Twihards, take note: I am a hater. Not that you couldn’t figure that out from the title of this particular blog, but in case you thought I was
joking…I’m not. I’m on Team Blade or Buffy or Peter Vincent or whoever you’ve chosen as your favorite vampire hunter. I know far too much about the possessive, controlling, creepily chaste love lives of Edward Cullen and Bella Swan than I have any right to, having never read the books. (Yes, I’m a hater and I’ve never read the books. Bear with me.) I’ve only seen about ten minutes of the first movie before making a frantic grab for the remote so I could watch Celebrity Death Match in Rehab with the Kardashians instead. For those who have issues with it as a story and for its writing, I can’t do any better—if I tried for a million years, with a grammar coach at my side—than the utterly delicious snarkfest on Tumblr, Reasoning With Vampires. Written by a woman with an unrepentant wit and an impeccable command of English, RWV goes line-by-line through all the Twilight books, discusses Stephenie Meyer’s questionable grammar (and rampant overuse of commas) and is both hilarious and educational. Thanks to her efforts I’m familiar enough with the storyline to feel confident that I am justified in my dislike. So no, I’m not here to pick out the intricacies of the story. But the big picture..?
I do want to make something abundantly clear before I go one single step further–I am a fan of the horror genre. Big, big one. I draw the line at torture porn a la Hostel–it makes me too uncomfortable, as though something like that could conceivably happen in real life. But
if you’ve got spectral, post-dead, reanimated, other-worldly, befanged and clawed, slime-covered Martian creatures (or any combination thereof) that want to kill/maim/boil/nuke/enslave/poke holes in/eat the human race? Fire up the popcorn! Good times ahead.
Originally, vampires were monsters that inspired fear and dread, revenants that reanimated because of an unholy life or manner of death–they were murderers, suicides, priests who behaved in *ahem* unpriestly ways. Jerry Sandusky, in ancient times, would’ve become a vampire. They were remarkably DIY in how they turned all vampish, made no pretenses about their desire to consume blood in the face of the unslakable, eternal thirst of the damned, and weren’t necessarily cute young things that had to be turned by a father (or mother) vampire.
And then along came Bram Stoker.
I blame Bram, with his 19th-century Victorian-era sexual repression, for forever changing the role of vampire. Dracula was wildly successful and popularized the idea that vampires were in it for the sex and control and not just for the food. Count Dracula seduces the vivacious Lucy Westenra–who then tries to seduce every still-human male around her–while he sets his sights on Mina Harker, who reminds him of his long-dead wife. And it is thanks to his remorseless mixing of sex + death, or supplanting of sex for a little neck-nosh + death, that changed the face of vampires in popular opinion. Thanks to him, ladies seemingly couldn’t wait to rock a little Transylvanian boogie, even if it was with a vampire who saw them as walkin’ talkin’ juice boxes. Dracula also had on his side the power of mesmerism, compelling the ladies to give of themselves unto him that which causes their lives to continue…but doesn’t that make Dracula extra-predatory? Am I the only woman alive who does not think this is a satisfactory relationship role model? Christopher Lee, Pimp King emeritus of modern vampire imagery, shows us how to bring it on home to heaving bosoms and exposed jugulars :
Dang! These ladies are giving up some major O-face! The “lucky” ones don’t die immediately and thanks to his nocturnal nibblings become the vampiresses, the Brides of Dracula. Through the years they have become increasingly tarty, and their costuming has evolved from white-laced virginal nighties as seen above to the gauzy-material-despite-living-in-a-drafty-castle-and-lacking-the-benefit-of-a-working-circulatory-system sort in that showed up in the hideously bad 1992 Francis Ford Coppola-Keanu Reeves-Winona Ryder-Gary “lost a bet” Oldman vehicle.
