Differing from Driscoll
Last year I took my eldest daughter to see Breaking Dawn, 1, and I have read all the Twilight novels. I will probably go to see the latest movie, having enjoyed the others in the series, as I enjoyed the books (being as in touch with my inner teenage girl as I obviously am). Apart from enjoying the story, I think there are some things we can learn from the Twilight phenomenon, and that is why I differ from Driscoll about seeing the movie.
Stephenie Meyer has somehow hit that authorial hotspot which seems to connect with a vast audience of teenagers (and their mothers) in a similarly phenomenal way that JK Rowling has for slightly younger children (and their parents). She does it brilliantly, and it is easy to see why the story of Bella (a human) and Edward (her vampire boyfriend) resonates so strongly with teenage girls. The emancipated sisterhood might not like it, but Edward hits all the buttons that make a feminine heart flutter; and it is this aspect of the book that is most interesting for me as a parent and as a pastor.
First off, Bella tells us right at the beginning of the story that she doesn’t fit in, thus forming immediate sympathy with the vast majority of teenage girls who also feel this way. From a broken home, starting out in a new school, with all the potential for embarrassment that involves – Bella is a character girls can relate to.
Then there is Edward’s overpowering appeal.
Edward is physically gorgeous. He is dangerous – and there is something in the female heart that tends to sing along with the song, “It’s the bad boys who always catch my eye…” Why? Because women want a man who is manly in the sense that he represents risk, and excitement, and strength. But Edward is also a hero, rescuing Bella from life threatening events, and every girl wants a hero. And Edward is sexually overwhelming (the first half of the first book is basically an increasingly ramped up prelude to their first kiss) yet at the same time terribly restrained – which must be something of a turn on.
One surprising thing is that in reality Edward isn’t all that good looking (something with which my daughter agrees), yet he is the pinup of choice in a million bedrooms. Which simply demonstrates the power of marketing, and the extent to which we believe something is desirable just because we are told it is. Back in 2008 Robert Pattinson (who plays Edward) said, “It’s funny, but about a year ago I’d talk to girls and no one would be interested. Really, it’s true, and then when it was announced I would be in Twilight and the book’s author gave me her seal of approval, everyone seemed to change their mind. The attention I get now is just mind bending.”
We all (and not just teenaged girls) need to be alert to how easy it is to be suckered by fame and fortune and advertising and celebrity. The reality is that though we like to think of ourselves as independent and savvy and smart, we tend to believe what we’re told. If Twilight teaches us nothing else, it teaches us that.
Edward is also extremely emotionally switched on. (And the parts of the story where I turned off were the long emotional dialogues between Bella and Edward about how they feel about each other. Yada yada.)
So here we have the perfect fantasy object: incredible good looks and emotional intelligence; impeccable manners and self-control; brute strength and ever present danger. That’s quite a hook for a teenage girl. And as well as this hook, Meyer is also a pretty good story teller – something which those of us who preach and teach should take note of.
But what of my response to Twilight as a parent and pastor?
Well, in teaching men what it means to be men, there is some stuff they could learn here. As my daughter put it, “Edward is loyal, and does things the old fashioned way.” Those are precisely the kind of qualities I will be looking for in the young men who will inevitably start appearing at my door over the next few years. The other obvious point is that our daughters need to be taught about what to look for in a man, and they need to be taught how to guard their hearts so that they make good relationship decisions. Finding a man who will be faithful to them for life, and who is prepared to lay down his life for them is a standard from which we should not budge.
And that also means that in a way Twilight is a gospel story, because the ultimate man – the one who is truly dangerous yet utterly good, completely self-giving yet totally demanding, and in the end even death defying – is Jesus. All of us need to savour the romance of that story.
So rather than avoiding Twilight, I think it is worth engaging with, and exegeting. Sure, there are aspects of it that could lead some up unhelpful paths – but, to be honest, Buffy the Vampire Slayer was probably even more guilty of this; and I’ve seen some people led astray by every preacher’s favorite quotation source, The Lord of the Rings. There are useful cultural lessons to be learned from Twilight, and there are gospel lines that can be drawn from it. I would certainly feel less concerned about my daughters reading Twilight than I would about them picking up The Shack. Don’t get me started on The Shack – that’s one where Driscoll and I don’t disagree at all!
A version of this post previously appeared on Matthew’s personal blog.