Adventures in (Post) Gradland

Thoughts on life after the PhD

Once Bitten: “Twilight” and the Fixation That Won’t Go Away

What more is there to say about the Twilight phenomenon?  It’s been discussed endlessly by fans and pundits alike.  There’s a whole subset of film and media studies that deals with fan culture, from conventions to cosplay to fanfiction.  The Twilight books will likely continue to be bestsellers, and the movies will make a fortune–until they’re replaced by the next story of a brooding, white-faced youth with potentially homicidal tendencies. 

It’s the replacement factor that interests me.  My generation’s Twilight was Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles.  And possibly Gary Oldman in Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula.  And those leather-wearing, shaggy-haired rock star vamps in The Lost Boys.  Before that Catherine Deneuve seduced Susan Sarandon in The Hunger, and Frank Langella made good girls want to turn bad in both the stage and film adaptations of Dracula.  Francis Ford Coppola says he recalls overhearing the following from a woman in the audience: “I’d rather spend one night with Dracula, dead, than the rest of my life with my husband, alive!” 

The appeal of the vampire has been discussed to death–oral fixation, the lure of the bad boy, repressed S&M fantasies, blood as metaphor for a fear of sexually transmitted diseases.  Books such as Blood Read: The Vampire as Metaphor in Contemporary Culture and Consuming Youth: Vampires, Cyborgs, and the Culture of Consumption trace the vampire figure in books and film over hundreds of years, examining its changing significance over time. 

The girls squealing and obsessing over Edward and Bella probably don’t remember Lestat and Louis and their tortured lives that played out over hundreds of years in various steamy, lavish locales.  And to be fair, Anne Rice fandom was a different beast altogether than the kind of insanity that surrounds the Twilight series.  Anne Rice fans were goths (or wannabe goths) and prided themselves on being “fringe,” when fringe essentially meant wearing black and cultivating moodiness.  They didn’t show up at booksignings and movie premiers by the screaming thousands–they were far too cool for that. 

I never became a hardcore vampire lover (though I did wear the occasional cross and pair of black fishnets).  For me, part of the appeal of Anne Rice’s stories was their blatantly homoerotic subtext.  There wasn’t much sex in the vampire world (something about it being in the “realm of the living,” with vampires obviously existing in the realm of the dead).  But it didn’t matter, because there was all that repressed passion and guilt, and occasional overtures of “I want you” from one man to another man.  Growing up in the south in the early 1990s, this was about as shocking as it got. 

Twilight has gotten similar attention for its “chastity”–in this case the vampire in question can’t have sex with the saintly object of his desire because he might lose control of his blood lust.  No sex, but plenty of hungry glances and steamy near-encounters.  It’s not so different from the attraction to Anne Rice’s vampires, who were decidedly more interested in biting men than women–as a teenage girl they posed no threat, but you kind of wished that they did. 

When the screaming and the long lines at the movie premieres die down, I’m curious to see what the next teen girl brooding anti-hero phenomenon will look like.  Maybe a May-December romance between a teenager and a vamp who was in his thirties when he turned?  Lesbian vampires?  Christian vampires?  As long as it’s a generous mix of taboo, chastity, repressed desire, and both the subversion and maintenance of gender stereotypes, I’m sure it’ll be a bestseller.


One comment on “Once Bitten: “Twilight” and the Fixation That Won’t Go Away

  1. Ron W Franck
    December 24, 2012

    I knew that some natural processes of decay would be mistaken by unadvanced or uneducated as if the recent dead are transforming into something. That they might arise in another unholy form would be a frightening thought. Thus the legends of vampires and zombies, What I never understood was the sexual aspect to it all. Interesting observations.

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This entry was posted on February 18, 2009 by in Books and tagged , , .
Anne McKnight

writing•translation•scholarship on Japan (and a few other things)

A Modern Girl / モダンガール

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