And so with that, I move forward to Twilight. Stephenie Meyer has seemingly embraced the worst of the vampire lore, making the vampires preternaturally beautiful, twinkly, and sensitive enough to stomach the aimless poetry of a pointlessly depressed high school senior. Bella’s character is a nod to the virginal natures of the old vampire stories, the ultimate good-girl prize, and is glum, while Edward hides a dark secret full of bloodlust and power, and is glum. This is packaged to look like a weird, chaste, vampiric high school
romance, but remember, Edward was dying in the 1918 flu pandemic. He may look like he’s 18 but in reality, he’s 90. People got creeped out when Anna Nicole Smith married her 90-year-old oil tycoon, but seem to think Edward’s a peach. Seriously. What could they have in common?
To be fair, Anna Nicole was 26 when she and J. Howard Marshall II married, not 18.
Even Anne Rice, to whose face I usually want to staple things, made the point in Interview with The Vampire that a vampire’s body does not age but his or her mind and intellect will. This underscores the tragedy and anger that motivates the child-vampire Claudia, as she becomes an adult stuck in a five-year-old’s body, played with disturbing perfection by Kirsten Dunst. If we saw a 90-year-old man hanging around the parking lot at school, we’d call the police and have him pilloried. But Edward dating high school girls is OK, even though deep, deep down (and really, not all that deep down), he and his family want to have those high school girls for lunch.
I’d like to stress here that it’s NOT just the 70-year difference between Edward and Bella; it’s absolutely got to do with the fact that he, and his kind, consider Bella (and me, and you, if we existed in Twilight-world) to be part of their food chain. If I were told that my boyfriend wanted to snack on me, my bosom would be heaving from the exertion of killing my way towards the exit, not because I wanted to bump uglies with him. At its root it’s the unhealthiest relationship I’ve ever seen, with perhaps one exception:
Though it is just as precariously predatory and unbalanced. My boyfriend, when I talked to him about writing this and voiced all my complaints, said, “Well…maybe you just don’t like vampire movies.” This could be true, but there are indeed plenty of other vampire movies that I love. Let the Right One In leaps to mind, as does 30 Days of Night.
These vampires? Continually have a moveable feast. Rock. On. Nobody, anywhere, finds the vamps in 30 Days… sexy. They are killing machines, bent on feeding and moving on. They make no bones about their roles as terror-inducing monsters, so yay, it’s a straight-up monster flick. Let the Right One In explores a far more complicated relationship between the two protagonists, but the viewer is fairly sure what Oskar’s relationship will end up as in relation to his vampire bestie Eli. In the attempt to not be a movie spoiler I will say it’s more sad and poignant in its discussion of societal outsiders rather than sexually predatory.
There’s an old parable about a girl/turtle who encounters a snake/scorpion (there’s several versions), and the snake/scorpion convinces the girl/turtle it won’t bring them any harm. Of course it does–it bites, it stings–and, when asked why, says, “I can’t help it, it’s in my nature.” Which–according to lore–is the way of all vampires. Expecting one to forgo the thing that sustains him, forever, because of some sort of larger-than-life love is achingly dysfunctional and sets up a catastrophic idea of what the nature of love is supposed to be about. This is the worst sort of “I can change him” logic, which historically has been doomed to failure. Does the hitter stop hitting because he “really loves” you? Does the jealous control freak stop the emotional abuse because you believe you share some kind of higher love? We generally expect that “doomed to failure” doesn’t result in being “on the menu”, but it does often mean that people don’t engage in self-preservation thanks to an epic and distorted sense of “love” that’s been twisted around unrealistic and unhealthy ideals.
I know fandom isn’t necessarily logical and I don’t expect to change anyone’s mind about anything. I can think of plenty of friends who don’t get my love for the horror movie. But what’s pretty at its surface doesn’t necessarily hold up when you look beyond the sparkles and lip gloss, and there isn’t much of anything that Twilight offers me once you get beyond its attractive packaging. Like I said, I don’t really KNOW Edward’s and Bella’s characters so that I can discuss them in detail, but I do know vampire lore. And this is among the worst of the contributions to the lore, because it diminishes the horror of what vampires really are, and creates a codependent relationship with a lonely, insecure teenage girl. Which may mean I have inadvertently disproven my point, because that? Is truly a horror.
And now to lighten things up a little (unless you’re such a Twihard that you now, unrepentantly, implacably, hate me), let me direct your attention to Twilight: New Moon as performed by LOLcats: