July 17, 2010

Twilight: Mirror Universe

Twilight, pp. 25-28.
This week on Twilight (alternate title: Everybody Loves Bella), we're introduced to Mike, who loves Bella. This poor kid makes you feel bad for him from his very first appearance, because, clearly unprepared for Bella's manipulations, he has no idea what's in store for him. He's friendly and polite--already a bad sign--though a little lacking in tact.

I looked up to see a cute, baby-faced boy, his blond hair carefully gelled into orderly spikes, smiling at me in a friendly way. He obviously didn't think I smelled bad....He was the nicest person I'd met today.

But as we were entering the gym, he asked, 'So, did you stab Edward Cullen with a pencil or what? I've never seen him act like that....He looked like he was in pain or something.'

'I don't know,' I responded. 'I never spoke to him.'

'He's a weird guy.' Mike lingered by me instead of heading to the dressing room. 'If I were lucky enough to sit by you, I would have talked to you.'

I smiled at him before walking through the girls' locker room door. He was friendly and clearly admiring.

That's our Bella--keep it vague, keep 'em guessing, never let them pin you down to anything. The number one rule of emotional manipulation is never let anyone know your true motives.

So, despite Mike's entirely inappropriate reference to Edward's absurd behaviour and his rather too eager 'I woulda talked to you', he's 'the nicest person I'd met today', and Bella likes him because 'he obviously didn't think I smelled bad', as Edward seems to. So from Mike she seeks validation of her attractiveness, a boost to her self-esteem that her abusive boyfriend has shaken, but Bella will set him up with Jessica because, as Jessica's good friend, Bella will allow her to take a partner she herself has rejected. Mike is attracted to Bella because, well, everyone is, but he's lacking something, that sort of open contempt for her and indifference to human emotion that Bella finds so captivating.

This is where the author's lack of touch with anything resembling a normal teenage experience comes out. I've no idea if Mrs. Meyer had such an experience, but if she did, her writing shows no evidence of this. My high school experience was typical (summers in Rangoon, luge lessons), though I share neither the joy of having escaped it nor the nostalgia for it that seem to comprise the two most common American attitudes towards high school.

But I do remember that high school was all about cliques. You were in one whether you wanted to be or not. No-one reading this is going to be surprised which clique I ended up in: the gamers. I was one of the first at my high school to have Internet access (and before that, local bulletin boards). In computer programming class, I was the unofficial teaching assistant. I played Dungeons and Dragons on the tabletop, wrote fantasy fanfiction, and sparred occasionally with swords.

One of the hallmarks of high school cliquishness is that cliques rarely crossed lines. The smokers had their area of the school, and everybody else made fun of them...from a distance. I had a middle school friend who ended up in their clique, which essentially marked the end of the friendship. None of his friends would've welcomed me, nor mine him. (I'm sure they made fun of us, too.) The jocks had their clique, and gangsters theirs, and the 420-friendly smokers theirs.

So the most popular girl in school was really the one who appealed to the most cliques. I remember not being at all enamoured with my high school's Most Popular Girl. I was much more interested in the salutatorian and, before that, the eventual valedictorian of the rival high school in our district. That is, girls who were closer to my clique. (My high school was sadly lacking in gamer girls.)

Twilight's high school is, thus, a completely foreign place to me, where the rules are all different. I'm half-recalling a line from an episode of Mystery Science Theatre 3000, something like 'A perverted world, where the spazzes make fun of the cool guys.' That's what Forks High is, high school turned upside down, where the geeks are popular and the cool kids can't get dates. Bella is not the kind of girl who should be the darling of the school, because she's in the angsty-emo-goth clique. There she would be highly sought after (with her manipulations being just another part of the package), but outside of it, she'd be...well, she'd be regarded precisely in the way Mike views Edward. 'She's a weird girl' he would say to Jessica not long before he asks her out, because Mike and Jessica are in the same clique, and so he would actually find her attractive. He shouldn't need Bella to point this out, and he shouldn't be interested in anything Bella has to say on this or any other matter.

This is where Meyer wants to have her cake and eat it, too. She wants her fauxtagonist to be quirky and deep but also widely popular, forgetting or ignoring that depth and quirkiness aren't popular. The good-looking pretty types (Mike) aren't interested in moody, antisocial types like Bella. They're more interested in people like themselves. People closer to, or in, their own clique.

Of course, high school romances are often about love that jumps cliques. In fact, the story might have been interesting if Bella actually did end up with Mike, with Edward being the one everybody (including Edward himself) assumes she'd go for. Bella and Mike could run into constant trouble because their expectations and the worlds they inhabit are so vastly different. Edward and Jessica would be the obstacles here, representing the safer, conformist alternatives to the difficulties of making their relationship work. But Bella just has that something that Mike can't ignore (just pretend that, in this alternate universe, Bella actually has something), and even though he finds it easier--more practical--to be with Jessica (just as Bella finds her relationship with Edward easier), love keeps drawing them back together, and the story ends with the beginnings of their finding a way to engage in each other's worlds and with a new appreciation for each other's distinctive outlook.

But enough about a potential good story. Instead, we've got to get the emo princess hooked up with the emo prince, with no real obstacles, and we've got to stretch it over four books.

Good lord.

Even according the rules of Meyer's parallel universe, Mike's reaction to Edward's shenanigans is all wrong. This is part of Meyer's persecution complex (hmm...Mormonism popping up?). Everybody must love Bella, because she's fabulous, but they must also look at her in awe and regard her with suspicion, because she's so, like, deep and different and stuff. So when a man she has never seen before in her life flips out when she shows up, not only does she immediately have to blame herself, but so do other people who already regarded the Cullens as freaks. This just doesn't make sense on a human level. If I'm a high schooler who sees the school's nutjob have an episode when the New Girl sits next to him, how could my first reaction be I wonder what she did to him? It's nonsensical. I'd think something more like God, that Cullen's got serious issues.

This is how that exchange would've gone in the real world:

He was the nicest person I'd met. Just as we got to the gym, he said without looking at me, 'I, uh, saw what happened with Edward Cullen.'

'Oh.' My cheeks turned a little red. Just a little. 'You did?'

'Yeah.' He looked at me now. 'Look, he's really strange. I don't know what his problem is, but he acts like that sometimes. Don't let him get to you. Who knows what was going on in his head?'

Or something like that. Mike should be blaming Edward, since Edward is so clearly in the wrong here. Now, it might work if Edward was the small-town boy who had lived in Forks his whole life and Bella was the big-city newcomer that all the students resented for her contempt for their small-town customs. But in Twilight, it's already been established that Everybody Loves Bella and the Cullens are regarded as weirdos. So why is the nicest person Bella has met today immediately siding with Edward, accusing Bella of having done something to cause Edward to react as he did?

Bella comes upon Edward in the school's main office, trying, and failing, to get out of the class he shares with Bella. (How, oh my brothers, could this 'vampire' stand to attend high school every day for decades?)

Edward Cullen's back stiffened, and he turned slowly to glare at me--his face was absurdly handsome--with piercing, hate-filled eyes.

Makes a girl's heart melt, don't it?

1 comment:

  1. Just to put in writing what I said in answer to your question about why does Bella fall in love with a guy who looks at her with "hate-filled eyes"? 1) He's hot, and she's a superficial teenager. 2) He's mysterious. 3)And she's gotten a strong reaction (even if negative) out of a hot, mysterious guy, and that's a turn on, and it's flattering. 4) The negative reaction heightens the drama, and drama is teen-bait. 5)The theme of masochism crops up throughout the story, and this seems to tie in with that. That's all for my amateur psych analysis. I hope this helps. :)
    BTW, the book excerpts I'm seeing on your blog support your argument that the films are better. Meyer should do the world a favor and take her fortune and retire early.