Monday, November 24, 2008

"Twilight": another tale of the awful plight of the troubled white serial killer

Where the vampire's otherness posed a terrifying threat for the original readers of Dracula, [...] today that same alien quality is often perceived as an attraction. As rebellious outsider, as persecuted minority, as endangered species, and as member of a different "race" that legend portrays as sexually omnicompetent, the vampire makes a fitting hero for late twentieth-century popular fiction. --"The Vampire as Alien in Contemporary Fiction", by Margaret L. Carter, p. 29 of Blood Read.

The white, dark-haired, not-so-badboy is back. His name is Edward Cullen and he's "sexier", and paler, than ever. Edward is keeping his damsel-in-distress, Bella Swan, out of trouble with the enemies of true white love--you know, those with the "longest incisors". Keep in mind the story of The Ugly Duckling--with feathers all stubby and brown--the first three and a half minutes of this YouTube video tells the tale. Only when it becomes a white swan does it become bella, or beautiful. So of course he's desired by and desires a young thin pale white woman--duh! ("Out" gay men and butch lesbians of any color are not likely to make the cut as "the romantic love interest" anytime soon in a major motion picture.) And of course he desires to BE WITH HER ALWAYS (creepy!), never letting him out of his sight, or, well, to be her soulmate. (Too often in real life: same diff.) This is where this story lures us in: is he a bad "irresistable" pale guy who wants to be good, or a good guy whose passions will lead him to be bad? Even without long incisors, we are aware he carries danger somewhere inside himself... perhaps in his molars.

It sometimes gets confusing as to who exactly is evil in racist Western patriarchal cultural mythology. But generally speaking, in cinema, all that is white, including good-whiteguy cowboy hats, represents good. All that is dark or black, including bad whiteguy cowboy hats, as well as anyone with unpale or "black" skin and allegedly "black" eye color, is ominous, dangerous, and just plain evil. The 1960s campy TV vampire soap opera was called "Dark Shadows" not "Sunny Days" for a reason. More on Twilight's racism a bit later.

This story draws on themes that go all the way back to the Old Testament (with that original irresistible white temptress who only makes the weak white man feel badly about himself for giving into temptation). Is this another telling of male supremacy's Adam and Eve'l or Romeo and Juliet? Well, the woman in such myths is a threat to a man's well-being or she's dead; or, in vampire films, perhaps a combination of both.

This is the dilemma our newest pale male vampire faces in Twilight: to love Bella, be with her, as an abnormal human doing his best to assimilate, or to steel himself away from her, for her own good. Edward isn't your common cannibal, after all. He only goes after non-human animals for snacks, unlike the other more overtly predatory heteromale vampires in this film, such as James--a common cannibal who really hates vampires who won't suck the life out of people who are (only) human. (Figuring out what to serve such a lot at a U.S. holiday supper must get so problematic. I don't get the sense anyone would be all that happy with tofurkey.)

In Edward and James we have the eternal inner struggle of the perrenially tormented pale vampire: To bite/penetrate/kill or not to bite/penetrate/kill? For Edward, a diet of pets may suffice. But not so for James, whose specific tastes might be termed Bellatarian. Good vampire vs. bad vampire. Each battling for the love, or blood, of Bella. The subtitle to this film could just as well be "It's Hard Out Here for a Vampire". Poor fellas. Poor Bella--drawn to a man who cannot love her without the risk of her being destroyed. Here is the painful passion found in many abusive relationships: she wants him, but he's not good for her; he wants her, but his love might result in her death. But back to fiction.

Vampire movies are, historically, a Hollywood film genre known for eroticising pale male violence against [traditionally] young thin white women, in that "oh-so-sexy-while-creepy" way. Sure, there was that 1994 ECD oh-so-controversial Brad Pitt-Tom Cruise homoeroticism pervading some scenes in Anne Rice's best-seller brought to the screen, Interview with the Vampire". (And, the blogger noted sarcastically, they really pushed the envelope regarding who is seen as handsome in Hollywood with that film, eh?)

We might note the number of women involved in the maintenance of this genre. I suspect because these stories are, on the surface, more romance and passion than ugly predation and woman-killing. (Male writers and directors still hold the market on the bloodier, "terrify, fuck, and kill the woman" films. But given the racist-sexist pornographication of Western society, it matters not if the story is written by a woman or a man. All these lines between love, romance, danger, and death have been blurring for some time. Terror and horror can be themes in a dominant society that won't own the real horrific and terrible things that it does, like, say, keeping a genocide going on this soil.

In fact, the blending of racism (not just symbolically), heterosexism, the potential and impending death of a woman or women, spiced with turn-on or terror, is something that U.S. films and many top rated TV shows just can't exist without. For Hollywood, leaving the violence out of sexist and racist themes, and the sexism and racism out of violence, would, well, be like depriving a predatory heteromale vampire of fresh female blood. Well, the female blood that comes from the neck area*.

[*There are plenty of tired, misogynist jokes about male vampires being drawn to women who are having their periods. The idea with this humor is that it is "gross" (hence funny) because, you must understand, menstruating women are really gross, so men say. Menstruation = gross = funny. Yes, this does mean dominant male society's emotional maturity level is perpetually in elementary school. Perhaps because of being raised in the company of plenty of girls and women, I've never understood the aversion to menstrual blood. Women friends and I have discussed using it in political work. For me, the more it is in men's faces the better. Why is it "in vogue" to cover women's faces in men's semen? Because it shows who is degrading whom, and that semen is gross, not hot, when it touches female flesh. (In gay male pornography, it's only hot, because it never touches female flesh.)

I can't seem to get through to my gay and heterosexual brothers on this topic. They'll shriek and cringe like, well, the misogynistic mensesphobic grown men they are, when I bring up the subject of menstrual blood. They share stories of personal "horror" such as when a young or older man finds external evidence lying around of a woman having her period, such as when a woman doesn't waste water by not flushing the toilet when there's drops of blood in it as well as urine, or when the disposal of a tampon or pad is shamelessly left atop a bathroom wastebin "insufficiently" cocooned in toilet paper. The key to understanding misogynist men's attitudes about women and blood is this: blood from the uterus--not sexy. Blood from any other area of a woman--sexy. Menstrual blood is not the kind of blood men eroticise in (or on) women because it is a sign of pre-menopausal women's health, and life. Women bleeding is, in the misogynistic imagination, supposed to be fused only to the possibility of female death. Of course this still allows men the pornographic option of being the violent cause of women's internal bleeding, anywhere in her body, including down there.]

But where were we? Ah yes: misogyny and racism.

Pale white is the dominant U.S./U.K. new (oh, and not-so-new, and olden days) "beautiful", according to fables, Hollywood, Madison Avenue, and corporate pimps. Surely you remember: "Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the fairest one of all?" and all that other racist-hetero/sexist children's story horseshit. But the claims of the vampire as another race gets tricky in a film like this one. For there are, [SPOILER ALERT!!] actual people of color depicted in this movie. In typical Hollywood racist fashion, American Indians have "a role" to play in this film, and, unfortunately, it's not solely to remind the pale-faced leeches to go back to Transylvania... or wherever in Europe we came from. Here, they can be werewolves. (Wait: isn't that basically how Hollywood has ALWAYS presented American Indians?) As such, they become "animals" for white-night-crawling vampires to drain. (Sarcasm alert:) Humans as animals: nothing sexist or racist about that!

As for the hidden and not-so-hidden misogynist violence within this genre, one need only note that in the 2008 ECD vampire TV show True Blood, there was reference to a "fang-banging". (The dots are all connected, it's just that we're trained to see only dots, no lines.) Curiously, this time it's the TV show that could "go there" while this movie, rated [SPOILER ALERT!!] PG-13, doesn't quite. Ah, the allure of the long period of longing in heterosexual seduction. The endless wait for consummation, a word which means to bring to fruition, to fuck if newly married, and to terminate. (How quaint of the English language to offer up such a term.)

Twilight, according to reports, handles this topic of consummation in an way that shouldn't upset too many folks who are into the whole white Christian conservative spawned (and miserably failing) phenomena of the "virginity pledge" and the "Purity Ring".

There will be no "sex" (meaning, OF COURSE, genital-to-genital male-with-female intercourse) in this new film! Sparing the audience of predominantly white, middle class adolescent girls and their moms of scenes of consummation means you have a Disney-tame plot line with enough sexual tension to take us through several sequels, or centuries: whichever comes first. It also means that grown men are not so likely to go see this one. (We're virtually all addicted to Internet porn anyway, so "Bye, ladies, have fun at the movies!" This is not to say one need leave home to see fangy-toothed men portrayed graphically.

For example, you may have seen this vampiric theme on CSI:


In overtly sexually violent
Vogue magazine photos, and in this more "tame" Vogue image in which such thin white young women seem to walk the line, visually, between life and death.

And in the news, men serially murdering women is also nothing new. To modify a famous quote by C. A. MacKinnon: Man kills women; subject verb objects. There has even been a real life vampire serial killer.

Academics, too, have tackled this theme. For an especially good analytic piece on the subject, see this.

I can only wonder about the on-going jokes of the dashing draculesque dude having blue-balls, and not just because he's so damned cold all the time. All I can say is: Edward Cullen, take matters into your own hands. If you don't get to that nubile female human blood in time, what's the worst thing that can happen? Oh, right: you die, for good.

To Edward, James, and any readers of this blog who happen to be vampires, I recommend that you leave white women, men and women of color, and non-human animals alone and go crawl into a coffin.

Male pale-faces, go home to Transylvania!

Hey, Edward--what do you think of that idea?

I thought so.

Get ready for the sequels, folks.

For a whole book on this subject, see Blood Read: The Vampire as Metaphor in Contemporary Society, edited by Joan Gordon and Veronica Hollinger.

If interested in more plot details, see here.

For discussion and analysis of the racism in the book (which spills over into the film), click here.

For a wonderfully transgressive fictional spin on the same ole plot, see Jewelle Gomez's The Gilda Stories. A review of her book is here.

(Revised on Nov. 25)

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