This week I'm at the Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association Conference. Most people assume that I'm here to talk about THE SIMPSONS, as I'm a card-carrying Simpsonologist. I have other interests, however. And since I'm in New Orleans, how can I not be talking about Vampires?
Specifically, I'm talking about the TWILIGHT series. I'm not sure how many of you have seen the movie, but it's fairly faithful to the book, so I can talk about them almost interchangeably here.
Stephenie Meyer's highly successful series focuses on young Bella Swan and moon-crossed love. Bella believes that the love of her life is a vampire named Edward Cullen. The pendulum of his attention swings from constant contact and protection from various dangers to exiling himself from her—to protect her from himself and the danger he poses. Bella refuses to see this danger, demanding that Edward make her a vampire. At first, he refuses to be the love of her after-life, which makes her all the more tempted by a sexy werewolf named Jacob Black. One way or another, blood will be spilt.
In fact, Bella bleeds profusely in all four novels and the movie—she is clumsy and unlucky—prone to car accidents and being hunted by rogue creatures of the night. Her blood serves as a problem of appetite for Edward and his family, as a source of pain for her when shed, and as a symbol of childbirth. It also, naturally, serves as a symbol of Bella's sexuality.
Bram Stoker maintained that he never intended DRACULA to be read as a sexual creature—despite the monster's penchant for girls in their nightdresses, for the exchange of bodily fluids, for the dark miscegenation at the heart of the Victorians' fear. Meyer, a Mormon mother who doesn't watch R-rated movies, maintains a similar position on her own novel: "I do get upset with the premise of so many YA [young adult] books. Regardless of what the story is about, the characters all smoke and drink and they all have had sex multiple times.... I think that girls who are not a part of that situation feel like they can't identify with that." Strangely, Stephenie Meyer has given us a new heroine—the young girl who asks for it, who one day is rewarded by her signifying fall into blood.
Though Bella is pursued by Jacob, she becomes the pursuer in her relationship with Edward—she pushes for physical contact, leaving him to push away from her embrace. Edward is aware that as a vampire [read: teenage boy], he cannot be trusted with the virginal body of a tempting, overly-permissive teenage girl. He constantly chides Bella for her naiveté—she seems not to understand the physical, emotional, or spiritual danger she is in.
The possibility of taking Bella's blood is, however, analagous to taking her sexually. In the first novel, Edward refuses to take her virginity or to bite her, though she wants both. Although she is unconscious during the crucial moment (the ultimate in passivity), TWILIGHT basically ends with Edward taking her blood, but managing not to go "all the way."
One aspect of blood that's strangely absent in the first three novels and the film is Bella's menstruation. In the last book, after Bella has been safely married off, she can have sex, and her lack of a period signifies that the little death has occurred and resulted in impregnation, which becomes both another physical danger to Bella and the vehicle for Edward changing Bella.
Meyer has given us an interesting heroine—a young girl who is allowed to have sexual desire, but who is kept from it—who only has sex when married, who only falls into vampirism to stay alive with her celestial family—who becomes a mother immediately—whose secret superpower is to shield others, as a mother should.
Many critics rightly see Bella as ultimately disempowered in this series.
Christine Siefert, BITCH: "the theme Meyer has been establishing: that sex is dangerous and men must control themselves. It's a matter of life or death, and ultimately men are in charge . . . Bella is not in control of her body . . . she is absolutely dependent on Edward's ability to protect her life, her virginity, and her humanity. She is the object of his virtue, the means of his ability to prove his self-control" (25).
Laura Miller, SALON: Comparisons to another famous human girl with a vampire boyfriend are inevitable, but Bella Swan is no Buffy Summers. . . . Buffy wrestled with a series of romantic dilemmas -- in particular a penchant for hunky vampires -- but her story always belonged to her. Fulfilling her responsibilities as a slayer, loyalty to her friends and family, doing the right thing and cobbling together some semblance of a healthy life were all ultimately as important, if not more important, to her than getting the guy."
This is in contrast to Bella, who only thinks about Edward from the first time she sees him: "since I'd come to Forks, it really seemed like my life was about him" (251).
So why do some girls love the book/movie? Because they are attracted to the dark side—when Edward does fuck her, it's going to be hard
and great (and is, in the last book). Because while you can be drawn to Edward, the other guys presented aren't bad, either. Because it's PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, really, and you know how we get excited just thinking about that (especially when thinking about Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy). We older women like it because it reminds us of the obsessive passion of first love—talking for hours, feeling like you can't make it through the hours of life that aren't with him, being in a dark classroom and being aware of his body next to yours and wanting to touch the fuck out of him.
A better choice
There are problems, of course. While Edward is chivalrous and romantic, he's also controlling and weird. He's entirely too paternalistic for me. Many call him a stalker. He is. The reason Bella doesn't think so is that she likes him back (that's the difference between attentive and stalking, if you've ever wondered). Edward's controlling nature hints at something dark (the un-supernatural dark). Many men who are jealous and won't let you out of their sight often end up becoming emotionally and physically abusive, so there's something off-putting about Edward.
Let's think about it this way: the second time Edward saves Bella, she is being stalked by a group of men who may be intending rape. At this point, Bella and Edward are not dating. He saves her, but let's remember that he's not sure he can resist killing her—by taking her blood, which represents both her life and her virginity. As he says later, her number may be up anyway, simply because she's met him. At the end of the day, I'll take Charlene Harris or Anne Rice's vampires over Meyer's—I want vampires who can handle a woman, not just a little girl.
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