Friday, December 4, 2009

Bark or Bite

By now, New Moon fever has dulled to a faint howl, but the books and movie are still coming up in conversation. I saw the second film in the Twilight series two weeks ago and at least a couple of hours before most of my students due to free tickets to a special screening with friends. The movie was fabulous entertainment, as was the audience, cheering whenever Edward the Vampire or Jacob the Werewolf appeared on screen, shirtless.

So, there was a lot of cheering. And I felt slightly dirty the next day when I discovered that Taylor Lautner, the actor who plays Jacob, is only 17 years old. I could write about the sexism double standards at play here, and I thought about it...

But the real debate is Team Edward versus Team Jacob.

Now, before you log off your computer in disgust because you, like a friend or two on Facebook who have joined the group, "Team Edward or Team Jacob? How about Team Shut the F*** Up?" let me clarify that I am not entertaining the notion of which hottie is hotter. The point to ponder is what a friend's wife called "The Age-Old Conflict in a Woman's Soul."

Early in New Moon, elusive, often emotionally inaccessible Edward leaves heroine Bella, with the parting words, "You're no good for me." What he means literally is: "You're a juicy steak I want to bite into all the time." But that's just vampire speak for "It's not you; it's me," so we can relate as Bella pines for him while the seasons change. Seasons in Forks, Washington, by the way, are marked by either Rain or Snow (symbols, respectively, of tears and frozen hearts?).

I spent the first portion of the book annoyed with Edward and impatient with mopey Bella, but just before we are ready to give up on this sob saga (set to an appropriately emo soundtrack in the film), Bella does the expected: dusts herself off and finds herself a worthy distraction in the form of Jacob. Jacob is a brooding long-haired boy/man living outside town on the reservation. Bella and Jacob become close friends--but just friends. And not for lack of trying on Jacob's part.

I suppose we're supposed to feel the sexual tension between Bella and Jacob, but she pretty consistently dogs him (mastering the last-minute head-turn) to avoid being unfaithful to Edward, who has bailed on her. Nevertheless, this is meant to be a conflict, and Jacob is her bird in the hand. Except, we discover, he is actually a wolf in the woods. Which totally fits, since he plays the puppydog so perfectly. The faithful pooch. Loyal to his pack, to Bella, etc.

So now Edward and Jacob have something besides Bella in common: they're both monsters (albeit, monsters locked in an archetypal rivalry between their "species"). But Jacob is bound to lose the battle for Bella's heart, and he knows it: "I’m so sorry that I can’t be the right kind of monster for you, Bella. I guess I’m just not as great as a bloodsucker, am I?"

Jacob can be petulant and whiny, but he's always there.

Though Bella makes it abundantly clear whom she chooses, the 'Edward or Jacob' conundrum persists nevertheless as allegory: Who's your Jacob? Where's your Edward? Did you marry your Wolf or your Vampire?

We can imagine that Edward symbolizes passion, intrigue, the tortured poet, one's "soulmate." Dangerous love. The kind that might come back to bite you.

Jacob, on the other hand, represents safety. Dependability. He's an adoring friend and he'll stick around, put up with your moods. More the shaggy dog than wild hound.

If I ventured a guess, I'd bet that most of my friends committed to their wolves. Maybe after being once bitten. Or even twice.

But who doesn't want her Wolf and Vampire too? Is it possible? When a friend of mine pressed his wife to reveal if he was her Vamp or Dawg, she cleverly convinced him that her Vampire had become her Wolf. Graceful move, Sister.

The Twilight series, for the record, doesn't help us ground our expectations. After all, for Edward and Bella to work, she needs to join him in the Vampire World, so they'll both be young and immortal, forever. Frozen in time. Implicit is that their youthful passion for each other sustains.

In reality, we're graying and so are our mates. And retaining our youth is not as simple as saying to one's lover, "Bite me."

The danger is having your Wolf in the den and imagining one's Vampire is still out there, at large. The one that got away.

Maybe that's the allure of Twilight for the demographic say, above the age of 18. Edward Cullen is a safe fantasy (and he's not a minor in real life, either).

Bur offscreen, and at home, the challenge is not letting our long-term relationships suck the lifeblood out of us.

So here's to keeping it hot in the doghouse.


1 comment:

me said...

I guess I am a member of the dog-pound. Thanks for that, now I know my "Edward".;)