This article appeared in the September 14th edition of The Catholic Post – the newspaper of the Diocese of Peoria. I know and respect Nancy, but I disagree with her conclusion here. I think she is trying to point out problems without being hysterical. I sympathize with her predicament. However, I think the potential damage is grave enough to get upset about:
You are what you eat (and read)
The following guest commentary was written by Nancy Piccione, a member of St. Mary’s Parish in Metamora. An avid reader, she has a B.A. in English literature and an M.S. in journalism. She is married to Joseph Piccione and they have three children — none of whom, she reports, are teenagers. Yet.
When Claire, the French 15-year-old visiting our family this summer, pointed out “Twilight” on a Barnes & Noble visit, and said she had enjoyed it, I had proof the Stephenie Meyer novels really are an international phenomenon.
The “Twilight Saga,” for those without teenage girls in your immediate orbit, is a popular four-novel series about the love story of Edward Cullen, an impossibly handsome and virtuous (I think the author would like us to believe Edward is virtuous, but I disagree entirely) vampire, and Bella Swan, a kind of “everygirl.”
“Breaking Dawn,” the final in the series, and others are on the New York Times Bestseller list; a movie is slated for November release.
I found they are all quick, enjoyable, reads. They are mostly free of explicit sex and violence (the fourth crosses some lines), but there’s lots of heavy breathing (where the heavy breathing stops and explicit sex begins… well, I guess this is a matter of interpretation – but to be generous and allow Nancy’s interpretation, I still think “mostly free” of explicit sex isn’t good enough and “lots” of heavy breathing is pretty downright problematic) and implied violence. “Breaking Dawn” is the best of the bunch, with a more mature sensibility, and even a pro-life theme of sorts, with Bella and another vampire trying to protect her unborn child (To call it a pro-life theme “of sorts” is a good way of putting it. It’s a real stretch. Bella admits that the only reason she is keeping this baby is because the child is Edward’s. Children and maternity in general she has no attraction to. I think Bella exercises her “right to choose”, and in this case chooses life – but I could easily see her choose the opposite in another circumstance if it suited her. This also doesn’t take into account the whole wife swop scenario with Jacob.).
Still, I have a lot of reservations (good), quite apart from the supernatural element that I know may give many pause. Let me just pick one: the way to practice self-control is not to put your beloved in mortal danger so you can “get stronger,” as Edward does so he can resist Bella. It might work for vampires, but it doesn’t work for humans. Some like to call the alternative “avoiding the near occasion of sin,” and it’s time-tested. (I would just take this a little farther and say that it applies to our daughters, too. Why give them a book which is going to test THEIR self-control? As Nancy says, this doesn’t work for humans.)
But that’s really not the point. Young women reading these books aren’t looking for role models or boyfriend tips, though I think some are. It’s all just escapism and fantasy and fun, right?
Yes and no. I’m not trying to spoil anyone’s fun, but . . .
An analogy might help. One of my other summer reads was “In Defense of Food,” Michael Pollan’s critique of the modern food culture. He recommends, “Eat food. Not too much. Plants, mostly.”
My new discovery (turns out I’m hopelessly behind) is that high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is the new “trans fat.” In the same way we’ve all become aware of and avoid trans fat, HFCS is being understood now as bad for our bodies. In our family, we’ve been really shocked to see where it shows up. Rice Krispies? They’re not even sweet!
But while we’re gradually trying to make healthier choices at the grocery store, I don’t feel condemned by Pollan. We’re just doing the best we can, and glad someone is making us aware.
So what’s that to do with the “Twilight Saga”? If the novels were a food, HFCS would be the first ingredient, and trans fat the second. (I will say poison is the first ingredient. Doesn’t go down very well with the morning coffee.) I haven’t sent them to the lab to be analyzed — that’s just my quick English major opinion.
So is reading “Twilight” going to kill you? Probably not (“probably” isn’t good enough when you are talking about a matter of life and death); just as eating the occasional super-processed fast food meal won’t kill you. But you aren’t going to be very healthy if that’s all you eat.
And your mind and soul won’t be well-nourished or healthy if books like this are all you read. (But why? Let’s draw this out. Or more importantly, why not apply the words of St. Paul: “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Philippians 4:8) Especially if you read them without considering carefully what you want to take away, and what you want to leave behind. Or, a friend points out when we talk about a less-than-perfect book or movie, “Don’t forget to spit out the bones.” (Easier said than done. You cannot always leave things behind. The imagination is a very powerful tool. The demons know that, too. Once the bones are swallowed, spitting them out becomes impossible – and they can rip apart your insides pretty badly).
And just like some food substances can alter your body so it becomes difficult to metabolize real food well, some novels might leave you not as able to appreciate good literature, and, more importantly, the real world. (They may even cause you to sin. And so the question is – why bother with them at all?)