Media Vamping: Twilight Talking Points, Bite Me Brouhaha

July 9, 2010 “There’s an obsession among many teens today for all things vampire, and it looks like the craze is now leaving a mark…literally.”

So goes the opener for CBS News Early Morning Show this week titled “Teen Twilight Trend: Love Bites”…Coupla things here: First, in our media-hyped culture of ‘three makes a trend’ I’d like to lob the powerball question into the “who says so” media literacy 101 line of inquiry, and add that the only reason I’m even commenting about it is two people I respect were on the show: Dr. Michael Rich of CMCH Boston (aka The Mediatrician) and Radical Parenting’s youthful sage, Vanessa VanPetten.

To both their credits, they deflected whether or not this was indeed a ‘trend’ vs sensationalist seeding of a ‘TwiHard’ trilogy of love bite-themed stories (two more BEFORE the Early Show aired, here and here and scads thereafter) and instead, they both focused upon the unhealthy aspects of both the physical and mental degradation of teen dating cues when ‘ownership’ and ‘possession obsession’ comes into play.

Second thing I’d like to point out is the immediate inclination for copycat media influences to bubble over into a brouhaha blame game blurring the lines between cause and effect as we see so often in horror flicks and antisocial nutcases gone awry tying their personal responsibility on what pretty much amounts to a ‘Twinkie defense.’ (Read “Teen Bites 11 people, Blames it on Twilight” to catch my drift)

Not saying these behaviors don’t exist with teens; just this week I was informed by 14 y.o. SY adviser Miles that a guy at his school wears dental prosthetic fangs (any parents wanna weigh in on this eyebrower raiser?) just saying it’s not exactly setting new social norms, as hickeys have been around for eons…

I’m not a medico who can discern what constitutes pathology vs plea for attention…

…but I CAN say that by far the most disconcerting ‘real’ impact of not just the Twilight movies but the cultural climate is this dominant verbiage of who ‘belongs’ to whom.

I see this not just in teen lexicon, but in dating actions and dramarama antics of media portrayals in teen soaps (e.g. ABC Family/Secret Life, etc) as well as rampant objectification and jealous gender cues under the guise of ‘caring.’ (see CDC dating violence stats)

It makes me squirm when I hear things like, “Oh, no, I can’t talk to so & so, he belongs to such & such” or hear school yard banter talking about ‘expiration dates’ on relationships as if kids were rot-n-toss commodities from the produce aisle. Bleh.

Maybe we should bring back the ROOTS mini-series as a “media literacy must” so kids can nudge a little closer to what ‘ownership’ and slavery was all about in ‘that was then, this is now’ deconstruction so they can start to see how we’re going BACKwards in devolved thinking in many aspects of sociological imagery when it comes to human beings controlling and possessing each other.

Might help defuse some of the ‘romantic’ notion swirling around the films…which, I must say, is very primal, and quite alluring, as you can see by the Twilight Fan(g)s site (great URL branding, btw) and $175 million box office in opening week

As I commented on the Understanding Teens blog, that asks, “Teenage Girls & Twilight Movies, What is Going On?”

I think some of the allure is quite frankly the desire and longing to be desperately loved like that; the devotion of someone literally willing to lay down their life for you is wildly romantic, albeit perhaps inherently misguided. I wrote:

…”I couldn’t sit through it without deconstructing the morality & religious subtext (but hey, my adored teen BF was Mormon many moons ago, so that alters one’s point of view) —there’s a sociological sliver of willingness to ‘escape’ in fantasy mode (not to mention the unconditional love/hottie hormonal factor in play) —

One of the most intriguing things for me seeing the latest Eclipse film is the nuanced ages/stages reaction; for better or for worse, older teens are already seeing through a somewhat more cynical lens…Personally, I was bemused to see my own 15 y.o daughter had joined 26,000 teens in the Facebook grp of “How stupid Twilight fans are gonna look in a few years, whereas some of the younger ‘tweens’ in my world are a bit more ‘immersed’ (my 13 y.o goddaughter has seen it six times already; how can that even be?)

So rather than get all psychobabbly and review, report, or revisit the whys and hows of Twilight’s pop culture phenom to determine whether or not it ‘bites’…

Much less the influences of blood swapping behaviors (Ahem, I give kids a lot of credit for NOT being ‘sucked in’ to the ‘trend’ even if it IS one…)

After all, pin prick pals/blood brother bits have been around for ages, but post-80s AIDS climates permeated most every life sciences health class, and my guess is YOUTH are more savvy than ADULTS on the warning front here…

In fact, last playground duty I had, I was shocked to find I couldn’t even administer a BandAid on a bloody knee without bringing kids to the office for rendering gloved first aid! So really…the whole concept of fang factors breaking skin veers into the ‘cutting/carving/marking’ category appear to be FAR from the ‘norm’ and more of the usual media morsels stirring up in copious quantities.

I’d rather take a hard look at conversational tidbits that could uncork a more universal dilemma…

What constitutes healthy relationship development?

As you all know, my pet peeve is the objectification of both boys AND girls…(see SPARKsummit save the date post on solutions-building with youth this coming fall!) because the more we treat human beings as ‘property’ with unhealthy boundaries of enmeshment, ‘giving up one’s self’ in multiple forms of self-sacrificial martyrdom, the more we end up in a misplaced moshpit of misguided mistakes that youth can end up carrying with them to midlife and beyond…

To harken back to Hermann Hesse of high school kidlit/Siddhartha days:

“It is not our purpose to become each other; it is to recognize each other, to learn to see the other and honor him for what he is: each the other’s opposite and complement.”

