Thursday, April 26, 2012

"Your Love, Your Love, Your Love... Is My Drug"

I have never done the drug ecstasy, but from what I hear, it makes you very, very, very happy:

I guess that's why they call it ecstasy.

But once the high of ecstasy wears off, many users report feeling extreme depression. Some people think that there is some absolute, chemical cause of depression when you come down from a high, but I think that the depression is simply due to the contrast between ecstasy and reality. Reality once provided significant happiness, but it is no longer enough when compared to the high of ecstasy.

Even though I have never actually done ecstasy, I understand the extremely low low that follows an incredibly high high. Almost every summer of my life has felt like this in some way. I go somewhere where I make new friends, and then once the week or month or summer is over, the high wears off and I'm left with dull, depressing normalcy. The same thing happened when I graduated high school, and I assume it will happen again when I graduate college.

Another time this depression happens is when I finish a book or television series that I love. Whenever I watch the show Friends from start to finish, I just want to start it all over again after I watch the finale. The same thing happens whenever I reread the Harry Potter series or the His Dark Materials series. Once it's done I either want to start again from the beginning, or lie and bed and cry because it's over.

Books are my ecstasy. I am in another world that is magical and beautiful and once it is gone, the real world just can't measure up anymore.

One thing that I have heard from many people when asked how they feel about the Twilight series is that they liked the first book but they got progressively worse as the series continued. When I asked why they kept reading if they no longer enjoyed it, they all said the same thing: they needed to finish because they started.

Why do people feel this way? I have seen a few dozen episodes of Law & Order but I don't feel the need watch the series all the way through. I quit watching Heroes after the first season, and I didn't even finish reading the first Eragon book, much less the entire series, because I didn't like it.

And I think a lot of people agree with me about this, including some people who felt like they had to finish Twilight. So why does Twilight inspire this reaction more than other book or television series? Why do people feel the need to read Twilight to completion?

In Janice Radway's Reading The Romance, Radway interviews a group of women romance readers in a town that she calls Smithton. There were a lot of really interesting things in this book, many of which have inspired blog posts, but one specific fact that I found really interesting was that many of the Smithton readers read romances in one sitting. They will set aside a three-hour time block to read and will not stop until the book is over.

The reason that Radway sites for why this is, is that while someone is reading a romance novel, that person is the main character. They are actually living the romance as they are reading it, and they cannot stop reading before they know what happens to them. Stopping while reading a romance is like ending a relationship without closure. Do you end up with the hunky, charming male lead? You don't know until you finish reading the book.

I mentioned in an early post about the fact that Bella is a vessel for readers to project themselves into. While a reader is reading Twilight, she is Bella. So it makes sense that a reader would need to finish the series, if not to know what happens to Bella, then to know what happens to the reader.

Another thing that tends to follow the pattern of the drug ecstasy (high highs, followed by very low lows) is love and sex. Normal is great before you are in love, and then love and sex introduce new highs, and then once it is over (either post-orgasm or post-relationship) normal is unbearable. If you don't believe me, ask Ke$ha:

Twilight is about a relationship. As previously mentioned, that relationship can feel incredibly real. I recommend doing a YouTube search for "I love Edward Cullen" and a Google Image search for "crazy Twilight fans." The results are amusing.

People will stay in even bad relationships to prevent the depression that follows a breakup. Perhaps people continue reading Twilight to protect themselves from the same sort of depression. 

I guess what I'm saying is that Twilight can be an addiction. But does this make the pleasure "real"?

No one would consider the pleasure that a heroin addict feels when he shoots up a "real" pleasure. It overloads the pleasure centers in the brain and tricks it into feeling good. But people can be addicted to a lot of things. There are food addictions, sex addictions, video game addictions... I once went through a phase where I watched the movie Grease on repeat. I went through another phase where I would only listen to the Rent soundtrack. Some kids will refuse to wear anything but pajamas, or princess costumes, or the color yellow, or a particular headband; I would call these addictions. 

But no one would deny the pleasure that one gets from food or sex or entertainment. These addictive pleasures are as real as it gets because they appeals to our primitive desires for sustenance, mates, and fun. Maybe the addiction is only "real" if the thing we are addicted to is "real." 

If love and sex can be a sort of drug, and since Twilight is a book that mimics the feeling of being in love, it too can be an addiction. I mentioned in a previous post that the pleasure we get from love and sex is as "real" as pleasure can be. So if love and sex is a "real" pleasure, and addictions are only "real" pleasures if the thing we are addicted to is "real," then the addiction to Twilight is a "real" pleasure.

Boom. Logic. QED. 

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