Monday, November 23, 2009

New Moon Is a Vampire Sent to Bother Me

I consider myself something of a pop culture junkie. I don't necessarily like all the stuff that comes up in the shared popular consciousness but I do make it my business to know about it and that knowledge is what I like. I fancy myself a sort of jack-of-all-trades of useless knowledge (I always win at Trivial Pursuit) and the goings on of movies, music, and television, whether I like it or not, have always fascinated me. In addition to that, I've always been a fan of vampires. I read Dracula back in high school (though admittedly because I was really excited about Van Helsing, oops.) and whenever a new film or something comes out having to do with the hominis nocturna I will probably see it with the utmost enthusiasm.

These two facets of my being have come under fire with the rise of Twilight. Twilight represents something of a perfect storm of vampires and popular culture: the biggest vampire franchise since the heyday of Anne Rice by far. But here's a big problem between Twilight and me: you see, I don't know if you could figure this out based on my other posts on this blog but I am not a teenage girl, never have been, and with a little luck I never will be. Therefore, Twilight is completely impenetrable even for someone so shamelessly devoted to its subject matter as I.

This frustrates me to no end. I can usually figure out an appreciate most monolithic franchises these days, and age and target audience has never really been an issue for me (I remained a disciple of Pokémon for many years past when it was appropriate). What is really damning about Twilight is what it represents: the potential female takeover of geek culture.

Now, I know what you're thinking: "Boivin, there are plenty of female geeks. Most sci-fi/fantasy franchises (or 'sagas' as Twilight likes to bill itself, blërg) have a more than substantial female following." This point I will in no way contest; our very own Stephanie Hemmingson is probably the biggest Trekkie I know. Most major entertainment franchises have traditionally been targeted towards males yet still count plenty of women among their followers. This can probably be attributed to the creed of masters of the B-movie, American International Pictures, whose "Peter Pan Syndrome" theory breaks down thusly:

a) a younger child will watch anything an older child will watch;
b) an older child will not watch anything a younger child will watch;
c) a girl will watch anything a boy will watch
d) a boy will not watch anything a girl will watch;
therefore-to catch your greatest audience you zero in on the 19-year old male

I've found this to be generally true in my lifetime. Here's a good example: Star Wars. Star Wars is an adolescent male fantasy: a teenage boy gets to go on an amazing adventure in space and discovers he has special powers. He also gets to fly spaceships and hang out with a cute girl who looks great in a metal Frank Frazetta binki (disregard the fact that she turns out to be his sister). On paper, that sounds like only a boy could like that, right? But think about it: most women you know probably like Star Wars, at least in passing. They may not own a $100.00 lightsaber replica like I do (maybe they do!) but I can guarantee you most red-blooded American women probably would give the Holy Trilogy at least 50 Congos.

Given the state of gender relations and that women have been taking an increasingly active and equal role in Western society over the past hundred years or so, I'm almost surprised AIP's mantra has held up this long. Perhaps it's just a sign of how entrenched the Patriarchy is that male-centric stories are considered "gender neutral" while entertainment with a female target demographic is relegated to the ghetto of bored/annoyed husbands and boyfriends. I would be the first to admit that this probably isn't fair, but also the first to ask what exactly should I be watching, because it sure isn't Twilight.

Probably what irks me most about Twilight is the rabid fangirlism. I speak from experience because I have spent much of my life as a fanboy of one stripe or another and now only in retrospect do I see how fucking annoying that can be. I was a fervent, nay fanatical defender of the Star Wars prequels and after about two and a half years of reflection, about halfway through college, I came to the conclusion that Lucas' attempt to tell the story of Anakin Skywalker was a failure, nearly a decade after everyone else had (I still love them though, just not with the same devotion of the Original Trilogy, but that's another blog post entirely). In Twilight I see the same behavior of my misguided fanboyism chiefly exhibited in a younger, girlier cross-section of society.

Twilight fangirls aren't any more rabid and crazed than other psychotic fans of any kind, it's just their particular idol of reverence is inferior at best and insidious at worst. As has been said before, I'm totally into vampires, and no one who listens to as much MCR as I do (or calls My Chemical Romance "MCR" for that matter) has any right to criticize the Hot Topic crowd and modern goth culture but Twilight just really shits the bed in terms of its vampire lore. Allow me to explain (i.e. "bitch")...

