A fellow blogger and old friend posted a question about the recent fascination with Vampires in pop culture, and especially the glamorization of women as possessions of these Vampire characters. She’s referring mostly to an HBO show called True Blood that I have not seen, except for its trailers, and the Stephanie Meyers series of young adult romances, starting with Twilight.
Two summers ago when I read Twilight for a seminar on Young Adult literature, I wondered why our school librarian put Twilight on the list; she admitted that she did not hold the book in high esteem, but that girls in the middle school were reading it, so English teachers needed to know about the basics of the story. I found the book dull, its plot simplistic and predictable, the writing vapid, and the characters unremarkable. I skimmed, often, I admit. But I read enough to finally finish the book. As I closed the book, I pondered the kernel of a critique that had been germinating as I read.
In Twilight, Edward, the handsome vampire who develops a “crush” on Bella, the human teenager caught in a new town with her divorcee dad, lives with a clan of like-minded vamps who have eschewed the barbaric practice of feeding on humans, and who survive by drinking the blood of mammals of the rural Northwestern United States. These vampires have chosen to live together in this way, resisting the natural tendency to consume human blood. Naturally, they are enemies of other clans of vampires who persist in the practice of feeding upon humans, only to turn them to their vampiric ways.
When vampires choose to deny their innate or inborn tendencies — resisting the urge to act immorally — they provide readers with a message of denial aimed straight in the teeth of homosexuality. The rhetoric of Edward’s clan’s refusal to partake is eerily resonant with the rhetoric of the Christian right about resisting temptation, about the immorality of the choice to engage in homosexual acts. Edward’s clan of clean-living vampires is an example for practicing homosexuals — you can be gay, as long as you don’t act upon it. Of course, Edward’s attraction to Bella, the quintessential forbidden fruit, as it were, is complicated by her being a human (straight) girl. Or maybe it’s not complicated at all. For Edward’s love of Bella shows that gays can overcome their sinful and immoral ways. Similar to the deer blood consuming vampires, gays can also swear off the pleasures of gay sex, and be rewarded with deep and meaningful relationships that cannot be consummated.
Other texts have dealt with vampires, and this recent fascination is really just a re-visioning of old themes. Lestat in Anne Rice’s Interview with a Vampire set the tone for vampires that have been more complex, and ironically Lestat himself was bisexual, illustrating the liminality offered by exploring the undead. Even Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a TV show revealed a more complex, powerful, daring and nuanced portrayal of a human female/male vampire relationship. Buffy wasn’t perfect, but at least Buffy, the character, made decisions, was heroic, protected her friends, and was independent — not possessed by a boyfriend.
Stephanie Meyer devoted significant time and space in the book to explaining how even the smallest hint of human blood would send Edward and his clan beyond their ability to resist their “natural” tendencies. However, not once in the many, many pages does Edward’s prodigious supernatural power detect the presence of Bella’s menstrual blood. This is a teen book, and if Meyer was really exploring teen issues, wouldn’t this be the perfect moment to introduce some menstrual related reality à la Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret?
Twilight is not a rich text for teens and young women to use to explore sexuality, love, commitment and difference. Rather, Twilight portrays forbidden love on many levels, and seems to propose only one “right” way — the path of abstinence. Meyer’s creation leaves its readers feeling as empty as its underfed vampires.