Now that New Moon looks poised to enter the top tier of box office receipts (some are now projecting $400m domestic), "Team Edward" and "Team Jacob" have moved from the emo fringe to the mainstream of America. No doubt teenagers everywhere are rolling their eyes as their moms now take sides between vampire and werewolf around lunch tables and soccer sidelines.
The New Moon film has well rendered Stephanie Meyer's angst-ridden prose on screen, beginning with Kristen Stewart's Bella and continuing with the fullness of both Edward and Jacob, neither of whom conforms to show-biz stereotype. Ultimately - spoilers here for New Moon, but I'll stay away from the remainder of the Twilight series - Bella follows her heart over her head, remaining with Edward, who she knows is bad news, over Jacob, who, despite being a werewolf, offers comparatively more stability, safety, and life as a human. We can understand this decision on the surface. Bella is a bit of a goth, and wants to be a vampire; the humans in her life are drab. And she is in love with Edward. But there's more going on underneath.
First, as I've already suggested, "Team Edward" stands for the wise, if tragic, proposition that the human heart and the human mind are often not in conversation. If Bella had any sense, she would go for Jacob. He's buff, he's available, he is less likely to kill her and drink her blood. Edward is pasty, absent for much of the film, and, as we see several times in New Moon, of a kind, and even a family, that cannot be relied upon to curb its thirst for human blood. Jacob's also a really nice guy, a childhood friend, and did I mention the abs? It's easy for Team Jacob to wonder what the hell Bella is even thinking. Yet as Woody Allen memorably said, the heart wants what it wants. Team Edward thus stands for heart over head, for falling in love with the dangerous boy over resting in the arms of safety.
But here's where it gets complicated. Normally, the dangerous boy is the masculine one: James Dean on a motorcycle, Erica Jong's "zipless fuck." Usually - as in Allen's excellent recent film Vicky Cristina Barcelona - the good guy is effeminate, wimpy, safe-but-not-sensual. In New Moon, however, it's Jacob, the good guy, who's masculine, and Edward, the "bad boy," who's not. It's not just the abs (although, by now surely I've mentioned the abs). Jacob fixes motorbikes; it's hard to imagine Edward working with his hands at all. Jacob runs around mostly naked; Edward is covered up. Jacob is robustly (native) American; Edward is the sort of effete European that Republicans love to make fun of. Jacob has a hearty appetite - Edward doesn't eat at all. Jacob is all man, every inch of him, and cannot make love with Bella only because he might tear her to pieces. Edward? I mean, he certainly loves Bella, but can we really imagine them doing more than hooking up in the cab of Bella's truck?
Indeed, much more so than in Twilight, in New Moon it is Bella who comes of age in a masculine way, placing Edward in the feminine role. (I don't at all agree with those who claim this is the same old gender-stereotypical story.) In the first film, Edward rescues Bella from all sorts of danger; she is the damsel in distress. In New Moon, it is Bella who rescues Edward, first flying off to Italy to stop him from committing suicide (a la Romeo and Juliet), and then interceding on his behalf amongst the vampire baddies. Now it is Jacob who defends Bella - and it's not so clear she wants to be defended anymore. We could very well read the progression from Twilight to New Moon as the growth of Bella from a girl who needs defending to a woman who can make her own choices - even the wrong choice, if that's what she decides.
Often, one hears the appeal of androgynous, feminine men described in terms of safety. Edward is, of course, heir to a long line of "safe" teen idols, from Fabian and Ricky Martin to the early Beatles, Bay City Rollers, New Kids on the Block, Backstreet Boys and most American idol contestants. And thousands upon thousands more. (As a gay kid growing up in the 1980s, I sneaked copies of 16 magazine to ogle pictures of Scott Baio and Leif Garrett. Ah, the days before the internet.) Generally, it's thought that these effeminate boys appeal to tweens because they are safe, i.e., not too masculine. They're gentlemen, the kind of boys that fathers like their daughters to date.
Teens have also gone for bad boys: Elvis, James Dean, The Rolling Stones, punk rockers -- even Adam Lambert, who despite being more effeminate than any teen idol in history is also more dangerous, more "controversial." But the conventional wisdom is that you should be worried if your daughter treads down the bad-boy path, where the men aren't gentlemen at all, where the sex is rougher and realer, and where there's always the danger, and allure, of violence.
Yet here's New Moon, confusing all of that. Bella chooses Edward not because he is safe but because he is dangerous. For Bella, danger means an effeminate man who allows her to be masculine (i.e., like her dad, whom she resembles far more than her kinder but flakier mom). Whereas, Jacob the manly man offers Bella nothing but safety (again, relatively speaking; he is still a werewolf) and goodness. Yes, she loves him, but as much as it's hard to imagine Edward ravishing Bella, it's even harder to picture Bella surrendering to Jacob. She doesn't want to be protected; she wants someone to protect.
We're in an interesting gender-cultural moment in liberal America. Feminism is now on its fourth or fifth wave, and being gay is regarded, in many communities, as nothing to get upset about. A decade ago, boys might've looked at New Moon and said, homophobically, "that's so gay." Today, well, so what if it is? Bella wants to come of age as a top girl who wears the pants in her relationship - that's cool, and it doesn't threaten Edward or his form of masculinity. Some girls like it that way, and some guys do too. No big deal - but then again, often revolution comes in the form of a shrug.
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