Oh, Buffy, where have you gone when we need you?
With the latest batch of vampire romances, I’ve noticed a somewhat alarming trend: All the vampire heroes you know, the immortal dead-inside blood suckers who possess tremendous strength and superpowers are male. The vampire lovers the comparatively weak, fragile humans who are bound by mortality are female.
Lady vampire lover of yore (also known as 1997), Buffy Summers, while human, was at least a Slayer, also endowed with vampire-butt-kicking superpowers. She also died twice without truly dying. And although she’s been known to be seduced by the brooding vampire sex appeal, she never loses her mission: Rid the world of as many evil blood-sucking monsters as possible.
But here in 2009, we no longer have Slayers. We have pensive, conflicted vampires and the moody young women who love them: “The Vampire Diaries” teen drama just debuted on The CW last Wednesday; the “True Blood” Season 2 finale aired Sunday on HBO; and the second movie in the “Twilight” saga, “New Moon” hits the big screen on Nov. 20.
Ain’t them the breaks? FINALLY you meet a guy, and it’s always something. “Hey Mom, I met the perfect guy, and he says he would totally date me, if he weren’t already with a live-in girlfriend … Wow, this boy I just met is sooo dreamy; too bad he’s moving to another country next week …”
Pfft! Those are garden-variety problems. What if your dream man is cursed for all eternity? What if you’re always unsure whether he’s looking at you with burning sexual desire or just craving a juicy human steak? What if he’s an old soul who can hold his superior life experience over your head while he’s in state of arrested development always the sulking, skulking teenage boy?
Let me preface this by saying that I have not read the “Twilight,” “The Vampire Diaries” or “The Southern Vampire Mysteries” books, so the complaints I’m logging are based solely on what’s on the screen and may well be dealt with in the novels. Let’s talk about what we’ve seen so far …
Starting with “Twilight,” which I enjoyed more than I would like to admit.
In the movie, though, we actually don’t know anything about the heroine, Bella Swan. Kristen Stewart is beautiful and mysterious. She’s clumsy and hates dancing. She also hates shopping, clothes, sports, and surfing. But what does she like? Apparently, she mostly likes getting the gorgeous boy no else can have and the threat of dying any minute. Edward the vampire, who nobly abstains from eating people, can play piano and baseball and can fly, so he’s the rock star of this movie, and she’s the groupie. Why can he not read her mind and her mind only? Is it too full or too empty?
Also, when Bella touches Edward’s hand the first time, she flinches at his coldness, and soon ascertains that he’s what the Indians call a “Cold One.” Does he even have a heartbeat or breath? As pretty as Robert Pattinson is, that doesn’t seem very appealing cuddling with a man who feels like an ice sculpture. That boy is ice cold! Wear your thermals!
(You give me the chills!)
Most disturbing to me, though, is that Edward is a complete jerk to her for half the movie, an emotional roller coaster promising to end in a train wreck, and Bella just can’t let it go. When he puts on a display of his overwhelming speed and strength, his potential for violence, and explains how he craves to kill specifically her, she gets starry-eyed and tells him she doesn’t care and she thinks it’s love. (Because bloodlust is just as romantic and loving as sexual desire?) And when he says everything about him is a charade to draw her in, she insists she trusts him. She continues protesting that facing the threat of her mother’s death, facing her own death and breaking her leg in the process, it was all worth it, because she found Edward. Yet he won’t make her a vampire and his wife, even though she clearly wants nothing more and has nothing better to do. Jerk.
A friend commented that he felt as though the moment Bella told Edward, “I’m not scared,” she became the powerful and interesting one. To me, though, it’s nothing like the brilliant scene in “The Labyrinth” where Sarah states to the Goblin King, “You have no power over me,” and his whole world crumbles. Sarah is rejecting his offer of false, manipulative love. Here, Bella is told “I am deceiving and manipulating you to lure you into the jaws of death,” and she counters with irrational feelings of love and trust.
That brings me to the debut of “The Vampire Diaries” TV show on The CW …
The “Diaries” books pre-date the “Twilight” books by a decade, so it’s intriguing how similar these two storylines are. An emotionally detached, cynical dark-haired beauty named Elena (whom, like Bella, is preferred by all boys in the school to the perky, easy blond cheerleader) attracts Stefan, the handsome, deep, emo guy all the girls are swooning helplessly over. Elena can’t swoon, because, like him, she is also feeling dead inside with reason, because her parents just died. Stefan, like Edward, has given up noshing on people, but she, her blood specifically, stirs up “urges” in him, and I wish we were talking about a boner.
(Stefan kind of looks like Morrissey. How apropos! Also, he and Edward both share the ability not to get toasted by the sun.)
This love story in this one, so far, I like better, just because Elena has no reason to believe her new boy is a vampire. Her blood-sucking suitor has been entirely warm and pleasant. Man, is she in for a MAJOR letdown.
On the other hand, “True Blood”, created by Alan Ball, the man who brought us “Six Feet Under,” has vampires living out in the open, drinking synthetic blood. The show, based on the “The Southern Vampire Mysteries” by Charlaine Harris, deals with complex, adult issues such as discrimination, fetishism, and religion perhaps in a heavy-handed way. Enter the dysfunctional immortal-mortal romance.
Sookie (pronounced Suck-KAY) the psychic human waitress is completely taken with Bill, the gorgeous, brooding vamp. Thankfully, characters on the show are always voicing the obvious red flags these romantic heroines are always shrugging off:
“You set up a date with a vampire. What do you have? A death wish?”
“The fact you think you’re gonna be fine just proves how not fine you’re gonna be. Vampires think about one thing, and one thing only: Drinking. Your. Blood.”
(Vampire suitor bares his fangs.) “I think we need to stop seeing each other.”
Yes, Sookie is clearly a bit kooky. Bill, too, has the cold-hands problem. “I’m afraid I’m not as warm as the men you must be accustomed to.” I wish Sookie didn’t give off such a stench of desperation. As in, “I don’t really ever get close to a warm man’s body, so your cold dead one will do just fine.” Sookie echoes Bella when Bill tells her, “I am a vampire, and you are mortal,” and she answers, “Who cares?” At least the sexy part of their courtship is just a blood-drinking fetish and not a full-on “I think about killing you more than most people” love letter.
Possibly the most upsetting aspect of these stories, particularly the ones for teens is this: You take the typically unrealistic romantic teen fantasy filled with angst and unhealthy obsession and inject it with this idea that thirst for blood and violence are equated to love and sex. My friend also sees Edward is valiant, because it takes everything in him, fighting his own instincts to not kill her. Is that how we define romance these days? “I didn’t hit you, I didn’t rape you, because I love you. Aren’t you grateful? I am a prince!”
Sure, I understand it’s all a metaphor for losing your virginity, but it’s a disturbing one. Because the girls are always the innocents, who are at risk of have their lives forever destroyed and altered. The guys, meanwhile, are cold and dead and really not facing any sort of catastrophic change.
Mostly, though, these stories, I believe, appeal to young women who are attracted to tragic love the bittersweet ideal of a romance that’s dangerous and unstable and something a girl can’t ever really HAVE without a tremendous sacrifice.
I having been a girl attracted to tragic, bittersweet love stories not so long ago am over all the moping and hand-wringing. I can’t wait till they bring “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” back. Please, don’t screw it up!