Monday, August 4, 2008

Martha Brockenbrough just doesn't get it

I read an article by the aforementioned Martha Brockenbrough (aka Cinemama, no I am not making that up) that questioned the value of the Twilight series. http://movies.msn.com/movies/pmg/twilight/ I would say debated the merits of the series, but that isn't what she achieved. I don't have a problem with people not enjoying the same books I do (although at times I do question their taste depending on what book they don't like) because reading is a deeply personal thing and not everyone enjoys everything. But I have a serious problem with Ms. Brockenbrough's article and arguments.

Let me be perfectly frank. I think romance novels are escapist fantasy, and that is what the Twilight series ultimately is; a paranormal young adult romance. I also happen to think that there is a place for romance novels. Sure, there is an awful lot of tripe in the genre, but then again, there is an awful lot of junk published across the board. I don't think that the Twilight series, however much I enjoy it, is a paragon of great literature, but it is darn good and certainly entertaining. So here is the rub.

There are many reasons for me to disagree with Ms. Brockenbrough. She claims that she enjoys the books and in fact has read the first three installments twice. But despite her enjoyment of the books she does not want her daughters to read them. This in my view, qualifies her as a hypocrite. Despite her purported familiarity with the texts she filled her article with factual errors. I can think of four of the top of my head, which is pretty shabby for a two page article where a portion of it was written by someone else. She also calls the books creams puffs and yet fails to offer a single suggestion of books that are "better." But never mind all of those factors. The purpose of this post is not to dissect her writing capabilities or take her to task for these failings. Ms. Brockenbrough does have one valid point. Edward and Bella's relationship is unequal, not just because of their biology (Edward is a vampire after all) but because of their financial status (the Cullens are loaded). This is a fairly typical trait of romance novels, it creates an internal level of tension that the couple has to deal with. It is not unique to Twilight. This imbalance bothers Ms. Brockenbrough immensely though, because in her eyes, it makes Bella a weak character.

This conclusion is faulty. Yes, she is physically weaker than supernatural beings, she is human after all, and comparing her to Hermione is an apples to oranges comparison. (So is comparing her to Buffy as one responder did on the message boards because Buffy was also not a strictly human girl). Writing Bella off for being human is unfair, and discrediting her for not bringing anything to her relationship with Edward demonstrates an absence of thought on the part of the reader. Bella is a hugely humanizing influence on Edward and his family. She is a loyal friend and daughter, intelligent, brave, and frequently makes very mature and difficult decisions. She also accepts the consequences of her justified "bad behavior" without complaint. But this is apparently not good enough for Cinemama. She thinks Bella sets a bad example for teenage girls. She sees no reason for Edward or Jacob (a werewolf)to be interested in this human girl accept that it brings out the hero complex in them. Please.

What is more dangerous? A story where a normal girl gets an extraordinary guy? Or a story where an extraordinary girl gets an extraordinary guy? How is the Twilight series any more dangerous or unrealistic than Pride & Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Jane Eyre and the like? All three of these books feature unequal relationships where the female is in the inferior societal position. Where is the bile for Jane Austen and the Brontes? Oh wait, those books are literature whereas the Twilight series is young adult fluff. (I cannot abide a double standard).

Why do so many feminists espouse this concept that any female who does not adhere to their ideals is somehow not just inferior, but dangerous? Ms. Brockenbrough just loves Hermione, waxes poetic about her virtues, but completely disregards her short comings. (And she does have them. That's why she is a complex character). Reading about Hermione will empower young girls according to Ms. Brockenbrough. Reading about Bella, on the other hand, will cause teenage girls everywhere to sit around waiting for a boy to bite them on their neck. Thank you so much Ms. Brockenbrough, for insulting the entire female population. Do people not realize, that when you criticize entertainment for "giving girls the wrong idea" (not factual errors mind you, or promoting genuinely dangerous behaviors, but more abstract concepts) that you are implying that girls are too stupid to make critical judgments about their lives? Do they seriously think that a perfectly well-adjusted girl is going to watch Grease and think "that's it! I'll compromise myself to fit in with his friends!"? And if a young woman isn't well-adjusted it has to do with way more than a fondness for romance novels or musicals. (Notice that no one gets up in arms over My Fair Lady because Eliza changes for the better). No one says these things about Batman. Think how absurd they would sound if they went around saying things like "Bruce Wayne is a psychologically damaged character and young men shouldn't be exposed to this sort of thing, or they will emulate him."

Yes, the media does influence us, but more often than not it is subtly, a slow permeation if you will. But instead of criticizing the media for the sexualization of pre-teens and teenagers, the glorification of trashy behavior, and the promotion of the self-serving sense of entitlement that is so prevalent in today's society, Ms. Brockenbrough chooses to dump on a popular series of books because the heroine isn't "tough" enough. How is that helpful? Women having been worrying about adhering to their society's ideals for millennia. This is nothing new. Putting down a character who is very much like your average teenage girl only makes it worse. Because what Ms. Brockenbrough has just said in her article is that the girls in this world who relate more to Bella than Hermione aren't good enough as they are and that it doesn't make sense to her that a guy would be interested in a girl like that. And frankly, I do not hold with that. That attitude, especially in another woman, a mother, and one would gather from her sentiments someone who considers herself to be a feminist, is far more damaging and dangerous than any romance novel could ever be.

1 comment:

Mockingbird said...

Word!

(Sorry - I always wanted to do that, though.)

It's a messy argument she's making - reading is good, but we must shield impressionable young ladies from such dangerous things as books, for that is where they may get their ideas. So these particular books may be okay for grown-ups (who, presumably, know that they are fantasy), but not for teens (who, presumably, are confused on that point).

I am reminded of Joss Whedon's retort to an interviewer who asked him to clarify a minor point about a particular Buffy episode, "Umm, you do realize that vampires aren't real, right?" It's not about the vampires, people! It's about the relationships and yes, the lessons.

Is the book entertaining? Does the narrative celebrate virtues such as compassion and the difficulty of making solid moral decisions? Those are useful questions. And sometimes, the damsel (whether or not in distress) can be an interesting character.

Okay, off soapbox now.