Nothing is as divisive as popular media.
It seems new fights explode every week. Fresh battles in a war between countrymen, each side viciously holding ground like hungry rabbits fighting over a limp carrot. On the left, patriots scream for blood over the cancellation of the latest Joss Whedon vehicle. On the right, a lone warrior in a cotton-weave fortress begging the masses to just “Leave Britney alo-o-one!”.
Think of the weeks following Transformers’ release in theaters. You could hardly walk ten blocks without getting caught up in an exuberant “Best movie ever!” or the mournful cry of “Michael Bay just raped my childhood!”.
But I’m not here to debate Transformers. And I’m not here to talk Michael Bay because, frankly, that’s an article for another day. I’m here for Twilight.
Since my first video I’ve had several requests from an old friend to do this. Honestly I was reluctant, but I finally caved. Yes Chloe, this article is your fault.
Now, anyone could rant about sparkling vampires. That’s too easy, and that’s not what I do. No, I’m here to navigate the no-man’s-land between pop culture and counter-culture. I’m here to defend Twilight to those who’ve written it off.
Here’s quick refresher to those who’ve forgotten, tried to forget, or simply ignored. The Twilight franchise focuses on the dangerous-but-sexy romance between a vampire and a girl on the cusp of adulthood. The series of books are pretty much the Harry Potter of vampires in terms of franchise success and age demographic.
Bella moves to a dreary small town. While attending the high school she falls for bad-boy hunk Edward, who turns out to be a little long in the tooth. In fact, his entire family is a little long in the tooth. Eddy lets Bella into the fold, and they have fun. There’s some fighting with bad vampires, but everything turns out rosy in the end. Oh, and there’s a baseball game in there somewhere. And brooding.
New Moon is more of the same, but with werewolves and 72% more shirtless men. Oh, and the evil vampires get some screen time.
Despite what you’ve heard to the contrary, Twilight and New Moon are well-paced, fun, and overall solid adaptations. Look, these films aren’t masterworks destined to stand as testament to artistic expression. They don’t delve into the mysteries of the human condition or reinvigorate the craft, but the filmmakers achieved everything they set out to achieve. The actors give solid performances, the script’s cleanly written, and the story is told effectively. The films deliver mindless entertainment. What else can really be asked?
As a side note, the first in the series set box office records for a movie with a female director and starring a woman. Somewhat sad we still have to make the distinction, but score one for gender equality, I guess.
There are two common complaints I want to address.
The first complaint: Bella is a selfish and weak female character who sets unrealistic expectations for relationships, and relies on those around her, mainly men, to save the day when she gets in over her head.
This is a legitimate point.
That said, a case could be made about the nature of the story being told. The Twilight saga is in no small part a coming-of-age tale. Characters in this kind of story generally begin as weaker or with unrealistic expectations over their place in the world but grow to become more rounded human beings.
In the meantime, parents should probably have a discussion with their daughters about how relationships actually function in the real world. And maybe a quick history lesson about the Women’s Lib movement.
I do have to give some credit to the franchise, though. There are several strong, well-rounded female supporting characters in the film.
The second complaint is, of course, the franchise’s watering down of the vampire mythos. Specifically that the franchise takes away all the negatives associated with being an undead creature of the night and then gives them a few superpowers to boot.
Part of what tempers the seductive quality of vampirism is the weaknesses that goes along with the lifestyle. To take these flaws away, it could be argued, takes away much of what defines a vampire.
For the uninitiated, here’s a rundown of some of the weaknesses vampires are missing in Twilight: direct sunlight (instead of bursting into flame, they get all sparkly), Italian cooking (garlic), cramped sleeping arrangements (no signs of any coffins so far), and the need for regular blood bank withdrawals (they’re vegetarians because they only drink the blood of animals… wait…).
What are we left with? According to Edward, as a vampire he has no immortal soul (because vampires have always been such devout Christians).
Of course, this isn’t the first time vampire mythology has changed.
You don’t have to dig very deep to find vampire-like creatures in the mythologies of China, Greece, Africa, North America, and practically every country in the world.
For our purposes, we’ll define a vampire as something that’s generally supernatural in origin and feeds on the blood or life-force of people for sustenance or in order to gain immortality.
In 18th century Europe, vampires would be described as decaying and fat from their blood feasting. They would sit up and moan when staked.
