The Bloodsuckers — A Marxist Reading of New Moon
While Twilight introduces the concept of romance with a vampire, as well as some of the new rules surrounding vampirism, New Moon is all about customs.
It is naive to think that the working class is without their own set of codes and rules either, and here Jacob’s tribe gives us a glimpse into the working class from the perspective of Bella’s best friend.
If you haven’t seen my blog post on Twilight regarding my Marxist reading, I would encourage you to do so, as it contains my reasons for trying out this interpretation, as well as some disclaimers on its limitations.
Again, I do think the story of the Twilight Saga is very explicitly about abstinence and the hardships of canonical romance and marriage.
But who says we can’t have a little fun? I do think, as I have gotten a little further into the series, that while my analysis has some flaws that could easily be picked apart, I think there is something going on here. Plunged into the post-recession of foreclosures, bailouts, leading to an exaggeration of the inequalities heaped on us from before, America had to face many economic realities that may have seeped into the films that we made. While I haven’t read the books, perhaps they foreshadowed a stratified world that young men and women were forced to come to terms with.
In any case, let’s get started with our second movie of the series: New Moon.
Romeo + Juliet
“These violent delights have violent ends” was used to great effect in the first season of Westworld, but not so much here. While that phrase sent a virus through artificially intelligent robots of a theme park, this epigraph by Bella is meant to usher in the central theme of the story, which is that of Bella forced into the middle of a love triangle.
One could argue that romance is a bottled concept, that we only care about the person and not the context surrounding them.
But Bella’s decisions are not simply based on Edward’s face and Jacob’s…everything.
Most notably abs.
Instead, they are also based in the world that fostered these two studs into being.
Edward still reminds us, as they watch the movie adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, that he is very much an aristocrat. He recites, in perfect iambic pentameter, a key monologue involving the death of the two lovers.
Meanwhile, Jacob reminds us of his atavistic past. Early in the movie he offers Bella a dream catcher.
An interesting dichotomy between the two groups is that while Edward’s family receives an uplift in the form of a modern house, modern jobs and fashion, much of the work to update Jacob’s werewolf family has largely been ignored. Granted, the newer concepts of imprinting and turning into a wereworlf have similarities to Edward’s vampirism-while-in-daylight. But these affordances stop there. It becomes clear that Jacob’s family can read each other’s thoughts, and they are forced to follow the law of the “Alpha,” who leads the pack.
In Romeo and Juliet, the two families exist on equal footing, and so they despise each other with equal measure. But New Moon proves a more complicated match up. Jacob’s family is steeped only in family and acts as a provincial entity. We may see a few new characters here and there, but this is nothing compared to the globalized elite of the vampire world, who have their own tribunal, as well as sanctioned officers. All this comes from the Volturi, who act as royalty.
There is no royalty among the pack of werewolves. Such hierarchies do a disservice to the very notion of the wolf pack ideal.
Bella sees first hand the differences between the two. The Cullen family is specialized, reserved, introverted and soft-spoken, many of which could be cliche hallmarks of an Emily Post idea of etiquette.
Bella also encounters Jacob’s family, who wrestle all the time without shirts on…
In deciding who to marry, it is interesting for a person to see how they interact with their friends. While Bella very much desires to have Edward all to herself, to the extent that Anna Kendrick will later decry the whole thing as way overboard, Bella knows that time with Jacob alone would be a rarity. In each scene on the reservation, Jacob is always surrounded by other members of the tribe.
Failing the Audition
In a strange way, Bella is tossed around in the first two movies in some absurd ways. With an irrationally damaging paper cut, Jasper Cullen attempts to capitalize and is pushed away by Edward and the rest of their family, who have all developed a better resistance to their “baser” impulses.
It may be easy to dismiss the elite as playboys, but ironically, those in the higher class can sometimes be far more conservative in their tastes and ideals than we think. For example in the work by Daniel Markovits that culminated in his book The Meritocracy Trap, many of the elite live purposefully ascetic lives in order to dedicate themselves to their work and ensure peak performance. At the top, mistakes can prove much more drastic.
For the purposes of this scene, even the attempt by Edward to protect Bella ends in more bloodshed. Bella cuts her arm hitting furniture and the runoff scares the other family members into leaving the room. The realization that Edward has harmed Bella is just as much a realization that Bella isn’t cut out to be with the upper class.
Oftentimes we see moments like this in movies, art, or plays, where a member of the lower classes embarrasses themselves in either dress or decorum, and proves to everyone why the distinction exists.
