Add me to the long, long list of annoyed geeky bloggers with a serious chip on her shoulder over the Twilight franchise. Add me also to the long, long list of hipsters who, like, totally was into vampires before vampires were cool. And I’m talking PROPER vampires. The ones with fangs and bloodlust; not the sparkling vegetarian high school ones (what the fuck is a vegetarian vampire, after all?)
Back in the long, long ago, vampires were scary as well as sexy. Apparently True Blood is attempting to fill that void, as it were, but even those Bayou vamps are more the descendants of Anne Rice’s sexually confused dandies than Bram Stoker’s creation of pure evil. And you gotta admit, Bram Stoker gave us the world’s greatest vampire, the King of Vampires, evil incarnate. Stoker’s Dracula was not sexy; he was not tortured over his vampire-ishness. Despite a fairly pronounced death drive, what he really wanted to do was drain everyone’s blood and create an empire of the undead. You know, a good, old fashioned take over the world kind of villain. He had fangs. He turned into a bat and a wolf and assaulted Victorian womanhood, manhood and childhood. He brought out the evil in the staunch Victorian middle-classes, making them turn on each other, forcing them into deeper and deeper depravity in their attempts to annihilate him. He was one evil sonofabitch.
Dracula has been a lot of things over the years, and has been progressively defanged since Browning’s 1931 film made him into a foreign gentleman. Time passed, Christopher Lee gave us a sexier Dracula, then a Dracula who rides the number 7 bus. Finally, Frank Langella gave us disco Dracula. And that was sort of the stake through the heart for ol’Drac. Gerard Butler in Dracula 2000 proposed that Dracula was actually Judas (!); Gary Oldman in Coppolla’s inappropriately named Bram Stoker’s Dracula definitely had the tortured romantic thing going on, but then he also did some raping and pillaging. At least Dracula never really lost his fangs, or the whole ‘I want to suck your blood’ mentality. Until now.
Vampires have typically represented the sexual confusion and mores of their time periods. It’s no accident that the most memorable vampire showed up nearing the end of the Victorian era, a time characterized by excessive sexual repression, two very ugly occurrences involving sexuality (Jack the Ripper and the trial of Oscar Wilde) and the escalating debate over the rights of women. That Dracula transformed over time into a tortured lover, a gentleman, a man not quite as evil as he initially seemed, seems to reflect the changing desires of the culture he comes out of. Dracula began to stop being scary when sex stopped being as scary. But today, something very weird has happened.
Twilight has enacted a sort of double repression. The vampire, rather than being an eruption of the chaos world, an embodiment of the darkness at the heart of middle class society, becomes instead fully integrated into that society. A misunderstood, not terribly dangerous celibate, continuously repressing natural desires (in the case of a vampire, blood and sex) in favor of asceticism: being a ‘good’ vampire. Sex is not to be indulged until marriage, at which point it becomes violent and bruising, resulting in a rather Cronenbergian pregnancy and C-section. And that’s romantic. The books and films present Edward as the ultimate romantic lover, but the entire romantic relationship is a reinforcement of the very patriarchal norms (men are animals, sex is evil and painful, etc.) that the vampire was originally a reaction against. By making the vampire the hero, the Twilight franchise has managed to invert the purpose of the monster (the return of the repressed) and make the monster himself into a romantic symbol that reinforces that repression. The Victorians couldn’t have accomplished it better. Vampires have ceased to be scary. They’re now pale young Englishmen with sparkling skin who resist the passions of the flesh … until, of course, they beat the hell out of their partners in the marriage bed. How romantic.
It saddens me to see Drac and his brethren fall so far from grace. I hope that we someday regain some of the kinkiness that has always characterized vampire lore (True Blood is the one hope for the future of the bloodsuckers). I don’t know what Edward Cullen and the rest of those sparkly Mormons are, but they sure as hell aren’t vampires.
You call that a vampire? THIS is a vampire: