Pop Rocks and Coke: Defanging the Vampire Myth
Published: Thursday, April 23, 2009
Updated: Tuesday, May 31, 2011 17:05
Of all of the romantic epithets out there, the most disturbing has to be, "Flesh of my flesh, my bountiful wine-press," which is exactly how Count Dracula addresses Mina Harker in Bram Stoker's Dracula, as his thirst for her blood leads to a bizarre feeding frenzy. It's more barbaric than sexy, and yet the Count's thirst for blood is equaled in intensity only by the resurgence of interest in vampire lore via Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series over the past year. Pop culture pundits, psychologists, Stephen King and even Joan Acocella of The New Yorker have weighed in on Stephenie Meyer's juggernaut of chastity, a series matched only in its popularity by its marked lack of substance.Meyer's vampires are visible as such only through their beauty, their sparkles and the fact that they never eat anything. They don't have fangs, they don't attack people, they don't rub shoulders with demon BFFs or plot to destroy the world and they even have vampire babies. Her vampires have little in common with their classic forbearers, like Stoker's demonic gentleman or F.W. Murnau's wide-eyed "Nosferatu," whose fingernails and crazed glare are perhaps the creepiest of any vampire in cinematic history.
No, Meyer's vampires have more in common with a motley crew of anemic runway models who jokingly speak Italian together. She has carried on the vampire myth, but she has also defanged it - it's no longer dangerous, it's just pretty. No wonder Meyer's heroine, whose major character trait appears to be low self-esteem, is sick of being human.
But what's the harm in indulging in Meyer's questionably written prose and fantasizing about being bitten? There isn't much, to be sure. The question is why we are interested. Why is it that years after "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and the aforementioned vampire films, one of which isn't even a talkie, we are still interested in having our blood sucked by the undead? In "In the Blood," a breakdown of the vampire trend that ran in the New Yorker last month, Joan Acocella shares a few theories: that vampire myths expressed Victorian fears about a growing immigrant population tainting their English blood, that the stories provided a powerful warning about sex outside of marriage and even that the stories became an outlet for examining homosexuality.
Acocella goes so far as to illuminate the vampire myth's far-flung lineage beginning with disturbingly ugly, foul-smelling, purple-faced Eastern European vampires, and moving forward to the aforementioned Dracula films, Anne Rice's "The Vampire Chronicles" and the recent Swedish film "Let the Right One In."
But in spite of a vast historical context and sociopolitical explanations she provides for our collective interest in the undead, Acocella comes to the unsurprising conclusion that it's not political; it's biological. Vampires, especially those resembling Lord Byron, are sexy. It's as simple as that, and Meyer's novels, in spite of starting up with a quote from the Bible and championing waiting for sex with a vampire until you are married to him, very much carry on this vampire tradition. The "Twilight" books may read like a preachy metaphor for abstinence - don't let your boyfriend lose control! - but they are very much about sex.
In fundamentals, Meyer's vampires fit the bill, but while Mina Harker is traumatized by Dracula's advances and Buffy's romances with the undead were usually doomed from the start, Meyer's series lacks the tension that its forerunners had. Meyer's perfect male specimen, Edward, wouldn't hurt a fly, much less his insecure human girlfriend. It's cozy. It's romantic. It's incredibly boring.
Say what you may about the campy plots, shamefully cheap special effects and a disturbingly 90's wardrobe - Buffy's relationships with her vampire boyfriends were complex. Angel turned into a murderous demon after she lost her virginity to him, and Spike enjoyed torturing people. These traits worked metaphorically to make the relationships believable. After all, there is no easy resolution to being in love with someone who is a) obscenely older than you, b) obscene in other ways and c) turns into a monster as soon as things start to go well.
And this is exactly why Twilight doesn't work - because as soon as the relationships on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" start looking realistic in comparison, you know you've got a problem. Meyer has vampires, but she doesn't use them for anything but eye candy, and ultimately her series falls flat where it begins - Bella loves Edward, Edward loves Bella, and as long as they don't have premarital sex, it will probably work out. The only thing at stake is Bella's life, but with Edward around to save her on a regular basis, even that is a negligible source of conflict.
Additionally, there is something problematic about a story that concludes with a teenage girl giving up everything that is important to her just to be with her boyfriend. You don't need a personality, because true love is the only thing that matters, Meyer seems to be saying, and in doing so, she turns her vampire story into a rescue fantasy. Bella's happiness and self-worth hinge on one other person, and Meyer seems to embrace this as perfectly healthy and reasonable for a 17-year-old girl.
"Twilight" may carry on the vampire myth, but it's a lobotomized version and, at its worst, it sends an incredibly backwards message to its teenage fan base. She may be chaste, but Bella is no role model. After all, Buffy the Vampire Slayer may have had premarital sex with the undead, but she still managed to go to college and save the world from the apocalypse.