At my local shopping centre yesterday, I noticed a shop selling faux-Twilight merchandise — T-shirts with slogans that clearly reference the Twilight books/film, but are just generic enough to avoid a lawsuit (my apologies for the crappy cameraphone images):
For those of you who may not have encountered it before, Twilight is the first in a series of books by Stephanie Meyer; it has recently been made into a film. Meyer’s novels are particularly popular with teenage girls, and Meyer herself has been compared to J. K. Rowling in terms of her popularity. The books tell the tale of a teenage girl, Bella Swan, and her relationship with eternally beautiful (and sparkly!) vampire Edward Cullen, whose abusive and controlling behaviour towards Bella is configured as twu wuv, the ultimate in romance.
[Spoilers for the entire series beneath the fold]
Vampires have long been associated with the conflation of sexual desire and violence, so there isn’t much new in the “I *heart* Edward” shirts that you can see in the picture on the left, which use the violent image of a heart dripping in blood, but I think there’s something interesting going on in a couple of the other shirts. The first, which is in the top part of the left-hand, reads “I kissed a vampire and I liked it!” — an obvious riff on Katie Perry’s song, “I Kissed a Girl” (I kissed a girl/ and I liked it/ the taste of her cherry chapstick). The second, somewhat blurry image shows a shirt with the slogan “Forget Princess, I want to be a Vampire”.
So, here we have two slogans which, in spite of everything, seem to convey an expectation that the young women at whom these shirts are marketed want to reject the heteronormative patterns that are deeply entrenched in the Twilight franchise. The analogy between “I kissed a vampire” and “I kissed a girl” seems almost to imply that these young women are seeking out a queer identity, while the second clearly rejects the princess schema that is forced onto girls all throughout the Western world — although Bella Swan herself is constructed in terms of a princess-schema (a normal girl who ultimately marries a handsome man from a noble family), vampires in general undoubtedly seem much more powerful, much less passive than your typical fairy-tale princess. Is there a spark of resistance here?
To be clear, I am not trying to argue that these T-shirts in themselves are particularly feminist or progressive, but I do think (or at least hope) that they indicate that there is a certain resistance going on — that, in spite of the hideous heteronormative ideologies perpetuated by the Twilight texts, there is a sense that their initial appeal may lie in the idea of breaking away from the norm (even though, sadly, all they really do is reflect that norm back with greater intensity).
So — am I being overly hopeful here? Am I reading too much into a couple of slogans, or is there potential here to find the desire to resist patriarchal heteronormativity, even if the reality of the Twilight texts does not fulfil that desire in any way?