Image from 'Twilight'
What the New York Times critic sees as prudishness and Victorian repression in the Twilight books and movie may actually be a sign of hope for the American culture.
Analysis by Mike D’Virgilio.

The romantic vampire movie Twilight is all the rage among the teen girl set, having accumulated $70 million in U.S ticket sales during its first weekend, which might just prove that unconsummated teenage sexual tension sells. But some critics, such as a certain New York Times writer, think sexual tension is just so passe, arguing, let’s just get on with the sex! This salutary message is intended to apply to teenagers as well.

After all, don’t we know that’s what all normal teenagers do? The writer even throws out the “V” word, because of course there cannot be anything much worse than being perceived as a Victorian prude.

Those who have the stomach to read the Times critic’s pathetically snarky drivel will see the potential blinding power of a secularist worldview (and religious people can fall into the same kind of trap—it’s a matter of human nature, alas). Because the movie doesn’t comport with the Times critic’s provincial, oh-so-New York view of things, she cannot see beyond her ideology and hence cannot see what is perfectly obvious in the film, that refraining from sex in the context of the story is done for a much greater good, namely the very life of the one the character loves.

No, what is obvious to a sensible person strikes the New York Times critic as a prime opportunity to be snarky and self-righteous:

Though Edward and Bella reach certain heights in “Twilight,” notably during a charming scene that finds them leaping from piney treetop to treetop against the spectacular wilderness backdrop, the story’s moral undertow keeps dragging them down. If Ms. Meyer has made the vampire story safe for her readers (and their parents)—the sole real menace comes from a half-baked subplot involving some swaggering vampires who like their steak saignant and human—it’s only because she suggests that there actually is something worse than death, especially for teenagers: sex. Faced with the partially clad Bella (who would bite if she could), Edward recoils from her like a distraught Victorian. Like Ms. Hardwicke, the poor boy has been defanged and almost entirely drained. He’s so lifeless, he might as well be dead—oops, he already is.

Fortunately, as is evident in the following comment on the critic’s rant, not all self-described liberals are so captive to their ideology:

If you actually read the series, you’d understand why poor Edward must contain himself sexually. Besides being from a different time (1918) when sexual mores were quite different—her blood and smell is particularly attractive to him (for FOOD!) As he says, "your scent is like my own special brand of heroin" . . . if he allows himself to get sexual with her, he doesn’t know if he would be able to keep himself from killing her. So, the idea that somehow this book is saying sex is worse than death is, well, immature. I am very liberal and certainly NOT an "abstinence only" kinda person; but to assume that Edward must be more sexually aggressive is actually pretty sexist. I absolutely LOVED the movie as it managed to stay true to the story—4 stars for me. Can’t wait for the next one. . . . I already know what happens and it will be even BETTER!!

I’ve not read the books or seen the movie, but I have a teenage daughter who is a big fan, and she happens to prefer that the media show a bit of self-control in the name of love. Unfortunately, most of the nation’s popular culture isn’t very kind to that message. Abstinence, shmabstinence, they say—just use birth control, and if that doesn’t work, get rid of the evidence. And by all means, don’t tell your parents!

If anything, the events in question in the book and movie seem to be suggesting that sex is something special, and that abstaining may in fact may be a much fuller and more real expression of true love than intercourse and orgasms. The idea that sex is more than just a means of momentary pleasure is not some crazy fantasy dreamt up by fundamentalists since the invention of the Pill; it’s a notion that not only has a long history in much of human civilization but also has strong roots in science.

In such a narcissistic and self-centered culture as ours, it’s surprising and pleasing that a movie and book series so popular with hormone-ravaged teenagers may have a much more sophisticated, compassionate, and scientific point of view than the average New York Times critic (admittedly a rather low standard to which to aspire). Maybe there is hope for the coming generations after all.

—Mike D’Virgilio is Executive Director of The Culture Project.