Looking to North America, you’ll find the Ojibwa, Cree, and/or Montagnais peoples’ Wendigo, a cannibalistic creature with a gaunt, emancipated appearance. One myth has a Wendigo trapped and burned alive by the very people it hunted, exploding into thousands of mosquitoes upon its death (ah, mosquitoes, natures little vampiric menace).
In Malaysia a woman who died in childbirth would come back as a Langsuir, a creature who would possess its victims and suck their blood from the inside until death. They were hideous and rotting with claws, red eyes, and holes in the backs of their necks.
The Indian goddess Kali was sometimes depicted as a ruthless being with fangs who drank blood from skulls.
In China, it was enough for a corpse to be jumped over by a cat and it would rise again as an undead creature, feeding on the lifeblood of the living.
The Russian church was so powerful that simply defying it in life was enough for a man to become a vampire in death.
I’m barely scratching the surface, but in the interest of brevity, let’s move on to the Dracula lineage.
His legacy really is what people are upset about with.
I don’t think there’s anyone who’s not aware Bram Stoker is responsible for the accepted modern vampire mythos. Most people are also aware that Stoker took a great deal of inspiration from the historical figure Vlad Dracul, better known as Vlad the Impaler.
Anyways, lets look at some of the rules and implications that come from Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The good Count, as long as he continued to drink blood, was immortal and ageless. Garlic, holy water, and crucifixes were all disliked, but not deadly. Once a day Dracula needed to sleep in dirt from his own country; hence the whole coffin thing (which would have dirt in it). He could make people into ghouls as well as into other vampires. At will, he could transform into creatures including a bat and a wolf. Perhaps most surprising: direct sunlight was not deadly.
I’ll just let you take in that last line for a second; direct sunlight couldn’t kill Dracula.
No, sunlight didn’t become weaponized until the first film interpretation of Dracula, 1922’s Nosferatu. It’s interesting to note also that the vampire of the film was implied to be a plague carrier and was about as far away from handsome as you can get.
A later adaptation, 1931’s Dracula was the version that really planted the seeds for the darkly charismatic vampires we’re familiar with. There were some elements of this in Nosferatu, but it was really the later Dracula that spawned the sex appeal.
As the 20th century rolled on, writers and filmmakers picked and chose the rules that suited them and adapted them as they saw fit. The coffin was kept, but the dirt was abandoned. The shape shifting was restricted to bats. The dark sex-appeal moved more and more to the center stage. The overall vampire power-set really got ramped up, giving them superpowers rivaling many comic book heroes.
These days it seems like your average vampire has super-strength, super-speed, flight, heightened senses, immortality, eternal youth, and the ability to turn into a bat at will.
Where do I sign up?
BRINGING IT ALL TOGETHER
Twilight’s diversions from the accepted vampire norm aren’t the first and are certainly far from the most dramatic changes our favorite creatures of the night have gone through. From the wild abandon of Lost Boys to the deformed monsters of From Dusk Til Dawn to the tortured souls of Interview with a Vampire, the genre has seen dramatic fresh blood, so to speak. This is just the latest in a long tradition of reinvention.
Without reinvention and new ideas, anything will grow stagnant and die.
Even if you are still dead-set against Twilight and its ilk, there’s another way of looking at this situation. The success the books and films have had have turned the spotlight towards vampires again. As a result we’re getting a whole slew of fresh genre offerings, and not just aimed at Twilight’s audience either.
Sure, Daybreaker’s wasn’t the antidote purists were hoping for, but it was a step in the right direction.
That antidote was the recent Swedish Let the Right One In, which has been hailed by many critics and filmgoers as the best vampire movie of modern times, if not of all time. It’s listed as the only bloodsucker movie on IMDB’s list of the top 250 rated films of all time, and is one of only 3 horror flicks with a mention.
If you’re looking to the bookshelves, there’s the new Dracula The Un-Dead, the first official sequel to Bram Stoker’s Dracula. By all accounts, it’s average, but I’d expect it’s a welcome counterpoint for those who want something darker than pretty faced vampires.
The point? I’m fine with giving credit where it’s due; to the Twilight saga for its part, large or small, in keeping the bloodline fresh.
Until next time, I’m the Trenchcoat Anti-Critic.