What if you want a film that promotes “the egg as person” meme of recently proposed pro-life laws? Then Breaking Dawn: Part 1 is the Flick for You

This review was originally posted at Ms. Blog here.
SPOILER ALERT: This review reveals major events in Breaking Dawn.

As I sat watching the vampiric ode to white weddings that dominated the opening scenes of Breaking Dawn: Part 1, I waited anxiously for the honeymoon and morning-after scenes, wondering how the latest Twilight film would present vampire Edward’s “headboard-busting” sex and his new wife Bella’s bruised body.

The highly sanitized depictions in the film, compared to the Twilight book series, removed the vast majority of Bella Swan’s “violet blotches” and her subsequent attempts to conceal them. In the book, as she gazes at herself in the mirror, she notes:

There was a faint shadow across one of my cheekbones, and my lips were a little swollen…The rest of me was decorated with patches of blue and purple. I concentrated on the bruises that would be the hardest to hide—my arms and my shoulders. … Of course, these were just developing. I’d look even worse tomorrow. [italics mine]

The movie only decorates her with a few tiny bruises on her arm and shoulder, a diminishment that can be seen as an improvement given that it does not romanticize a bruised and battered body to the same extent as the book.

But another narrative thread in Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight saga that is problematic from a feminist perspective–the latent anti-abortion message—is heightened, not diminished, in the film. While some argue that the book is pro-choice, as Bella chooses to carry out her pregnancy, the way Bella’s pregnancy is depicted and discussed–along with the strong pro-abstinence messages of the saga, the religious underpinnings and the motherhood-is-the-natural-and-happy-ending-for-all-females tone–result in a narrative that leans far more towards the anti-abortion stance.

When Bella discovers she is pregnant, 14 days after her wedding to Edward, he is horrified, telling her that Carlisle will “get that thing out.” Bella responds “That thing?” seemingly distraught at his choice of words. This attention to language continues in further scenes when the psychic vampire Alice repeatedly uses the word “fetus” and is corrected each time by her vampire sister Rosalie, “Say the word baby!…It’s just a little baby!”

Given that the film ultimately depicts the pregnancy and resulting birth as miraculous, the word “baby” is framed as more apt than the more pro-choice-preferred “fetus.” Bella’s instant transformation into a woman who will protect her pregnancy at all costs–even her own life–also echo common anti-abortion narratives.

Edward, Jacob, Alice, Carlisle and the Quileute wolves are all against Bella’s choice to carry out the pregnancy–and understandably so, given she looks like a living skeleton. The fetus, as Carlisle tells her, “isn’t compatible with your body–it’s too strong, too fast-growing.” Yet Bella never considers not carrying out the pregnancy, even though her life is clearly at risk—something that would no doubt make those who propose “egg as person” laws and “let women die” acts quite happy. The life of the fetus is framed as more important than Bella’s, a sentiment that colors these pieces of anti-abortion legislation. And Bella is portrayed as a heroic martyr, the ultimate mother-to-be, rather than as a delusional lovestruck teen with a seeming death wish.

Bella is duly punished in pregnancy and childbirth, bringing to mind Genesis 3:16: “I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; In pain you shall bring forth children; Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” Yet the closing birth scene is more sanitized than depicted in the the book–yes, Bella’s spine is broken, but there are no crunching bones, no sounds of the vampire-human hybrid gnawing its way out of the womb, no vomiting of blood. Instead, Bella lays prone and skeletal, looking like a very bruised, very pregnant, very dead Snow White, as Edward, Vampire Charming, bites her neck, arms and legs in hopes of turning her into a vampire before she dies. The “happy ending” is the birth of Renesmee, whom Rosalie—depicted in the books as having a ruined life because she cannot have children—happily swaddles and kisses.

If you know the saga, you know that Bella does not die–another message that her choice to carry out the pregnancy was the right one. While it’s true she makes this choice, the book and film never suggest any other choice, leaving us with an anti-abortion message seductively packaged as a true-love fairy tale. Bella is cast as a modern Snow White, whose body, shriveled and bruised like a rotting apple, is able to bloom once again thanks not only to Edward’s life-saving bites but to Renesmee’s birth.

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What if those bruises are just “decorations”? Thoughts on Breaking Dawn’s Morning-After Scene featuring a bruised (and feathered!) Bella Swan

With the wide release of Breaking Dawn: Part 1 looming, what scene are you most anxious to see?

If the stars and attendees at Comic-Con are any indication, most people name the wedding or the birth scene. Not me. I am most anxious to see the morning after scene. And, I do mean ANXIOUS, not EXCITED, as I have trepidation regarding how this scene will be handled. Though Bella admittedly WANTS sex with Edward, does she also want the bruises that result?

There has been much debate regarding if the morning after scene represents sexual violence, violent consensual sex, hidden messages about women being “punished” for sexual desire and so on. As a recap, here are some details from the book:

Before Edward and Bella do the deed, when they are standing in the moonlit ocean, he says “if I hurt you, you must tell me at once.” This quote lends credence to those who argue we cannot place blame on Edward, as do other quotes where Bella notes she does not remember ever feeling pain.

As in the above parody, Edward is let of the hook for causing so many “decorations” on her body.  While Bella seems to relish her newly “decorated” body, he feels remorse, saying to the waking Bella the next morning: “How badly are you hurt, Bella? The truth—don’t downplay it.”

Bella assesses her body, noting “stiffness, and a lot of soreness” and “the odd sensation my bones all had become unhinged at the joints,” but also notes her happiness on “this most perfect of mornings.” Here, we could read this as understandable post-sex session soreness and equally understandable post-multiple-orgasm euphoria.

The problem is though, Bella is not just sore, she is covered in black and purple bruises – bruises which cause Edward to say “Stop acting like I’m not a monster for having agreed to this” and “Look at yourself, Bella. Then tell me I’m not a monster.”

To this, Bella “followed his instructions unthinkingly” (as she does all too damn often in the books!) and at first only focuses on “the fluffy white snow” that clings to her skin and hair. It is only at Edward’s insistence she looks at her arm that she has “large purplish bruises” that “blossom across the pale skin.”

Here, Edward is again presented as the kind, caring guy, and she as the oblivious, feather-covered sap. Sure, she is blissed out in post-coital mode, but must she speak of her bruises in flowery terms (“blossom”)?!? This description problematically suggests, as does the later use of the term “decorated,” that Bella’s body is beautifully and lovingly MARKED by Edward, harkening to the age-old notion of woman as man’s property to mark on as he pleases – the one that the institution of marriage they just entered into is historically based on.

As Bella looks at the bruises that “trail” up to her shoulder and across her ribs, Edward places “his hand against the bruises on my arm…matching his long fingers to the patterns.” So, indeed, he has quite literally marked her with his handprints, turning her body into a decorated object of “violet blotches.” However, Edward is not held up as the baddie here and Bella is presented as the happiest she has ever been.

Edward does not share her euphoria though, insisting “I’m… so sorry, Bella…I knew better than this. I should not have–…I am more sorry than I can tell you.” So, flipping the traditionally gendered script, he has morning after regrets, she does not.

But might we read her euphoria as more indication that she does not take sex seriously enough – that she is a “bad girl” who wants it too much and is punished for her desires? Or, are we supposed to read her as a sexually liberated, kinky vixen who likes her sex rough? While both readings are tenable, given the strong pro-abstinence messages of the saga, the religious underpinnings of the text, and the “sex is dangerous” message that permeates the books, the first reading is more apt.

Further, Bella is not really presented as sexually confident or in the know – she has to ASK if Edward enjoyed it, and says incredulously to his insistence that he most certainly did,  “Really? The best ever?” That she asks this “in a small voice” only furthers the notion that she is sexually naïve, small, and silent – or, in other words, a “good girl” gone bad – a bruised apple, so to speak.

Perhaps no other scene in the saga so crosses the lines between sex as bad, sex as enjoyable, Bella as good girl or Bella as slut. Yet, the representation of Edward and his acts are not complicated – while Bella’s sexual desires are left open to reader interpretation (we can read her as punished for her desires or read her night of headboard busting as a sexual triumph), Edward is framed as full of remorse and dutifully goes off to cook her enough eggs for two (hint hint).

