The Dawn Done Broke
By KickpuncherIf my parents hadn’t conceived me out of wedlock, it’d officially be my birthday today, so I’m going to celebrate as any self-respecting internet commentator would: by mocking Twilight. Of course, pretty much every conceivable angle has been covered on the series’s sexism, Mormonism, and whatever the hell a werewolf falling in love with a baby is (bestiality? Pedophilia? Blockofwoodphilia?). All that’s really left to ask is why is this shit so popular? What is Twilight? Where did it come from? Barring some Faustian deal, why in the hell would the most genre-savvy, tech-savvy, post-ironic generation in history fall for it?
Well, to answer that, we have to go way back. Back to caveman times. A time of man and dinosaur, or if you prefer to be lame and insist on scientific accuracy, man and woolly mammoths. At some point, someone had to invent the blowjob. Being a blowjob, it caught on fast. Pretty soon, everyone was blowjobbing. And for a while, things were fine. But then, people started worrying about how much blowjobbery was going on and they banned blowjobs. But then people wanted blowjobs back, so most people started doing blowjobs. Then they thought they were mistaken about blowjobs and only a few did them. Then a little more, with the blowjobs. Man, it’s like blowjob isn’t even a word anymore.
This back-and-forth went on and on with… just about everything. For every decadent Roman empire, there had to be a repressed Victorian age. To this day, we’re still pushing back against open sexuality, and pushing back against the pushback, and pushing back against the pushback to the pushback. On and on and on. Would it surprise you to know the first Emmanuelle movies were what we’d call arthouse movies? The tagline of the very first was “See it with someone you love.” Roger Ebert reviewed them.
Of course, now anyone with a modem can find Lisa Ann having sex with five black men by Googling “Elmo loves hugs,” so it’s easy to think that society has become more open sexually, when actually it’s just ghettoized. There were days when mainstream movies were NC-17; if that trend had continued, Captain America would have a scene where the audience got tickets to the hot dog stand instead of just the gun show. And things are just starting to (maybe) swing back: Shame is being released with an NC-17 rating and the entire rating system is getting more scrutiny than it usually gets, with premium cable just going “Fuck it” and showing whatever the hell people will pay for.
But in case you were wondering, this is why teen musician sex symbols used to be guys like Elvis, Prince, and Rick James, who were all about fucking you, and now are people like boy bands, who are–well, Lance Bass–or the Jonas Brothers, who just out and out wear purity rings. Hell, Justin Bieber’s balls haven’t even dropped. Why? Because they’re all about sex without sexuality. We are, as a culture, watching softcore porn.
But where does Twilight come in? The answer is, Twilight is the perfect storm. On the one side, you have teenage girls, and I don’t have to tell you that they’re not getting a healthy portrait of sexuality from the media. Take Glee, for example. We have Rachel, Tina, and Mercedes, who don’t have sex and are treated as our heroines. Then we have Quinn, a bitch who has sex and is a cheater/rape victim/teenage mom/self-esteem nightmare. Brittany, who is an idiot. Santana, who is also a bitch (and one who doesn’t enjoy sex, at that). Tellingly, in the very first episode, Rachel says that girls want to have sex just as much as guys. It’s just that… she never does have it. Sex without sexuality.
Or in The Secret Circle, where sexy Faye is a dangerous “bad girl” and heroine Cassie’s arc is all about not having sex with cute boy-who-likes-her John Connor (because he has a girlfriend, natch). That’s literally Cassie’s only personality trait. Melissa is also having sex, with a boy who A. doesn’t respect her at all, and B. dies just when he starts being nice with her. I’ll stop before the number of shows I watch about high school girls having sex gets creepy.
Add to that the “you will get raped” factor, there, I said it, that’s covered, and of course teenage girls are going to be insecure about their sexuality. That’s why they gravitate towards things that are sexual without being sexually threatening. And because it’s my birthday, and you’d have to be a real jerk to send in hatemail, I’ll just say it–this is one of the reasons yaoi is so popular with teenage girls. Not the only reason, or the biggest reason, but a reason. It’s sex, but sex that doesn’t trip the alarm system teenage girls have their brains programmed with.
But that’s not all! Hand in hand with this are the parents, who are pleased as punch to shove Twilight down their little darlings’ throats. They’re taking their kids to see it, thinking that it’s teaching a moral lesson–because “don’t have sex out of wedlock” is the biggest, hairiest thing to pass on, parenting-wise. I don’t want to be too hard on them–parents get bombarded with as much shit as teenage girls, and a lot of it is saying “if your little girl can’t wear white down the aisle, you’ve failed as a parent.” There’s a reason parental fantasy movies look like Taken or… whatever the hell Mamma Mia is rather than “and then our daughter entered into a satisfying sexual relationship, characterized by mutual respect and mockery of subpar literature.” You or I might say that’s a good thing, but we don’t have responsibility for making sure some tiny human isn’t going to be the next Mengele.
So teenage girls are predisposed to like Twilight and, like the old pre-Hayes Code films that made sure to condemn whatever it was they made sure to show in great detail, parents are taken in enough by the moralistic veneer to miss how Twilight is about as pro-abstinence thematically as an edited-for-TV version of Showgirls. Add to this the corporations. Now, many people have said that Hollywood is made up of amoral, antisocial freaks hoping to destroy the moral fabric of America. This is not true. Hollywood is made up of amoral, antisocial freaks hoping to destroy the moral fabric of America as long as there’s a buck in it.
The old saw about sex selling is true, but there’s also a strong audience for whom anti-sex sells. Watch Community? Ever notice how Shirley gets few storylines, even less than Chang. Dan Harmon has admitted that basically no one on his writing staff knows how to write conservative Christians in a way bigger than “lol jesus freaks”. That’s just how inept Hollywood is at appealing to that demographic. It’s similar to Tyler Perry and the black community. So very little is being targeted at that demographic that they’ll take whatever they can get. Twilight is batshit insane, but Hollywood is at least smart enough to put the bullshit onscreen and rake in those tasty, tasty flyover country dollars.
And just to be clear, Twilight isn’t bad because it has a quote-unquote ‘conservative’ message. Say what you will about Orson Scott Card or Bill Willingham (a man who is just so douchey that I actually wish Once Upon A Time did rip-off Fables, because he absolutely has it coming), but for all their batshit insane politics–this coming from someone who enjoys 24 unironically, mind you–at least until they tried to sell Freddie Prinze Jr. as some kind of Assistant Jack Bauer–they can or could tell a good story. If Stephenie Meyer were writing about how great sex is and how people should have sex with each other in all kinds of kooky combinations, you’d get… well, the first season of Torchwood. Shitty writing is shitty writing.
Think of it this way. Twilight is basically being used as a cash cow franchise. Yes, even more so than other franchises, where at least an effort will be made to make a good-tasting sandwich so you’ll come back for more. Twilight is just shitting out movies so they can wring every cent out of it before teenage girls wise up. To continue that out-of-nowhere metaphor, if (say) the Mission: Impossible franchise is Applebee’s, Twilight is McDonald’s. They just don’t give a fuck. They hire awful actors, they spend nothing on the special effects, and as for the directors slumming it on this shit, they’re only doing it for box office clout. Because as stupid as it sounds, this conversation is going to happen at some studio meeting.
Studio Exec 1: Sir, Bill Condon wants a word. He’d like fifty million dollars to direct a movie about Ugandian children working in sex slave mines. It will star Mike Myers.
Studio Exec 2: Sounds uncommercial. What’s he done?
Studio Exex 1: He won an Academy Award.
Studio Exec 2: Meh.
Studio Exec 1: He also directed Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, which made five bazillion dollars.
Studio Exec 2: Get this man to Ugandia.
So there you have it. All three elements of a perfect storm. Without the parents, the whole thing would be a modest fad, like Cassandra Clare and her bullshit movie adaptation. With just parental moralizing and corporate dollars, it’d be The Chronicles of Narnia (which are actually far better movies than the Twilight Saga, and mostly get hate from butthurt Golden Compass fans. Yeah, ‘Jesus Lion’ is so much sillier than ‘Ian McKellan Armored Atheist Bear’). Without the corporations, it’d be Veggie Tales. But put all three together and you’ve got George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg, dead as disco.