The “Twilight craze” is back. On November 20, millions of avid teenagers rushed to the midnight opening of New Moon, to gawk and gaze at their favorite blood-sucking vampires on the big screen. New Moon the second film adaptation of Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series, grossed a whopping $72.3 million, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The exceedingly popular Twilight novels present the fragile relationship between the inhumanly beautiful Edward Cullen and the clumsy, “all-too-human” Bella, who, inconveniently, also happens to be the lusty object of his overwhelming thirst. Out of fear that Edward’s vampire-like instincts will get the best of him upon close physical contact, the eccentric duo abstain from sex for the majority of the series.
Whether it’s the generational-gap (Edward is technically more than 100 years old), or the mere fact that he is of another “species,” resilient to the sex-drives of oh-so-human boys, something is for certain: Edwards and Bella experience a mutual love while abstaining from sexual encounters. And, as numerous studies have shown, this makes Twilight-obsessed teenagers want to abstain too.
Julie Dobrow, the director of the Communication and Media Studies program at Tufts, notes that Twilight’s impact on teenage values of abstinence can be explained in terms of a media theory known as agenda-setting. “Basically, it says that while the media does not tell us what to think, it tells us what to think about,” Dobrow explained.
“Media can ‘set our agendas’ with regard to what’s important, normative, or cool.” According to Dobrow, the extensive research conducted on the topic has garnered much empirical evidence in support of this theory.
While Meyers doesn’t exactly preach pro-abstinence to her teenage audiences, she intricately weaves themes of sexual restraint and romanticism into her adventurous plots of supernatural vampires and “life-or-death” dilemmas. In introducing this idealized image, Dobrow believes that Meyers has influenced her readers to consider such concepts in the context of today’s society.
“Any popular series is bound to influence its viewers and get them thinking about certain issues, whether those are how people should dress, what kinds of
language they should use when talking with peers, or what kinds of behavior are rewarded,” said Dobrow.
The Vancouver Sun describes a research project, conducted at the University of Missouri, that reveals how Twilight has attracted teenager girls to much-forgotten ideals of romance and abstinence. Melissa Click, an assistant professor of communication at the University of Missouri, surveyed 4,000 Twilight fans between the ages of 11 and 70. According to survey results, a good number of fans were inspired by the novel’s presentation of love rooted in pure affection as opposed to anything physical. Click explains how many of the girls interviewed found it surprisingly refreshing that Edward and Bella couldn’t engage in sexual activity. For them, the couple’s abstinence emphasized the progressive development of the relationship, founded in lost vales of love and romance.
According to other related studies referenced in the Vancouver Sun, including a 2008 Canada-wide survey that measured the “values” of 500 teenage-girls between 14 and 18, many teens rate passion and long-term commitment as more important than sexual activity. The project is part of a larger “youthography” research study called Ping, which has been piecing together values common to today’s teens. Studies show how Twilight’s portrayal of romanticism further instills these ideals into the hearts of young girls, who, after gazing into Edward’s golden-brown eyes, are even prone to wait for that perfect man, or vampire, to snatch them off their feet.
The New York Times author Terrence Rafferty discloses another societal implication of Bella and Edward’s commitment to abstinence. According to Rafferty, the couple’s decision to abstain reveals a psychological conflict common to adolescents: fear of sex. Bella epitomizes the average teenage-girl fearful of taking that final step, while Edward represents the fantasized ideal boyfriend, always empathetic and patient with her sexual apprehension. However, Rafferty explains how some have questioned Twilight’s promotion of a rather unrealistic portrayal of teenage relationships; unfortunately for love-struck teenage-girls, that patient, “soulful romantic” type may just be reserved for fantasy.
According to the Vancouver Sun, issues have been raised regarding Edward’s difficulty with controlling himself around Bella’s blood, a matter of life-and-death for the mere mortal. Many argue that, within values of abstaining, there are also subtle implications of irresistibility and lust entwined in the novel.
But despite Edward’s struggle with restraining himself from Bella’s luring human blood, he is successful. And, despite the inherent difficulty of abstaining in moments of lusty vampire-human passion, the relationship remains unconsummated for the majority of the series. As demonstrated by numerous studies, the Twilight series is more than just a trendy fad; soaked with prevalent issues regarding adolescent sexuality, it is a media mechanism capable of impacting society’s cultural values.