True Human Nature Revealed by Blood-Sucking Immortals

Born to be Bad: The Autobiography of Eric Northman
This photo is from the back jacket of my new autobiograph: "Born to Be Bad: The Story of Eric Northman"

Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s vampire anti-hero, Angel, drinks animal blood he picks up at the butcher and, by some devilish magicks, acquires a soul. This soul grants him the ability to reject the blood lust of his brethren. Also, if you hadn’t noticed, his name is Angel, and not Lucifer or Satan T. Spawn or even Spike. (Although everyone knows Spike is way better, but I’ll get to that later.) True Blood’s southern gentleman-vampire, Bill, drinks the recently invented synthetic blood, ironically called True Blood, and also rejects the cruder vampire ways by leading a moral, non-murderous existence.

The Cullens, including EDWARD, are the central vampire family of the Twilight books, and they too are weirdly moral for their race, choosing to drink animal blood (albeit not from a bottle or plastic container, but straight from the throbbing neck of a big stag) instead of hunting humans.

The point is, every vampire tale features an unvampirely hero who adheres to human codes of ethics. This and many other examples from True Blood, Buffy and the Twilight saga reveal a troubling self hatred among vampires. JK. These things really reveal that most vampire stories are celebrations of human life; we don’t have to make the choice to kill or not to kill whenever we go to eat! Evil is a choice for humanity; evil is written in the genetic code for vamps. Folks like Bill and Angel would trade their good looks, deadly speed, and immortality for a frail human body any day of the week!

But why would anyone try to celebrate humanity through the conduit of the unhuman, the supernatural? Well, it’s all about the deep structures, methinks. No better way to examine the deep structures of what makes humanity human than looking at how inhuman non-humans can be. These tales give us a taste of the sexy power of what it is to be a werewolf/vampire/shape-shifter, but ultimately we don’t end up thinking, “Gee, I wish I were a werewolf!” We end up being glad we are humanz.

EXCEPT FOR IN TWILIGHT! In what is either a brilliant shift in the genre, or an ill-thought-out accident by a terrible writer, the Twilight books exult most of what is vampirely. And I am troubled by this.

SPOILER ALERT regarding Breaking Dawn! Don’t read on if you want to be surprised in the books. Once Bella becomes a vampire, she discovers that it was always her destiny to become one of these pale-fleshed immortals. She smugly recalls human life as a time of dim colors, weak twinges of emotion, and perilous physical incapacity. As a vampire, she is more graceful, more powerful, more at home with herself, and, most importantly, more fully able to love Edward forever and ever!!!

Moreover, there is apparently no down-side to being a vampire. In Meyer’s books, vampires don’t even need to sleep, much less be limited to sleeping during the day, so they lead a restless, ceaseless existence. Does that sound like a special ring of hell to anyone else? And yet, there is no reflection by any Twilight character that it might very well be awful to be alive and AWAKE forever. This is just one of many reasons I do not want to be a vampire.

Why does Twilight‘s human-shunning ways suck? Well, for a number of inter- and extra-textual reasons. Firstly, Bella became a vampire for her boyfriend–she literally dies for Ed, just like she always wanted! Family? Friends? College? Future? Whatevs! Bella’s true self is actually achieved through abandoning this self, for a DUDE. Secondly, Bella’s self-love as a vampire just flat out degrades life as a human. It doesn’t illuminate any aspect of what it is to be human, as Angel’s and Bill’s struggles do, it only shits all over the human condition, claiming that our sense perception and emotional life is but a glimmer of what could be, were we superior creatures.

