[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="207" caption="Image by Getty Images for Fox via Daylife"][/caption]
Yes, I took my daughters to the midnight showing of "New Moon" yesterday. Yes we didn't get home till 3. Yes, they're still in bed. And yes, I'm a bad mother. Not because I let them stay out till 3am on a school night, but because I took them to what can only be called "porn for tweens."
Oh, I know it's supposed to be a romance. Stephanie Myers, in her usual way, uses a piece of classical literature to structure her book. In this case, New Moon the book is the tale of Romeo and Juliet (see, the Twilight series is much deeper than you thought- get it, Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare, real literature?). In case you haven't read the novels, New Moon has absolutely NO action as a book, just two, dopey, star-crossed lovers, near suicides on both sides, oh, and a bunch of vampires and werewolves thrown in to make it interesting. At least to tween and teen girls.
But the movie, thank god, is not as action-less as the book. There are vampire-werewolf battle scenes, fast cars, and pretty damn nice clothes and haircuts. But the real action, of course, is Jacob- the wolfboy's- body- especially his chest and his "eight pack." Taylor Lautner's body has been the subject of discussion among middle-school girls (and I assume high school ones as well) for months. Videos of him and his abs have circulated on Youtube and been the subject of much discussion and ooohhhhing and awwwwing. The real screams in the theater came last night not because of anything spooky, but because Jacob rips his shirt off. Shouts of "OH MY GOD!" "LOOK AT HIM!" "I'M GOING TO FAINT" rang out (and that was just among the middle-aged moms I was sitting with).
In the typical trope of the romance novel, the book New Moon portrays just an ordinary gal, Bella Swan- Kristen Stewart- who is not particularly beautiful (well, she is, but she's not supposed to be), not particularly smart, and ALWAYS in need of protection from her preternaturally strong men- the vampire Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) and Jacob with his abs.
As per the rules of the Romance Writers of America (yes, there are rules), the heroine never strays from her true love and is always faithful, but something keeps them apart and then, at the end, they come back together forever and ever and ever and ever. The lead romantic male must be strong, but emotionally distant (Edward is so emotionless he always looks slightly constipated in these movies). But his love for the heroine cracks his emotional distance and brings him to her (and only her).
But the trope of the movie is not just romance, but porn. Actually, to be fair, it's not mainstream, hardcore porn, but the newer genre known as "porn for women." Everyone is madly in love (Jacob with Bella, Edward with Bella, Bella with Edward). And the attention is on the male body. Just as in "porn for women" (and gay male porn) there are loving shots of abs and lats and even a few moments of buttock gazing. It is significant that only Edward and Jacob take their shirts off (OH MY GOD! THEY'RE SO HOT!) whereas Bella tends to wear jeans and flannel shirts. It is significant that the sexual tension that exists is because everyone wants the woman (including some human boys, but what chance do they have among such monstrous beauties?).
In the end, middle-school girls are learning to feast on the bodies of men. I actually think this is a more powerful lesson for them than the sappy and ridiculous romance where two teenagers almost kill themselves over their love. Good gods. What kind of lesson is that for them? If your boyfriend moves (to a vampire-infested town in Italy for instance), you should go into what can only be described as clinical depression, lose touch with your friends, your family, and start to hallucinate his presence whenever you do something stupid like jump off a cliff. This is NOT a lesson I want my girls to learn.
But the movie is about the female gaze and the pleasures of the male flesh. Hell, the movie is porn for women and girls and gay boys. A visual feast of hot young men for screaming girls and women. And even if I have my doubts that porn is more liberating than romance, at least it doesn't make me want to scream "NO! DO NOT GIVE UP YOUR FRIENDS AND FAMILY AND SCHOOL FOR A BOY!" the way the Twilight series does. Instead, along with my girls, I can scream "OH MY GOD. LOOK AT HIS ABS!"
Critic Review for The Twilight Saga: New Moon on washingtonpost.com.