Remember that kids…Healthy boundaries. It’ll save you years of agonizing challenges 😉

Now here’s esteemed Girls Leadership Institute founder and author of Curse of the Good Girl and Odd Girl Out, colleague Rachel J. Simmons with her post from last season when New Moon premiered…

Add new questions with Eclipse and keep those talking points goin…Thanks, Rachel for this great media literacy guide to launch some wise and worthy conversations!

How to Talk to Girls About the Messages of New Moon

+Free Activity Plan for Educators

By Rachel J. Simmons

I think there’s been enough written about the dizzyingly bad messages “New Moon” telegraphs to girls.

Among the cringe-worthy morals of this story: When you’re in love, the only thing that matters in life is your man. If you get dumped, your life is over, so feel free to act suicidal to get him back. Even if he tells you he never wants to see you again, manipulation and game-playing are effective ways to get his attention. Your friends are only ornaments; just kick them to the curb when he comes back.

No matter how you slice it, Bella Swan’s one reason for being is Edward Cullen. She’s got no hobbies. She’s got no opinions. She pretty much has no friends. The girl has nothing on her or about her that extends beyond one burning, fangy desire: Get. Edward. Back. Is it any wonder that when Bella extends her hand to the mind-reading Italian vampire, he is stunned to see “nothing?”

Which puts adults in a thoroughly uncomfortable position. Sitting in a sea of girls twittering and swooning at the phenomenal acting skills of Taylor Lautner’s torso, I found myself praying quietly for a scene where Bella paints, or sits on a bus with the debate team, or does something unrelated to obsessive, self-destructive pining. And I began to wonder how we could talk to girls about this film.

My suggestion is that we don’t come down like a ton of bricks on it. That’s a debate we’re sure to lose. Twilight isn’t just a phenomenon of dollars; it’s a social obsession among girls. It’s something they bond over and believe in together. Challenging it would be like taking on rock and roll.

So let’s talk with girls about New Moon on their terms and ours.

This is a terrific opportunity for you to communicate your own values as a parent about intimacy, love and relationships.

Here are my suggestions for a discussion, followed by an activity plan for educators.

Warm-Up Questions

  • What did you think of the movie? What was your favorite part?
  • Do you think it was better than “Twilight?” Why or why not?
  • Why are girls so obsessed with the Twilight Saga?
  • If you’re not that into Twilight, why?

And then you can transition into the heavier questions:

  • Do you think you’d be friends with a girl like Bella (not Kristen Stewart)? Why or why not?
  • If you were introducing Bella to your friends, how would you describe her? What are her interests and hobbies, for example?
  • Who is Bella besides Edward’s girlfriend in this movie? Does she have another identity?
  • Bella seems willing to die in order to get Edward back. In your opinion, is this an accurate portrayal of a typical girl in love? Is it healthy?
  • What do you think of the way Bella treated Jacob in this movie? (If you need to prompt: It seems like she ditched him as soon as Edward came back. )
  • People are divided on who is the better guy for Bella (the joke is “Team Edward” vs “Team Jacob”). Who do you think is better for Bella? Why? And what about the fact that there’s no “Team Bella?” Are either of these relationships worth having?

If you’re working with a group of girls who have seen this film, try these activities:

Activity 1: Love as Addiction

Start out with some of the questions above to warm the group up. Then explain that you want to explore Bella’s relationship with Edward in more detail.

Distribute a copy of the lyrics to the song “Addicted” by Kelly Clarkson and play the song for your group.

Ask girls to raise their hands if they agree this song could be about Bella Swan in the film “New Moon.” Then ask who believes the song does not apply to Bella Swan. This is a good time to remind your participants that you’re talking about the movie, not the book (which may have a more textured portrayal of Bella Swan; I don’t know because I haven’t read it).

Divide the groups accordingly. Using the lyrics, have each group prepare an argument about why the song applies (or doesn’t) to Bella. Get a spirited debate going.

Activity 2: Team Edward, Team Jacob or Team Bella

Ask the girls if they believe Bella is better off with Edward, Jacob or on her own, and divide the groups accordingly.

Ask the Team Edward and Team Jacob groups to come up with a short presentation about why Bella would be better off with their character. They should provide clear evidence and consider the following questions, among others (feel free to add your own prompts):

1.    How did your character treat Bella?
2.    What impact did your character have on Bella’s emotions and on her life in general?

Team Bella can prepare an argument about why they believe neither guy is worth Bella’s time. Like the other groups, they should be ready to provide evidence.

After each group makes its presentation, allow the opposing group to challenge with questions and debate.

Have fun! Email me if you have any additions to these activities or feedback on how it went.

(Amy’s note: And be sure to visit Rachel Simmons.com for more excellent tips and talking points on a variety of girls’ relationship issues!)

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Comments

  1. omg i love the twilight books!

  2. You point out an interesting point about teen novels in general. Epic teen novels all face the challenge of their readers growing up through the subsequent novels. The author then faces a choice: make subsequent novels more mature or move on to the next “mini-generation” of younger teens.
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