But maybe Meyer is just taking the vampire genre the logical step further. It is important to note that even though Angel and Bill are the good boys of their respective fictional universes, and they win the hearts of the golden blondies/heroines of the tales, the heroines always eventually fall for the bad guy. The dark side can only be resisted for so long. In Buffy, Ms. Buffy eventually falls for Spike, and he doesn’t even have a soul! Though he makes pains to become good, Spike’s goodness is always in doubt, and he can only fight his nature so long. Yet I know not a Buffy fan who doesn’t root for Spike. I seriously didn’t care if Buffy crossed over to evildom, her devotion to Angel and all things of the light gets a little old. Likewise, in True Blood, clearly Sookie and Eric are about to have an affair. All I can say is, SOOKIE, DO IT!!!! Eric is way hotter than Bill. Eric is a delightfully immoral being of Swedish descent. He is also blond, has an accent, and is the arch-nemesis of the series’ hero, kind of like Spike.

So if all ladies in the vampire-verse are unable to resist the darkness, mayhaps Bella’s full-on conversion to the darkness is an alright conclusion. Why fuck em when you can join em? Eh?

But no, not really. I have advocated and continue to advocate stories of the supernatural where humans come out the winners. SO THERE.

Black leather is always in style for blond vampires, be it 1998 or 2009.
Black leather is always in style for bad vampires, be it 1998 or 2009.

Weight of Womanly Ambition Makes Vampire Fantasies All the More Appealingly

I had assumed my new-found attachment to Twilight was special; I didn’t know I was part of a larger movement.

Check out this article about women who avoided the Twilight franchise at first, thinking they were totally above it, and then became obsessed when they dipped their toes in later.

A telling excerpt:

The people who have not read “Twilight” think they are astoundingly brilliant when they point out the misogynist strains of the series, like how Bella bypasses college in favor of love, like how Edward’s “romantic” tendencies include creepily sneaking into Bella’s house to watch her sleep, like how Bella’s only “flaw” is that she is clumsy, thereby necessitating frequent rescues by the men in her life, who swoop in with dazzling chisleyness and throw her over their shoulders.

In response: We know. We know… We wrote those arguments.

Ideological objections aside, I was prepared for shitty writing. Not to sound too high-minded, but I rarely even read contemporary literature, sticking to the comfort of the classics, so I knew I was in for some gagging. My sister told me she read the first 60 pages of Twilight and had to put it down, so clumsy and poor was the prose. I doubted I could make it through–but I am on page 300 and lovin’ it. I don’t even care that Meyer is the most inefficient writer of all time. As noted in the above-linked article, she uses three adjectives when she only needs one. An observation of my own is that roughly a tenth of the book is repetition of information. Meyer doesn’t even try to hide it. Many sentences go a bit like this: “Again, I was dazzled by his statuesque musculature,” or, “Again, my heart started racing when his Adonis-like figure approached me.” Her concept of detail and exposition is totally bogus, bogging down the narrative in absurdly wordy descriptions of walls in a high school (they featured student awards, really?) or the layout of a particular building (it had how many windows?). Really though, it hardly matters.

It’s easy to understand why one would dislike these books. Yet it sure is difficult to explain what we love so much about them. The books are so embarrassing to read, so obviously silly. The article notes that the books recall the fiery passion of being 17. Okay, agreed. But the article doesn’t offer why we need to feel like we are 17 again. As noted in my other observations about the movie New Moon, I think the Twilight series is so exciting because it allows an escape that we women often deny ourselves. Hold on, this particular theory is more elaborate than my last. The demographic specified in this article–bookish, wordly women in their 20’s and 30’s–are too busy these days to escape. We work, try to move up in the world, have serious pursuits, need to prove ourselves. One acceptable escape is via some fruity concoction on a Friday night; you know, girls’ night out, Sex and the City, all that. Or maybe we’ll get a massage, or watch Oprah to escape the exhausting ambition we carry around all day. But all the afore mentioned activities are still part of the modern gal narrative, whereas reading a romance novel is something quaint, a hobby for middle-aged women.  Maybe we read to escape at times, but it’s more likely that, to retain some respectability, we would flee to the mystery/thriller genre, not to harlequin romances with ripped bods/bodices on a glossy cover.

And maybe that’s why we’re overdoing it a bit: we are so unused to the ecstasy of escape offered in Twilight. One of the women in the article named all three of her dogs after some of the werewolves in the books. She also claims she’ll be naming her daughter after a character in the novels. (?!)

