standards (see Matthew 22:30).
But all of this raises interesting questions for me. I’m interested in how Christians can involve themselves in the creation of culture without it necessarily coming across as contrived and didactic. There has to be some alternative to the ‘screw whoever you feel like’ ethic of most pop culture, but minus the casual misogyny of Twilight (overly-defined gender roles are what put me off abstinence culture in the first place – gosh I really need to do a series on sexual ethics, don’t I?) or the obvious sense of “we’re trying to get a message across”. Sexual ethics aside, I’m also interested because…well, I was chatting with Jim, my pastor, the other day, and he proposed that I stay in Canterbury vocationally for another year after my MA and start some sort of creativity-related ministry. I’m taking that as a sign that I’m meant to stay here a bit longer, as he’s confirming a general feeling I’ve been having of wanting to stick around a little longer, and is not the first to do so (Phil Togwell also remarked that it sounded like I should stay in Canterbury after graduation). What does that look like? A ministry to creatives? Or a ministry helping Christians get creative? What does Christian creation of culture entail? Sorry, but most Christian culture is abominable. How can we make it better? Am I called to help with that in some small way? This also relates – in a roundabout way – to my postgrad dissertation, where I’m writing about postmodern theology and the spiritual side of film.
Just to clarify, I actually don’t find Twilight’s abstinence theme all that contrived in and of itself once you do away with the irritating gender dynamics, although who knows who I would have felt about it five years ago…
(The title of this post, if you were wondering, is a quote from the film that had the whole audience in stitches – go see it!)
PS: If you want a great blog dissecting Christian culture in all its atrociousness, try Jesus Needs New PR…