WPost: Chaste vampires are not us

twilight-coverAnyone who has paid even the slightest attention to the "Twilight" explosion in pop culture knows that author Stephenie Meyer is a somewhat unorthodox Mormon believer who isn't exactly shy about letting symbols and themes from her faith, uh, bleed over into her vampire kingdom. The Rev. EEE took on the topic a time or two here at GetReligion, since the subject has received some mainstream media attention. But the topic is now everywhere. I mean, click here and surf around a bit.

Meanwhile, my dear friend John "HogwartsProfessor.com" Granger is focusing his considerable talents in fantasy analysis on this pop-culture tsunami, as well. You may want to check out the new Forks High School Professor website (especially to keep tabs on his theories until his new book comes out).

Are the books worth all of this heavy intellectual breathing? I have avoided them like the plague, quite frankly. And so have lots of other people, according to one of those snarky, navel-gazing Washington Post features that draw so much attention when they run back in the edgy confines of the newspaper's famous Style section.

But, wait! This sprawling piece on the "Twilight" craze didn't run in the Style section, where the lines between news and analysis are blurred more often than not. This story ran on page A1, right there in the sacred territory dedicated to politics. The double-decker headline just about says it all:

'Twilight,' the love that dare not speak its shame

Good, smart, literary women tried to resist the romantic-vampire phenomenon. And then, alas, they bit.

You see, this article is for smart women, the kind who still read the Post and not popular novels that are, well, more on that later.

Apparently, it was easy to write off Meyer and her shiny heroes when only the, you know, shallow and stupid women were reading them, the kinds of women who yearn for full-blooded romances and even -- shocking -- men who are willing to make sacrifices and be faithful to them, well, forever.

Here's a sample of this buffet line of elitist guilt, at the very top of this journalistic sermon by Monica Hesse:

We know. You hate "Twilight." You don't want to hear anything more about "Twilight." That's why this is not another story about the "Twilight" or "New Moon" mania, nor will it rhapsodize on the vampire craze, nor does it contain any interviews with Robert Pattinson.

This is a story about shame.

All across the country, there were women who managed to avoid Stephenie Meyer's series about a star-crossed human/vampire teen couple. (Vampire Edward lusts for mortal Bella, but also for her blood; the books are less plot than endless yearning). They resisted the first three books -- refused to read them, didn't know they existed -- and the lunacy that was "Breaking Dawn."

"Twilight" came for the tweens, then for the moms of tweens, then for the co-workers who started wearing those ridiculous Team Jacob shirts, and the resisters said nothing, because they thought "Twilight" could not come for them. They were too literary. They didn't do vampires. They were feminists.

So, why is this a GetReligion subject? Precisely because the story never goes there, it never gets into Meyer's connection with her main audience and never, ever, connects the dots to the franchise's unique take on love, sexuality, marriage, family and, literally, tribe. We are told that these feminist readers are all offended by the fact that the books are for stupid, shallow women, but the beliefs and tastes of those women are simply painted in negative, in a reverse image.

New Moon PosterThere is very little religion in the story. That's kind of my point.

Instead, the story gets busy and stays busy describing, detailing and dissecting the exquisite guilt that liberal, secular, feminist women feel because they are falling head over heals in love with these books and movies that are supposed to only sell to, well, you know -- those other women (you know who they are).

Guilt. Shame. It's a sad scene.

However, there is a kind of political/religious angle that appears briefly down in the body of the report. Yes, the Post briefly mentions the A-word:

Witness the downfall of Sarah Seltzer, a freelance literary critic who also writes for a reproductive rights Web site:

"I wanted to write about the abstinence subtext," Seltzer says, which is why she read the books to begin with. She planned on questioning the allegorical "abstinence only" theme that runs through the series. "But the books are kind of hypnotic, so it's very much that while you're reading them you're sucked in, and then you take a step back and you think, this is kind of troubling. She jumps off a cliff because she misses her boyfriend?" What?!

"New Moon" shows Bella at her most pathetic, and so the grown women who love "Twilight" have methodically come up with rebuttals to the accusations that the character is anti-feminist. Perhaps her single-minded desire for a relationship is actually a Third Wave feminist expression? Maybe it doesn't matter that she's choosing Edward over everything else, as long as it's her choice? Maybe her wish to become a vampire is really a metaphor for asserting her rights over her own body?

Keep reminding yourself that this outpouring of guilt is taking place on A1, in one of America's most important newspapers.

I freely admit that there is something of substance here. So you read the story. Do you sense a ghost? Do you see the reflection in the mirror, the women that these smart, informed, liberal, secular, feminist women fear? I think I do.

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