If Twilight and Fifty Shades are Wish Fulfillment…
I wasn’t going to post about this. I actually said to Mhairi this morning (with whom I was discussing the topic) that I probably shouldn’t post about it, but it’s on my mind and I can’t seem to shake it. So…yeah, here we go.
We were talking about the popularity of Twilight and Fifty Shades of Gray. It’s no secret that I despise Bella as a heroine. I find her weak, whiny, passive, and generally cannot in any way relate to her. She does not feel like the heroine of her own story to me other than the fact that the world seems to revolve around her. Now Fifty Shades I really can’t speak to as I have not (and will not) read it, and all I really know about it is what I’ve gleaned from listening to the big stink it has raised, first as being an alleged Twilight ripoff (I understand it began as fanfic and then the author changed the names?), and then as being a generally sucky and controversial book. Either way, if Twilight was the base, then I’d probably hate it, period. Fine, whatever. We all know that not everyone will like every book. This is the way of the world and is as it should be. It still makes the popularity of such tales somewhat mystifying.
I’ve often heard it said that romance as a genre is about wish fulfillment. Heroine is the center of some perfect, hot sexy guy’s attention and, depending on heat level, is in for some mind-blowing, stupendous nookie. Yes, I can definitely see the wish fulfillment in that. But that’s not the part of the wish that appeals to me in romance. I read paranormal romance predominantly, and I read it for the kick-ass heroines who manage to save the world. I was part of the Buffy generation. Buffy kicked ass, took names, and took care of herself and everybody else. She did not wait around for some man to do the job because that was not the way of the Slayer. And I find that appealing because in real life you cannot count on some man to do everything for you. This is not a Leave It To Beaver world. You need to be able to take care of yourself. Buffy is the epitome of the independent, capable heroine. There is a little Buffy in everything I write and in everything I love to read and watch. Strong heroines. That’s the thing. I get a charge out of seeing them prove their strength through impossible odds, showing that they can pull through, they can do what has to be done, because women are awesome like that. THAT is my wish-fulfillment fantasy in romance.
So, back to the whole Twilight/Fifty Shades thing. If romance (and for argument’s sake, we’re calling both of these romance) is about wish fulfillment, what wish is being fulfilled?
Being the center of the hero’s focus to the point of obsession (and yes, it was totally obsession…Edward being a total creeper and watching her while she slept and she didn’t know it? Ew). Okay…something I would find totally creepy in real life, but I can see how some women would perhaps long for that if their own lives were the total antithesis where they were not the center of anyone’s focus. What else?
Wanting to be taken care of. Now on its own, this is not such a horrible wish. For those of us with lots of responsibility in our lives, it might be nice to flirt with the fantasy of a millionaire tycoon who would hire us a maid, a nanny, a personal chef, and get us out of our shitty day job. >.> Even I find that appealing. It’s one of the things that I actually love about J.R. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood–the idea that the heroes are going to take care of their women whether their women want to be taken care of or not. It’s nice to have someone want to do it, whether you want it all the time or not. My issue with this particular wish in Twilight is that it’s taken to the extreme (seems like most of my issues with this book are about things being taken to the extreme). Bella doesn’t just want to be taken care of…she seems to crave someone to totally run her life. She allows Edward to make her decisions for her, tell her what is best, and totally abdicates responsibility for her life. Not only is this psychologically unhealthy and totally unbalanced as a relationship dynamic, but it absolutely sets her up as the perfect victim of an abusive relationship. The fact that Bella has become (for better or more likely for a whole lot worse) a role model for women today absolutely terrifies me for the example it sets, for the unhealthy relationship precedents it establishes.
There is a huge difference between being more old school and traditional in the role you desire to fill as a woman and what Bella is. It’s totally cool if you want to be a stay at home mom who puts June Cleaver and Martha Stewart to shame (no matter what feminists may shout to the contrary). That doesn’t mean you have to be a doormat or allow your husband to dictate everything (even if he happens to be the more traditional breadwinner). I guess what bothers me THE MOST about the insane popularity of these books is that there are so many women out there who have some psychological desire to lose themselves (because I think Bella did) in a man, be taken care of, and not have to do or be anything beyond that. I find it a really scary commentary on the state of our society that women would be attracted to a wish fulfillment fantasy of being so passive. Passivity is dangerous (and boring). Do these women think so little of themselves that they would rather have someone else define them?
I want to know who the next hugely popular Buffy will be. Any thoughts on that? Have any good candidates?