Watching You Sleep: Power, Control, Obsession... and Edward Cullen

Posted by Malory Beazley | Posted in , , , , | Posted on 12:19 AM

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Nobody was shocked when the Twilight Saga debuted at #5 on the American Library Association's (ALA) Top Ten list of the Most Frequently Challenged Books of 2009.  In fact, if I could have predicted which book or series was to come out on top, I would have pinned the Vampire/Werewolf/Human love triangle to take the number one spot, simply based on its pandemic-like popularity.  However, the reasons behind why the series made the list in the first place are rather unsettling.

According to ALA, a challenged book is one in which there has been "a formal, written complaint, filed with a library or school, requesting that materials be removed or restricted because of content or appropriateness."  So what were the reasons Twilight was challenged?  The books are considered to be: a) sexually explicit, b) from a religious viewpoint, and c) unsuited to age group.  The shocking part?  Not once was Twilight specifically challenged for glorifying abusive relationships.

In her Twilight blog, "Yes, I Read It. It's Still Stupid," Rachel 'Vampirely' writes critical and analytical chapter recaps of the Twilight Saga (which she lovingly calls, "[Push Me Off a] Cliff Notes").  In one of her posts, she outlines the domestic abuse that occurs in the books by using the six tactics abusers use to exert their power from HelpGuide.org's "Signs of Abuse and Abusive Relationships."  By systemically leafing through the saga, she finds numerous incidents which correspond to the following abuser control tactics: dominance, humiliation, isolation, threats, intimidation, denial and blame.

Now, as a mature university student I was able to take Edward's unsettling actions with a grain of salt.  Originally a Team Edward (after reading Twilight), I abandoned ship early and switched teams half-way through New Moon; Jacob seemed to be a little less clingy.  As a relatively new Team Jacob, I still looked at Edward's creepy and controlling actions with annoyance, and nothing more (after all, he did love Bella more than anything in the world).  However, a startling incident in Eclipse changed my mind: Edward became an abusive and obsessive boyfriend.  In Chapter Two: Evasion, Bella decides that her desire to visit Jacob in La Push is worth disobeying Edward's orders to stay put.  She tells her Dad she'll be driving to La Push and heads out towards her parked truck:
Like any fugitive, I couldn't help looking over my shoulder a few times while I jogged to my truck, but the night was so black that there really was no point. ... My eyes were just beginning to adjust as I shoved my keys into the ignition.  I twisted them hard to the left, but instead of roaring deafeningly to life, the engine just clicked.  I tried it again with the same results.  And then a small motion in my peripheral vision made me jump. ... Edward sat very still, a faint bright spot in the darkness, ... looking at the piece of my truck's engine as he twirled it in his hands. ... "I'll put your car back together in time for school, in case you'd like to drive yourself," he assured me after a minute. (Eclipse 61-64)
...and every woman who has ever been affected by abuse cringed.
The power and control that Edward exerts over Bella is no less than frightening, and author Stephenie Meyer makes no effort to convey to young female readers that this behaviour is wrong.  Instead, she ends the chapter with Edward pouting ("Shut your window if you want me to stay away tonight.  I'll understand.") and an infuriated Bella storming up to her room and slamming the window shut so hard that the "glass trembled."  Yet, Bella then immediately sighs as she "opened the window as wide as it would go."

This disturbing pattern of behaviour is one that is repeated throughout the entire saga.  Each story arc is painfully formulaic: Edward manipulates Bella, Bella forgives Edward.  To think that hoards of young twihards (some as young as seven years old) are seeing this type of domestic abuse being accepted and embraced by a supposedly strong female character is troubling.  The ALA should not be concerned with whether or not the Twilight Saga is sexually explicit (unless you consider a "leg hitch" to be scandalous), but whether the saga is normalizing the presence of domestic violence in relationships.

By the way, I'm still a die hard Team Jacob... because "it feels great to be free" (Eclipse 171).

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School Sucks! - How One University Professor is Revamping English Literature

Posted by Malory Beazley | Posted in , , | Posted on 11:03 PM

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Now here is a program we can all get sucked into (hehe)…

The University of Hertfordshire (UK) is organizing an Academic Vampire Literature Conference called “Open Graves, Open Minds; Vampires and The Undead in Modern Culture.”  The idea was inspired by a growing concern amongst a small group of academics that students are not likely to take interest in class lectures that do not reflect the interests of their generation.

Dr. Sam George, the brain behind the whole operation and vampire fiction enthusiast, hopes the two-day academic conference will “prove that you can study popular literature in a serious way” and make people aware that the study of “the undead at a higher level” can lead to interesting revelations about our contemporary society.  The conference, taking place on April 16-17 at Hertfordshire University’s de Havilland campus, has already attracted over 200 participants, and the call for papers has resulted in more than 100 academic submissions, of which only 70 have been selected to be presented as lectures.

Here is a taste of some of the planned lectures:
- “Sullied Blood, Semen, and Skin: Vampires and the Spectre of Miscegenation”
-“Who Ordered the Hamburger with AIDS?: Blood Anxiety in True Blood

The academic buzz surrounding the conference has also prompted Dr. George to launch, starting September 2010, the world’s first ever Master of Arts (MA) Degree program specializing in Vampire Literature.

In an age when the word ‘vampire’ seems to bring to mind sparkles before it does blood, it might come as a surprise to some that vampire fiction often reflects moral anxieties that are embedded in our contemporary culture.  Dr. George suggests, “our modern vampires are a metaphor for teenagers’ wider anxieties about their bodies and their first stirrings of desire” and also that “current vampires – like the eternally teenage Edward of Twilight – reflect the scientific debate about preserving youth and living forever.”

Speaking as a graduating university student myself, the incorporation of generationally-relevant content into university courses is critically important when it comes to a) the popularity/attendance of your classes, and b) the amount of students who will passionately engage in discussions and papers.  It’s time that more university professors take a page from Dr. George’s book and start revamping their archaic curriculum for the scholars of today.

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