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Tom Matlack talks to his 16-year-old daughter about the Twilight phenomena, vampires who love too much, and healthy teenage relationships (if that’s not an oxymoron).
KERRY: I read them all of them before the first movie came out. Part of the reason why the movies are so successful is because there was this very devoted fan group already there for the books. And so I wasn’t in the original part of that. I had had a couple friends who had read it and been like, “Ah Twilight!” And so I was like, “OK, I’ll read it.” So I think I was probably on the tail end of the book reading, but it was before the movies came out. ME: So you’re 16 and going into your junior year of high school, and you were saying that at school, you’d had some Sex & Relationship education that made you think about what a healthy relationship is like and the kind of signs at which point a relationship is not healthy. KERRY: Yeah, we were talking about healthy relationships and the way society is portraying unhealthy relationship. We have to take this S&R class as part of our curriculum sophomore year. ME: S&R is Sex & Relationships? KERRY: Sexuality & Relationships, something like that— ME: Yeah. KERRY: But yeah, we had to do this thing where you determine when a relationship becomes abusive or not healthy. And definitely, if you look at Edward and Bella, they kind of hit a bunch of the marks. Like in the beginning of this movie, he takes apart her car so she can’t go see Jacob,
ME: OK. I’m in my Volvo approaching a traffic jam on Route 24 with my daughter Kerry. We are headed out for July Fourth weekend. Kerry went to the Eclipse midnight show last night, and now she’s sitting copilot here and we’re going to talk about the movie, manhood, girlhood, and all things related. So Kerry, sweetie, you’re on the record. KERRY: Hi. (Laughs.) ME: So what’d you think about the movie? How was it? KERRY: I thought it was good. I thought it was better than both of the other ones. ME: What made it better? KERRY: Huh, what made it better? I think they probably got a new director. (Laughs.) But I feel like there’s more plot in this one, and I think part of what makes the other two hard is that a lot of it is Bella inside her head and that makes the first two books really good. And so there’s more plot to work with in the third one, and also they just got some of the scenes from the book better and it was less dark and intense and—I don’t know. I thought they just did a better job. ME: So let’s qualify your Twilight stats. When did you read your first Twilight book, and do you feel like you were ahead or behind the curve in terms of popularity?
who’s her best friend, and he watches her sleep, and if you pick apart the movie and you take things out of context, there’s like a lot of things that are definitely kind of creepy. (Laughs.) And yet they get portrayed as being romantic. ME: And what do you think of the power dynamics of a teenage girl dating a vampire? Clearly, they don’t have the same powers. KERRY: Yeah, that’s definitely part of their relationship, and I think it actually gets portrayed more in the book than necessarily the movie does in that he is just so much—I don’t want to say better than her, but yeah, better than her. He’s incredibly attractive and intelligent and he’s a vampire. He has superpowers. He’s incredibly strong, incredibly fast. And so it isn’t at all a fair power relationship, and he’s incredibly protective of her and incredibly possessive. ME: So the obvious question is, you’re a very strong-willed young woman. KERRY: (Laughs.) ME: So why would you be attracted to a movie that portrays a girl roughly your own age as being as submissive and overpowered as Bella is? KERRY: Well, I think it’s interesting. I think the Twilight movies books sort of do a couple things. I think first of all, it kind of makes it seem like having that type of a relationship—like having a guy to take care of you and stuff—is what you need to be happy, but I also think it shows that type of dominant relationship as the ideal type of relationship. But you’re right. It’s like, why is that
so attractive? There’s so much pressure on the way you look and weigh and all that craziness. And I feel like teenage girls often feel that they’re not ever good enough. And I feel like when you’re a teenager, it’s constantly trying to find who you are and figure out [things]. Like you just want to be wanted, and I feel like teenage girls have problems with being insecure and feeling unwanted. And the whole idea with this Edward guy is that this incredible, amazing, superhuman guy is in love with her and will do anything for her. And even though it borders on being totally unhealthy, it’s like somebody wants you that much, I feel like teenage girls who also have been brought up on fairy tales where true love is what they’re looking for, the idea of somebody wanting you that much and feeling that valued when you don’t feel that valued about yourself is incredibly attractive, even if it’s not necessarily healthy. And I think teenage relationships now—there’s so much people hooking up or whatever, and [there’s] the whole idea that guys don’t actually care about relationships. I feel like at my school, even, it’s not really a relationship-driven place. ME: Well the writer of the book is Mormon, right? So there’s no sex in the book. KERRY: Exactly. Yeah. ME: Well, but don’t you think on an intellectual basis that girls should be taught that they shouldn’t need a vampire to make them feel good about themselves? KERRY: Yeah. (Laughs.) I do. ME: So why’d you go to the movie? KERRY: Because just—I can sit here and intellectualize it, but at the same time, I’m a teenage girl who kind of likes the idea of this incredible romance where this guy is head over heels in love with this girl and will do crazy shit to— ME: Well, do you think it’d be possible for there to be the same kind of popular cultural phenomenon built around a different dynamic, where a girl