1. Vampires don't need to drink human blood
Okay, there you go: the first tenant of vampirism destroyed (and not in the good Hunger/Lost Boys/Blade "we're going to reinvent the vampire legend for a new generation" way). Basically every iteration of the vampire legend in Western culture deals with them drinking the blood of the living for sustenance, that's what makes them vampires and not just weird people who refuse to go outside. Edward Cullen and his gang claim to be vampire "vegetarians" (if you have actually read/seen the Twilight series and find any of this to be false, please correct me in the comments, this was all explained to me awhile ago and I think I spent most of the conversation complaining) and refuse to drink the blood of humans on moral grounds, they nourish themselves by killing animals, you know, like people do. Is it just me or is the Cullen family taking all the fun out of being a vampire?

2. Vampires want to be your boyfriend
I know that the theme of vampires falling in love with mortals is a fairly common one in fiction, but it's never sat right with me, especially when it's the main theme of the story like it is with Twilight. To vampires (whether they're "vegetarian" or not) humans are food. This would be like deciding you're not going to eat meat and then falling in love with a cow: things are always going to be more than a little off because at any moment you might decide you could go for steak, not mention the fact that you're cohabitating with someone who until recently was essentially livestock. For the record, I don't like True Blood either.

3. Vampires can go out in sunlight
Oh man, this is the one that just kills me. So vampires, a race of mostly evil, blood-drinking, superhuman immortals have been living alongside humanity for thousands of years, right? They literally have NO weaknesses except for sunlight (and garlic, crosses, stakes etc. but those are pretty easy to avoid). For most vampires, they haven't outright enslaved and drained the human race of blood due to the fact that they have to sleep in coffins most of the day otherwise they will die. Blade does a good job of addressing this issue with having vampires essentially in bed with all the world's politicians and having a nice equilibrium of treaties and such: don't give us trouble and we'll keep the bloodsucking to a respectable minimum. There's a neat-looking movie called Daybreakers that comes out next year which basically asks what would happen if vampires did in fact take over the world, humans will die out eventually, right? Most of the time, a vampire can only come out at night because the sun will cause them to burst into flames/explode/melt/turn into dust/what have you, thereby restricting their ability and willingness to use their demigod-like powers to enslave humanity outright. In Twilight, sunlight causes vampires to sparkle and become really self-conscious. "Oh no! The humans are seeing me sparkle! I'm so embarrassed! Oh wait, that won't matter when I rip out their goddamn throats with my teeth!"

On top of my problems with the treatment of vampires in these books/movies, there's the well-documented abstinence metaphors running through the series. Stephenie Meyer, the sereis' author, is a Mormon. Now, I've got nothing against anyone's religious beliefs but there's a hint that something weird ("Mormonish"...) might be going on here. The erotic has always been a running theme in vampire fiction, Bram Stoker's Dracula essentially doubles as a rebuff of suffocating Victorian sexuality, and Twilight is no exception. Anyone who has been through puberty could figure out that vampirism is basically a metaphor for sex in Twilight and the proof of Edward's love and devotion to Bella is that he resists the urge to bite her and turn her into a vampire (i.e. he won't have sex with her until marriage, which coincidentally also happens later on in the books). Essentially the narrative arc of the Twilight series is "true love waits". I would say that I have a problem with Meyer inserting some pretty blatant sexual (or rather lack of sex) metaphors into literature meant for tweens but I guess when I was that age I was reading some pretty kinky stuff myself. It's not the issue of sex that bothers me so much as it is the abstinence rhetoric being fed to young people as romance literature. That's just lame and square. It's also kind of sick to have a movie that spends most of its screen time depicting hot shirtless boys and then telling kids "DON'T YOU DARE HAVE SEX!" That's just perverse, it's almost like you're punishing young girls (or gay boys, who I'm sure Meyer is totally okay with...) for even thinking about sex when Robert "You're still Cedric Diggory to me" Pattinson struts around topless or when those Native American werewolf boys refuse to put a shirt on. It just really pisses me off.

In conclusion, this webcomic sums up my feelings pretty well.

Well, now that New Moon has become the third biggest opening weekend in movie history, I guess we Twilight haters are to be labeled as naysayers and bitter old people (which we are, of course). I suppose it is just that I'm becoming out of touch with the youth culture I once was a part of and now I'm sad and bitter about it, or maybe I'm subconsciously worried that women are going to turn geekdom on its head and enslave men with their vagina magic and so I must lash out against them lest their primitive and irrational nature usurp man's hold on power. Then again, maybe Twilight is just an annoying fad with some troubling sexual undertones that has enslaved the young women of the world (they said the same thing about rock and roll). Then again again, no man who owns a full Hogwarts costume that he puts on whenever a Harry Potter book or movie comes out has any right to be bitching about Twilight.

If you're so inclined for a fair and honest review of New Moon with a minimal degree of fanboy ranting, please see Pankin's recent review.