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Jeffrey Cohen’s “Monster Culture” in Twilight

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Cohen's Argument[1] Edit

In his book Monster Theory, Jeffrey Cohen wrote a chapter on seven theses that can be used as decoders of cultures and social issues by analyzing the monsters they create in their literature and other media.

A brief summary of Cohen’s theses state that:

1.The monster’s physical body, always represent something else (fear, anxiety).

2.The monster never really dies, it might disappear but it will return, possibly bearing a new form.

3.The monster cannot be classified because it is always in a state of change. This allows for his re-appearance when the community/culture needs it to portray the new monster.

4.The monster embodies difference at its core; the fear, anxiety, etc. from Thesis 1, is a fear of the outsider, the beyond or the different. This difference often tends to be cultural, political, racial, economic or sexual.

5.The monster stands as a cautionary sign of what is outside the norm, it prevents people from exploring that which is different (sexually, intellectually, etc). To do so, would result in certain demise or even worse, to become a monster ourselves. Women and non-whites are usually found to be the monsters.

6.The monster also embodies desire. Usually linked with the forbidden, the monster becomes attractive, its freedom from the norms appealing.

7.The monster is our creation, it can be banished but the monster will return. Upon returning, it will reflect our ideas and believes on that which was different and will asks us to ponder on our treatments of that which was different.

The Theses in Context Edit

Vampirism has many times represented the anxieties and fears of certain times and cultures. The latest vampire craze started by the Twilight series (2005-2008) is no different. One only has to look a little bit more closely to see some of Jeffrey’s Cohen’s theses at work. When the series of books by Stephenie Meyer first came out, they received a fair amount of criticism for their conservative, and some might say religious messages[2]. In this case, the vampire embodies the fear of teenage sexuality and teenage pregnancy, the CDC reported that in 2002 the rate of teenage pregnancy in the U.S. was in decline but that it was still among the highest in industrialized nations[3]. One could speculate that this had some influence during the time Meyer was writing the books. The series depicts the love story between Edward, who seems created as the perfect description of the Byronic hero, and Bella who is shy, quiet and is herself an outsider[4].

Since the fear of the vampire represents the fear of teenage sexuality, it is made clear from the beginning of the series, that Bella and Edward will have a very chaste relationship. Edward is keeping Bella safe from his desires (her blood) so they don’t touch very much or kissed very extensively[5]. However, this can be seen as Edward and Bella being the exemplary couple of what a wholesome relationship is to some conservative people. The second and third theses are represented later in the series when Edward leaves to protect Bella and a new monster appears. This demonstrates that while the Edward (monster/vampire) disappeared, it came back in a new form as Jacob (monster/werewolf). In this case Jacob, showcasing thesis four, is an outsider from a different school, different part of town, ethnicity and a different kind of monster[6]. Both Jacob and Edward, while they were the dangerous monsters, they were also found desirable and were the sources of many teenage fantasies at the time. This would fulfill thesis number six. Finally, the ending of the series depicts Thesis number five. In Breaking Dawn, Meyer depicts teenage sex and teenage pregnancy. Although only after Edward have the approval of their parents and are married. Bella gets pregnant after the first time she has sex and it ends up being a very difficult pregnancy for her. As a result, she has to become a vampire upon delivering the baby or risk dying[7]. This shows that if one chooses to explore the forbidden, the ending result is either to die or to become that which we fear[1]

  1. 1.0 1.1 [1][2]https://d2l.arizona.edu/d2l/le/content/563364/viewContent/4841247/View
  2. http://www.columbiatribune.com/news/education/mu-researchers-say-latest-twilight-film-raises-controversial-issues/article_621076b9-428f-5f09-9c9f-e75fa264232c.html
  3. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hestat/teenpreg1990-2002/teenpreg1990-2002.htm
  4. https://arizona.hosted.panopto.com/Panopto/Pages/Viewer.aspx?id=61b9b2be-de14-4c0c-9a44-6553fdc2a01d
  5. Meyer, Stephenie. Twilight. New York: Little, Brown and Co, 2005.
  6. Meyer, Stephenie. New moon. New York: Little, Brown and Co., 2006. Print.
  7. Meyer, Stephenie. Breaking Dawn. Roma: Fazi, 2013. Print

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