Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1

A Modest Review
(with BONUS, now OFFICIALLY outdated War-on-Terror Propaganda Commentary!)

Alike New Coke or The Pet Rock, the “Twilight” phenomenon is destined to become one of those things that we really can’t explain to future generations. Yeah, yeah, right now, the movies are doing gangbusters at the box office, but in 20 years - when Robert Pattinson will look more like Meat Loaf than beefcake - explicating the popularity of the franchise is going to be a next-to-impossible task.

I can envision the discussions now. “Hey, uncle Jimbo, how come all of those dumbass teenagers and housewives were into that fruity vampire crap when you were in college?” my hypothetical nephew will ask me through the perforations of his robotic Hazmat suit. I’ll overlook the veranda, with its panoramic view of the mutant wasteland, and I’ll just have to shrug my shoulders. “It was just a different time,” I’ll have to tell him, with no viable, perceivable follow-up available as a retort. Hell, we can’t explain the popularity of the series now, let alone with two decades worth of muddled future behind us.

Of course, there have been a couple of attempts made to explain the popularity of the series. I suppose the best I’ve yet to encounter is that the series capitalizes on the fledgling, post-pubescent sexual curiosities of America’s neo mall-rats and tweensters, those either over-sheltered or under-sheltered denizens of so many a Hot Topics or Starbucks that yearn for a mysterious, dark stranger to whisk them away from the perils and ennui of things like curfews, credit card limits and having to learn geometry. The great variable there is, a sizable portion of the Twilight fan base are women on the verge of menopause - meaning that the franchise probably connects more with those with a sense of sexual dissatisfaction than it does for those seeking the “Jane Eyre”/”Pride and Prejudice” post-Gothic sense of feministic freedom.

I really had a hard time grasping the popularity of the series until I found out something earlier this year: that the mastermind behind the “Twilight” saga was actually raised a Mormon. Suddenly, everything started to fall into place, and that enigmatic cultural adoration of the series quickly became readily apparent to my glistening, olive-hued pupils.

A lot of people scoff when comparisons between the work of Stephenie Meyer and the likes of Emily Bronte and Jane Austen are made. The reality is, those quasi-Gothic, pseudo-feministic writings of the 19th century are really no different than the quasi-gothic, pseudo-feministic writings of the modern day, as both forms of pop-literature detail the nature of womanhood via the oppression of the church and sexual mores.

Now, I’m not saying that “Twilight” is a form of good social commentary, but it remains a form of social commentary nonetheless. The appeal of the franchise - to the best that I can explain it, anyway - is that it’s a series that confronts the dual dilemmas of sexual identity and religious indoctrination for both young women unsure of their gender roles and older women realizing that they were coaxed into lives of sex-less stagnation thanks to the precepts of society and the church.

“Twilight,” quite obviously, is some really, really unsure commentary about the state of modern Mormonism. A young, bored virgin is absorbed into a closely-knit circle of social outcasts, all of whom port about a certain mystical power that makes them something above-and-beyond human. The “Twilight” take on sexuality is this odd hodgepodge of spiritualism, animism, family values and cosmological destiny - in other words, it’s “Dracula” as re-edited by the Church of Latter-Day Saints.
After much deliberation, I decided to check out the latest “Twilight” movie - “Breaking Dawn, Part 1” - to see just how much of this psycho-sexual religious commentary made it into the motion picture. As it turns out, the film not only contained a pretty good deal of such content, it actually seemed to be making a few pro-religious statements as well. . .meaning that the series may indeed be nothing more than thinly veiled encouragement and/or defense of traditional Mormon tenets pertaining to sexual behavior!

For starters, let’s make this very clear: “Twilight” is a film that endorses premarital chastity. Even though Kirsten Stewart - with her Bugs Bunny-like incisors - was tempted by both vampire and werewolf wiener, she managed to maintain her virginity as something of a spiritual obligation to…well, whatever it is that she believed in. After getting hitched at the age of 18, she is whisked away to Brazil, where, alike the biblical Eden that may or may not have actually been in Missouri, she is lulled into sinful thinking, desiring sparkly vampire dong so much that she seduces her foot-faced vampire hubby into several nights of undead humping, that results in, SPOILER. . .Bella getting knocked up by some sort of vampire offspring that makes her stomach look like a peach colored version of that golf ball thing at Epcot.

The message the film makes is pretty apparent - sexual longing will result in physical punishment, so keep your pants on or else. Hell, even being married isn’t a good enough deterrent from the retribution of Twilight’s vengeful (yet never directly addressed) God-figure - meaning that the chief evil of Meyer’s literary universe is human carnality, not oligarchic vampires or pissed off Indian wolf people.

Meet the real-life Ed Cullen.
The thing that got me about the movie wasn’t so much the not-that-subtle allusions to Mormon ideals (the super-close family, the sexual abstinence, etc.) but the movie’s downright brazen pro-life message. As in, the inclusion of a character that yells at Bella “it’s not a fetus, it’s a BABY!” not once, but several times.

For all of the hubbub about “Twilight” being an ode to teenage promiscuity, the message of the latest movie in the series is one that’s only mildly to the left of “The Silent Scream.” Needless to say, this ISN’T a movie that will appease the nation’s most hardcore NARAL supporters.

As for the film itself - come on, you know that it sucks. The acting is wooden, the dialogue is unnaturally stiff, the special effects are remarkably awful (the werewolf CGI looks like something out of a late ‘90s straight-to-video release, and what’s up with that jerky editing whenever the vampires decide to haul ass?) and the story manages to be both generic and stupid in equal dollops of sub-mediocrity. Walking out of the theater, I felt as if my ticket should’ve read “The Death of American Intellectualism,” or possibly “THIS is Why SAT Scores are Going Down Across the Board” instead of what was actually stamped on the ticket.

Why is this series so lucrative, despite being so empirically inane and uninteresting, you may ask? I’ve thrown out a few suggestions, but at the end of the day, I’m just as stumped as the rest of civilization. I guess the series is popular because it ties together sexual identity with religious guilt, which are two guaranteed pathways to mucho dinero, but I could be wrong. Maybe middle American women really are that obsessed and enamored by made-for-TV-romance, the fantastical readymade form of gothic sexuality that reeks of more petrochemicals than a bowl of plastic fruit. Maybe, we really are a culture more than content with getting our vicarious sexual jollies from the manufactured love lives of make believe high school students, with all of that supernatural junk thrown in as a red herring to keep us from feeling like weirdoes or perverts.

There are people out there that really do enjoy this sort of stuff with a sense of non-ironic attachment and sincerity. And to me, that’s downright freakier than any of the pseudo-kinky, second-hand thrills anybody would get out of screening “Breaking Dawn.”


In case you haven’t heard, the U.S. military is supposed to be leaving Iraq this month. Of course, that just means they’ll be replaced by private contractors and possibly proxy war wagers from Uganda, but PEACE TIME IS STILL SOMEHOW UPON US, apparently.

Serendipitously, as I was exiting the theater recently, I stumbled across this amazing piece of now gloriously outdated “War on Terror” agitprop: ladies and gentlemen, prepare to feast your eyes upon one of the weirdest and most tasteless arcade releases of the post 9/11 years, Target: Terror GOLD.
At first glance, the game doesn’t look that tacky and gaudy. And then, as images of George W. and Osama bin Laden flicker behind the game’s attraction mode title screen, you suddenly realize that this is a game with nary a sense of shame and/or understanding of ongoing global relations.

As the game implores you to toss in an additional quarter so you can dual-wield both of the supplied light guns - billing the act, not at all auspiciously, as “Justice Mode” - you just KNOW the experience is going to about as classy as a Toby Keith ballad. Even more surprisingly, however, is that the game is sort of reluctant to actually address the realities of the domestic “War on Terror” front. What do I mean, exactly? Well, what I mean is, the members of Al Qaeda in the game are, well, kind of white looking. As in, dressed like stereotypical 1950s biker teens white. And just wait until you see the gangster molls that show up about halfway through the bridge stage…

Target: Terror GOLD appears to be a pretty long game, but I really have a hard time believing anybody out there has the patience / disrespect for their own existence to play through the entire thing. If you’re one of those kids that really, REALLY wanted to shoot people in the balls back in the days of “Lethal Enforcers,” then maybe, just maybe, this game is worth your time, money and energy. But for the rest of you (congrats on the sanity, by the way), this thing is just rushed, low-culture sleaze that’s not even worth a squandered quarter out of curiosity.

As such, my last trip to the local multiplex was no doubt an important one. After all, it’s quite rare to encounter the epitome of the developing male and female’s horribly misdirected cultural consciousness in one evening - let alone the commercial exploitation of both at the same time.


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