What’s up with that vampire thing… revisited

In another entry I ask "What’s up with that?" when it comes to the whole vampire thing and movie theatres filled with women.

In this week’s Catholic Herald, the best Catholic weekly in the UK, there is an article by Sophie Caldecott about this very question.  

And I think she is on to something.

Why girls love chaste Edward Cullen

The vampire hero of the Twilight series shows a deeply appealing restraint when faced with temptation, says Sophie Caldecott

Go read the article, but here is a key excerpt:

The obsession with Edward seems to fly in the face of the age-old cliché that girls are always attracted to the bad boy, the promiscuous James Bond type who is likely to seduce them and then break their hearts. True, Edward is dangerous and mysterious (he is a vampire after all) but his most defining and attractive feature is his incredible restraint in the face of all sorts of temptation.

A large part of his appeal for female fans is his selfless devotion to Bella, a devotion that expresses itself not in the typical teenage rush to consummate the relationship but in the way that he constantly prioritises her needs over his own. While she is desperate to convince him to bite her, thereby turning her into one of his own kind and ensuring that they can spend the rest of eternity together, his reservations about whether vampires can be included in salvation makes him reluctant to risk her salvation.

Something that the current obsession with Twilight reveals, on a subconscious level at least, is that there is a place for self-control and restraint in modern romance after all. Perhaps girls are afraid to express their deep desire for a relationship with a boy who loves them selflessly and is willing to put their "virtue" first (as Stephanie Meyer rather primly puts it) worried that they will be thought prudish. Perhaps boys are also afraid that it is somehow emasculating to abstain from rushing into sex, assuming that this is what girls want, and so the vicious circle continues. At any rate, despite rather muddled theological and anthropological premises, not to mention some painfully bad writing, the books do raise interesting questions. Set against the backdrop of supernatural forces, with many of the characters in possession of superhuman powers, sex is portrayed as an equally powerful force. Somewhat ironically, given his terrifying strength and natural killer instinct, Edward accuses Bella of being "the most dangerous creature" he has ever met when she tests the boundaries of his restraint by trying to seduce him.

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  1. KAS says:

    Fascinating take on the books. I will have to rethink my stance on them! And do a bit of re-reading.

  2. ckdexterhaven says:

    I haven’t read the books, but from what I gather, the books are snark free. Maybe kids just want something that’s earnest without all the snark.

  3. lofstrr says:

    So he priorities her over him. That is a good thing for him too do indeed. He is selflessly devoted to her and thinks of her safety and salvation first. Also good. The problem is that while these are good lessons for a young man, these books and movie is not targeted at young men, but rather young women. What I see is a princess story wrapped in a dark and edgy setting. It is all about her, the world revolves around her. This powerful, smart, immortal, good looking, strong, self restrained guy is completely into her. She on they other hand is perfectly justified in testing his resolve by trying to seduce him. Presumably this is ok because she is so inherently worthy by virtue of being a woman. It couldn’t possibly have anything to do with her own base desires.

    The essence of pornography is that it provides psycho-sexual stimulation that both distorts a normal expectation of intimacy and can provide a replacement for that intimacy. Men are visually stimulated. This is very obvious to everybody. Women wouldn’t wear makeup and fix their hair if this wasn’t the case. It should be equally obvious why male pornography revolves around visuals. Movies, pictures, strip clubs, all visual. Easy to spot. Everyone knows it when they see it.

    Women are not primarily visually stimulated, though they can be. We shouldn’t therefore expect feminine pornography to be primarily visual, though it can be. Women are more emotionally stimulated and that stimulation can come though virtually any kind of a channel. It can be read, seen, imagined, felt, heard, just about anything. Women are complicate remember?

    Returning to our definition of pornography, it is that which replaces intimacy and can distort ones expectation of intimacy. The twilight books and movie very much provide this. They create a simple and plain girl that virtually any girl or even woman can relate to and then provide her an unrealistically perfect love interest. He is exciting, dangerous but safe, powerful, good looking, willing to accept all the responsibility, ect. He doesn’t burp, he doesn’t fart. He doesn’t fish or watch football. He doesn’t smell bad after work. He doesn’t even have to work so he has unlimited time to devote to who? her. What modern woman wouldn’t want this? What sacrifice does she have to make besides an overcoming of her own fear? But then why should she have to give anything beyond what comes naturally to her? She is the princess after all.

    Feminine pornography is not primarily visual, it is hidden in suggestion and innuendo. Not all women are caught up in it just as not all men are caught up in visual, male pornography. But many women spend hours and hours every week devouring romance novels wishing they could meet a man like that. Many women spend an hour or more each day watching their soaps wishing they could meet a man like that. Invariably, after the infatuation has worn off, we men disappoint. We cannot live up to the expectation even if we try and many do try. The woman that was addicted to feminine pornography then returns to it angry that her husband/boyfriend is unable to meet her “emotional needs.” But it is OK because they are just books and tv shows, they aren’t “real pornography.” Never mind that they have just as much potential to draw the two of them apart and replace the intimacy that should exist only between them.

    Men are supposed to be partners not clairvoyant slave/lovers who can please every time, hold her in his arms for just the right amount of time and then jump up and fix the roof, dinner, and his hair (in a manly way) all while his muscles ripple in the sunlight. Much the same way that women are supposed to be partners and not simple sex objects.

    The only real difference between fallen men and fallen women is that the desires and failings of men can be described in fewer words.

  4. kenoshacath says:

    I will not be duped with Cadecott’s interpretation. People are looking for a “good” reason to watch it and she is trying to give them an “out.”

    This is a form of erotica, plain and simple. I have never seen a photo from this movie that hasn’t implied lust and unforbidden love.

    “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman (or man) lustfully has already committed ADULTERY with her (him) in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into HELL.”

    Protect your mind and heart . . . and don’t waste your time!

  5. RichR says:

    I’ve got to agree with keno – erotica, plain and simple. I would add that this is like trying to find the sliver of good in something that is, at its root, based on evil. One may say that it mirrors the current obsession with ecumenism: the goal is not to convert from darkness to light, but merely to recognize the Christ already present within (quote from Iota Unum, which I read on Fr.Z’s recommendation).

    There are plenty of other things to entertain yourself with that are more wholesome.

  6. Well, okay, he is being “chaste”…but really?
    Again, I pose my thesis (based upon E. Michael Jones’ theory, which I think is sound) that the whole ‘vampire thing’ is predatory…is he homosexual? Will he find a male in order to do what he really wants to do? (Re: Anne Rice’s “Interview with the Vampire”?)…just some meandering thoughts…
    And again, the whole paradigm of “vampirism”, in my humble estimation, is the inverse of the Lord Jesus Christ’s emptying of Himself, in all His Blood; the vampire wants to take the blood of another in order to live, rather than to give his blood that another may live.

  7. kab63 says:

    I agree completely with lofstrr. Everything I hear about these stories points to female pornography (aka “romance novel”). To see women/girls in thrall to romance novels is disappointing, but to see them yearning after a romance where the “heroic man” is a vampire sickens and saddens me. Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” makes clear that the vampire is anti-Christ. Jesus gives His Blood, the vampire takes our blood. The only way to stop the vampire is with Jesus, ie, the consecrated Host. We all know the vampire is evil; some people like to tempt the devil. That doesn’t mean we should condone stories that glorify this temptation. When buzz began about these books my teen son and I discussed if we would read them. He decided, and I agreed wholeheartedly, that the moral risk was too great.

  8. kenoshacath says:

    For those who are beguiled by Caldecott’s proposition, I have some swampland in Florida for sale.

  9. Singing Mum says:

    Just chiming in here as a woman who is left cold by the vampire thing, especially this one. The guy might be chaste, in a warped way, but he’s not even *manly*. And he strikes the same tired pose in all the promo stuff. Snooze.

    I second the sad observation about emotional pornography, because I guard against it as a woman.

    And I was thinking that for many women, its another case of ‘looking for mystery and sacrifice in all the wrong places’. How could fictional Edward possibly measure up to love for Christ and a healthy sacramental life?

  10. Melody says:

    I’m in agreement with lof. This article would have a point if the story revolved around Edward rather than a spoiled teenage girl whom the world revolves around and who can do no wrong.

    Down to her name, Bella is a textbook example of what fanfiction writers call a “Mary Sue,” a certain revoltingly idealized author proxy which is often written by young girls.
    Mary Sue Test: http://www.springhole.net/quizzes/marysue.htm

  11. Scarlett says:

    As a disclaimer, I’ve read and enjoyed the books. I wouldn’t classify them as “emotional pornography,” but I can understand and appreciate that worry. As for some of the other objections raised here. . .roundly condemning books you’ve never read will have a tendency to leave your condemnations beside the point and sometimes completely irrelevant. If we’re talking about Twilight, which is about vampires who DON’T prey on humans, don’t condemn the series on the grounds that vampires prey on humans and so shouldn’t be glorified.

    The following may include spoilers.

    “Is he really chaste?” Yes. “Is he homosexual?” Nope. He waits for her, they get married after she graduates, and they start a family. Find me a problem.

    Vampires as the inverse of Christ, emptying us of blood rather than pouring out His Blood for us? Not these vampires. They don’t prey on humans. They’re not Christ-like figures, either, but not everything has to be a Christian allegory. And if this is, the allegory is more of the individual struggle with temptation and original sin. (We’ve all been there, haven’t we?) There are other vampires in the books, who are portrayed as essentially evil, but the Cullen family are a demonstration that you don’t have to acquiesce to what the prevailing (in this case, vampire) culture thinks is appropriate. If something is evil, you don’t do it – no matter how inconvenient it is, no matter how much you have to fight your innate desires. Not every book that deals with temptation glorifies giving in to it. Yes, they are tempted to drink the blood of humans. . .but they don’t do it, because they think it’s wrong! (Now that I think of it, they’re a bit like a counter-cultural homeschooling Catholic family, trying to maintain their convictions in the face of the culture that accepts and even glorifies a lot of what the family believes is immoral. . .hmmm. . .)

