Friday, July 2, 2010

Dusting Edward Cullen

In honor of Eclipse coming out (with my geek credentials, of course I read the Twilight books) and, while I wait for it to open here in the UK, I have reworked a comment that I pounded out in a fit of annoyance about a year ago on a mashup video of Buffy v. Edward.  Even if you don't do vampires, you can read the links for some interesting feminist reading.  


A while back while scrolling through Instapundit, I came across this article in Slate. This article led me in turn to a video mash up of Buffy the Vampire Slayer dusting Edward Cullen.  I found the article in Slate slightly confused and shallow and I will get to it one day.  The illogical argument of the admittedly well done video stunned me though.


The main point, which has taken off in the vampire and romance realms, is that Buffy, strong and powerful woman, would have dusted Edward Cullen while Bella, wimpy and passive woman, fell in love with him. 


The idea that Buffy was creeped out by brooding, stalking, and obsessed vampires is ludicrous on its face.  In fact, Buffy not only refused to dust but also and had lots of steamy sex with, not one, but two stalking vampires, each far worse than Edward Cullen.  (Joss Whedon has said that Angelus would dust Edward, and with that I agree.) Here is a small sampling of what actually happened, and fans might recall that the bathroom scene cut into this video was Spike's attempt to rape Buffy.  

Logically, Buffy dusts Edward is a dead end.  Buffy is stronger than Bella, she is even a super hero, and still does the creepy vamps.  So the Buffy dusts Edward crowd tries to contend that Edward is more patriarchal than the other vamps, because Edward "spies on Bella, he stalks her (for “her own good”), he sneaks into her room to watch her sleep (without her consent) and even confesses to a deep, overpowering desire to kill her."  I could go chapter and verse, how Edward, Spike, and Angel overlap in the overprotective and stalking realms with Angel and Spike actually trying to kill, and in Spike's case, rape, Buffy, multiple times.  Just one taste, Spike's stalking song from the musical, "I know I should go, but I follow you like a man possessed./ There is a traitor here beneath my breast/ And it hurts me more than you've ever guessed./ If my heart could beat it would break my chest./  But I can see that you're unimpressed./ So let me be/  Let me Rest in Peace/ Let me get some sleep/ let me take my love and bury it in a hole 6 foot deep/ I can lay my body down but I can't find my sweet release/ So let me Rest in Peace"   


From the Notes on Dusting Edward Cullen, the logic is circular, but the writer essentially asserts that Edward is more patriarchal because Bella is wimpier than he'd like.  
… I chose to focus my critique on Edward’s patriarchal behavior in Twilight rather than on Bella’s actions…especially since her character is already disempowered by the original screenplay to the point of absurdity.
First, in a feminist critique, he has to make his argument by focusing on the man’s actions rather than the woman’s.  Does he intend to imply that Bella would be a strong woman if only her overbearing boyfriend would let her?  This is one of the major problems with modern feminist thought: it does not acknowledge the responsibility of women; it treats women as children.  'She's already weak, so let's look at what the strong man does.'  Tell me why she is weak.  Furthermore, tell me why her weakness is avoidable.  

The disconnect, the thing that makes feminists see Buffy as stronger and Bella as weaker is because Bella is strong, but not in ways feminists appreciate.  Feminists often only see strength in the choices of which they approve.  Going ninja on men like Buffy does, you are strong.  Screaming when you get hit, you are weak.  Get pregnant in college and have an abortion, you are strong.  Choose to carry the baby to term or to marry the father or to give the baby up for adoption, however, you are a weak woman, an idiot even.  Because the Bella-is-strong-facts are sometimes things they wouldn't do themselves--anything domestic, date Edward (or at least they assume they wouldn't until they would), play parent to an immature mother, etc. they just chuck those in with the 'she's a wimp' evidence.  
  
Looking at the scene upon which the mash-up maker based his analysis shows that Buffy gets the respect for her superpowers.   
“…I realized that the stalking scene in Twilight was extremely similar to a scene in episode 13 of Buffy. In both sequences a female protagonist walks alone at night and is followed by shadowy figure(s), while dramatic music amps up the suspense. The similarities end there. Both scenes have radically different outcomes and narrative lessons. In Bella’s case, she is confronted by a group of aggressive, drunken frat boys, and actually starts to defend herself – until she’s interrupted from the act of self-protection when the writers have Edward swoop in and save her in the nick of time. Turns out Edward has also been stalking her (supposedly in case she might need his help). In contrast, Buffy stops in the dark ally and, annoyed, confronts her pursuer – who turns out to be her own vampire love interest, Angel—and who, you guessed it, is following her in case she might need his help. Buffy’s having none of it, delivering her brilliantly pointed line (which I use in the remix): “You know, being stalked isn’t really a big turn on for girls.” She tells Angel she doesn’t trust him and that she can take care of herself, leaving him standing rejected and alone in the ally. To the show’s credit, it’s not ultimately a message of tough female individualism; Buffy does learn that working together with her friends and allies (many of them also strong female characters, alongside resourceful and supportive men) she can overcome any challenge, including saving the world—a lot.”  
First, this scene from Buffy is representative of neither the Buffy and Angel story arc nor of Buffy’s character development.  The video maker cherry-picked his facts.  Buffy is rescued multiple times and in multiple ways by the men in her life, who are not just resourceful and supportive, but also often the hero.   Buffy even sits back and lets them control.  Buffy's passiveness was a story arc of an entire season.  There is a song about it, as well, since it was an essential problem in Buffy and Giles's later relationship.  


Second, this comparison of the scenes ignores a major difference between the two.  In the Twilight scene Bella is already under attack by 4 men.  In the Buffy scene, there is no immediate threat; it is just Buffy and Angel talking, and Buffy needs no help with clever banter.  


Third, and most significantly, Buffy is a super hero.  Bella is not.  She’s a normal girl. The book tells us that she is quite aware that she can expect to, at best, disable one of her attackers.  She is staving off blind panic when Edward arrives on the scene and is throwing herself in front of the car to make whoever is driving stop.  If I recall correctly, she even actually thinks that she’d rather be hit than stay and suffer at the hands of her would be rapists.  Since the mashup maker chose to focus on Edward's behavior, does he mean that Edward should stand aside for a few minutes to give Bella a shot at self defense?  Exactly when should a man step in to defend a woman?  


My point is that Buffy has the luxury of being glib and dismissive with her wannabe protector.  Normal women, by virtue of biology and nature, don’t.  Modern feminism’s steadfast refusal to acknowledge this fact is perhaps its greatest weakness.  

While checking the link to see if it still worked, I found this comment answering my comment:
Buffy also has the luxury to be “glib and dismissive” because she has the backbone to not accept Angel’s stalking. You talk of Modern feminism not accepting biological differences, but MODERN times have also allowed women a greater variety of ways to protect themselves, which Meyer, sadly, does not give Bella the cunning nor wit to do so, especially talking about a scene where she is up against HUMANS, not vampires or shape-shifters.
This illustrates my point: feminists often think that your attitude, your "backbone", makes you a strong woman.  A strong attitude is essenstial but hardly sufficient.  Furthermore, this comment completely ignores differences between men and women.  "Cunning nor wit" will work 1 on 1 much less 4 on 1.  The vast majority of grown human males are stronger than grown human females.  One of those men could overpower her.  What do the commenters suggest Bella should do?  They didn't say.  Should she throw punches?  Run?  Quip?  Sing "I am woman.  Hear me roar!" until the baddies run away?  I ran across this nonsense in Hollywood fairy tales as well.  


I came across this gem the other day while looking, in vain it turns out, for feminist rage at that AAP recommendation for female genital mutilation.   Are self-defense skills one of those greater variety of ways to protect themselves that modern times have given women?  The feminist at the link is still depending on her strong attitude, a method of self defense that "empowers" her, to save her if ever in trouble.  


