All That Glitters Is Not Gold: Twilight and Its Negative Impact on Society
Books are powerful. The thoughts and ideas that mankind has chosen to craft into words and preserve upon paper have shaped the human race into what it is today, be they as widely influential as The Bible or The Origin of Species or as seemingly unimportant as Fahrenheit 451 or The Great Gatsby. However, while literature has a remarkable capacity for good, certain works can also prove to be very detrimental to the society that we live in, especially those that target and corrupt our children and our future. One such work of sin is Stephenie Meyer's fantasy novel Twilight, which details the love story of a sparkling vampire and a rather incompetent teenage girl. It has become a bestseller in the United States and is making ground worldwide, presiding over an audience that canvases all ages and sexes. While the negative aspects of its widespread popularity may seem limited to the rare instance of fangirls instigating a riot or rupturing the eardrums of passerby with squeals of "Edward!" and "Jacob!" Twilight's influence runs much deeper and, in fact, is a danger to American society. Its terrible writing has perverted an entire generation of potential writers; it has implanted within the minds of readers everywhere an idea of unattainable perfection. And, perhaps worst of all, Twilight's woefully weak and incompetent protagonist, Bella Swan, has dealt a heavy blow to the feminist movement and prepared young girls everywhere for a lifetime of abuse and suppression at the hands of men. While Meyer's Book has been hailed as a positive influence on young women by media outlets and fans alike, a deeper look beyond the sparkles and supposed romance reveals a much darker and sinister impact.
Twilight is undoubtedly one of the most popular books of the millennium. Millions of copies of the book have been sold, and, according to USA Today, it has accounted for 29% of total book sales in 2009. However, it is by no means a work of literary genius. Stephenie Meyer is certainly not an amazing author or even a decent writer for that matter. The gratuitous abuse of purple prose and abundant grammatical errors are enough to sicken any lover of literature; fellow best-selling author Stephen King even famously stated in an interview with USA Weekend that Meyer "couldn't write worth a darn." Her terrible writing is not only frustrating, but also dangerous, scarring the English language and tainting an entire generation of would-be writers.
One of the most important rules of creative writing is to always show and not tell. As stated by Brad's Reader, this means that, "instead of simply describing attributes, characters, settings, etc., [a writer] should show these attributes through action." For example, a good writer should never simply state: "My mother drove me to the airport with the windows rolled down. It was seventy-five degrees in Phoenix, the sky a perfect, cloudless blue. I was wearing my favorite shirt sleeveless, white eyelet lace; I was wearing it as a farewell gesture. My carry-on item was a parka" (Meyer 3). Instead of telling the reader that the windows are rolled down, he or she should show the reader the feel of the hot Phoenix air rushing through the car windows; he or she should not tell the reader what the narrator is wearing, but rather show them how the gust of wind from the windows ruffles the eyelet lace on her favorite shirt. As Anton Chekhov famously said, "Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass." With so many more creative and enthralling ways to describe people and places to the reader, simply rattling off a list of the attributes of a character or setting is nothing more than lazy writing: lazy writing that makes for lazy readers.
The worst cases of Meyer's telling involve the characters themselves: "We walked to class together; [Mike] was a chatterer. It turned out he was in my English class also. He was the nicest person I'd met today" (Meyer 25). Not once does she allow the reader to get to know Mike through his actions; instead, Meyer takes the easy way out and tells the reader everything about him. Not only does this make her writing highly unappealing, but it also squelches any chance of character development. In decent literature, a reader learns about a character by "Observ[ing] their actions. Listen[ing] closely to what they say and how they say it. Notic[ing] how they relate to other characters and how other characters respond to them" ("Creating Character"). Because Meyer never shows any aspect of Mike, the reader is never able to observe his actions, and Mike's character is never able to develop. The fact that Mike is a minor character is not excuse for this style, as even the Cullens are not spared from Meyer's lackluster writing abilities: "[The Cullens] didn't look anything alike. The last was lanky, less bulky, with untidy, bronze-colored hair" (Meyer 18). The narrator never speculates about why they don't look alike or how they interact with each other; she simply lists their physical attributes, not once showing them through action. Considering that a good portion of Twilight is dedicated to Edward's good looks, the fact that Meyer could not even muster up the talent to describe him well is nothing short of unsettling.
Telling instead of showing never allows the reader to become involved with the story; instead of having to draw his or her own conclusions from observations of action in the text, the reader is able to simply gloss over a list of details. Young bookworms who grow used to this telling style become lazy readers, scoffing at decent literature because they are not accustomed to using their brains to think about a story. This also creates lazy writers, teaching an entire generation of would-be authors to simply tell the reader every detail instead of working hard to make their writing deeper than straightforward details. These lazy writers will in turn create even more lazy readers and lazy writers, who will eventually degrade the standards for English literature and leave a scar upon the language. Unfortunately, Meyer's writing fallacies do not stop with showing and telling.
