Parents: If I can (poorly) discipline a 16-year-old cat to not howl before sunrise, you can teach your kids to not emulate Bella Swan. In case you live under several rocks, Bella is the teenage protagonist of Stephenie Meyer’s trashy, poorly written, and equally ill-conceived Twilight novels and their subsequent film adaptations. In Twilight, the first movie adaptation in the series, Bella’s (Kristen Stewart) romance with dreamy-looking vampire Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) teaches us that dating a man 91 years your senior and who watches you sleep from your skylight and breaks into your room while you’re out is okay so long as his hair is tousled and his skin sparkles in the sun, “like a Greek God,” as Meyer writes in the first Twilight book. In The Twilight Saga: New Moon, topless Native American werewolf-boy Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner) is similarly a creepy-cute monster that’s just “really hot,” “like a sauna,” as Bella eloquently puts it before she pounces on him.
At this point, one could, and more than likely should, just shrug and sigh, “What’s the matter with kid’s lit these days?” That is, until one realizes that Pattinson is now being valorized on the cover of Vanity Fair, having formerly been declared a sexy boy-man by Rolling Stone and People. Pattinson is 23 years old, so more power to his new-founded faux-jailbait wiles (in the movies, he’s supposed to be perpetually 17 years old), but remember: He plays a teenage vampire in an overhyped children’s cottage industry, not the second coming of James Dean or even George Clooney. This is a guy who should be featured on the cover of CosmoGirl, not celebrated as a mature, alluring man in ostensibly equally mature periodicals. Pattinson’s inexplicable status bump is enough to make one want to take a (semi-)serious glance at the Twilight movies, where his character essentially teaches kids that robbing the cradle is acceptable behavior. While Cullen is hardly worth creating a “torture porn”-sized moral panic over, the success of the Twilight series, in one form or another, only bolsters the films’ quasi-moral angle to the story. Edward is, after all, a good vampire. And yet, while your youngin’s Pattinson fetish may be kinda cute in an unsound kind of way, as with my hairbag’s ill-timed yodeling, it should only be encouraged so much. Spoilers ahead. Lots of them.
Considering how much hand-wringing the Twilight films exhibit over selectively neutering Edward as a sexual threat, it should stand to reason that someone should call them on their questionable morals. Cullen is good because he’s not a lone wolf, but rather part of a vampire family. After adopting Edward, who had already been turned into a vampire, Mr. and Mrs. Cullen (Peter Facinelli and Elizabeth Reaser) adopt a whole gaggle of other vampires that also look like teenagers. This is not at all morally questionable, but rather completely wholesome. For proof, note how they play baseball together in Twilight and celebrate Bella’s birthday at the beginning of New Moon. The Cullens and Edward by extension are the most supportive family Bella has, certainly more so than Charlie (Billy Burke), her biological father, who gives Bella her present and then meekly shuffles out of sight, presumably to watch football and drink beer (he’s a sheriff that wears plaid in his off-hours; feelings are a foreign country to him).
At the same time, Edward’s no Eddie Munster. We’re reminded of this salient fact by a snafu at Bella’s party, where Edward has to forcibly keep his brother from feeding on Bella after she gets a paper cut. The Cullens understand the risqué nature of Bella and Edward’s budding romance and so decide to move away, telling Bella that it’s really because their neighbors are starting to wonder why Mr. Cullen doesn’t age. So they run away for parts unknown, leaving Bella behind, bewildered but still very eager to sate her supernatural bad-boy fetish. All the while, no member of this thoughtful, good-hearted group of bloodsuckers has expressed apprehensions of any kind about the fact that no one’s told Charlie that his daughter is dating a vampire. When it comes to that little judgment call, they remember that Edward is a 109-year-old man capable of making his own decisions. Every other time, though, it’s up to Edward’s family to help him decide how he should treat Bella.
But perhaps parents should look past the fact that New Moon takes great pride in its family-friendly undead people in light of how tame the film’s violence is. Jacob, now Bella’s boyfriend, may act like he’s more violent than Edward, but he’s basically just as cuddly. He roams with a pack of fellow T-shirt-liberated brothers, who all live together in a posh modern cabin in the woods where they feed their insatiable hunger with fresh-baked muffins (you really can’t make this stuff up; Meyer already did). Jacob only really clashes with Edward at film’s end, and even then, tempers flair meekly. Bella’s hairy boy-toy only wolfs out around Victoria (Rachelle Lefevre), a jealous, young-looking vampire that only briefly pops up to kill Bella when she finds out Edward’s not there to protect her anymore. But really, that plot tangent is nothing to worry about: While Jacob, his brothers, and Victoria chase each other in slow motion through the woods, Radiohead plays, proving that the film is more angsty than tempestuously violent.
Which leads one to question what’s supposed to be so heartfelt about Bella and Edward’s relationship in the first place. Judging by New Moon the film, not a heck of a lot. We’re supposed to believe that Edward loves Bella because he’s willing to protect her from him, even threatening to commit suicide by breaking the cardinal rule about being a vampire and exposing himself to a crowd of humans (according to vampire law, by revealing his true self—a topless sparkly boy—to humans, he’s committing treason punishable by death). Bella likewise really loves Edward because right after he abandons her, she proves her love by flying into paroxysms of wracked howling every night, leaving Charlie bewildered and “more than a little frightened,” but still more than content to sit on his duff and polish his gun.
Best yet, after that, Bella flies into the arms of that other topless boy, proving that when people talk about the emotional hard core of the Twilight franchise, they’re talking about an epic romance of a wishy-washy teen girl in love with a histrionic, unnaturally older man who only looks like a teen with sketchy morals. I’ll stick to feline-rearing, thanks.