July 9, 2010

Society for the Promotion of Ethical Treatment of Vampires

In my last entry, I briefly tackled the warm fuzziness which marks Meyers’ vampires as utterly distinct from the vampiric genre.  I would like to take some time to unpack this notion at greater length, so for today’s Twilight-themed essay we’re going to continue the discussion of sparkly vampires.
Picking up from where we left off, the sparkly vampire introduces a newer, softer vampire into the literary world.  A more socially acceptable vampire.  A vampire you can take home to mom and pop.  The Meyers vampire is a Mormon vampire, and this is reflected in many aspects of the Twilight story.
Sparkly vampires come in packs; families.  Large families.  The Cullens, for instance, are a family of eight by the end of the series.  Sparkly vampires also seem to be pre-destined to find one eternal soul mate.  This individual is a person the sparkly vampire cannot live without, a partner.  The sparkly vampire is incomplete without this partner, tragically flawed in some way until this partner arrives to complete him (or her).   In the case of all mentioned partnerships within the Twilight universe, this partner is a member of the opposite sex.  No Gay Mormon Vampires.  These vampires have values, they recognize the sanctity of marriage and the importance of family despite their inability to bear children, a factor that comes into play greatly in Eclipse as well as Breaking Dawn.
As a semi-related notion, I would like to add that the incessantly strong anti-abortion message present in Breaking Dawn really offends my sensibilities as a reader as well as a member of society.  By the time Breaking Dawn was released, the world (and one would presume the author) had some inkling of the scope of the Twilight phenomenon.  This was a series widely popular amongst impressionable age groups.  Including political messages in such a series is bad form and simply distasteful.  We have already established that Twilight is popular in part due to its appeal as a role-playing fantasy.  Suddenly, the title character of the series (the individual from whose mind the reader experiences almost all action of the story) begins spouting extreme views about highly controversial political matter garbed in the guise of storytelling.  Against the counsel of her doctor, husband, friends and family, Bella refuses to abort a fetus which is killing her.  To make matters worse, once the baby is born she is the pride and joy of everyone she meets.  Take that, all of you who told me to abort it.  Look what you would have been missing out on!  I’m not going to argue either side of the abortion debate here (this isn’t the time or place for it), but I am going to say that propaganda has no place in a children’s book.  Especially a children’s book as widely read as Twilight is.  /end public service announcement.
And now we return to our discussion of the sparkly vampire.  The sparkly vampire is a vampire who wears his heart on his sleeve, or more specifically in his eyes.  In Meyers’ world, the type of blood which a vampire drinks (human or animal) determines the color of his eyes.  There are no gray areas for the sparkly vampire; evil vamps have red eyes, good vamps have amber eyes.  A vampire has either made the choice to be “ethical” (and thereby good), or is a blood-sucking lunatic.  It is not until late in the series that we are introduced to red-eyed vampires who have any semblance of sanity.  By removing gray areas, the vampiric genre becomes simplified.  Part of what makes vampires so unique as literary figures is their innate grayness.  A vampire cannot be entirely good simply due to his cardinal attribute: he drinks blood.  He kills things to survive.  The sparkly vampire defies this convention, as really one of Meyers’ vegetarian vamps is no worse than a human who eats meat.  Kill an animal; lead the ethical life.  The sparkly vampire’s ability to walk entirely in the light (both literally and metaphorically) lends to his overall acceptability.  He is hardly different from you or I.
The sparkly vampire is not a creature of blood.  Never in the Twilight series are we actually presented with a vampire in the act of feeding.  It is something taken care of off-screen, something unsightly and thereby hidden.  In the vampire mythos, blood is generally a stand-in for sexual acts.  An interchange of body fluids combined with the vampiric act of appearing before a victim when she is alone in her bed at night constitutes a literary euphemism.  In Twilight, the actual sexual acts (as well as the euphemistic ones) are kept entirely away from the eyes of the reader.  Even the euphemism is euphemized; more frequently is the vampiric imbibing of blood referred to as “hunting” over “feeding”.  Moreover, this cardinal unpleasantness of vampiric nature is made palatable by its absence.  We know the vampires drink blood, but as the adage goes, “out of sight, out of mind”.  Have you ever seen fan art of Edward Cullen bent over the jugular of a profusely bleeding antelope?
In fact, most of the violence of the Twilight saga is kept offscreen.  One of the largest fights in the series, the great culminating battle of Eclipse involving the Cullens, the La Push werewolf pack and Victoria’s newborn army, is only vaguely described to the reader second-hand via Edward’s mind-reading abilities.  Violence, like sex, is too unsightly for the sparkly vampire.
The sparkly vampire has also been defanged.  Among all the wonders that Bella notices about her eternal “family”, she never once describes their teeth.  The sparkly vampire, a beautiful creature undoubtedly, has thus lost his bite.
Perhaps this distancing from common vampiric mythos is part of what has enraged hard-core vampire fans so much about the Twilight series.  Teenaged girls may go gaga over Edward, but Edward isn’t a traditional vampire.  He is a popular icon, an idealized and softened version of a beast created from the shadows.  

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