Description is an essential part of any story; it allows the reader to catch a glimpse of the characters and settings, and skilled authors are able to manipulate words to paint a mental picture in the reader's mind. However, it is very possible for a writer to make their descriptions too detailed, too flowery, and too ornate: this is called purple prose. Purple prose is often cluttered and difficult to read, where sentences are filled with unnecessary adjectives and other describing words to the point where "it draws attention to itself rather than to the story" ("Purple Prose"). The problem with this is obvious, as the focus of the writing should be the story and not the phrases. A general rule that authors need to follow to avoid purple prose is best stated by George Orwell: "if it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out." Good writing demands a balance where the author shows details but does not inflate the writing to the point where the reader is more concerned with the language than the actual story. Therefore, the work is concise enough to be easily read and understood by the reader and stick to the story, but descriptive enough so that the reader is able to form at least a general picture of the people and places mentioned. The inability to achieve this balance is the biggest problem that plagues Meyer's writing.
In the rare instances where Meyer manages to show the reader instead of telling him or her, she heavily abuses purple prose. One of the most frequent uses is when she describes the appearance of Edward Cullen, the main vampire and love interest of Bella Swan in the Twilight series: "He lay perfectly still in the grass, his shirt open over his sculpted, incandescent chest, his scintillating arms bare. His glistening, pale lavender lids were shut, though of course he didn't sleep" (Meyer 260). A good portion of the adjectives mentioned were not needed at all -- in fact, "incandescent," "scintillating," and "glistening" are all synonyms for "sparkling." They serve absolutely no purpose other than to reinforce what has already been stated, therefore causing the reader to focus more on the wording than the actual story of Twilight. Meyer's use of this tactic is nothing more than a failed attempt to pass as a decent author and to make her writing seem more intelligent than it actually is. As with telling, Meyer is teaching young authors to fill sentences with as many describing words as possible, even if they have no idea what they mean, and to focus more on the phrasing in the writing than the actual story itself.
Tying in with her use of purple prose is Meyer's abuse of the thesaurus. Oftentimes she breaks another key rule of writing, to "never use a long word where a short one will do" (Orwell). She frequently pulls complex words from a thesaurus to replace simpler ones. The problem with this is that many of the words are not perfect synonyms, and therefore are used incorrectly. Despite her attempts in doing this to make her writing seem smarter, Meyer gives many of her sentences nonsensical meanings: "But it was sure to be awkward with Charlie. Neither of us was what anyone would call verbose, and I didn't know what there was to say regardless" (Meyer 5). In this sentence Meyer attempts to replace the word "talkative" with "verbose." However, these words do not mean the same thing. "Verbose," as defined by the Random House Dictionary, means "characterized by the use of many or too many words," while "talkative" is defined as "inclined to talk a great deal." Therefore, the reader is being told that, because neither Bella nor Charlie is characterized by the use of too many words, neither of them would know how to begin or hold a conversation with one another. This is completely different from the meaning that Meyer intended. This, along with many other examples of incorrectly used words, teaches children two things; first, because most readers use context clues to figure out what unfamiliar words mean, they learn the incorrect definitions because the words are not used in the correct context. The readers will therefore be more inclined to use the word incorrectly, both in speech and in writing, degrading the English language. Second, Meyer teaches young authors to follow her bad example and use a thesaurus to include complex words in their writing to give it the illusion of being more intelligent than they actually are. The perversion of the intelligence of America's youth is simply the tip of the iceberg, however; the dangers that Twilight poses extend to their love lives as well.
The idea of unattainable perfection has long existed in various forms of media, such as television, advertising, and literature. Rail-thin supermodels with impossibly large chests and faces perfectly sculpted by plastic surgeons are the most well-known examples of this, striking both envy and anger in the hearts of women all over America because of the absurdly high standards that they set in the minds of men. Women are no strangers to this type of objectification, but the tables are beginning to turn. Through romance novels, authors are beginning to implant within the minds of women very high standards for men; and, with such novels beginning to be written for younger audiences, such as Twilight, these standards often become all that girls have to base the opposite sex on.