For now, though, I’ll be keeping my Twilight in the realm of fantasy…

Grizzly Bear Almost Restores My Faith in Indie Rock

Grizzly bear, the band

2009 is the first year in (my) living memory that I didn’t buy even one compact disc. All the other years of my musically-engaged life, I went to record stores and kept mental lists of stuff I was interested in. The candy store (aka place where I blow my $$$) was replaced by Indy CD and Vinyl during my first year of college in Indianapolis, and when I moved to Bloomington the next year, I frequented TD’s and eventually Landlocked. When I made trips up to Chicago, I made sure to stop at Reckless to pick up stuff I couldn’t get in Indiana. I would be the girl spending 30 bucks on a UK-specific reissue of the Fall’s Hex Enduction Hour (that really happened) or requesting that Kate Bush’s long-forgotten 1982 release, The Dreaming be ordered immediately (fortunately, that only cost about $8.99). But this past year in my new Chicago life, I worked an office job, and though I’ve had more money and more access to record stores than ever before, I stopped buying music since I listen to it online all day.

But it’s not just the context of my life that has prevented me from going to buy cds. It’s that the record-store-going life is attached to the whole business of being indie, which I no longer am/aspire to be.

Bands with animal names went in one ear and out the other in recent years: Panda Bear and Grizzly Bear? Whatevs and whatevs. Saggy sweaters and disheveled skinny jeans? Whatevs and whatevs. Beach Boys influence and lofi fuzz? Whatevs and also whatever.

But then there’s this one band that, though they are everything I hate, made two good songs. Grizzly Bear–not totally whatevs. I’ve been listening to Veckatimest today–and it’s pretty, okay, really boring. Except for this one song that you maybe heard six months before I did. It’s called “Two Weeks.”

Like Peter Bjorn and John in the good days before they made this song, “Two Weeks” is cute and melodic. And yet it somehow climbs the heights near enough to the Platonic ideal of “twee anthem” to sound like a revelation.

Pitchfork’s reader survey asks which trend you are most anxious to see die. Ultimately, I picked “lofi/shitgaze” (take that, wavvvvvvves!), but I was tempted to pick the “buttoned-up, prim indie,” trend, a la St. Vincent, Grizzly Bear and Andrew Bird. However, upon further reflection, this trend is okay by me, because singing and lyrics actually matter to the songwriters in this mini-genre. One of my biggest peeves with indie is the lack of auteurism and ownership when it comes to the words of a song and singing style; perhaps that’s why I’ve turned to the glittery egoism of pop music and the poetry of hip hop in recent months. Just ask Wavvvves dude if he cares about singing or lyrics, and he will just goth vomit on you. (That’s an inside joke with Wavvves dude about how much thought he put into his song titles.)

So, yes, “Two Weeks” shows an earnest effort at singing (as opposed to mumbling soullessly about one’s ennui!), at craft, at plucking heart strings.

But wait, Grizzly Bear has one other good song. It’s on the New Moon soundtrack, and it’s called “Slow Life.” (On a side note, I wish a fan would make a video for this song from New Moon footage, or help me do that.) This song awesomely includes Victoria LeGrand, the singer of Beach House. The song starts off unsuspectingly, just some minimal guitar strumming and a simple verse. But then there’s a cathartic pause and a Cure-esque tinkle of chimes; then a derge, like a cliff is falling away beneath one’s feet; then Victoria LeGrand’s voice, all subterranean force like an underwater volcano, crashes on to the scene, and instruments drift in from a distance to twinkle darkly in the moonlight … See? It’s a really dramatic song. Kinda like the movie.

Anyway, since Grizzly Bear only has two good songs, my faith in the genre isn’t fully restored. Even Jay-Z can’t change my mind about that.

