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PART 5 Got Vampire Privilege: It’s not “just fantasy”: why Twilight’s representation of race matters

May 6, 2010

(Here, at long last, is the concluding section of my Got Vampire Privilege series… Watch out for a link round-up of posts that cover Twilight and race soon…)

The contrasting depiction of Bella’s suitors, with the white vampire as gentleman-hero and the native werewolf as an aggressive cad, accords to racialized stereotypes of white versus non-white behavior.

The fact that Bella chooses Edward over Jacob at the series close and that this choice is framed as a “happy ending” implies that what Edward represents – whiteness, civility, wealth, and intellect – is the better choice. Bella chooses the Cullen vampire life, a life that brings with it a knapsack full of privileges. This choice, read in the context of the racial ideologies that shape U.S. society, reinforces messages of white superiority.

Twilight needs to be examined in terms of the dominant ideology of race that shapes the U.S. culture. By perpetuating ideas of whites as civilized and indigenous people as savages, it naturalizes and perpetuates age-old racial divides. Such depictions, even when situated in a fantasy, contribute to dominant notions of race shaping U.S. culture.

We must remember that fantasies portrayed in media texts are often held up as ideal. Gunshot Westerns were largely fantasy too, and think of the lasting legacy they have left us with in terms of Native Americans being seen as angry warriors who scalp too often and drink too much.

Further, the fact that the series depicts a real group of indigenous people is problematic, especially given the failure to mention Native American realities of poverty, unemployment, high suicide rate, lack of access to healthcare and generalized social disenfranchisement.

Instead, Twilight relies on stereotypical representation of race, focuses on falsified legends, and leaves out any consideration of the lasting effects of colonization. As such, it serves  the dominant ideology and undermines native sovereignty and cultural survival.

While the texts are indeed fictional, we cannot discount the power such fiction holds over our lives, over the socialization of young readers, and over our cultural constructions of race. Not all vampires (read: all white guys) are “godlike” and “angelic” and not all wolves (read: men of color) are testosterone fueled beasties.

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