The Twilight franchise still sucks. Really.

Earlier this week, Noah Berlatsky at the Atlantic (a magazine that I ADORE, if only for Ta-Nehisi Coates) wrote what is quite possibly the most irritating article ever.  It is purportedly about the Twilight franchise’s main “character,” Bella Swan, as compared to the character of Katniss Everdeen from the Hunger Games books.  What the article really is though, is a thinly veiled taunt of female critics of the Bella character.  If he used slightly less polite language, he’d be calling us femi-nazis.  Berlatsky’s rhetorical approach, such as it is, is to begin by pretending to sympathize with critics of the Bella character, but then attempt to pull a switch at the end by demonstrating how Bella’s just so awesomely moral that she totally rules, because she has a baby.  Or something, it isn’t really that good of an argument.  This is mostly because he isn’t actually trying to make a solid argument, he’s just trying to piss people off as link bait.  So…well played, I suppose.

Anyway, on to the article.  Let’s begin with the title:  “‘Twilight’ vs. ‘Hunger Games’: Why Do So Many Grown-Ups Hate Bella?”  The title misleads in a couple of ways.  First by pretending that it’s some cadre of grownups who find the depiction of Bella to be problematic, and that there are no young readers out there who are equally bothered by it.  Second, by pretending that this is a non-gender specific critique of “grownup” responses.  It isn’t.  Delve into the second and third paragraphs of the article, and it’s clear that Berlatsky’s primary focus is on the feminist critique of Bella’s character.  Here, in the second paragraph, he cites a small string of critics in the Bella v. Katniss war, and chooses to avoid really quoting them, but rather characterize their critiques, as follows:

Critics have expressed the Katniss-would-beat-the-tar-out-of-Bella dynamic in various ways. Tina Jordan at EW.com says that “compared to Katniss, Bella is simply the more passive character.” Meghan Lewitt here at The Atlanticcompared the “swoony Bella” to the “tough-as-nails Katniss,” and enthusiastically welcomes the latter as a return to heroines like Nancy Drew and Buffy: “the tomboys and the rule-breakers, resourceful, whip-smart girls who were doing it for themselves with minimal parental supervision.” Alyssa Rosenberg laments, “Bella’s overriding passivity,” while Yvonne Zip at Christian Science Monitor enthuses that “Katniss is too much of a fighter to go serenely to her death.” Bella, on the other hand, is stereotypically girly, and as Melinda Beasi argues, even women and feminists (especially women and feminists?) are neverous [sic] about being “associated with anything ‘girly.'” Thus the appeal of Katniss, who is a badass. Because whether it’s in a fist fight or in the hearts of critics, butch beats girly every time.

Ok.  So we have a general roundup of only female critics, along with what Berlatsky claims are their arguments.  That is, without actually quoting the critics saying so, he claims that the issue is that Bella is “girly” and Katniss is “butch.”  Really.  Moving on to the fourth paragraph of this mess of an article, he has this to say about the definitions of “girly” and “feminine” vs. what he claims is the definition of “butch” or “masculine”:

Comparing Twilight and The Hunger Games, it’s easy to see why second-wave feminists, and adults in general, find a girly teen so much less attractive than a tomboyish one. Bella is, as the critics say, passive, hapless, and an utter mess. Not only is she physically inept, but she has no particular talents or even distinguishing characteristics other than her desperation for romance.

***

And then there’s Katniss: an extremely competent, tomboyish young woman who is athletic, focused, responsible, and able to take care of herself. She’s not especially interested in boys and doesn’t have sex, or even really think about sex for almost the entire series. She’s also politically engaged, especially as the story moves on. She is, in other words, the ideal second-wave feminist daughter; smart, fierce, independent, and sexually restrained.

Now, after creating this dichotomy out of whole cloth, he then poses the following question:

And yet, for all the critical accolades…is masculinity really categorically better and more feminist than femininity? Would we really rather have our 17-year-old daughters kill dozens than have them carry a baby to term? Certainly, there are aspects of The Hunger Games that make the butch ideal seem problematic at the very least.

Oh Lordie, where to begin.  Ok.  Here we see that to Berlatsky, being “feminine” or “girly” means passivity, haplessness, klutziness, and desperation for “romance.”  To be “butch” or “masculine” means competence, athleticism, responsibility, and political intelligence.  Holy fucking shit.  I am, at this point, wondering whether Berlatsky knows any actual people, male or female.  But particularly, does he actually know any “girly” teens?  And has he actually read any of the Twilight books or seen the movies?  Yes, Bella is all of those things, but she is also uninterested in socializing, uninterested in clothes, uninterested in popular culture, and uninterested in her own appearance.  So in other words, not girly.  And Katniss?  Her motivation for everything she does is to save her family, particularly her younger sister to whom she essentially serves as a mother.  So, um, in other words, she exhibits a stereotypically “feminine” trait.

I will quote the following passage again, because I think it represents the heart of Berlatsky’s “masculine” v. “feminine” dichotomy:

And yet, for all the critical accolades…is masculinity really categorically better and more feminist than femininity? Would we really rather have our 17-year-old daughters kill dozens than have them carry a baby to term? Certainly, there are aspects of The Hunger Games that make the butch ideal seem problematic at the very least.

And there you have it.  Masculine = killing people.  Feminine = having babies.  Every other adjective used by Berlatsky is just incendiary window dressing.  In Berlatsky’s bizarro-universe, the entirety of the Bella character can be boiled down to the fact that she had a baby, and the character of Katniss can be boiled down to the fact that she killed people.  And BABIES, folks!!  That’s what we should be encouraging our daughters to want!  Because the only other choice is killing people, obviously.

The remainder of the article is a hot mess, in which Berlatsky makes all sorts of additional unsupported claims that seem to boil down to his opinion that all girls really want is to settle down and have kids.  Yes, the article is obvious link bait, and I went with it.

So in other Twilight news, Breaking Dawn Part 1 came out in theaters last night, and 40 year old housewives everywhere went to the midnight showings.  Rather than watching it for myself, I will rely on this review from Film Freak Central.  Lazy of me, I know, but having seen the other movies this past week as they played endlessly on cable, I’m pretty sure the review is dead on.  Key graf:

Appalling by pretty much every measure, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1 (hereafter Twilight 4.1) is the predictable end result of a film based on a book written by an illiterate Mormon housewife mistaking her profound ignorance for profundity. It’s about a really old guy who talks a really young girl into marrying him and enduring really, really painful childbirth as her portion of God’s judgment on her kind; and then it’s about another kind of pedophilia, wherein a 19-year-old badly in need of acting lessons gets turned on by a baby and decides he’s going to marry that infant once she’s old enough to breed.

Yep.

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2 responses to “The Twilight franchise still sucks. Really.

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