In Twilight, Meyer spends a great deal of time making sure that the reader knows just how perfect Edward Cullen is; she gushes endlessly about his physical beauty, from his "perfect lips" (Meyer 20) to his "incandescent chest" (Meyer 260). He is described as the perfect man: unrealistically beautiful, caring, and protective. Even middle aged women find themselves dazzled by Cullen. However, Edward Cullen introduces to young girls everywhere an unrealistically high standard for the opposite gender. Through Cullen, Meyer "evokes dangerously false expectations in young women that no man could ever satisfy" (Ross). Young readers everywhere expect to find an Edward Cullen of their own; girls have left boyfriends and women have left husbands at the altar because "[they] are idealizing Edward to the point where real men can't compete anymore" (Gorgan). Because of Cullen, "
women pass over and ignore the great real men in [their] lives" (Juarez) simply because they do not have his looks, tact, or charm. The detrimental effects of Cullen's influence are even stronger when a woman actually takes a chance with a man, because "like the tear-soaked tissues in our hands, [she is] let down again" (Juarez). The bar that Edward Cullen sets in the minds of young girls and women only serves to deprive them of opportunity and dash their hopes again and again, simply because no man like Cullen exists in reality. Even the realization of this fact can damage young women, as they crash back down to reality with the crushing realization that they will never find the perfect man. It is comparable to a child learning that there is no Santa Claus or Tooth Fairy. What makes the situation worse is the fact that Meyer is getting to girls while they are still young. A very large chunk of Twilight readers is composed of girls in their early teens who are just starting to form their opinions of the opposite sex. And, according to Juarez, sometimes fictional characters like Edward are all girls have to base their assumptions on. Edward Cullen is not the only character in Twilight who is guilty of guilty unrealistic expectations, however; the book's protagonist, Bella Swan, is equally to blame.
Although she describes herself as ordinary, the characters in Twilight view Bella as rather beautiful. A vast majority of the boys in school are attracted to her, including the ever-evasive and ridiculously picky Edward Cullen, and a good number of the girls are jealous of her looks. She has exactly one flaw her unbelievable clumsiness but even that can hardly be considered as such, since the only time it seems to show itself is when it gives Edward a chance to come running to her rescue. But the real danger with Bella lies in her description or lack thereof. Meyer intentionally did not describe Swan in detail in the book "so that the reader could more easily step into her shoes" ("Twilight FAQ"). This makes it all too easy for young female readers to raise their expectations for themselves to Bella's high standards; and in a society where the unrealistic expectations women are expected to fulfill already flood the media, this is the last thing that girls need. Furthermore, Bella is an unbelievably shallow character. No matter how nice the many men who fall for her are, she completely writes off the more unattractive ones before even getting to know them and, after meeting the gorgeous Edward Cullen, pays no mind to any of the boys who don't ignore her as Cullen does. Take for example Eric Yorkie, the first boy who Bella meets at her new high school. Although he is extremely courteous and kind to her, because Bella views him as "the overly-helpful, geeky, chess club type" (Meyer 16), she pays absolutely no mind to him for the entirety of the series. According to Bella, it does not matter how nice someone may be; if they are "geeky" and "unattractive," they are not worth associating oneself with.
Through her actions as the protagonist, Bella teachers little girls everywhere to be shallow and vain, as well as to strive to be so beautiful that every single boy in school falls head over heels for them. Since these horrible lessons are veiled by the book's apparent theme of "true love" and the media's hailing of Bella as a good role model simply because she abstains from sex, girls are actually encouraged to follow her terrible example. Bella Swan's harshest blow, however, has been dealt to the Feminist movement.
For the most part, human society has always been patriarchal; many of our leaders, past and present, have been and are men. In this male-dominated world, women have been objectified, persecuted, and discriminated against simply because of their gender. They have been denied the natural rights supposedly guaranteed to all humans again and again, even when it is widely believed that all people are created equal. The feminist movement has fought long and hard to rectify this injustice. For hundreds of years women have picketed and protested to be viewed as equal, and it seems as though the movement has accomplished much in the past century. Women are now allowed to vote, work, and own property, and are beginning to break traditional gender roles. However, a stubborn few still insist that women are inferior to men and should have every aspect of their lives dominated by the opposite gender. Twilight has certainly incubated and spread the idea of female inferiority, threatening to set the Feminist movement back 100 years to a time when men had complete control over every aspect of women's lives. Even when kept to oneself, such a narrow-minded and outdated opinion can have a negative effect on the feminist movement because, sadly, such ideas tend to be commonplace. Once further spread through the use of media, such an idea can become a cancer upon the Feminist movement, slowly infecting and destroying everything that women have worked so hard for. Regardless of how hard women fight or how many rights world governments grant them, as long as women are still viewed as inferior in the minds of men and even women themselves, they will never achieve equality.
In order for women to gain rights equal to men, they must be viewed and treated as equal beings. No one gender must have authority over the other; they must be able to act independently of each other and fend for themselves, even when the two intertwine in romantic relationships. However, Twilight puts forth the idea that a woman is completely worthless without her man. With the help of her single character flaw, Bella succeeds in proving completely defenseless and, time and time again, must be saved by Edward: "She is weak, clumsy, and seems to depend wholly on her boyfriend just to survive" (Anti-Feminism
). Take, for example, one of the first encounters that Edward and Bella share: "
the dark blue van was skidding wildly across the ice of the parking lot. It was going to hit the back corner of my truck, and I was standing between them.
Two long, white hands shot out protectively in front of me, and the van shuddered to a stop a foot from my face" (Meyer 56). While the threat of being crushed by a van does not seem like an anti-feminist act, it is not the occurrence itself but rather the reason for its placement in Twilight. The only reason Bella is nearly killed is simply so Edward can interact with her by coming to her rescue. From halfway across the parking lot he stops the van in its tracks so that he can protect a person he's shown absolutely no interest at all in because, even though they have never spoken, Edward views Bella as his property. He is heavily attracted to her blood and wishes nothing more than to make her his and only his, hence his overly protective attitude towards her. Another example of this takes place during Bella's trip to Port Angeles: "The thickest man shrugged away from the wall as I warily came to a stop, and walked slowly into the street
. 'Done be like that, sugar,' he called, and the raucous laughter started again behind me" (Meyer 161). In this instance, Bella has wandered alone through the dark backstreets of Port Angeles and ends up being accosted by a group of rowdy men. Bella considers trying to defend herself with "what little self-defense [she] knew. ...That same pessimistic voice spoke up in my mind again, reminding me that I probably wouldn't have a chance against one of them, and there were four" (Meyer 161). She does not even attempt to defend herself, reasoning that a woman would have no chance even struggling against male attackers. Had Edward not been stalking her during her trip in order to supposedly protect her, Bella would have certainly been sexually assaulted by the gang of men. Hidden under the ruse of the knight in shining armor coming to the helpless princess's rescue is the fact that he was trailing her on an outing with her friends without her knowledge. They are not dating, nor have they even had much interaction. Edward is essentially stalking a girl who he barely knows because he feels extremely possessive of her. Of course, this also paints Bella, the falsely dubbed good role model, as a weak, incompetent and defenseless woman who is completely incapable of keeping herself out of trouble. No woman with an ounce of common sense would dare wander away from her friends, alone and unprotected, through a completely unknown city at night. Bella portrays all women as vapid creatures who always find some way to get into trouble and must be constantly watched and protected by the men who possess them. Twilight is littered with instances of Bella getting herself into trouble, only to be saved by the dashing Edward; in fact, it seems to form the basis of their relationship. Bella's dependence on the man in her life is simply one of the many instances of anti-Feminism in Twilight.
One important element in feminism is the independence of women from the men in their lives. Even in a relationship, it is important for a woman to have a social life outside of her partner. However, in Twilight, Edward is the center of Bella's world. Once they begin dating, there is never any mention of the friends that Bella had once had, nor any signs that show a social life whatsoever outside of Edward and the Cullens. Part of the reason for this is that Edward refuses to let Bella out of his sight to see other people, claiming that it is because he wants to protect her. However, this is merely an instance of a man claiming complete control over his female partner's life; because it is to be assumed that men are far superior to women to the point where women don't have any idea what is good for themselves, it is the man's duty to run his woman's life and make sure that she stays out of trouble. Furthermore, Edward stalked Bella, sneaking into her room every night to watch her sleep from the day she arrived in Forks. In addition to this, he would also eavesdrop on her conversations by reading the minds of the friends with whom she was conversing. Outside of fantasy novels, such blatant disregard for personal boundaries would certainly result in a call to the police and a restraining order. However, "it appears that Bella enjoys surrendering control of her life over to Edward
. She consistently tells herself that he is only doing these things because he loves and wants to protect her" ("Anti-Feminism
"). In fact, what this disallowing of a social life and stalking indicate is the complete opposite of love and protection: abuse. According Dr. Segal and Dr. Smith, isolation and controlling behavior are signs of emotional abuse. While it may not seem as serious as other forms of abuse, "emotional abuse can be just as damaging as physical abusesometimes even more so" (Segal & Smith). Because this abuse is masked so well as love, however, Twilight does nothing more than set up young girls for a lifetime of abuse and discrimination at the hands of men. This abuse and discrimination in turn greatly hinders the feminist movement, slowly handing over control of women's lives to men once more.
For a book hailed as a good influence, Twilight has certainly dealt society a fair amount of damage. Stephenie Meyer's terrible writing has perverted the minds of many a young author and bookworm, setting a new low standard for literature and permanently scarring the English language. The dazzling visage of Edward Cullen has set unrealistically high standards in countless young girls, damaging any future chance that they may have had at a functional relationship with the opposite gender. And, perhaps worst of all, the feeble and incompetent Bella Swan has singlehandedly set the Feminist movement back one hundred years. Due to its immense popularity, these effects have spread quickly throughout the population, and as copies continue to fly off of the shelves and into the hands of fragile young minds, the damage will only continue to multiply. Truly, because of its deeply sinister impact on society, the only place that Twilight belongs is within the cleansing licks of fire.