Youth Culture Window
What happens when a 17-year-old girl falls helplessly in love with the sexiest boy in the world… who’s also a vampire?
Millions of dollars are made off the story.
Such is the pop culture phenomenon known as Twilight. Seventeen million copies of the books have been sold worldwide, and midnight showings for the upcoming movie are selling out.
But what is this story really teaching young people about love?
Romeo and Juliet Meets Bram Stoker
When Bella Swan leaves her mom in sunny Phoenix to move in with her chief-of-police dad in dreary Forks, Washington, she meets Edward Cullens, the most mysterious and handsome guy she’s ever seen. She couldn’t take her eyes off him… and he couldn’t take his mind off her. Not only was she smitten with love, but she was in danger of being bitten as well. After all, Edward was a vampire.
That’s right, a vampire.
But that didn’t seem to bother Bella very much. She says,
“About three things I was absolutely positive. First, Edward was a vampire. Second, there was a part of him – and I didn’t know how dominant that part might be – that thirsted for my blood. And third, I was unconditionally and irrevocably in love with him.”The rest of the 512 page novel, Twilight, tells the story of these two star-crossed lovers as they seek to understand their emotions for one another, and engage in a life-and-death battle against a coven of evil vampires.
The story has captivated a global audience and has claimed some very prestigious accolades since its release in late 2005. It’s been a #1 New York Times Bestseller and was voted “Best Book of the Year” by Publishers Weekly. Teen People made it their “Hot Pick,” and since then, the novel has been translated into twenty different languages. This is worthy of some celebration in light of the recent decline in teen reading. Not since the Harry Potter books have so many teens had their noses in a book.
Edward and Bella’s tale doesn’t end on the last page of Twilight, however. When her first book sold millions of copies, Brigham Young educated author Stephanie Meyers did what any writer would do. She wrote another one….
and another one…
And so, the Twilight Saga was born, and teen and tween readers, mostly female, have been captivated since page one.
A Scary Love Story
I grabbed a copy of Twilight to see what the buzz was about, and I must say, it was a good enough read that I tore through it in a few hours. It’s your typical “boy meets girl, saves girl’s life, falls in love with girl, saves girl’s life again” young adult romance novel… but with a vampire.
Meyers provides readers with a (somewhat) original twist on the whole vampire legend in her story. Her vampires have a “superfluous” amount of superhuman abilities and can survive in sunlight; plus, there are good vampires as well as evil ones. Meyers also does an excellent job with suspense and cliff hangers, so I stayed up past midnight feverishly flipping pages to find out what happens in the end.
If books were rated like films, Twilight would probably land at PG-13, with minimal swearing (a couple of “damns”) and a wee bit of violence. The sensuality is what helped push Twilight to the PG-13 mark. The MPAA seemed to agree concerning the upcoming film, rating it PG-13 for “some violence and a scene of sensuality.” You can watch one of the TV spots to judge for yourself.
Many people in religious circles are worried about the “vampire” elements in the books. But our chief concern gravitated more toward Bella’s emotional vulnerability and the graphic sensuality described in the romantic scenes between she and Edward. We’re not talking Harlequin Romance material, but it was enough to make me wonder how young readers would react to the content. For instance, in one scene in her upstairs bathroom, Bella found herself regretting leaving her Victoria Secret silk pajamas in Arizona while Edward waited in her bedroom. In the book, nothing sexual happens, but we catch a pretty accurate glimpse into the thought process of the modern teenager.
Today’s young girls will most definitely identify with Bella’s concern for self image and consistent need for validation. In the books Bella is portrayed as very plain. Most girls can relate to this. Seven in ten girls feel they do not measure up in some way, including their looks and in relationships.
What about the sensuality?
Parents are going to have to be the judge if they want their 12-year-old girls absorbing Meyers’ descriptions.
In chapter 13 of the book, Bella describes a private moment in a meadow with Edward.
Slowly, never moving his eyes from mine, he leaned toward me. Then abruptly, but very gently, he rested his cold check against the hollow at the base of my throat. I was quite unable to move, even if I’d wanted to. I listened to the sound of his even breathing, watching the sun and wind play in his bronze hair, more human than any other part of him.