was able to find romance where she was more dominant? Or does it have to be that girls are the submissive ones and that there’s either literally a superpower or just a very dominating, God forbid, human guy? KERRY: I don’t have an answer really to that question. I feel like I’m generally pretty strong for a woman. But, like, [being] a stronger woman, it feels less romantic? I don’t know. ME: So there’s something unsexy about a teenage female character who’s strong? KERRY: I don’t think I’d say that. ME: Or it’s less attractive? KERRY: I wouldn’t necessarily say that—I think it’s more of a weak guy thing. ME: You don’t want a weak guy? KERRY: Yeah. (Laughs.) I think that’s what’s unsexy. ME: So if Bella was the vampire and Edward was the human, then it wouldn’t work because he would be weaker than her? KERRY: It might not work. It could potentially work. It couldn’t work—I don’t know. ME: So what are Bella’s supernatural powers? She has some, right? KERRY: Sort of, yeah. Her supernatural power is that she can deflect supernatural powers. ME: Which makes her harder to get, which is the whole paradigm as it is. Women are hard to get, so therefore it makes her more mysterious. KERRY: I guess so. Well, it’s funny, because Edward can’t read her mind, but the reader is in Bella’s mind. ME: At least in True Blood, Sookie can read everyone else’s mind, which gives her a lot of power. But she’s still not a vampire. Twilight has kind of multiplied such a big cultural phenomenon that there’s a dozen shows now of vampires having sex and sucking blood of poor human
women all across the screen. (Laughs.) KERRY: Yeah. ME: I was disappointed, because some of your most intelligent friends, who I thought were going to hold out, apparently are fans. KERRY: I don’t think they’re necessarily fans. I think that there’s a cultlike phenomenon, like you kind of get swept up in it. Even if it’s just to laugh and make fun of the actors. ME: I just think it’s really unhealthy, though, that even the most intelligent young women aren’t getting this message and kind of buying into this message that this is the way it should be. KERRY: I don’t think it is that necessarily they think it’s the way it should be. ME: So it’s like eating ice cream at night? It’s just a guilty pleasure? KERRY: Maybe. I think it’s sort of looking at what it is about society that makes girls feel unwanted, almost. ME: So you don’t think it’s Twilight? You actually think it’s the underlying phenomenon that makes Twilight successful that’s the problem?
KERRY: Yeah. I think all things in media are consumer-based products. If Twilight didn’t feed the need of society or make people want to see it, it wouldn’t pick up. ME: So you think it’s kind of the media which makes girls insecure that kind of sets up the phenomenon of Twilight? KERRY: This is addressing why Twilight’s so attractive. In high school, guys can just be not nice. And I think sometimes, the idea that yeah, there’s something not quite healthy about Edward and Bella, but it feels like relationships often aren’t healthy and at least in Edward and Bella, he really cares about her and loves her. And I think also, it’s this idea that we’ve been brought up that there’s one perfect person, that you have this incredible attraction that people want. ME: So if you’re a vampire but you’re nice, that’s OK? That’s kind of what you’re saying. KERRY: Yeah, I guess so. ME: All right. Got it. KERRY: I feel like girls, for whatever reason, want to find this soulmate person that’s just going to completely love them, and then for whatever reason, it’s guys who want to hook up basically with as many people as possible. And it creates this really painful-like thing where I guess you could say everyone gets screwed.
ME: So there are no girls who want to just hook up? KERRY: I’m not saying that it’s black and white. But I think as a whole, girls want a relationship more than guys do. And guys seem to want to just hook up with people. ME: So girls have to participate in that. KERRY: Yeah, because girls convince themselves that they’re different, that they’re going to hook up with a guy and they’re going to actually care and want to date them and they convince themselves [that] at least it’s better than nothing. ME: So you feel like very few teenage boys are actually interested in— KERRY: I don’t think it’s necessarily that no teenage guys want a relationship. I think there is something where a lot of teenage guys [find] the idea of a relationship scary. I think the idea of a relationship is scary for everyone on some aspect, but [it’s about] what you were saying about guys feeling like they have to be perfect. ME: So I think at some level, you’re right. Relationships are scary, and so [for] immature adolescent boys, a physical exchange is a hell of a lot easier at some level than revealing yourself and exposing your emotions.
KERRY: I think that’s true. I think that’s probably what happens—but then you still have the Twilight phenomenon where girls want something different. I think exactly what you said about teenage guys is happening, and yet girls like guys and want the hookup to mean something else. ME: I think it kind of goes back, to some extent, to—I think men are more able to compartmentalize physical and emotional. And I think girls and women view it as connected. More. KERRY: It’s become accepted—it’s such a common thing, and I feel like everyone gets emotionally and mentally hurt by it. And I feel like, is it really that surprising in a culture that has made it acceptable for guys just to hook up and kind of screw girls over a lot of the time who actually care and want a relationship, that a movie where there’s a guy who is actually really protective of a girl and just really, really cares about her, that popular? Even if it is, you could say, unhealthy, the idea that he cares about her and is protective of her when what relationships have become is guys hooking up with people. ME: So you think that that’s what’s really driving the popularity, is that it’s this yearning on the part of teenage girls to recover some emotional connection to the boys and their lives, which is driving the popularity? That Edward represents what’s been lost in our society? KERRY: Yeah. More or less. ME: OK. All right, well with that, I’m going to actually turn over to some of our standard questions, just to kind of wrap this up. The first thing that comes to your head is the best and kind of the shorter, the better. KERRY: OK. ME: So who do you think taught you about manhood? KERRY: My dad. (Laughs.) ME: Really?
KERRY: I don’t know. (Laughs.) ME: And—OK. Two words to describe your dad? KERRY: I don’t have two words. ME: You got to try— KERRY: OK. Does “real guy” work? ME: Sure. How are you different from your father? I mean your personality. KERRY: I think I’m more of an appeaser maybe. I think we’re both pretty introspective, but I think I generally make it focused about other people. I’ve seen you make a lot of people mad, just because of reactions, and you’re fantastic. But I, for whatever reason, I feel like I have a fear of making people angry that sometimes causes me to not say what I want to say. ME: How has romantic love shaped your life? KERRY: (Laughs.) That’s an awkward question to say in front of my father. I think almost in the Twilight phenomenon is sort of like feeling like a teenage girl, wanting to find somebody who cares about you enough when you feel like as a teenage girl you’re not good enough for society. ME: So from which mistake did you learn the most? I know there’s so many. (Laughs.)
KERRY: Oh my God. ME: This is on the record, so leave out the illegal stuff. (Laughter.) KERRY: I’m not going to use a specific mistake, but lying and hiding from people you love ends up hurting people more than it does help your situation. ME: That’s a good one. When was the last time you cried? KERRY: When my grandmother died. ME: When was that? KERRY: On Tuesday. ME: And you were there? KERRY: Yeah. Actually the last time I cried was sitting alone in my grandparents’ house listening to a song I used to listen to with her. ME: What advice would you give teenage boys trying to figure out what it means to be a good man? KERRY: (Laughs.) I think thinking outside of themselves a little bit would be a good one. I think teenage guys sometimes get lost in the sort of, like, camaraderie of what they’re supposed to be doing, and doing the guy thing. I think honesty would be a good thing. I also think taking into consideration the consequences of actions and people’s feelings, and that it’s not just a game.
ME: Who’s a man you respect? Who’s the first person that comes to your mind? KERRY: There are two people, but they’re very different. ME: That’s fine. KERRY: OK. My grandfather—my mom’s father. ME: Why? KERRY: He has an incredible love for his family, and even though he’s made a lot of mistakes in his life and there’s definitely been a lot of times where he’s not necessarily been what you might consider a good man, he is risen through life. And I think he has made a lot for his life and just has a really strong belief in faith and love and family, and I admire that. And he was unbelievably amazing to my grandmother through the end of her life and just completely took care of her. I found it was really beautiful. ME: What else? Who was the other one? KERRY: (Laughs.) My drama teacher, Mr. Lindberg. ME: And why do you think he is a good man? KERRY: He’s a pretty cool guy. He actually really cares a lot about the kids that go through his life, and I feel like he’s touched a lot of students. He’s made it possible to allow kids to really find themselves through theatre. And he also just has a really interesting outlook on life and random little tidbits about living, so…yeah.
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