Saturday, January 8, 2011

Twilight: A Theory

As a follow-up to my last post, I have a couple of hypotheses about the Twilight series. The way that things just kind of work out in the end without any serious loss makes it hard for me to take the stories seriously as an accurate portrayal of events, even in another universe where vampires do exist and sparkle in the sun. It's like Clark Kent. I'm willing to believe, for the sake of fiction, that there could be a universe in which it is possible for people to have superhuman powers and fly and kill people with lazar eyes. I have a hard time believing that there is any universe anywhere where said person could just slap on some glasses and literally no one would notice the resemblance.

Likewise, I'm willing to believe, for the sake of fiction, that there could be a universe in which vampires are real and they sparkle in the sun. It's kind of a lame universe, and the lack of dancing unicorns is somewhat surprising, but the universe in itself I can accept. I have a hard time accepting that a single group of vampires plus one human teenager could repeatedly get into altercations with other groups of vampires and werewolves and not have a single fatality, or even a serious injury, but everything works out exactly the way our heroes want. I don't buy it. I don't know the fatality statistics for vampire on vampire combat, but it seems pretty unlikely to me that other hoards of vampires try repeatedly to take them out, and not one of our heros has so much as a lasting injury. Not even the human one, who is repeatedly experiencing head trauma, but seems to be able to function as well as ever.

Hypothesis number 1: The events of the last three books take place either in a coma dream, in an insane delusion, or in Bella's personal purgatory. At the end of the first book, Bella is hospitalized for several days, everyone apparently buying the story that "she fell down the stairs" (Seriously. That's how they explain her injuries to her family. No one looks at her boyfriend, who is mysteriously in Phoenix with her for no reason).

To me, it makes far more sense that the not-that-bad trials that befall her over the next few years, culminating in the happiest ending possible, are figments of her imagination. Go with me. The events of the first book all take place as described, except that at the end of the book, she doesn't ever wake up. Her head injury puts her in a coma for the rest of her life, and she merely dreams the events of the next books in the series.

It could be argued that none of the supernatural events ever happened at all. Bella is a teenage girl, distraught by her mother's remarriage and her relocation. When she is involved in the car accident early in the first book, she hits her head. Prior to this accident, she does not see anything supernatural actually occur.  She sees an attractive boy at school, and begins to spin fantasies about him. He is a vampire with supernatural strength and a heart of gold who really loves her for who she is. The stress and trauma of her familial situation, coupled with the head injury, eventually causes her to lose touch with reality completely, choosing to buy into a native myth with a romanticized twist: yes, this attractive young boy that she barely knows is a vampire, but a good vampire. A vampire who loves her, and uses his supernatural abilities to protect her. She alienates herself from her friends to focus on her fantasy, but the real break from reality doesn't come until book two, when her delusion is shattered and she cannot deal with reality as it really is (probably, the boy around whom she spun her fantasies really did just move to California with his family). Rather than get psychiatric help, at the end of the book she falls back into delusion and this time, succumbs completely.

The third theory is based on a similar premise to the first one: the events of the first book happen as they are written, except that at the end of the book, Bella doesn't wake up. Not because she is in a coma, though. Because she is dead. The events of the following books follow her as she navigates through purgatory and, successfully lucking her way through her many trials, eventually ends up in Paradise. This theory is somewhat flawed in that Bella solves virtually none of her problems by herself. Indeed, when she is put in a situation where she has to solve a problem by herself (ie, the entirety of book two) she simply chooses not to deal with it.

I don't necessarily think that any of these are what Stephanie Meyer intended when writing the books. In fact, I'm pretty sure she just intended to write a sweet romance about a vampire and the girl who loved him. I do think that her final product was completely unrealistic, and my hypotheses offer an alternative.

Friday, January 7, 2011

My, How the World Has Changed

As is surprising to probably no one who has ever met either of us, my husband and I enjoy discussing books and novels. We're both voracious readers (although now we've largely made a switch from legitimate novels to internet articles and now have to specifically set aside time to read actual books) and we tend to have oddly strong opinions about the things that we read.

Yesterday, we were having a discussion about classic literature and how, until relatively recently, books that became literary staples generally fell into at least one of two categories: the story contains characters and themes that a large number of people from across space and time are able to relate to them and/or the way the book was written was new and different enough to make it stand out from any other piece of literature that had ever been written before.

Now, books that get the moniker "new classics" are, pretty much invariably, commercial successes. Given our culture, that's somewhat unsurprising, but possibly a little sad. Until maybe a century ago, most people couldn't be writers unless they were a) rich, b) single, or c) didn't care if their family starved. We, as a society, have far more leisure time than any other generation, so now any hipster with a laptop can crap out a novel. Even most people who stand in line for government-issued cheese have access to a computer and enough free time to write a book if they felt so inclined. My point is that up until recently, the only people who wrote were either the well-educated minority rich, or felt passionately enough about  their writing to make it a priority over things like food and housing. Now, education is free and open to everyone, and you don't really see as many people starving in the street. Like virtually every other resource in our society, the ability and opportunity to write is much more prevalent.

The increasing supply of books, coupled with the capitalistic nature of our economy, results in only a very small number of written manuscripts getting published. However, the books that do get published have a much increased likelihood of becoming smash hits.

Let's look at two examples. The first is Harry Potter. The Harry Potter series is a seven book long YA fantasy epic. The writing is, generally speaking, really very clever. Rereading the books, hints of foreshadowing of events of the seventh book are evident very early on in the series (I myself was convinced that Snape had a thing for Harry's mom as early as book two. It was the only thing that explained Snape's conflicting attitude toward Harry: he hated his father and loved his mother. Years later, I turned out to be right).

The most compelling thing about the series, though, was that the theme was incredibly universal. Good > Evil. Simplest theme in existence, something that everyone in the world can relate to. It also doesn't hurt that everyone feels like an outcast sometimes, everyone feels picked on or victimized, everyone has coming of age personal trials that, while typically not as extreme as the characters in these books face, they can identify with as the story goes on. The characters are human, with weaknesses and flaws. At the end of the story, while the threat is ultimately vanquished, it isn't without sacrifice. Permanent changes are made. People die and they don't come back, which adds meaning to the ongoing struggle. Prior to the very end of the series, the reader isn't sure whether even Harry is going to make it through alive. As a result, the novels have reached amazing commercial success. In this case, I feel that the hype in many ways matches the books. I don't necessarily condone forty year old women dressing up in costume to attend a midnight movie premiere, but that's between you and your God.

The second example, perhaps predictably, is the Twilight series. Twilight, I believe, acts as a very good foil to the Harry Potter series. Again, we follow an adolescent navigating a newly found supernatural world full of magic and dangerous creatures. Like Harry Potter, Twilight has received enormous commercial success. Unlike Harry Potter, I don't feel that Twilight is as deserving. I've read the entire series. I think they're fine. I don't have passionately strong feelings about the series one way or another.

However, I'd be hard-pressed to tell you what the overarching theme of the Twilight series is. The best I've got is "It's important to have a boyfriend." Not necessarily a particularly important theme in the overall scheme of things, I feel. Secondarily, I got "If you're yourself, an abusive but attractive man will fall in love with you."

The thing about Twilight is that there is no sacrifice. Threats are less imposing because, by book four, nothing with any kind of lasting negative consequences has happened yet. It's hard to believe that any incoming danger is actually going to have any lasting effect on anyone the reader really cares about. You know they're going to be fine, because why wouldn't they be?

To my recollection, one non-antagonistic character dies during the entire course of the series. It's a peripheral human character who is never actually seen, only referred to by other characters. He dies of a heart attack. It wasn't the result of being targeted by other, not friendly vampires. He died because he was aging and didn't exercise very much.

That's it. That's the extent of it. Everyone else makes it.

Secondarily, no one does anything for anyone else's benefit. Don't believe me? Let's dissect it book by book.

Book 1: Edward and Bella meet. Edward knows that dating Bella is dangerous for her, and for his entire family. He does it anyway. Bella knows that dating Edward is dangerous for her. She knows that if he kills her, her family will be devastated. She knows that dating Edward is dangerous for his family, who she purports to care about. She does it anyway. Collectively, they hope that things will work out. Bella and her family is targeted because of her association with Edward. Mildly bad things happen. She's in the hospital for a while, but she comes out of it fine. The two of them, despite having their fears confirmed, continue to date.

Book 2: Edward's family throws Bella a birthday party. She cuts herself, and is almost ripped apart by one of Edward's more attractive siblings. Edward then leaves to assuage his guilt over the situation, not because it will actually help anything. Bella falls apart. For months. For some reason, she has no friends to tell her she needs to snap out of it. Her father does very little to encourage her to get help, for reasons that escape me. When she eventually begins hanging out with Jacob, it's to do scary things that allow her to continue her delusional hallucination-relationship with Edward. If Bella had not discovered that she had hallucinations of Edward every time she did something stupid, it's debatable whether she would have continued to spend so much time with Jacob. Jacob, on the other hand, sees that she is vulnerable and hopes that, because he's being so nice to her and "saving her" from her depression, she will fall in love with him and they will live happily ever after. Classic White Knight syndrome. Jacob doesn't help her because he honestly cares for her, he helps her because he wants something from her.
At the end of the book, Edward comes back (because HE was hurting, not because she was hurting) and he and Bella resume their dysfunctional, semi-abusive relationship.