And a little later in the same scene…
With deliberate slowness, his hands slid down the sides of my neck. I shivered, and I heard him catch his breath. But his hands didn’t pause as they softly moved to my shoulders, and then stopped.
His face drifted to the side, his nose skimming across my collarbone. He came to rest with the side of his face pressed tenderly against my chest.
Listening to my heart.
And then his cold, marble lips pressed very softly against mine.
Believe it or not, this scene is actually what prompted Meyers to write the book in the first place. On her official website, she gives an unusual explanation for the origin of the entire story line…a dream.
What neither of us was prepared for was my response.
Blood boiled under my skin, burned in my lips. My breath came in a wild gasp. My fingers knotted in his hair, clutching him to me. My lips parted as I breathed in his heady scent.
In my dream, two people were having an intense conversation in a meadow in the woods. One of these people was just your average girl. The other person was fantastically beautiful, sparkly, and a vampire. They were discussing the difficulties inherent in the facts that A) they were falling in love with each other while B) the vampire was particularly attracted to the scent of her blood, and was having a difficult time restraining himself from killing her immediately.In spite of these steamy scenes, the lead characters actually remain chaste. Even though the Mormon author doesn’t allow Edward and Bella to have sex before marriage, she may be a bit naïve about what tends to happen when passionate teenagers get alone in a field.
From the preview, the movie seems to take it a step further. In one clip, Bella is seen in her underwear kissing Edward in the bedroom. As a parent, how would you react to this reality?
Interestingly enough, it seems that many parents aren’t all that concerned with the amount of sensuality, because in this story, it doesn’t lead to sex. But what message does this mentality send to our kids? (There’s been a lot of debate about these messages lately.)
The studio producing the film, Summit Entertainment, is hoping that the absence of sex scenes will expand its marketability to young kids. According to this Advertising Age article (subscription required), Summit is “counting on an unexpected group to help evangelize the film beyond its pubescent base: moms.” The studio won’t be disappointed, because PG-13 is deemed “okay” by most parents today.
“No sex? Oh, it must be clean, then.”
What’s Our Role?
There are lots of points to consider when deciding if our kids should read this book and/or watch the movie.
First, we must remember to monitor our kids’ reading material in addition to their media choices. The Internet is not the only place where kids come across unhealthy messages. Reading engages the mind in a different way than music, TV, or movies; there’s much more imagination involved. Knowing that reading makes an impact on our kids, let’s be sure to keep an eye on what our kids have on their book shelves.
Secondly, let’s note that kids are devouring a book that focuses on love, passion, and romance. Young readers have questions; this book provides answers. Unless you want your kids to only hear Edward and Bella’s take on the subject, speak up. Love and romance are issues that most teens struggle to understand. We must be prepared to wade through those questions with them in search of answers. If that means we have to read a few chapters from these books to discover a way to initiate a conversation about love, romance, or even sex with our teens, so be it. Remember to focus on asking questions, rather than giving lectures.
Finally, as popular as these books are, the film will reach a much larger audience. While the book audience is mostly female, guys are already expressing interest in the film.
We encourage parents and anyone working with youth to go see this film and judge for yourselves. Twilight opens in theaters on November 21st, and The Source will post our review of the film on our movie review page that weekend. The highly anticipated movie is directed by Catherine Hardwicke, whose film debut was the sobering movie Thirteen, which she also wrote. Her later works, Lord’s of Dogtown and The Nativity Story demonstrate Hardwicke’s ability to present a story about young people to today’s youth.
Twilight is a love story with a bite. If we proactively engage our kids concerning love and romance, maybe we can help guide them to answers to some of the questions raised by the story. Twilight’s tagline is, “When you can live forever what do you live for?”
What answer does the movie provide?
What are your kids’ answers to that question?
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ABOUT THE SUBJECT
David R. Smith
is a 15-year youth ministry veteran who helps youth
workers and parents through his writing, training, and speaking. David specializes in sharing the
gospel, and equipping others do the same. He co-authored his first book this year,
Ministry By Teenagers
. David provides free
resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, DavidRSmith.org
David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.
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