After his departure, she stares in the mirror (as depicted in the above parody), thinking about how she will hide the bruises: “There was a faint shadow across one of my cheekbones, and my lips were a little swollen, but other than that, my face was fine. The rest of me was decorated with patches of blue and purple. I concentrated on the bruises that would be the hardest to hide—my arms and my shoulders. They weren’t so bad. My skin marked up easily….Of course, these were just developing. I’d look even worse tomorrow. That would not make things any easier.”

Recall that Bella is concerned with hiding the bruises not for others (they are on a deserted island!) but for Edward’s sake. So, she puts on a white cotton dress “that concealed the worst of the violet blotches” and trots off to the kitchen for her scalding hot eggs.

The chapter closes with her asking “You aren’t going to touch me again while we’re here, are you?” to which Edward answers “I will not make love to you until you’ve been changed. I will never hurt you again.”

Once again, Bella’s wants are refuted and Edward calls the shots. But, Bella’s insistence there is nothing to worry about regarding her bruised body, the bitten pillows, or the busted headboard can be read as a failure to recognize the dangers of sex with an uber-strong vampire – or, to put  it another way, for her, the danger sex poses for females like Bella but NOT males like Edward.

A sex positive message? A pro-consensual violent sex is sexy message? I don’t buy it. More like punishing silly, oblivious Bella for wanting it too much… And her punishment is only just beginning given that her pregnancy is hardly a “blessed event” but one filled with pain, broken bones, and the promise that “the creatures” like the one in her womb “use their own teeth to escape the womb.”

And how will the film present the birth? Will Bella scream in “a blood-curdling shriek of agony: and then vomit “a fountain of blood”? Will we hear the “crunching and snapping as the newborn monster” tear through her “from the inside out “ and the “shattering crack” as her spine is broken?

No doubt, we will see the gooey scenes of her loving her “little nudger” and her going ga-ga over the newborn Renesmee. But, I do wonder if the more horrific details of Bella’s pregnancy and delivery will be included, and, if so, if there will be any indication that this is her “punishment” for her sexual transgressions. I doubt it – instead, in keeping with the traditional happy ending message the saga ultimately upholds, pregnancy and motherhood will be framed as her reward…

What if you like your vampires with a feminist bite? Check out this Halloween-themed podcast analyzing Twilight!

Please check out my guest appearance on In the Den with Dr. Jenn where I discuss Twilight from a gender and sexuality studies perspective!

What if book news…

A friend asked if I knew the two people that have reviewed my book on Amazon so far, and I pinky- double-cross-my-heart-promise I don’t! I was very excited when I found these two five star reviews, and even more excited when I found out they are from two total strangers – especially as some people have (rather cruelly) asked “who is gonna like a feminist take on the Twilight saga and vampire culture???” Apparenlty, people do! And people I don’t even know!

If you’ve read the book, please consider posting a review at Amazon and/or at Goodreads. Thanks so much!

Here are the two existing Amazon reviews:

5.0 out of 5 stars Review: Wilson, Seduced By Twilight, May 5, 2011

By

MPBridgemanSee all my reviews

This review is from: Seduced by Twilight: The Allure and Contradictory Messages of the Popular Saga (Paperback)

Natalie Wilson’s book Seduced by Twilight provides an excellent examination of the pop culture phenomenon know as Twilight. Countering the simplistic reactions to this incredibly popular series in the media and some feminist scholarship, Wilson presents a nuanced exploration of both the conservative and subversive aspects of the texts. She avoids the trap of constructing Twilight readers as cultural dupes passively consuming a straight-forward conservative message, rather she respectfully considers the contradictory messages at work both in Twilight and in the wider American cultural imagination. In this way she roots her analysis in specific sociohistorical contexts. This lends her work greater impact, as Twilight is used as a lens through which cultural understandings of difference are refracted.
This book is required reading for anyone working in the area of 21st century feminist popular cultural criticism and would also be of interest to those fascinated by Twilight but feeling somewhat uneasy about that very fascination. Well-researched, well written, and highly engaging, it was a pleasure being Seduced By Twilight.

