Monday, November 28, 2011

Gender police decry 'Twilight: Breaking Dawn's' rough sex scene

It's as predictable as it is maddening.  Nothing brings out the Progressive Thought Police more than a popular entertainment whose demographics skew overwhelmingly young and female. When that entertainment happens to feature a teen heroine madly in love with -- dare I say it? -- a guy, the gender overlords, whose raison d’être is to apply a litmus test of female empowerment (code for "a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle") to anything that passes for entertainment, come out in full force, more prominent than sobriety checkpoints on New Years Eve.

That's what's happening with The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn-Part I, which topped the movie box office again over the Thanksgiving Day weekend, a fact that is exasperating only because audiences passed up Hugo, one of the most astonishing efforts yet from one of cinema's all-time great directors, for this dreck. According to opening weekend demographic numbers, 80% of the Twilight audience was female, and 60% of the total audience was over the age of 21 and under 25. See here.

The basic plot of the Twilight saga is well-known. It's about a teen girl named Bella who falls in love with a vampire named Edward, whose high school boyish looks belie the fact he's lived a century. Bella also has strong affection, but not of the romantic kind, for a young werewolf suitor named Jacob. It is critical to note that Bella acts on her own choices, and her teen suitors punctiliously honor those choices.

In the latest edition of the saga, Bella marries Edward, which means she will have to turn into a vampire, but she -- and she alone -- chooses to await the transformation until after her honeymoon, despite her knowledge that the sex is going to be rough. She's the one pushing her husband for sex, which seems a very empowered thing to me.

Enter Linda Holmes from NPR, who can't wring her hands enough over what she terms this "psychosexual horror-show." She contends, apparently with a straight face, that it is not just irresponsible but "profoundly" irresponsible "when a saga popular with pre-adolescent girls peaks romantically on a night that leaves the heroine to wake up covered with bruises in the shape of her husband's hands — and when that heroine then spends the morning explaining to her husband that she's incredibly happy even though he injured her, and that it's not his fault because she understands he couldn't help it in light of the depth of his passion . . . ." 

You know what's not just irresponsible but profoundly irresponsible, Ms. Holmes? Insisting that a woman's choices are invalid because they don't fit your preferred narrative.

Holmes' review manages the seemingly impossible task of insulting two genders at once: it suggests that Bella's choice to engage in vampire rough sex encourages the film's all-too impressionable teen girl audience to give in to their boyfriends' natural instincts to bruise and to dominate them. That's a ringing endorsement for young people of both genders, don't you think? More likely, it's a seething-just-beneath-the-surface contempt for traditional middle class mores, which enlightened Northeast Corridor media types have convinced themselves include the peculiar acceptance of rape and domestic violence.

OK, OK, maybe I am making too much of a review that does little more than parrot easily-mouthed PC cliches. In this case, vampire rough sex obviously looks too much like un-PC, aggressive, dominant masculinity to folks like Holmes. The goal among progressives for the past 20 or 30 years has been to deconstruct and rebuild masculinity from the ground up to make it less aggressive, less dominant, yet here's a fictional heroine at the top of the box office who luxuriates in rough sex -- is it any wonder they'd jump all over this film? Heck, I've seen extremely conflicted feminists write ponderous, soul-searching blog posts about the appropriateness of giving fellatio to the men they love, so of course they are going to have a conniption over this.

Holmes off-handedly references Bella's "lack of agency," which she posits is well-covered territory. It may be well-covered, but it is also made up out of whole cloth. Bella does whatever the hell Bella wants. It would be difficult, in fact, to conceive of a middle class high school kid having more agency, or more freedom, than this character has had. But thank goodness young women have mentors like Ms. Holmes to tell them that their freely made choices are invalid!

Holmes forgets to mention that the most prominent aspect of both Edward's and Jacob's mostly miserable lives is that they, too, are in love -- with the same young woman, no less -- and that Jacob has had his heart broken by her. If Holmes would take off the PC glasses for a minute, she'd understand this isn't a film about female disempowerment, it's a film about goofy teenagers of both genders acting out goofy teenage angst.

Holmes also transmogrifies the schoolboy devotion of the heroine's vampire and werewolf suitors into what she terms "stalker-like possessiveness" -- because, as we all know, nothing demonizes men playing out traditional mating rituals as effectively as characterizing them as predators. And, yes, I know, these two really are predators, but not when it comes to Bella.

And, no, this isn't an endorsement of the tripe that is Twilight. I'd encourage my daughter to spend her time watching "Lawrence of Arabia," "City Lights," or "The Searchers" instead. There is much to dislike about this film, but it's silly to dislike it because the female lead character lacks agency. That just isn't factual.

Holmes review: