Yesterday I wrote about the Henry Louis Gates scandal; today I feel compelled to tackle an emotional intelligence issue embedded in another pop culture phenomenon: the bad boys of Twlight.
But first, promise me you won’t tell my 11-year-old I’m writing this. ‘Cuz she’d be mortified.
I picked up Twilight — the first of the four-volume Twilight set — a couple days ago, hoping to get some insight into the obsession that is sweeping through my pre-teen daughter’s social set. And I’ll admit: it’s a gripping read — in the way historic romances can be gripping reads. It’s a mystery and a bodice ripper, but because author Stephanie Meyer is a Mormon and so — apparently — trying to use blood lust as just a metaphor for teen-aged hormonal lust, it’s a bodice ripper with no mention of the heaving breasts. (I’d say that metaphor is not particularly opaque. I would say, in fact, that this book pretty much exudes sexual tension and Meyer doesn’t need to mention breasts — at least by page 381 in the first volume — to make her point.)
But within 50 pages I found myself strangely discomforted by the nature of the attraction between the (mortal) teen-ager Bella and the (good vampire) Edward. See, Edward is a classically moody male: He is by turns charming, condescending, angry, solicitious, “smoldering” (yes, Meyer uses that word), ice cold, and jealous. And Bella (who is depicted as helpless, by the way, and very much in need of rescuing) is fascinated — irresistably drawn to him even though she knows he’s dangerous, certain that he’s good underneath all the tension, the rage, the secrecy, the capacity for physical violence. And so she makes the decision to be with him despite it all, because she just can’t resist the attraction.
I know it’s a classic plot line. I know it’s totally alluring. But as a mother I want to grab young Bella (and every young girl reading these novels) and say, “Whoa, whoa, whoa! If a man seems dangerous to you — if he’s moody, emotionally distant, harboring secrets, jealous of your male friends,and clearly brimming with the potential to physically hurt or kill people, you need to walk away.
“Moreover,” I want to say, “I don’t care how handsome he is, how magical he seems, how straight his teeth are, how smoldering his eyes are, how deep his pain, how acute his loneliness, how poetic his language, how every now and then he spills his guts — there’s nothing romantic about violence. There’s nothing romantic about mood swings. There’s nothing romantic about alienation.”
That’s a hard lesson to teach young women. Perhaps it’s a lesson that can only be learned from (hard) experience. But perhaps the whole Twilight phenomenon gives us all a chance to talk to our pre-teen and teen kids about observing people carefully and avoiding those who can hurt us, about being aware of that “I-don’t-care-what-happens-I-just-want-to-with-him” adrenaline rush that makes young people decide that passion, danger and unpredictability are more attractive than, say, respect, kindness, and a sense of partnership. Call me a kill joy if you want, but it’s a conversation I’ll be having with my daughter sometime this weekend.