Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Reflections on Responses to <i>Twilight</i>

I was amused by the responses to the post on Twilight's Unfortunate Messages based on a critique by John Lewinski. The male respondents were in almost universal agreement with Lewinski whereas many females sounded like they wanted to strangle him.

I haven't read the books nor seen the movies, so I make no judgment of them, but I was a little surprised by some of the reasons many of the respondents gave in defense of the films. These included the fact that the messages promoted by the latest movie are nothing new, the story is just harmless fantasy, there's lots worse stuff out there, most people can handle bad themes without doing damage to their psyches, and the claim that Lewinski focuses too much on the negatives rather than trying to see the positives of the film.

This was interesting to me because though all of this may be true these are essentially the same justifications men use to rationalize looking at pornography.

Not that I'm saying Twilight is pornographic, mind you - again, I don't know much about it - but pornography in film is not just a matter of the visuals. Pornography is a matter of the messages that the movie sends. The problem with pornography, the thing that makes it really insidious, is not just that it makes public what should be private, not just that it perverts sex by focusing exclusively on the physical to the exclusion of the emotional, psychological, and spiritual elements of our sexuality, what's really harmful is that it creates in a young man a completely unrealistic expectation of what romance should be and what his wife should be like.

A young man who has spent many hours viewing pornography often sets a standard for the woman in his life that she simply cannot attain or does not want to attain. He tends to see women primarily as opportunities for sexual gratification, he sees them as objects rather than as persons, and he's often profoundly disappointed when they do not measure up, either in appearance or behavior, to what he has viewed on the screen. That's why pornography is often a marriage-wrecker.

But any book or film that sends messages to the viewer which pervert romance and create unrealistic expectations of the opposite sex commits essentially the same sin. Books or movies that present adulterous affairs in a positive light (does Twilight do this?) or that create an image of a man or woman to which most people could never measure up even if they wanted to, are sending messages that are every bit as harmful as those of Hustler magazine. Any book or movie that sends the messages that Lewinski imputes to Twilight is distorting romance, creating unrealistic expectations, and setting girls and women up for big disappointments in their own relationships with men.

So, the reply to Lewinski should not be that the movie is just a harmless fantasy, that most people know it's fantasy, that there's worse fantasies out there, that most girls can handle the fantasy, and that the fantasy is nothing new. All this can be said of pornography. The reply should be that the movie does not, in fact, send the messages about men and women that Lewinski says it does. Unfortunately, too many of our respondents agreed that the movie does indeed send these messages, but they liked it anyway.

That sounds a lot like something a college kid sitting in front of his computer thrilling to video of some sexual debauch might say.