New Moon = Women’s Fantasy

undying and undead love in action
undying and undead love, in action

I am a bit too proud to “let it go” when critics pan something I like. So I have to justify, through thought and theory, why something is good. And perhaps I should just let sleeping vampires lie… but I enjoyed almost every minute of New Moon, a movie most critics said was inferior to its predecessor.

So first I must start earlier in the franchise. This past weekend I re-watched Twilight, and was re-creeped out by Edward being such a fucking stalker.

Twilight‘s version of love is deeply melodramatic and unfeminist; but it speaks to cliches that are apparently still quite deeply embedded in little girls. Ed is exactly the kind of guy young women should avoid; he confesses he’s extremely protective of Bella; he watches her while she sleeps without permission; he stares at her unnervingly in public; his moods are unpredictable; he lies to her all the time; he even threatens to fang her. She laps it up. Yet it’s still easy to see why this portrait of clandestine love is appealing. Ed’s single-minded obsession is really hot; who wouldn’t want to be the fixation of a deliciously sexy Victorian goth boy? It also speaks to the narcissism of some types of love; we want to be craved, to be the focus of somebody else’s life. It’s also narcissistic because that consuming sort of love allows us to hide in that love and shut out the universe, thus becoming an excuse for all sorts of selfishness on the lovers’ behalves. The point is, the first movie is pretty fucked up. A better argument than I could ever make regarding this topic is featured in this hilarious youtube mash-up of Buffy and Edward.

Many critics regaled the first Twilight movie for being an ode to teenage love; but for real? Twilight offers mystical magnetism as the only explanation for Bella’s and Edward’s love. B & E apparently have nothing in common, and the only time they are shown to have what looks like a normal conversation occurs during a montage sequence with no sound but the music track. What the two lovers say during pedestrian conversation remains a riddle wrapped inside of a question mark! The only thing those two have in common is that they’d both like to die for each other. Not so realistic, methinks. (Mehopes!)

New Moon, despite featuring further proliferation of the supernatural, portrays the most realistic version of “teenage love.” And it doesn’t take place between Edward and Bella, but between Bella and Jacob the Wolfman. Jacob is such a muscled sweetie-pie, literally an All-American hunk o’ love; maybe our first Native American heartthrob? (Sadly, the actor isn’t really Native American, though he claims to be part Potowatami and Ottowa through his Michigander’s mom side.) Jacob and Bella pursue a common hobby (motorcycles), they take scenic drives, see movies called Facepunch, hang out with friends, etc, and do pretty normal stuff. Their attraction is grounded, it makes sense, and it is no less hot just because it is more realistic. (How could it not be hot? Those MUSCLES! Here is a slideshow of them. [Thanks, Rach])

Next critique: New Moon is long and boring, they say. Well, sure, it’s long, but is it drawn-out? That depends on your perspective. The awkward pauses, long glances and hesitant touches between Bella and her two loves make for luxuriously drawn-out courtship rituals. My sister and I squealed with delight every time it looked like something might happen between the romantic leads.

Which leads me to my next point (bear with me). This movie is fundamentally feminine in perspective and an escape from the drudgery of daily life, like a harlequin romance would be. And that’s why everyone thinks it’s stupid. New Moon really takes female desire seriously; Bella is at the center and the plot turns on her being the fixation of two really hot dudes (one of whom is shirtless in almost every scene). Bella isn’t as good looking as her two love interests; she’s an everygirl. She has brown hair, not blond, thank you very much, and she wears frumpy-ass poofy coats to school. She is the blank page on whom we project ourselves. And you know? This movie’s pace is feminine, as opposed to masculine. Fantasy movies for guys are full of car chases, then some sex scenes, probably some gadget scenes, more sex scenes, battles, etc. This fantasy movie is not so much full of events as it is the possibility of events: again, the luxurious pauses, etc. Desire simmers slightly below boiling for most of the movie, and what we’re left is the possibility of the gratification of desire.

We women just love that. I’d rather use my imagination than see a fantasy created for me on screen; New Moon is all about possibilities, and that’s why I can’t wait to watch it again.