It would not be too much of a stretch to imagine that Edward leaving is an attempt to remind Bella where her place is. The situation is reciprocal: Edward is scared for his own family to take advantage of her, but perhaps there is also a worry that Bella is trying to break into the family for the wrong reasons. Her “not being ready” is a rebuke of her knowledge and understanding, just as much as it a rejection of Edward towards his family.
The Ideological State Apparatus
Ho boy…here we go.
Okay, so if you don’t know some of the jargon that comes from modern Marxist theory, we should do a quick set of definitions. I really hate jargon so I’m really sorry.
French Marxist Louis Althusser came up with two terms for Marxist thought for how the ruling class represses the working classes. These are the Repressive State Apparatus, and the Ideological State Apparatus.
The Repressive State Apparatus (RSA), uses direct involvement of police, government, courts, and the armed forces, into order to literally keep the lower classes in their place.
With violent responses to peaceful protests in recent new in the USA, this one is not hard to see in action.
The Ideological State Apparatus (ISA) is a lot like “soft power” used on one’s own people. These are persuasive attempts to get you to think in a way that reproduces the same thinking as the ruling class. In our case, a good example might be how advertising encourages you to buy things you don’t need in order keep the capitalist machine running.
When Edward leaves Bella, the strangest thing happens. She starts to see Edward in times of risky behavior.
Rather than balk at these moments, Bella is encouraged to do it so she can see these apparitions in front of her, to at least get a glimpse of his face.
Since Edward left and said that she would never see him again, Bella to some extent becomes aware that her ability to enter into the upper class is over. Her lost social mobility means that she is back to being stuck in Forks, Washington, leaving her with little choice but to attend some state college and work a middle class life at best.
Despite the fact that her altered state is over, her altered traits still manifest, and Edward’s social warnings appear as a residual effect of what decisions are required to stay in the ruling class. Edward acts here as the Ideological State Apparatus.
Meanwhile, the rush of life lived in its immediacy is foreshadowed by a motorcycle ride with a random stranger in town, and culminates in her bringing motorcycles of her own to Jacob so that they might repair them together. Mechanic work, getting his hands dirty, is something that the working class excels at, and though the work is just as important, it is perceived as laborious by the ruling class, who would just as rather hire someone to do the work.
Altered states are the working class thrills, even to the point of danger. Cliff diving is one such obvious thrill, but another more pernicious one is to be in love with a member of the tribe. Bella is introduced to Emily, a young woman who’s partners with Sam (the leader of the pack). He does not like for people to stare at Emily, because she carries the mark of domestic abuse: a scar runs down the right side of her face.
This proves at first glance the central premise of the movie, which is that no family is without their own share of pain.
But the difference in hierarchy is made stark when Bella must travel to Italy to save Edward, who has seen Alice’s vision of Bella jumping off the cliff and assumes it to be true.
Edward cannot commit suicide on his own, and so must subject himself to the will of the Volturi for extermination.
Bella proves her commitment to the romance by going with Alice in a wild chase halfway around the world to stop Edward just before he makes his vampirism public.
The Volturi must force Bella to either die or become a vampire.
What is strange in what follows is not that Bella asks for a vote. In parallel structure, where before at the house, she was rejected by the family for being human, she is now accepted as being a vampire. She’s made the cut. Not only that, but rather than follow the throwback tribalism of the werewolves, Bella resorts to democracy, a civilizing touch which ends in her favor.
The strange part is that Edward votes no, along with Rosalie. Surely they must have been listening when the Volturi mentioned death?
Edward’s obsession with old-world custom surfaces when he states at the end of the movie that he will turn Bella into a vampire only on the condition that she marry him.
Take the work of Esther Perel as an opportunity to think about romance and marriage coupled for a second. Yes, the movies are obviously about romance and about sex after marriage, but also consider that for a long time before the modern world, marriage was not simply a romantic affair. Maybe romance in some cases had little to do with it. Edward has a desire to “court” Bella, and often Edward’s malaise in the 21st century seems to be a lost sense of what it means to be a gentlemen, what it means to be a lady.
Like many of those in power, marriage helps to cement the ownership society by what is given and received. Dowries and the like. Perhaps it isn’t only romance that Edward is after, but a commitment from Bella that she is in this thing with him, and not simply for his vampirism.
Contrasting to the end of the first movie, this is of course the perfect rebuttal. Edward had a hard time believing that Bella really loved Edward for him and not just the exoticism of being a vampire. Now here is Edward’s condition: marry me to prove it.
Originally published at http://theroyleline.blog on August 21, 2020.