Twilight Breakdown: ‘Girl Porn’ and the Books of Mormon

As the latest Twilight film once more beckons an adoring gaggle of girls of all ages, onlookers watching their daughters, wives, and sisters flood the franchise with their hard-earned money are forced again to ask: just what is so intoxicating about Twilight, and is it ultimately for good or for ill?

The answer may not be immediately clear – at least, among those who reject Twilight’s standing as quality literature. Some consider its appeal to be of shady origin: many take issue with the use of vampires, traditionally a symbol of the demonic, while others point to what they say is evidence of the demonic origins of the books. At the same time, the series has been praised in particular for exalting chastity before marriage, which many take as a sign of its ultimate harmlessness – whatever proliferation of sexual fanfics and other erotic fantasizing may occur.

But another look at the source of this value paints a slightly different picture.

Twilight author Stephenie Meyer is widely known to be a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS), and openly acknowledges that her faith has had an impact on the books. “Unconsciously, I put a lot of my basic beliefs into the story,” she has said.

Hence, several of Twilight’s LDS elements fall in line with a broadly Christian outlook, such as the emphasis on self-control and chastity until marriage, the centrality of the family, and the dignity of motherhood.

Another such quality is the series’ sharply-defined masculine and feminine roles. The point is integral to the storyline, and emphasized unto great effect by Twilight movie stars Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart, with Pattinson’s deeply masculine features playing dramatically against Stewart’s delicate face and feminine hairstyle. Undoubtedly this naturally enticing aspect – a refreshing, and increasingly rare celebration of the differences between the sexes – is one source of Twilight’s immense following. And rightly so.

However, some of those familiar with the LDS faith have found other elements in the books that may not necessarily align with Christian sensibilities. Laura Stone, an ex-Mormon who claims to be “from one of the older Mormon families,” published an analysis of the books from her perspective in 2008, one that she told LifeSiteNews.com she continues to stand by.

To begin with, Stone pointed out several superficial elements in Twilight that she says clearly correspond to the LDS faith. These include the description of Edward Cullen, which she said matches the mythical description of church founder Joseph Smith “down to his nose and hair color,” as well as the series’ overarching juxtaposition of a “dark” race of werewolves (“Lamanites” in Mormon legend) that fight an epic battle with the “white” race of vampires (“Nephites”). Bella’s journey of “conversion” to vampirism corresponds to the goal of winning “eternal life” by embracing the Mormon faith and overcoming – in a sense – the “natural man” that stands in the way of heavenly perfection.

In addition, Stone even points to the presence of an authoritarian, hierarchical race of enemy vampires who are based in Italy and “enforce the code of conduct that pass for the morals of their world” – the Volturi – as closely corresponding to the Mormon attitude toward Catholics. Thematically, Stone points to the series’ emphasis on personal “perfection,” and the predestination of couples as having pre-selected each other for a literally eternal bond, as two themes directly correlating with Mormon sensibilities.

This latter element is carried to a somewhat disturbing degree in the case of the werewolves’ “imprinting,” whereby one detects and essentially becomes obsessed with a future spouse no matter the age difference – resulting in grown men “imprinting” on the smallest of children. The predestination theme also appears to serve as justification for a relationship between the two lead characters that, in real life, would amount to a case of a very jealous man absorbing the life of his willing love interest. This glorification of jealousy could prove very dangerous indeed to young girls who have not been strongly warned against such obsessions in real-life men.

But perhaps the most salient critique is that, according to Stone, the books’ treatment of the subject of sexuality and romance corresponds to a sort of false chastity or obsessive attitude towards sex that she claims exists in the LDS community; this, she suggests, can be seen as an undercurrent that arises in response to the overly puritanical standards of modesty adhered to by LDS members.

The reviewer points to one portion in the book where the newlywed couple is teased “in front of everyone” about having had intercourse, and relates: “Every one of my cousins, aunts, LDS friends, etc., all love to talk about newlyweds finally having sex,” saying they enjoy seeing “the de-virgined folks blush.” The reviewer insists that this obsession with sex – as something “not to do” - is commonplace among LDS communities: “in church, in the break-off Sunday school classes, in Firesides (Sunday night hour long lectures,) on Wed. night break-off classes for the different sexes …. Sex is constantly talked about.”

Others have also noted that Twilight’s preponderant atmosphere of sexual tension corresponds to a pattern in Mormon male-female interactions.

“Edward and Bella could barely touch or kiss for fear that Edward might get carried away and suck her blood in a fit of passion,” wrote a relative of Meyer’s, writing on normalmormons.com and quoted by Steve Rabey of the Religion News Service.  “Very similar to that of two young BYU/high-school students who aren’t yet married and can’t touch each other for fear it will lead to sex. I’m sure it was easy for Stephenie to describe with firsthand experiences.” Brigham Young University, or BYU, is an LDS church-owned university in Utah.

Similarly, the book’s narrative reflects what appears to be a mistaking of healthy boundaries for a wooden set of “thou shalt nots” detached from a realistic understanding of sexual impurity. For example, despite the prohibition against sensual kissing – an obvious and admirable moral in the stories – the books constantly use very vivid imagery in the tradition of seedy romance novels, building to scenes of throbbing sexual tension that are just as explicit, if not more so, than a typical kiss scene. A fine example of this is Bella and Edward’s first kiss; in both the movie and book version, the scene is made explicit (in the uncut film version, extremely so) by the exaggerated sexual tension of what should have been, in real life, a simple, chaste kiss. In these scenes, it’s obvious that the belief that lovers literally “can’t touch each other for fear it will lead to sex” is no exaggeration.

Thus this false idea of chastity contributes significantly to the series’ “girl porn” effect, despite the lack of actual sex – something that might not be apparent to men, but is all too clear to women. Touted for promoting chastity, the books in fact offer a combo of emotional titillation and steamy sexual near-misses, all bound together with a steady undercurrent of rape fantasy, that is deadly for women. These elements, as in sex-laden romantic novels, are geared toward over-stimulating female emotions and sending women hurtling towards an unhealthy escapism. Instead of the selfish male ideal of regular pornography, i.e., the perfect-bodied female delivering the ultimate sexual climax, women reading Twilight can find themselves craving a different and equally selfish fantasy: the perfectly “intense” male delivering the ultimate emotional climax.

Thus the books’ attempt at chastity falls more than short. If Rabey’s commenter and Stone are to be believed, the problem may stem from one inherent in the LDS faith community: a set of ideals that skew, if subtly, the delicate nature of sexuality. Potential fangirls, beware.

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