Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Discussion: Shailene Woodley & Issues with Twilight

So I've seen a lot of fuss being made by Twilight fans on Twitter and Tumblr and other places about the comments Shailene Woodley made about Twilight. In case you haven't seen, she said this:

Twilight, I’m sorry, is about a very unhealthy, toxic relationship. She falls in love with this guy and the second he leaves her, her life is over and she’s going to kill herself! What message are we sending to young people? That is not going to help this world evolve.”

(I know Bella didn't literally try to kill herself, Shailene was being a bit hyperbolic with that bit but Bella does get really careless with her life and even jumps off a cliff into choppy waters just to see a halucination of Edward, so the comment isn't too far off...)

And then I saw a few people link this article in defence of it. The article points out three "good life lessons" from Twilight:
1. Carlisle Cullen: Stick to your beliefs, even if the world is against them. Respect the world’s beliefs, even if you are against them
2. Alice Cullen: You can be a girly girl and still kick ass
3. Edward Cullen: Let people make their own choices

Now, I'm a Twilight fan. I read all books including the companion one about Bree, I followed the movie progress, I pre-ordered the books each time, I even wrote some (hilariously bad) fanfiction. Twilight is at least partially responsible for this blog considering Julie and I first talked on a Twilight board during the production of the first movie.

I don't love it blindly though (and my positive feelings don't really extend to Breaking Dawn). If you tell me how poorly written it is, or Bella is a Mary Sue, or sparkling vampires are ridiculous, or tell me that the relationships aren't healthy, then I will wholeheartedly agree (although some of the criticism is subjective and I don't think that every fan has to agree with those things).

But tell me I shouldn't like it? That I shouldn't be entertained by it? That I can't like it in spite of its flaws? I'll probably tell you to piss off and stop being such a pretentious twat. Well, if I was in a more snarky mood. If I was feeling polite, I'd probably just go with,"Let's agree to disagree, shall we?"

The point I seem to be taking forever to get to: it is perfectly reasonable for people to hate Twilight. It is also perfectly reasonable for people to love it. But love it or hate it, talking about the issues is kind of important.

Some people will trash Twilight for just for the sake of it, it is an easy target after all (even I've made fun of it before and I'm a fan of it), but some people...people like Shailene, they're not just trashing it because they can. When they criticize it, they criticize it because it matters.

That post I quoted that talks about the positive life lessons? That's all well and good, but two of those three life lessons are about relatively minor characters and those "lessons" aren't particularly big parts of the story (and Rosalie and Jacob kind of contradict half of the Carlisle one). Bella, Edward, and Jacob are the ones that matter most as far as "life lessons" go.

When people read Twilight, the majority are reading it for the romance and the most of the problematic "life lessons" in the book are directly linked to the romance. The third "good life lesson"? Sure, it's about Edward but it doesn't come until after about 2.5 books of problematic behaviour on his part, behaviour that arguably continues into the final book.

I'm not one of those people that think young people should be banned from reading certain books, and I don't think that books should only portray healthy relationships (although, more of those would be lovely), and there's things I can overlook and accept in a fiction that I wouldn't in real life.

But, I do think it's important to acknowledge when a relationship in a book isn't healthy. To know that, while you like it in the fictional context, it's not really the kind of relationship you should admire off the page. Especially with a book like Twilight--a book that is read by everyone from young teens to pensioners, a book that has had global success. A book with A LOT of really obsessive fans (that's an acknowledgement, not a criticism), fans who often view it through rose tinted glasses.

When young people are reading books like that, and they think it's romantic and they're going on about how they want a boyfriend just like Jacob or one who will treat them just like Edward treats Bella, that's when it becomes important to discuss the fact that, in real life, those types of relationships would not be considered healthy.

Something romantic in a fictional story about vampires and werewolves does not necessarily translate as romantic in real life.

At one point in Eclipse, Edward messes with Bella's car and later has his sister "babysit" her to prevent her from going to hang out with Jacob. Now, that infuriated me in the book but I've seen other fans justify it. "He only wanted to keep her safe," they say. Fine, fair enough, I may not like that but I'm not against it being in the book.

But imagine a young girl who has read the books, and she's in a relationship--maybe for the first time--and her boyfriend is controlling in the same kind of way Edward is with Bella. And she's got it into her head that he's only doing it because he loves her, that that kind of behaviour is sweet and romantic and he only wants to protect her (those are the kind of justifications abusers give in real life). Not discussing it when we see it in fiction only perpetuates that belief.

Or maybe her guy friend kisses her, even though she doesn't want him to. And he keeps kissing her, even when she's not kissing him back and he won't let her go. That's not okay...but in Twilight, that book she loved so much, when Jacob does this same thing to Bella, it's treated as a joke. Bella's dad, the chief of police, seems thrilled about the fact that a guy forced himself on his daughter (even though she broke her hand punching him for it). Even adult fans--fans old enough to be the girls mother--are saying how romantic and awesome these relationships are.

Or maybe a guy uses emotional blackmail to get her to do something, like Jacob does in the books to get Bella to kiss him...and she doesn't even realise that consenting under those circumstances isn't really consent (that kind of thing does happen in real life). It kind of blurs the importance of consent and trivialises it in a dangerous way when don't acknowledge it.

Basically, Shailene was right: it isn't the best example of relationships or how to deal with break-ups.

There's just so many things in the books, things about those relationships, that are problematic. If they happened to a girl in real life, it would not be okay. But the book romanticizes it...worse, the fans romanticize it. And it's important to acknowledge that it's not okay so that young girls can love the books without being dangerously blinded by them.

Even TV shows (at least here in the UK) don't show abusive relationships or similar issues without putting a message at the end with help lines people can call if they've been affected by any of the stuff that's been portrayed in the episode. 

I'm not saying young teenagers are stupid or that they're always influenced by stuff they read in books, because they're not, but some people are influenced even if they don't realise it. And the thing is, it's so easy for people of any age to end up in abusive/unhealthy relationships, especially younger people. Why make it easier by not discussing those issues?

A story doesn't have to be perfect. You can find flaws in anything if you look hard enough. But someone talking about the flaws in something you love isn't insulting you, they're not saying you shouldn't like what you like or that you're a bad person for liking something (while looking up stuff about the Divergent movie, I've seen Twilight fans comment on articles about Shailene just to insult her for what she said about Twilight, because they took it as some form of personal attack).

For the record, I know Twilight and Twilight fans aren't the only ones guilty of this sort of thing, I'm just using them as the example because it was Shailene's comment and the reactions I've seen that made me write this (e.g. I've also seen plenty of Harry Potter fans romanticize the Snape/Lily thing even though that was a horribly unhealthy relationship too).

tl;dr version: There's nothing wrong with liking Twilight. But there's a whole lot wrong with refusing to acknowledge the problematic relationships. And even if you don't want to discuss it, you shouldn't hate people like Shailene for commenting* on the issues just because you love the book.

This post has been very long and rambling--so if anyone actually read it, I'm impressed. If you did read it, what are your thoughts? (Feel free to disagree with me, I'm cool with that, but it'd be great to hear why you disagree so I can see your side of things.)


Note: in this post, I used female victim/male abuser as an example--because that's the genders of the characters--but I know that it can be the other way round or be female/female or male/male, etc. Anyone can be a victim, anyone can be an abuser.
*Just to note, these are often written interviews when actresses like Shailene or Jennifer Lawrence mention Twilight. The interviewer is asking them questions, even if they choose to leave the questions out of the final article. She was probably asked about Twilight, considering she is currently promoting another popular YA book to movie adaptation, but people seem to assume she just chose to bring it up.


  1. I am not a pretentious twat!

    1. Twat? Aboslutely not! Pretentious? Well... Let's agree to disagree, shall we? :P

      It's very weird seeing you comment here, Rooford ("Spikey Haired Guy"? Really?), like - like worlds colliding or something. I'm going to pester you on Skype now, assuming you're still awake.

  2. Hi, really like your blog, and have nominated you for a Liebster award :) See basedonthebook.blogspot.co.uk for details.

    Great post by the way, somehow I still love Twilight despite the bad messages - a bit like Grease.



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