 

5.0 out of 5 stars Seduced by Natalie Wilson, May 20, 2011

By

JamesSee all my reviews

Amazon Verified Purchase(What’s this?)

This review is from: Seduced by Twilight: The Allure and Contradictory Messages of the Popular Saga (Paperback)

I have to start by raving about this author. She was able to create an educational and insightful book that was interesting to read. Her writing is phenomenal. I am anxious to see what else we see from this author.

This book takes a critical and thoughtful look at the messages presented in the Twilight saga that are accepted as the norm. Inspiring us to think more deeply about what this series is truly stating. Not to mention who this is series is targeted to! Thank you for opening our minds about things that are so often over looked!

 

What if weddings were not framed as “The Event That Will Change Everything”? (Thoughts on the Breaking Dawn trailer and continuing wedding fervor ala Twilight)

Rivaled recently by Royal Wedding fervor, the Bella Swan/Edward Cullen union will soon have the world agog in all things weddings.

The recently released Breaking Dawn trailer centered attention on the upcoming nuptials with an almost fetishistic focus on the wedding invitation – an aspect of weddings that is of utmost importance (as anyone familiar with the wedding industrial complex or with planning a wedding surely knows).

 

The trailer’s framing of the wedding as “the event that will change everything”  is hardly surprising given the way the wedding/honeymoon/headboard-busting has been framed as THE climax (pun intended) of the Twilight saga. More generally, popular culture continues to frame weddings as THE EVENT of a female’s life as in all the shows dedicated to getting married (The Bachelor), to planning a wedding (My Fair Wedding), to brides (Bridezillas) – followed in short order, of course, by the NEXT EVENT – the babies (as in shows such as A Baby Story, Bringing Home Baby, and Baby’s First Day).

As documented in books such as White Weddings or as in posts about the wedding industrial complex (as here, here, and here), society is in the grip of severe wedding fever, a fever which is on the one hand very expensive and promotes our consumer-driven society, and, on the other, which keeps humans (and females especially) all wrapped up in a romance narrative framed by ideas about (white) purity, true love, happily ever after, and normative (read monogamous and heterosexual) gender/sexuality roles.

This is one of the many reasons we, as a society, are so seduced by Twilight, it taps into our cultural love affair with weddings and romance BIG TIME.  And, in a few short months, this human-vampire union will be writ large on cinematic screens, allowing fans to wed themselves even more deeply to the immortal love-story between Bella and Edward.

The trailer pays lip service to the very narrative that I see driving a huge part of Twilight’s popularity – that love can last forever and that the best kind of love is that between a female and a male joined in marriage and resulting in the creation of children. New? Hardly. New for vampire tales? Why, yes. And that is a bit allure of the saga – taking things that are subversive and sinister – vampires, werewolves, immortality – and wrapping them in a true love conquers all package. Such a perfect, depoliticized message for our conformist times…

The fever surrounding the cinematic depiction of this wedding will no doubt rival another union that recently captured the public imagination, Kate and William’s royal nuptials. Like the sexy feminist, I was annoyed with this wedding and its hijacking of our mental desktops. As she asked, “when was the last time you saw the media go ga ga over a minority union, inter-racial marriage or gay marriage for that matter?” Hmmm, I can’t recall that EVER happening.

It’s not that weddings themselves are bad, rather, as the sexy feminist puts it so well, it’s that “The global focus on this wedding reinforces the most anti-feminist message around: Get married, ladies, and all your dreams will come true.”

Yet, am I excited about the film’s release and the cinematic depiction of Bella’s marriage to her virginity warrior? Of course. Would I like to get an invite? Sure! Even though I doubt there would be an open bar or that great of food! Like Kiva Reardon’s arguments at Ms. Magazine Blog as to why she was going to watch the Royal Wedding, I contend that we ignore popular culture (and its weddings!) at our peril. Whether one has wedding fever or not, understanding why so many do is key to a feminist analysis of our current societal norms and institutions.
So, come November 18, I will be there. I hope there will be cake.

 

 

What if “teaser trailers” feed into a gendered paradigm?

Teaser trailers are commonly used to advertise upcoming films. However, the term “tease” has marked gender connotations.

