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The trend that never dies

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Although Jezebel is how I came to the brilliant Buffy vs. Edward clip, I disagree quite a lot with this analysis of recent vampire trends which concludes women play a supporting role.

Basically, it’s confused about what it means to "play a supporting role." It doesn’t mean you’re not the vampire. It means it’s not your story. It means you are not the protagonist. It means the story is not constructed from your point of view.

The most traditional vampire stories are not told from the vampire’s point of view, that’s what made Anne Rice seem so fresh, once upon a time. Of course, that trend got a bit stale, and we went into a trend of stories from the slayer’s point of view. Now the trend seems to be toward vampire romances, in which a female dates a vampire and the story is from her point of view.

That means it’s the woman’s story. She’s the lead. Even if she is, like Bella, a passive pre-feminist nincompoop, it’s still her story.

Also, Eli in Let the Right One In is probably not actually, technically, a girl. Yes, there is that extremely brief view of what is probably mutilated genitalia from a castration. But there is also the dialogue where she says "I’m not a girl."

The New York Times style section writes about vampires too, in a predictably shallow fashion. I am, perhaps irrationally, irritated by the way these "lifestyle" articles always have to act like every pop culture trend — no matter how enduring — is something entirely new every time they revisit it.

What began with the Twilight Saga, the luridly romantic young-adult series by Stephenie Meyer, followed by “Twilight,” the movie, has become a pandemic of unholy proportions.

Rarely have monsters looked so sultry — or so camera-ready. No small part of this latest vampire mania seems to stem from the ethereal cool and youthful sexiness with which the demons are portrayed. Bela Lugosi they are not.

“The vampire is the new James Dean,” said Julie Plec, the writer and executive producer of “The Vampire Diaries.”

Began? With Twilight? A book published in 2005, two years after the final season of Buffy? Twelve years after the first Anita Blake novel? Eleven years after cinema heartthrobs Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise played Louis and Lestat in the big-screen adaptation of Interview with the Vampire? TWENTY-TWO years after The Lost Boys brought us a hunky young Kiefer Sutherland in fangs?

The article itself mentions Catherine Deneuve and David Bowie in the 1983 film The Hunger. Are they implying that something from 1983 is "new"?

Also, I feel a bit insulted on Lugosi’s behalf. He may not be young, in Dracula, nor particularly sexy by modern standards, but he is definitely playing a seductive character.

And if Lugosi doesn’t get it done for ya, what about Christopher Lee in the Hammer films? Chris Sarandon in Fright Night? Nearly every female vampire in cinema ever? Barnabas Collins in Dark Shadows? Nick Knight in Forever Knight?

What I’m getting at here is that even a cursory examination of vampire cinema/television reveals that vampires are, more often than not, portrayed as sexy. That’s the norm, the expected thing, the default state. It’s, um, kind of why the genre is popular. It’s not a new trend by any stretch of the imagination.

The new trend — if there is one — is that vampire stories are no longer assumed to be horror.

There’s this "paranormal romance" or "urban fantasy" trend, which I think of as "stories which vaguely resemble the early Anita Blake novels before they turned into nothing but metaphysical porn." Like the Anita Blake novels (or Buffy, or Dark Shadows) the vampire is located in a world of more general supernatural shenanigans, including witches, werewolves, ghosts, zombies, demons and so on.

In these stories vampires are often normalized to the point of being a kind of background noise, a thing taken for granted and not particularly scary most of the time. There are lots of vampires and we already know how to deal with them, therefore the threat comes from something other than the mere fact of there being a vampire.
Or, in the case of Twilight, there is no threat at all to anything other than my own personal sanity.

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10 Comments

  1. Wasn’t the original POINT (at least in Dracula) that vampires were sexy? Meaning that to call it a trend ala the Times is to sort of Not Get It in a particularly egregious fashion?

    I’ve avoided the Twilight series since I found out the author was mormon, because I knew it would push all my buttons, but I may have to break down and read at least the first one and/or see the film just to be able to make cogent conversation/critique. Not knowing the character names is starting to be a bit of a hindrance, if nothing else.

    Are you thinking Eli in LTROI is genetically male? I saw the mutilation as “normal” female genital mutilation practiced in some of the places she could have been from given her other physical characteristics. But I also didn’t stop the DVD and look at it closely, and only got a few seconds look.

    You are right, in that the trend is the non-horror of the traditionally horrific. And I think that may be what the Time is trying vaguely to get at with the James Dean comment: the old ‘bad boys’ who are just plain human aren’t bad enough anymore. But it’s still inexcusable to ignore Lost Boys, Lestat, and all the rest.

    Vampires are real, but the real evil is prejudice. Now back to your After School Special.

    • The location of the scar tissue looked more like male castration to me. Since it comes well after the line “I’m not a girl,” I thought it was a reveal. We go into the film knowing it’s about a vampire, so we think she means “I’m not human.” Then the scar tissue reveals that she probably (also) means “I’m not female.”

      If you want to scratch that pop-culture itch re: Twilight, I would recommend seeing the movie. My attempts to make it through the book have all been unsuccessful. I don’t have to read very far before I’m just too annoyed to keep going.

      It’s written in the first person, but instead of being lively and personal and funny like Judy Blume or Paul Zindel or J. D. Salinger only with vampires, it’s more like finding the diary of that popular girl who seems really shallow and finding that, actually, deep down inside, she’s every bit as shallow as you always suspected.

      The deal-killer, though, was the deeply anti-feminist imagery. She keeps returning again and again to the same imagery — he commands, she obeys, he feels patriarchially protective of her, she feels swooningly safe in his arms.

      I mean, “‘Get in the car,’ he commanded” isn’t just bad writing of the Tom Swifty variety, it’s thematic.

      • The deal-killer, though, was the deeply anti-feminist imagery. She keeps returning again and again to the same imagery — he commands, she obeys, he feels patriarchially protective of her, she feels swooningly safe in his arms.

        Yep. Welcome to my childhood. Ugly, ugly place…

    • You should read the Let the Right One In book. The scar thing is elaborated on some.

  2. That’s the problem with vampires these days; they’ve lost all the horror that made them stand out in the first place. I mean, isn’t something that feeds on human blood meant to be scary in the first place? You sure hit the nail on the head though.

    On the other hand, it’s hard to do a real scary character when acting, so as a result instead why not play it for the romance or adventure? But then again that’s a cop out.

    I think there will only be one Bela Lugosi. Hollywood won’t have an interest in another. Unless Tim Burton does a Dracula remake and ropes Johnny Depp into it.

    • Unless Tim Burton does a Dracula remake and ropes Johnny Depp into it.

      Sigh. If only.

      • And then follows it up with his version of Carmilla. Why not?

        Actually, one problem I could forsee with Burton’s version of Dracula is that Tim can sometimes be completely over the top in his style and visuals, and looking back on the Coppola version was that it went into camp territory with the script and a lot of the outfits. I think it would work better if it retained a sense of realism, if you catch my drift.

        And Tim will probably make the Count look sympathetic, when in fact he was probably meant to be an out and out bastard.

  3. “Basically, it’s confused about what it means to “play a supporting role.” It doesn’t mean you’re not the vampire. It means it’s not your story. It means you are not the protagonist. It means the story is not constructed from your point of view.”

    I get the point you’re making, but it’s still not always true.

    Take (of all things) Braveheart. I would say the character that’s pivotal, and who sees growth, is Robert the Bruce. But it is told in William Wallace’s POV.

    Lamb, by Christopher Moore. Is Biff really the center? Or is it Jesus?

    • Brideshead Revisited — Sebastian or Charles? Charles is the narrator, but — does that matter?

    • Or even, God help us, Pride and Prejudice. Miss Bennet is the view point character, no doubt, but who do we learn about over the course of the novel, even though he’s often “off screen,” and turns out to be a hero in the end? Can you not say P&P is Darcy’s story, told from Elizabeth’s POV?

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