    “We all know the vampire is evil.” Actually, we all know the vampire is fictional. Reimagining a fictional paradigm to tell a different story isn’t necessarily wrong. The case with Meyers’ books isn’t that the vampire is evil and the characters are playing a game of chicken with the devil; the case is one in which a couple of flawed human beings – one of them, granted, supernatural, and the other, as a rather too obvious foil, almost absurdly, blandly, “normal” – fight physical temptation (not just sexual but also, for lack of a better word, alimentary), teenaged angst, jealousy, the troubles of coming from a broken home, HS English tests, a bad break-up, and a couple of ACTUALLY murderous vampires, who are ACTUALLY trying to kill people (and THOSE vampires are the BAD GUYS. Not glorified at all).

    “How could fictional Edward possibly measure up to love for Christ and a healthy sacramental life?” It can’t. Not even close. But no fictional work can ever measure up to Christ. I wouldn’t expect to find a character in Dickens, Austen, Twain, Bronte, or Tolstoy who could measure up to Christ. (Don’t worry! I’m not putting Meyers in the same category!) No one – real or fictional – measures up to Christ, and we find harmless (or even beneficial) enjoyment in imperfect places in the real world.

    “The guy might be chaste, in a warped way, but he’s not even manly. And he strikes the same tired pose in all the promo stuff. Snooze.” You’ve got me there. I think the character is portrayed as more masculine in the books, but I’m not sure. As for the actor – I simply don’t see what all the fuss is about. I haven’t even seen the movies – I’m just talking about the books here.

    I love Bram Stoker’s “Dracula,” but just because his vampire is evil incarnate doesn’t mean that a vampire fighting the temptation of evil to try to live a moral life can’t also be a compelling story, or that such a more human vampire can’t also be a worthwhile read, from a moral perspective.

  12. Annie says:

    I’m with Scarlett. It’s fiction, and it’s truly badly written fiction, but it’s entertaining. Give me Meyers over Pullman anyday.
    As for romance being ’emotional porn’, fwiw, er, I really don’t think so.

  13. Kimberly says:

    I have not seen the movie and don’t know if I will. My problem is that I have always associated vampires with the devil and no matter how I try to reason the above comments, I can’t understand how the devil can be good.

  14. avecrux says:

    I often see people use the word “chaste”, but I’m hesitant about the way they use it. Chastity is not the same thing as avoiding consummation. The couple in Twilight avoid consummation, but they aren’t chaste. If I did what they did while unmarried, I’d be in a Confessional the next morning. Bella’s breathy, adjective laden descriptions of their exploits (sans consummation) are not written to display Meyer’s literary genius… they really are soft-porn for young girls. I was on the phone with a homeschooling Mom just the other day. She was hearing defenses like those of Caldecott. I simply opened up the book and started reading one of “those” passages at which point she began yelling “Stop! Stop!!!!!” She was as grossed out as I was and we are married women.
    It really bugs me when people refer to obsession as “selfless devotion”. Bella refers to Edward as her brand of heroin – and that is basically how their relationship plays out. Both of them are obsessed with each other. It is not selfless – it is seriously self ISH – but In a society full of addictions, young girls can’t tell the difference anymore. Bella thinks Edward is being SELFLESS when he tries to arrange that she abort their vampire child and be impregnated by the warewolf Jacob instead, since a warewolf baby won’t cause the same health problems for her. Life and health of the mother, you know. Throw in a little adultery – but it’s for a good cause. The end justifies the means. What selfless devotion. (Not.) Ugh. There is so much wrong with this series, and it is so, so corrupting.
    Yeah – I’ve written a blog on it.

  15. avecrux says:

    lofstrr, I couldn’t agree more.

  16. Natasa says:

    I completely agree with S. Caldecott. Girls are interested in romance and many (if not most) really don’t want to have sex. The Twilight novels provide exactly that: over the top romance, idealised relationships, yearning, giving oneself completely to the beloved. All that stuff. Many people believe that is bad in itself (emotional porn) and that it corrupts young people. However, I’d argue that young people are not that stupid and that they understand the difference between reality and fantasy. I have read the first two books and can honestly say it is the most horrendous prose ever written but I don’t see anything sinister about it. Vampirism in the novels doesn’t seem to have any meaning attached to it, at least I didn’t detect any. There is no trace of literary tradition of such genre or any deeper discourse on the meaning of life, salvation and damnation. The only thing the novels offer is silly romance material that girls obviously like and can probably identitify with on some level. If I had a daughter I’d rather she’d read quality literature, but then again, there are many worse things than ‘Twilight’.

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