Seeing as I am immersed in book promotion for Seduced by Twilight at the moment, I can’t help but think about all the teasing going on in relation to Breaking Dawn, especially as Bella Swan is often framed as a “tease” (particularly in her dealings with Jacob) while Edward (who is MUCH more of a tease if you ask me) is NOT.

Urban Dictionary defines “tease” in the following ways:

A member of the opposite sex, ussualy (sic) a female who entices you into thinking you have a chance. Almost always ends with you having blueballs and feelings of sorrow, resentment and bitterness.”

“A girl who knows she’s wanted… but just wants to play with the guy’s head.”

“A girl who likes to flirt a lot without the intention of giving it up to you.”

“A girl that sexually excites a boy but leaves him with out sexual stimulation; a girl that acts interested in another boy just to seduce him.”

“A girl who flirts with you, with no intention of giving it up.”

While all the “teasers” coming out in regards to Breaking Dawn Part 1 don’t rely on such negative notions of females as “cock-teasers,” this etymological background to the word is interesting in relation to the way the Twilight saga circulates around not giving it up while constantly wanting it, an undercurrent that has elsewhere been called “abstinence porn.”

Though Edward is in ways more of a tease than anyone, constantly putting his sparkly self out there for all to adore and then announcing himself off limits, it is Bella that bears the brunt of teasing accusations – as when she flirts with Jacob on the beach in order to get him to tell her about the Cold Ones or, more generally, via her constant ‘begging for it’ with Edward when she knows he is gonna keep things G-rated until he puts a ring on it (to use Beyonce’s parlance).

But how do Twilight “teaser trailers” feed into this gendered paradigm? I don’t know that the trailers themselves do, but fan responses certainly speak to the titillating nature of the content. In effect, the teasers can be read as (female) objects used to excite and allure fan subjects (and note active subjecthood has been historically coded as male).

Yet, as Twilight has proven in spades, female fandoms matter and can be just as active, influential, and relevant to wider popular culture as male fans. Given this, might the gendered connotations of the word “tease” become more egalitarian, with males thought of as just as able to “tease” as females? Twi-shirtlessness and six-packery certainly indicates the real tease is not Bella, but the many males who frolic around her with their icy-hard bodies and hot wolfy (yet hairless) chests.

Yet, when Hollywood Reporter gives us the tagline “Watch a tease like no other” and notes “The biggest tease of them all just entered the world of teaser trailers,” wouldn’t you say that the use of “biggest tease” makes you think of a female or female behavior?

This is certainly the case in this post, where Bella is framed as “a monster cocktease.”

After this image

the author asks,

“Who Do You Think She’ll String Along Next?

Im putting my cash on a hunky Mummy.”

Grammatical errors aside, this author displays the typical sexism that frames and BLAMES women for teasing (and note the failure to consider the fact it’s the males who are the MONSTERS!)

The above post and image speaks to how there is no equivalent “vaginal tease” terminology to balance out “cock tease” or use of the term “blue ovaries” to indicate a female based sexual frustration akin to “blue balls.” (I would like to see an image framing Edward as a tease… if you know of any, dear readers, please post them in comments!)

There is a lot of Breaking Dawn teasing going on (as here, here, and here) and this critic-fan is in hopes that maybe, just maybe, all this Twi-teasing might serve to break the double standard where females are the only ones negatively framed as teasers while also simultaneously bolstering an active female gaze, one in which women and girls are no longer the (teasing) objects viewing themselves via the male gaze, but where gazing, looking, desiring, and yes, teasing, is coded as something HUMAN rather than gendered to the benefit of males and the detriment of females.

What if you are attending the Popular Culture and American Culture Association Conference?

Well, I will see you there! I am presenting on the following panels and will also be holding a book signing for my just released book, Seduced by Twilight.

Fluid Nightmares in HBO’s True Blood , Wednesday 1:15

Publishing and Blogging on Popular Culture: A Q & A with Natalie Wilson, Thursday 1:15

Queering the Vampire Roundtable , Thursday 3:00

Twilight Pedagogy: Taking a Bite out of Popular Culture”, Saturday 8:00