New Moon: Making self-mutilation “cool”

8 12 2009

As promised, here are some thoughts on New Moon, the latest Twilight movie!

(For those living under a rock, here’s the trailer:)

I wrote a post a little while back about my thoughts after reading the first book, and how Edward’s character provides a perfect metaphor for sexual addiction.  You can read that post here.

Disclaimer: I still haven’t read books 2-4.  But since writing that post, I’ve seen both movies.

Point 1: (Don’t tell anybody) I loved it

Stole this graphic from Karen In Color. And I agree.

No joke.  When I read the first book, I couldn’t stop being annoyed by the way this horrifically unhealthy relationship was being portrayed as some kind of ideal romance.  But in watching the movies, I already knew to expect that kind of unhealthiness and was able to get past it and get lost in the story.  Bottom line: Werewolves are cool.  And Vampires are only slightly less cool.  If I could be a werewolf I totally would.  Except that it would be way frustrating to have to run off into the forest every time I accidentally got angry because, “Oh crap, I’m naked again”.

Besides that, there is something distinctly true and human about the way Bella, Jacob, and Edward battle with the conflicting desires within themselves: The desire for love and closeness, set against the fear of the evil desires that live inside of us.

I have a lot of personal experience with the fear that, if I get too close to somebody, I’ll probably just end up hurting them.  The way that I withdraw as a result might look noble on the surface, but it’s often actually motivated by a desire to avoid having to take responsibility for the mistakes that I’ll inevitably make if I engage in relationships.

Similarly, the “now I’m willing to be with you/now I’m not” dance that goes on between Edward and Bella is filled with all kinds of mixed motives that leave me alternately empathizing with the characters, and then despising them.  I guess I can relate.

Point 2: This scares me

As I discussed in my last post, I can enjoy art even if it contains elements of untruth or unhealth because I am an adult who is called to be responsible to separate good from evil in the things that I see.

This isn't the first time self-destructive teen angst has been venerated by our culture as "true love".

But the Twilight series scares me a lot more because it is (1) geared specifically towards young girls and (2) sells itself as a story of ideal love.  I shudder at the thought of millions of young women who lack the life experience to understand what is truly healthy in a romantic relationship pining away, wishing they had a relationship like that between Edward and Bella.

A fair amount has already been written about the ways their relationship bears more than a passing resemblance to an abusive relationship, so I won’t say much about that here.  (I alluded to it in my first Twilight post.  And here’s a livejournal article that has recently gone viral on the internet that details how their relationship bears quite a few of the signs of a Physically Abusive Relationship according to the National Domestic Violence hotline. (disclaimer: I didn’t write this article and it’s got swear words in it; If that offends you, don’t click.))

Bella’s self-punishing behaviors

What really scares me about New Moon is Bella’s behavior.  After Edward leaves her, she realizes that she can induce vivid visions of Edward by engaging in risk-taking behaviors.  At first it’s just walking through a dark forest.  But like any addiction, she has to “ramp it up” over time to get the same experience.  Soon, she’s walking down dark alleys and crashing motorcycles.  Eventually, she literally throws herself off a cliff .  (Which is apparently perfectly safe if you’re a super-ripped teen wolf… but not so safe for a mortal teenage girl.)  Bella herself seems unsure whether or not this is an actual suicide attempt or an attempt to feel emotionally closer to Edward.  (Which actually makes this story all the more similar to real-life self-punishing behaviors, which blur the line between ‘blind coping mechanism’ and ‘actual attempt to do self-harm’.)

Self-mutilation is a very real, very sad problem.

Cutting, self-mutilation, eating disorders, and other self-punishing behaviors: These are very real problems that are growing among teenagers – boys and girls.  So I have a huge problem with Bella’s self-punishing behavior being portrayed as a sign of the supposed depth of her love for Edward.

Conclusion: Keep the kids away

All in all, the movie was fun in a number of ways.  But thinking about an entire generation of little girls being trained to see this relationship as “ideal” makes me want to cry.  I would not be surprised to see a spike in teen suicides as a result of this movie.

If you have kids – especially little girls – please keep them away, unless you’re committed to spending a few hours processing it with them.  Or unless you’re starting a trust fund to pay for their counseling.

To learn more about self-injury and what’s being done to help, go to this website.  Especially read the “To Write Love on Her Arms” story at the bottom.

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4 responses

8 12 2009

I really appreciate that you have examined what makes this series so compelling, instead of just writing it off and condemning it without looking at it, like many do. I think it’s a lot like the craze of Grey’s Anatomy a few years ago–everyone was living such unhealthy lives on that show, and yet there was something very real about the pain they were all in. And everyone was so dysfunctional! There’s an appeal there.

I’m on book 2, so I don’t know what will happen, but it frustrates me to no end, that Bella would choose to go after this cold-skinned guy, who as far as I can tell, is infatuated with her because she smells good and because she’s a mystery to him. Typical. And then there’s Jacob, who is genuine, kind and open-hearted, and who has been just a little bit in love with Bella since they were kids. He likes her for her. What is Bella’s problem?

Girls are so this way. We would prefer danger and drama over safety and kindness. I had to talk myself out of this at one point, and I remember thinking that I had reached a point of moving from girlhood to womanhood.

9 12 2009

^ amen sista!!! I totally don’t get why she’s into Edward either : )

10 12 2009
Scott Davis

Tim, I just saw this at Salvo — an interesting review that reflects some of what you’re saying, from another perspective:

27 09 2010

Its strange when any person would want to be in a relationship with a monster wether it be a vampire or a werewolf.The movie serves no good for anyone and I believe hollywood is heavily manipulating the thoughts and ideas of what a healthy relationship is.The series will only get worse.

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