If women think a strong attitude can save them, then what are we to make of sexual harressment laws or campus rape codes?  (Start reading about half way down.  Paglia's best stuff on that is in her books, though.  Try Vamps and Tramps or Sexual Personae.)  Feminism's blindness to women's nature can leave women naive and surprisingly susceptable to exploitation.    And if we are worried about weak women being taken advantage of, then "[h]ow did things get to the point where women have been disempowered in relationships, to the point where they are being induced to act out adolescent male fantasies, regardless of their wishes or needs?"   The guys are certainly loving the status quo.  (Ironic article by the way.  The writer isn't actually endorsing the status quo.  Gotta be careful when linking to irony.)   Here is a similar article.  It is long, but I recommend the whole thing.  


Last bit from the Notes on Dusting Edward Cullen, this quote hints at something worth investigating:
  …interspersed among the avalanche of positive feedback are a small handful of responses from people dismayed at the death of the beloved Edward Cullen. Often these notes express concern that my mash-up is a condemnation of the fans of Twilight or of the actor Robert Pattinson, who plays Edward. 
Why do throngs of young women in cities all over the world conflate Robert Pattinson with Edward Cullen?   This confusion between actor and character isn’t limited to the Twilight universe, to be sure, but why do so many young women have this disconnect with reality?  I’ve not seen any good writing on this.  It is a complimentary problem of feminist thought taking art too literally; both have difficulty with reality.  As a woman with 3 daughters, I’m a bit concerned with girls getting locked into a fantasy or being unable to distinguish a fantasy.

Two final points on Twilight, not the mashup: 
I found it!  My favorite use of the term paradoxically was in Time: "Meyer put sex back underground, transmuted it back into yearning, where it became, paradoxically, exponentially more powerful."  Bless him, and the countless others who think that the correlation between restraint and desire is a paradox.  For all the technical knowledge of sex, desire is still a mystery to them.   See also, here (again with kitchens).  This one is a little off point talking about explicit sex in books and constantly trying to come up with new material.  


This paradoxically point is one of the reasons that many reviews of the books or movies point out, usually without much discussion, that Meyer is Mormon.  Sexual restraint, which is thought of as a religious imposition, couldn't possibly have a positive effect; it is such a stupid idea that it can only come from religion.  Since most people's knowledge of Mormons is limited to stories of child brides and polygamy, then mentioning her religion is a way to suggest that she's just a backward religious quack who got lucky.  By throwing out the term Mormon they hope to signal to the better read, better educated readers of pop culture for intellectuals (yes, Vanity Fair and NYT, I mean you) that Twilight is yet one more example of how religious ideas are the opiate for the masses.  Move along.  It is beneath you.

2 comments:

Kinsey Holley said...

I recently ran across two interesting analyses of Eclipse; I have no opinion on either one, having not read the books, nor seen the movies, nor intending to do either. I am, of course, always Team Werewolf. Don't fuck the dead things, as I always say...

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=128164077: NPR casts it as the Brash American Werewolf vs the Sensitive European Vampire

Io9 discusses interracial relationships, passive females, daddy figures and all kinds of other stuff: http://io9.com/5576956/

Over at Smart Bitches we've discussed (and discussed, and discussed) the meta issues, if you will, of the Twilight phenomenon. While many of us over-35s recognize that yeah, Bella is too passive, and no, in real life we wouldn't want our daughters hanging out with boys who watch them sleep and follow them everywhere they go, no matter how ostensibly noble the motivations, the feminist angst is overwrought and counterproductive (as usual). Many of us read unedifying romantic drivel as young women and we turned out fine. I was in junior high in the heyday of the Old Skool Rapey romance novels - Kathleen Woodiwiss, Rosemary Rogers, and nameless Harlequin writers with brooding, downright misogynistic heroes - books that probably couldn't see publication today. We read them over and over - but we didn't grow up to marry abusive men.

AHLondon said...

Throwing fuel on the fire months later (Kinsey, I'll email this comment to you) but since I am getting ready to share this post with potentially new traffic, but how does the female attraction for misogynistic heros fit with say Paliga's argument about the primal sexual struggle between men and women and our discussions about sex and modern men and women's libidos? Tie in that video, you know the one with the insufficiently manly men apologizing for all men in the hopes of getting laid. Post it at your place. Now that you are out, I want to put you on the right, but you only post every few months. Yes, I am being pushy.