Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Mini-Essay Contest Winner

This summer I am teaching Freshman Comp (Research Writing) at MSCD. Earlier in the semester, I gave my students extra incentive on one of their assignments: the best "mini-essay" would be published here on the Bonzuko blog. Congratulations to Katherine Pivoda, this summer's mini-essay contest winner! Her mini-essay (edited for blogging purposes) is below. Good job, Katherine! Image is from this site.~Jenn

The Twilight of Teenage Literature --Katherine Pivoda
Twilight, a young adult novel rife with vampires and fog, has recently been converted into a shockingly popular movie, and a sequel to the book just announced a first printing of one million: not bad, when one considers the sheer banality of the books and their subject matter. Twilight is a formidable foray into the world of bad literature, and its popularity is only a reflection of the lowered aesthetic standards American teenagers have today.

Conceptually, Twilight just plain fails. Although the plot is fairly straightforward, Stephanie Meyer’s vampires are designed to be fun, fairly innocent creatures. While they do crave blood, they drink animal blood as opposed to human blood. They glitter in the sunlight. Their skin is always cold. They run incredibly quickly and have super-human abilities, such as ESP. Perhaps only an old fashioned fuddy-duddy could let this clash with more traditional, romantic, Anne Rice-esque vampires, but this new conception of sparkly, friendly vampires is disconcerting, to say the least. As Lisa Schillinger asks in the New York Times, “What subversive creature could dream up a universe in which vampires…put marriage ahead of carnage on their to-do list?” Only those in Stephanie Meyer’s world: a world that cruelly robs traditionally seductive creatures of everything that makes them the ultimate monster. In Twilight, there is no overt sexuality, or any of the trademark vampiric traits that make vampire novels worth reading in the first place.

Character development is another crucial thing Twilight lacks. The premise of the story is simple: an adolescent girl (Bella), feeling emotionally abandoned by her mother, moves to a small town in Washington to live with her father. It is there she meets and falls in love with a teenage vampire (Edward). Throughout the novel it is inexplicably difficult to like either Bella or Edward. As the narrator of the novel, Bella is a depressed teenager with a major martyr complex, which is as far as her emotional depth goes. Edward makes no sense as a character: his train of thought is choppy and illogical, and no matter how much love he professes to he is still cold and aloof. While Meyer tries to play off his emotional distance as a vampiric symptom, as the book progresses it is obvious this is just a bad author trying to hide her sub-par writing skills by making excuses for her poorly-thought-out characters.

Twilight’s final flaw is one many young adult novels fall into: a shocking lack of realism. Most book lovers are more than willing to suspend their disbelief for young adult lit. Harry Potter, after all, is loved the world over. However, each character in Twilight is a caricature: over-exaggerated and under-developed. Even the weather in the novel is too typical and telling, an obvious foreshadow that only makes the reader wince. Twilight’s lack of subtlety is astounding, given that so much of the book rests on the simple idea of a girl falling in love and discovering love is flawed. The heavy hand, lack of depth, and sheer banality of much of the book detracts from this valid and archetypal story arch.

Ultimately, Twilight is an exploration of what a good young adult novel shouldn’t be: unsatisfying, poorly thought out, and not at all deserving of the hype. Unfortunately, Twilight (and with it the tacky teenage fans in black T-shirts) seems to be here to stay. And the unfortunate reflection on American youth that inevitably accompanies it? One can only wince.

Schillinger, Lisa. “Children’s Books/Young Adult.” The New York Times 12 August 2007.
7 June 2009.


Hollie Hirst said...

Brilliant and very well written!
One of my concerns about the book and movie is that this young woman (Bella) throws all caution to the wind and disregards her future by skipping school and falling for a potentially extremely dangerous man. Not a message I want my daughter to be imbibing!

I did appreciate that in the movie they avoided racist stereotypes and cast a white man as the 'bad guy' tracker, whereas they cast a black man as a 'good guy'...

Bonzuko said...

It's been delightful to see the incensed discussion on my brother's facebook link to this! ~Jenn