August 14, 2009

White Edward vs. "russet" Jacob

I've covered the subject of race in Twilight at length, but here's another good summary of the issue:

Vampires, and the Sluts and Virgins Who Love Them

The latest craze for bloodsuckers is bad for women.

By Latoya PetersonThe New York Times Thursday Styles had a trend story last week on the new vampire glamour, with the sultry bloodsuckers showing up in fashion magazines, dominating the paperback sections at bookstore chains, and starring in a host of new TV shows. As the piece points out, the new crop of fanged fantasy fodder are light years away from the original Dracula, Béla Lugosi. Vamps are a combination of “deathless good looks and decadent sexuality,” writes Ruth LaFerla, but the piece misses the undercurrent in the trend. The latest wave of novels and series are not like the glossy look-but-don't-touch sexuality you see in Vogue. They reflect our culture’s deep ambivalence about women's sexuality and our obsession with glorifying chastity and sexual violence.

Stephanie Meyer, the author of Twilight, has been criticized for emphasizing chastity in the story arc between Bella Swan and Edward Cullen. Quite often, their scenes together felt like an extended tease, or a test of will, exemplified by Edward conquering his lust for blood (read: booty). Some critics attributed it to Meyer being a both a Mormon and a housewife when she started the series.

Latoya calls it as always.
By: jvansteppes | Sun, 07/12/2009 - 23:30

Being a regular reader of yours at Racialicious, Latoya, I'm a bit surprised you haven't mentioned the racial undertones in Twilight, although perhaps you haven't wasted the time to read it. I did unfortunately read the first 2 books for a paper about teen fiction, and the racial undertones hit me pretty hard. While the racialization of vampires, originally linked to projections of Jewish monstrosity, has certainly evolved to the inclusion of characters like Blade, I've long associated vamps with a whiteness fetish, and Stephanie Meier doesn't deviate from that trend. She takes great pains to emphasize the Cullen family's pale demeanor, linking both Edward and Bella's alleged beauty to their white, translucent skin over and over again. While I don't imagine she's conscious of this theme, it's ever-present in her less than creative descriptions of vampire beauty or the purity of white Bella.

Contrast perfect Edward Cullen with Jacob Black however, and the race narrative gets even more obvious, even without a deconstruction of her shaky use of Indian myth as a plot device. Meier uses the phrase 'russet skin' so often to describe her Quileute characters that a drinking game could follow suit. Her exoticized, shallow accounts of each Indigenous character's skin color are so over the top they left me wondering why an editor didn't say anything. While white, refined Edward is a testament to abstinence and self control, russet Jacob is a werewolf unable to control his emotions, who ultimately forces a kiss on Bella. Edward is cold and beyond human weaknesses, while animal Jacob's body constantly overheats, as do so many portrayals of uncivilized people of color. Edward struggles for control and ultimately we never doubt his ability to maintain his control of mind over body, while Jacob's body, too big to be anything but dangerous, takes precedence over his mind. I could go on and on.
Comment:  For more on the subject, see Quileute Werewolves in Twilight.


Melvin Martin said...

Bela Lugosi will always be the ultimate vampire to me as he was among the last of Hollyweird's old school macho (horror) types, along with Lon Chaney Jr. as The Wolfman

The current crop of metrosexuals and femmes who portray vampires on the big screen leave A LOT to be desired...

GirlieMon said...

Hey, I'm related to the guy who played Carlyle Cullen! What do you mean by that?!!