Monday, May 25, 2009

What's Up With the"Twilight" Phenomenon?

I'm 43 years old, and I love vampires. I have always loved vampires. When I was a child, I used to watch Hammer horror movies with my parents, and ask why everyone hated the vampire. Admittedly, I was a strange child (as I am a strange adult), but I think the reason I rooted for the vampire was because I "got" the connection between sex and death that the vampire represents. Okay, at that age, it was love, not sex, but the connection between death and "sexual love" (if you will) still applies. For me, the vampire was a far more compelling love interest than some callow young man who just wanted to marry the heroine and give her babies like everybody else. The vampire needed his paramour as much as life itself, and their love would last for centuries. Talk about romantic!

I read a review of Stephanie Meyer's novel, "Twilight," in Entertainment Weekly by one of my favorite writers, Stephen King. He said he could understand the appeal of the subject matter - chaste love for young teens - but he didn't think Meyer could write. With all due love and respect, I think Uncle Stevie missed the boat on this one. That's okay. Uncle Stevie (as he refers to himself when he address us, the "Constant Reader") has written some damn good stuff about vampires, in "'Salem's Lot," for example, and in the Dark Tower series. The vampire is a very rich, fertile source of inspiration and association (especially for something that's undead) for artists of all stripes. King himself is a very good writer, and his thematic exploration of how vampires prey on the living, especially their own living families, is darkly magical and unsettling. I think, however, that for Uncle Stevie, vampires don't resonate sexually, and for me they do.

A vampire is like a hero in a Gothic novel: you're not sure if he wants to rape the heroine, kill her and eat her, or all three, in no particular order. Vampires conjure up almost Jungian associations of breast feeding: the simple, but all-consuming experience we assume newborn babies have when they suckle, the largely benevolent but scarily omnipotent power of the mother and the mother's breast to feed and comfort or to withhold food and comfort, the possibility of suffocation under the breasts of that much-larger body. The unself-consciousness of nursing can become emotionally entangled later in life with the unself-consciousness of orgasm, the nurture from a mother's breast can remind you of a lover's emotional nurturing, and the sucking for dear life itself. . . best to leave that to your own imagination for now.

I have only read the first novel of Stephanie Meyers's series, but I would venture to guess that she gets it. When I was a teenager, before I was sexually active, the light touch of a boy's fingers running up and down my inner forearms would make me dreamy and aroused for days. My body felt exquisitely sensitive, which is how "Twilight's" female protagonist, Bella, feels after the lightest physical contact with Edward, the vampire with whom she falls in love. The setting of the book is high school, and the wish-fulfillment of Bella the outcast becoming Bella the girl who doesn't know she's beautiful and popular will surely appeal to most teenage girls. Many teenagers will also understand the connection between sex and death on a subconscious basis in the age of AIDS, Hep C and the still scary spectre of teenager pregnancy. Even if we take the attraction of those elements as a given, however, there's a whole other level of depth to the novel that may not be apparent to the casual reader.

I am one of many people around the world who finds the imagery of dominance and submission to be arousing. The typical feminist explanation of a woman's rape fantasy is that the woman controls the fantasy, so everything that happens to her in the fantasy is of her own choosing, and that the lack of consent frees her from responsibility for her own immoral sexual desire so she can enjoy the fantasy sex without guilt. Additionally, I find the idea of someone wanting me so much that he has to take me against my will (in exactly the way I want him to, of course) to be very hot. Just for the record, fantasy rape and real rape do not exist in the same universe, and that when a potential sexual partner says no, they really mean it (unless you are playing with safe words, which is a whole different blog entry). Never mistake the fantasy of rape for the reality of it.

Reading through "Twilight," I could not help but notice that Edward's relationship with Bella is often one of loving dominance. He commands her. He compels her. She does what he tells her to against her own judgement because she trusts him. He is as obsessed with her as she is with him, but he's afraid of losing control because he is just that attracted to her. In addition, she is the only woman who has ever inspired those feelings in him. Pretty heady stuff.

Just when I was starting to find the love story just a tad sedate, however, a threat was introduced that threw all of the qualities of vampire / victim love and dominance dynamics into sharp relief. I'm not going to tell you what it was, in case you haven't read the book yourself, but having two crazy sexy guys willing to fight to the death to possess you isn't the worst predicament you could find yourself in, even if at least one of them does want to kill you.

No, "Twilight" has not taken over my life, nor have I bought any fan paraphernalia. However, I have signed up to read the next book in the "Twilight" series at the library, and am eagerly awaiting its arrival. It's not the next coming, but it is pretty entertaining, and in today's world, you could do a lot worse.

2 comments:

Dragonclaws said...

Hello, I found your blog through clicking through various sites on the Internet. I just thought I'd say that I totally agree with you about Twilight being a submissive fantasy. I read your comment at WIMN for the Buffy vs. Edward video and agree that the general feminist criticism is overblown and does not take into account the submissive mindset as something akin to sexual orientation in that it can't be changed just because it doesn't fit an ideology.

evilgrrl said...

Thanks for the comments, Dragonclaws. I've been a feminist since college, but sometimes the official feminist "take" on things is a little to rigid or mainstream for me. I appreciate your thoughts on it. I have found your blog, and signed up to follow it. It looks like we like a lot of the same movies and books. Looking forward to reading more on it.