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The first of the two experiences to put me on the path of haterhood began with “Twilight”. Not at twilight, but with Twilight. Twilight being the immensely popular movie and book series that emerged in the early 2000’s and subsequently released several films from 2008-2012. And while millions of people flooded theaters to be direct witnesses of the love story that was Bella, Edward, and Jacob, my experience with the films can only be described as hearsay at worst and second hand at best. Although I never graced the theater to see any of the films, at the time the movies were being made both my career and community involvements required that I spend an immense amount of time with teenagers. And though I may have missed the Twilight train, the teenagers I worked with had not. In fact, I would argue that anyone who worked with teenagers at the time was sure to have been inundated with endless discussions of the twilight films, to the point that it was almost impossible to avoid having at least a cursory understanding of the series and its characters. And this is exactly where I found myself during this time period being besieged with stories and debates about Edward, Bella, and Jacob.
My job at the time was working as a life skills teacher and life coach for one of the largest nonprofits in the state of Missouri. In this position, I was responsible for the development and subsequent instruction of a life skills curriculum for a cohort of 7th, 8th, and 9th graders, with whom I met with daily. My ultimate goal in this position was to help equip these students with skills and attributes that would help them succeed in the real world. The topics we covered ranged from leadership and responsibility to relationships and integrity. Simultaneously, outside of work, I was engaged with a local church in town to develop and teach curriculum to their youth group. I would meet with these students at least twice a week to cover many of the same topics that I would discuss with my cohort of students from work. Between these two different roles, my life consisted of constantly thinking about teenagers and their development, and trying to ensure that they had healthy perspectives in preparation for life. Enter Twilight.
Anyone who has ever worked with teenagers quickly learns that the informal conversations with teenagers are often more impactful than any formal instruction and dialogue. My mother, who had extensive experiences with teenagers herself through my siblings and I and our constant groups of friends at the house, phrased it this way “teenagers don’t care about how much you know, until they know how much you care”. Believing this statement and using it as the lens by which I engaged with my teens, it was only natural that I began to pay attention when discussions of “Team Edward” or “Team Jacob” began to waft through the air as I interacted with my students each day. It wasn’t long before I would find myself sitting on the side of an impassioned debate about two boys, Edward and Jacob, competing for the love of a girl, Bella. My interest was piqued by watching how enthralled students were with these books and the films, especially the teenage young ladies. Eventually, after listening to several conversations I found that the allure of the story for the teenage ladies was the “loving relationship” between Edward and Bella.
Edward was the 21st century reimagining of a vampire. He didn’t melt in the sunlight but instead his skin shined when illuminated by the rays of the sun, he didn’t seek out humans to kill for their blood but instead used bags of blood that came from one place or another to feed his hunger. He wasn’t menacing but was portrayed as reserved. In essence, he represented a stark departure from the archetype of a vampire in the 20th century. In addition to his departure from the historical vampire archetype, he was also imbued with all of the qualities that typically reside in the quintessential Romeo character of stories. He had a strong sense of justice and responsibility and was positioned as the good man warring against the darkness present in the world. Bella on the other hand, was portrayed as more of your normal molded teenager. She was not outgoing, but she was not shy. She was smart, but not a nerd. She wasn’t the coolest girl at school, but she was also not the complete outcast. She occupied a space somewhere in between the cool kids and the outcast. The space where most teenagers believe themselves to be. This made her character easily accessible and relatable. While Jacob is also key to the Twilight story, he does not have a relevant part in my Twilight experience and thus I have left him out. However, if you would like to know more about him you can probably easily still Netflix the Twilight movies, or stop the nearest 20-30 year old and ask them, were they Team Jacob or Team Edward, and learn all you would like to know.
The intersection between the Twilight series and my hater journey occurred one day as I was listening to a group of my teenage female students discussing Edward and Bella. On this day, the young ladies shared with me that the draw of Edward and Bella’s story was that Edward wanted to suck Bella’s blood more than he has wanted to suck any humans blood before but because he “loves her” , HE WON’T SUCK HER BLOOD. In this statement the ladies summarized the romance that had won so many teens over. A blood-sucking vampire wants to suck the blood of a teenage girl, but out of love he won’t do it. This paragon of affection and pinnacle example of love was that the vampire would not eat her. The love that so many teenagers had found amazing and enthralling, this was it in a nutshell. I watched the faces of the teenagers I was talking with as they described the beauty of Edward and Bella’s love, and described how they wanted a love like that. And while their faces were filled with joyous expression as they described this situation, I was facing a paradox of emotion. I wanted to laugh at the hilarity of the concept but at the same time, I was slightly saddened, by the implications I believed were being drawn from this “love story”. As I listened I recognized that these young ladies were essentially granting brownie points and attributing love to a man for NOT HURTING THE WOMAN HE LOVES. Not for his attentiveness to her needs, his ability to be able to recognize her unique beauty, his support for her as she changes and grows, or anything else. But instead, for NOT HURTING HER. That is essentially what it means for a vampire to want to eat someone but to choose not to. He is choosing to not hurt her.
I don’t know if it was the burden I felt I carried to make sure that the teens I interact with were prepared for the world, and thus had healthy views of relationships. Or if it was the fact that I had recently been trying to help a couple of young ladies to think differently about abusive relationships they were in, but in either case I wanted to address this point with the teenage ladies I was talking with. And so I took the time to comically state my observation to them.
“You know you are saying this a good relationship because he wants to eat her but won’t right?” I stated. “You don’t get brownie points for not eating someone. That’s like saying, ‘girl I know he loves me so much, because he wants to hit me but won’t.’ That’s not love. You don’t get brownie points for that. You girls have to demand more than that. If that’s all you are asking for we are in bad shape!”
My statement while mixed with humor and sarcasm was meant to evoke some conversation, dialogue, or debate. I was hoping that the young ladies I was conversing with would at least ponder on the statements I said, or affirm to me that they do demand more in their relationships, or even combat my point with counterarguments. However, what I got instead I came to view as a far worse reaction. One of the young ladies simply turned to me and said “Mr. Wes, you a hater!” After which we all laughed, I made a few more jokes and they continued the conversation about Edward.
It wasn’t until later as I had begun to see the use of the term hater in our society as a problem that I recognized what had happened in that moment. By simply stating that I was a hater, the ladies in the group had completely dismissed my point. And I don’t mean dismissed in the critical thinking/debate sense. The dismissal that requires the allocating of emotional and cognitive weight to counter-evidence and discovering that counter-evidence is sufficient to refute whatever assertion is being made. But I mean dismissed as in never considered, evaluated, or compared. Dismissed as in no attempt at internalization or consideration. The point that I was making was never even discussed, acknowledged, countered, or validated. It never came back up in the conversation. It was essentially ignored. It was as if the idea never existed. At the time I didn’t give it any thought because the situation was one where I was just joking around with some of my teenage students. The conversation didn’t seem important. But as I began to be intentional about viewing the way that classifying a person as a hater is used in contemporary society, I began to recognize that this situation is actually indicative of a larger phenomenon in our society, and one that I don’t think is taking us in the right direction. That phenomenon is the using of the hater classification as a way to ignore disagreement. This was the first observation and catalyst that launched me on my journey toward becoming a hater.