December 21, 2010

Fangs for the Incite

I am mad.  No, not mad, angry.  No, not angry, seeing red, flames on the side of my face, steam coming out of my ears livid.  What, might you ask, is the cause of this anger?  The source of this towering inferno of rage?

Flash back to yesterday.  I made a trip to my local Barnes and Noble to pick up the next book in my current bedtime reading series (it’s nothing literary, just some awesome urban fantasy writing… I need a very specific kind of book to lull my brain into slumber at the end of a long day).  I rode the escalator up to the fiction section of the store, inhaling the wonderful scent of mass-market paperbacks and coffee (I love LOVE the smell of books).  My mind was idly tapping itself against the actual reading I was doing for the CRE that is creeping up on me faster and faster every day.  I was fairly zoned out of my surroundings, still warming up from my short walk from car to store, excited to peruse the shelves that I was headed for… maybe I would even go look at the Neil Gaimen books and thumb lovingly through them!  Maybe I would take a field trip to the Shakespeare shelf and glance over it to see if there were any new books! 

And that, my friends, is when it happened.  Staring me in the face on one of those “buy these books if you like that book” tables in a display of gothic teenage macabre were stacks and stacks of the Twilight series.  That wouldn’t bother me so much.  After all, they are best sellers (for more info as to why, head on over and read my assessment of the series as a whole).  What really bothered me was the sign on the table.  This sign, in mock-blood-dripping script, read “The books that started it all”.

Woah.  WOAH.  First of all, no.  Secondly, HELL NO.  “Started it all”?  What, the vampire genre?  Because that was John Polidori with The Vampyre in 1819.  Vampires as the subject of the novel?  Bram Stoker, Dracula, 1897.  Vampire as a popular mass-market genre?  Anne Rice, Interview with the Vampire,1976.  Vampire as a book-to-film dark fantasy extravaganza?  Also Anne Rice, Interview, 1994.  Made the vampire story something told in first person PoV by some mortal acquaintance who somehow magically is wrapped up in the otherworldliness of vampires?  Laurell K. Hamilton, Guilty Pleasures, 1993.  Made the vampire the equivalent of a modern rock star oozing sex indiscriminately and conquering mortal women as they have to struggle through their hum-drum lives without becoming a vampire?  Charlaine Harris, All Together Dead, 2001.  This is not even to bring into account the multitudes of vampire films, TV shows, and role playing games that did more for the genre than (arguably) some of these authors did. 

I will say the one thing that Meyer did add to the vampire: safety.  Her vampires may as well be unicorns or some other shiny mythical beast.  They are innately dangerous (as dangerous as any other carnivore) but, as I’ve contended previously, they have been de-fanged.  By being able to survive off of non-human blood (and actively pursuing this lifestyle), the complications of being a vampire are taken away from them.  They need not live with the guilt of death in exchange for their own mortal existences, they can go eat a cow like a normal person.  Not only may they walk in sunlight, but it makes them sparkly!  SPARKLY!  Half of them aren’t even dark and brooding characters!  They are not killers, they are not Satan’s minions, they are no longer creatures of the night. 

If Meyer’s vampires have been de-fanged, they have also been unsexed.  Sex is a vital piece to the vampire and the original vampire stories were no more than thinly veiled euphemisms for intercourse (come on, hard fangs puncturing soft flesh and an exchange of bodily fluids?  Sound familiar?).  Meyer has denied her vampires their very essence and, by doing so, made them into something that is undeniably inhuman, but simultaneously unvampire. 

So yes, she opened the “vampire” reading audience up to individuals who would otherwise never have cracked a vampire novel in their lives.  But what does this really mean?  It is difficult for me to imagine that a Twilight teeny-bopper would ever read and/or enjoy a real vampire story.  Reading Twilight is nothing more than a pale excuse to say “yes, I’m misunderstood and brooding!  Look at me, I’m suuuuch a vampire groupie!”  It’s like wearing black eyeliner and pale makeup because it’s cool; these actions say nothing about the individual and everything about their attentiveness to trends and fads.

Flash back further to a middle-school-aged Danielle.  She is socially trod upon, downcast, and geeky.  She clutches a book to her chest which she reads because it makes her feel better.  The title of the book is Interview with the Vampire.  As if the popular kids didn’t have enough to make fun of her about (she’s not skinny, she doesn’t wear makeup, she has big plastic-rimmed glasses, she doesn’t play sports, she would rather spend an afternoon with Magic cards than at the mall… need I go on?) they see this book.  It stands as a testament to why she will never fit in with the “cool” kids.  Anyone who reads “that vampire stuff” clearly is far too dark and weird to ever fit in.

So it’s not that I’m bitter that kids now-a-days can read a “vampire” novel and have it speak to their coolness as opposed to their awkwardness, but if they’re gonna read one, at least it could be a real one.  I’m not saying they should dive right in to Interview or Anita Blake stuff… but can’t there be some happy middle ground between not-a-vampire-vampire-novels and actual hard-core-blood-sucking?

And really, Barnes and Noble, I’m curious.  What did Meyer start?  Christmas bonuses for your CEOs?  Because surely whatever it was had nothing to do with the genre that she is only vaguely and begrudgingly associated with. 

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