Book 3: Bella can't make up her mind about Jacob and Edward, so she strings them both along. She wants Edward to make her a vampire. Edward takes advantage of this to force her to marry him, despite the fact that she is clearly uncomfortable with the idea. All of these plans are made without regard for Bella's family's feelings, who might be sad when it turns out that they never see her again. Bella kisses Jacob to get him to do what she wants, despite being engaged to Edward. Edward then lets Jacob overhear their nuptial plans in an overt attempt to hurt his feelings. Rather than be mad at Bella for toying with both of them, Edward and Jacob are angry at each other. Bella wants Jacob at her wedding, so she sends him an invite, completely ignoring his sensitive feelings about the matter.

Book 4: Edward and Bella get married. They then honeymoon, where Bella blackmails Edward into having sex with her. Edward knows that sex with him could kill or seriously injure her, but he bangs her repeatedly anyway. Bella gets knocked up. Edward, rather than asking Bella what she wants or even speaking to her about it, makes arrangements to procure a back-alley abortion from his doctor father. Bella, despite the fact that the fetus is literally killing her (which, again, would devastate her family, who don't know that she's not ever coming home), refuses. Bella insists upon having the death child, who later eats it's way out of her uterus, but she's unconscious for that part anyway. Bella becomes a vampire, because Edward panics and tries to make her immortal before the baby kills her. Jacob meets the baby, and immediately falls in love with her, despite the fact that she is a baby. He is then completely irrational and annoying about everything, and then tries to prevent the child's OWN PARENTS from holding or spending time with her. For some reason he doesn't realize that this child is not his, despite what his hormones may be telling him. Jacob tells Bella's father about Bella's new lifestyle choice purely to be vindictive, despite the fact that coming to her house puts CHARLIE in danger, not Bella. Then later some bad stuff happens, but everyone gets through it just fine.

At the end of the day, everyone gets exactly what they want. Edward and Bella are married with a healthy, happy immortal child. Jacob is over Bella (and in love with the happy, healthy immortal child). Bella and her parents can see each other regularly, and nothing bad ever happens again.

No sacrifice. No selflessness. No consequences. Just a bunch of morally wishy-washy people doing whatever they want to, and everything works out perfectly.

For some reason, I don't think that the themes of Twilight are quite on par with Harry Potter. Again, the characters of Harry Potter had flaws and weaknesses. The only flaws that the characters of Twilight had were shared senses of entitlement and delusion, and somehow, I don't think that was intentional on the part of the writer.

My point in all of this is that writing books now is not like writing books used to be. It used to be that books with compelling themes and interesting characters that were written in a novel or intriguing way became staples of literature. Now, it's the books that have the best PR team backing them and while some of them have some literary merit, many of them do not.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Vampire Problem

Nate and I watched Queen of the Damned last night. It's a delightful little romp loosely based on Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles series, which I could never bring myself to finish. I'm not kidding when I say that I love this movie. I embrace the badness.

The vampire Lestat takes a nap for a hundred years or so, wakes up, and decides that he's tired of hiding his vampic powers etcetera. So, he makes the only logical move: he becomes a rock star.

I first saw this movie at 3am on TNT when I was about thirteen years old. I'm not exaggerating when I say that it took me years before I could get through explaining the premise without laughing hysterically.

It was, unfortunately, R&B singer Aaliya's last work before tragically dying in a plane crash. Unlike Heath Ledger, who died shortly after completing his Oscar-winning role in the critically acclaimed The Dark Knight, this movie was regarded as, to quote Anne Rice "a huge disappointment to [Anne Rice] and [her] fans," and a box-office failure, grossing five million dollars less than it cost to produce. For anyone not familiar, the term "bomb" is generally thrown around when a movie fails to make back it's budget during it's theatrical run. As a result, I feel really bad that this movie, and her acting in it, was as certifiably awful as it was.

She was terrible. Really, really bad. I mean, the whole movie was terrible, but I felt like most of Stewart Townsend's terribleness could be attributed to the script. His acting was among the best in the film (which, granted, isn't saying much), but Aaliya's was appalling. She kept doing this weird, supposed to be sexy gyration thing with her shoulders, and she had difficulty talking through her false teeth. She wasn't the only one, either.

I feel like, were I the costume designer, I would have made some creative changes when it turned out that two-thirds of the principle vampires in the film were completely unable to speak clearly through their teeth. Enough of the budget went to special effects that I feel like they should have been able to CGI the points in when it was necessary, rather than making the actors talk through ridiculous, obviously fake inserts.

I don't know what they did with Lestat's teeth, because Stewart Townsend was at least able to annunciate pretty well, all things considered. Whatever it was, they should have done it with everyone.

Of course, were I the costume designer, the costumes wouldn't have been as eye-scalding as they were. Ridiculous, impractical, gaudy. Tacky as all hell, every single one of them, which I assume probably wasn't what they were going for. I think for the most part they were going for dramatic and striking and kind of old-timey (with the exception of Lestat, who was all mesh shirts and leather pants), but they got horribly, horribly tacky. I think Queen of the Damned was billed as a horror movie, but the scariest thing about it was the costuming.

Well, no. I may have spoken too soon. The scariest thing about this movie is that this screenplay somehow got green-lit. I've read the screenplay. The screenplay is terrible. A reviewer on IMDB described it as though someone had opened Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles to random pages, made assumptions, got bored, stopped reading, and then made a screenplay based on those random pages and assumptions. I will probably never finish the Vampire Chronicles, but the way the script is written, this does strike me as probably about right.

What happened to the vampire genre? I read Bram Stoker's Dracula as a fairly young child (and was then scarred for life when I learned that it was all an allegory for sexual inhibitions), and was immediately captivated by vampire mythology. My mother, I think, was somewhat disturbed by some of the reading I did (we're talking like nine years old here), but it's fascinating when Twilight isn't the reference text. Vampires, for the most part, were not meant to be beautiful. The ones that were beautiful wanted to have sex with you, steal your blood, and eat your children. They were beautiful, but they were deadly. They weren't friendly. They didn't want to protect you.They didn't want to teach you how to love.  They didn't want to marry you before they would have sex with you/bite you. They wanted your delicious, delicious jugular vein. Vampires were villains- shrewd, manipulative, with ulterior motives.

Vampires, I believe, are in desperate need of a gritty reboot.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Ten Signs That Your Relationship Is In Trouble!

This morning, I was reading this article on I'm a pretty big fan of Cracked; it generally has amusing, well-written articles that can be surprisingly informative. I can't say that this article was particularly informative, but it did get me thinking.

About a year ago, I was in Italy and had a large amount of spare time. I was also making next to no money.  Unfortunately for me, my Italian was nowhere near good enough to get an actual additional job in town, so I looked online to see if I couldn't find a way to make a little extra cash.

As it happens, I did. I started writing articles for some man's online column. I guess the idea here was that I would write them so he wouldn't have to, and I would get paid a flat rate per article. I'm sure he made a large amount more from advertising and things of that nature, but it was actual money, paid via PayPal, so I didn't feel like being overly picky.

The articles that I wrote were generally relationship-themed. Most of the subjects were iffy, borderline to completely unethical. For example, one article was about the various softwares a person can use to determine whether a spouse or significant other is being unfaithful.

Now, there are plenty of software options to find out if your spouse or lover is cheating. That's not the issue. The issue is that pretty much everything these sorts of software can do is completely illegal and extremely unethical. Accessing online bank records without authorization? Illegal. Accessing e-mail without permission? Illegal. Viewing downloaded files and things of that nature may not be illegal (although it might be, I don't actually know), but it's still extremely sketchy. Also, I feel like if a person is so paranoid about a cheating lover that he or she is willing to purchase expensive software to watch their computer activity, there is probably something wrong with the relationship. The solution may in fact be for these people to look inward and ask themselves "Am I completely insane?" rather than hacking into their significant others bank records.

I always tried to put a disclaimer somewhere within my articles, something to the effect of "Some of these things constitutes fraud and identity theft. Don't do it unless finding out whether your spouse is faithful is worth legal trouble." It made me feel a little better, although I somewhat suspected that the guy I was writing for didn't really like that I did that. So, after a while, I stopped writing for him and felt significantly better about myself.

I would also like to point out a couple of things: If you are honestly concerned that your spouse is cheating, there is a serious problem in your relationship, even if it isn't infidelity. Secondly, spying on your spouse or significant other will pretty much guarantee the end of your relationship if s/he finds out. I had to write articles discussing the pros and cons of hiring a private investigator. Do not send a private investigator after your significant other if you want your relationship to a) last and b) not be based on lies. Feeling deceived does not justify deception on your part.

For some reason, almost none of the articles I was asked to write were positive. They were all "How to Find Out if My Spouse is Cheating" or "Seven Signs that My Marriage is Ending." Which, I would like to state for the record, I am in no way qualified to write. I'm not a psychologist. I'm not a councilor. At that point, I wasn't even married. When my parents separated, I was like eleven and had no idea what was happening. There is nothing in my background or personal history that would make me remotely qualified to give any kind of advice on that front. If it had been something like "Dating In College," I probably could have done that and not based all of my information on stuff that I found on It wasn't. It seemed like all of the articles I wrote were targeted at rich, old, vindictive people in crappy relationships who didn't have any friends to ask for advice.

I feel like most normal, well-adjusted people, when questioning a significant other's faithfulness, would probably just discuss it with some friends and keep their eyes open for foreign underwear. Or they could, I don't know, talk about it with their significant other. I feel like it's much more likely to get to the root of a relationship problem by talking about it with all parties involved than by hacking their computers and hiring a man in a trench coat to follow them around. I don't know. Again, I'm not a trained relationship councilor. But that's what common sense says.