I ignored Twilight for a long time because I'm not interested in vampire fiction. Twilight is actually great for me to use as a prop when I discuss why, because it is every vampire romance trope, turned to eleven. For those of you coming in late, it is the story of an unabashed Mary Sue with a random quality that makes her arbitrarily irresistable to vampires, who of course acquires an overbearing, stalkery vampire boyfriend who spends a lot of time fighting, and talking about fighting, his visceral desire to kill and eat her. Along the way there's some business with a more boy-next-door type werewolf who oscillates from friend to boyfriend, a tiny amount of plot, and a half-vampire chestburster baby that may be the single funniest thing in all of Western literature.
Aside from the chestburster thing, this has all been written many times before, right down to the roles of the characters in the love triangle and the total uselessness of the protagonist, though I don't think I've seen a more perfect distillation of the story. I'll tell you a secret: there was a long period in my early adolescence when my father was basically absent and my mother refused to buy me books or take me to the library, but bought herself paranormal romances sometimes in batches of as many as ten or fifteen. This is a horrible thing to do to a voracious reader who is just learning to recognize really bad writing for what it is and has already worn out the spines on The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and Life on Earth. Anyway, the upshot is that (barring major innovations in the last decade) I know this shit front and back, and I loathe it, because nothing changes disinterest in a genre to hatred faster than not having anything else to read.
But I understand why there's so much of it. The heart of the genre is that dynamic that is writ large, probably with a sparkly font, in Bella and Edward of the Twilight series: I could kill you at any time but I won't because I love you/this is pretty fucking scary but I know you'll stop if it's too much for me. This is BDSM fiction for fourteen-year-old girls (of various ages and sexes). I am not in that demographic, so it does nothing for me; when I want BDSM fiction I just read BDSM fiction. And as a consumer of straight-up BDSM fiction, I find most vampire romances risibly tame anyway, while the whole vampire thing obscures the things about that subtype of BDSM dymanic that appeal to me, and tends to bring in elements of blood play, which I regard with the same exasperation with which I regard watersports: goddammit, you got your bodily fluids in my porn again.
There's also a powerful undercurrent in a lot of this material that I'm going to characterize as partaking of the daddy play dynamic¹ rather than the Electra complex dynamic because I think the former is more accurate, and again Twilight is such a perfect example it's like I fucking made it up. Bella, who is seventeen or eighteen, is small, fragile, clumsy, ineffectual, frequently injured, and faints a lot. Edward is something like a hundred years old and is horrifyingly controlling, naggingly protective, and spends a lot of time carrying her around and transgressing her personal boundaries: temperamentally he's much more like a full-grown man (a creepy one) than a teenaged boy, and theoretically makes more sense as a father figure than as her boyfriend. Yet unlike an actual man, Edward has a perfect, hairless body and refuses to have sex with Bella,² such that however many advances she makes, there is no threat of actual sex happening. Jacob the
Anyway, into my life of blissful indifference to the whole Twilight phenomenon comes cleolinda with Twilight in Fifteen Minutes, which is of unusually high quality even for a Movie in Fifteen Minutes, and contains a bunch of links to cleolinda's recaps of the Twilight books. And I find myself shoving these things through my eye-holes as fast as I can, and something changes in my brain. Through cleolinda I have realized that, while this is not the most fantastically horrible fiction ever written by any means, it is certainly the most fantastically horrible to ever become this kind of enormous media phenomenon, and I have become some kind of freakish, shambling fanboy fanboy.
I still have no interest in reading the Twilight books, because I'm obviously not going to enjoy them. There's a good chance I'll never bother to see the movie. But I cannot get enough of secondary media about them. Parodies, commentaries, lolpires,³ anything I can get my hands on. When I saw Roger Ebert's review of the film was up, it was like Christmas in my brain. I hardly recognize myself. Oh my god, I can't wait for the fourth movie. How are they going to do the chestburster scene? Can't wait. To tide myself over I have this frame from the trailer, which is good for an unsuppressable spasm of laughter every time I think about it. Perhaps the greatest things to come out of this phenomenon are a couple of interviews with Robert Pattinson4 (on the left there, playing Edward) in which he apparently forgets he's talking to the press, suddenly becomes extremely focused and begins to talk about his hatred for his character and his horror and bemusement at the source material.
So ... in related news, I just pulled a True Blood marathon. Wait! It's not as ironic as it sounds!
This is cleolinda's fault also. She is ruining my life. After I finished the Twilight recaps I wandered over to the True Blood ones. Unlike Twilight, True Blood comes off very well in her recaps, and I have two scarves to finish before Christmas, which means consuming a lot of audiovisual media. There are things about it that are not as good as the recaps made me hope they would be, but it's still a pretty damn good show. While I was reading the Twilight recaps I kept thinking that the world needed some fiction in which the woman in that stupid love triangle with the distant, mysterious vampire and nice-guy werewolf refuses to play along with their bullshit, because my creative impulse is fuelled mostly by resentment and spite. This is that fiction. Which is great, because it means I don't have to do it.
True Blood was created by Alan Ball, based on some books I've never heard of and don't intend to read, though if the show represents them accurately they may have been conceived as a direct poke in the eyes of Stephanie Mayer, Laurell K. Hamilton et al. Ball's other show of note is Six Feet Under, which was well-written, well-acted, beautifully shot and totally fucking unwatchable: I cannot tolerate shows that are about nothing but loathsome people being horrible to each other under the guise of affection. True Blood is less of a visual feast, unless you really, really like Anna Paquin's legs, but the first- and second-tier characters all range from acceptable to show-stoppingly awesome.5
I think I am not entirely the intended demographic here either, because every time Bill the Vampire goes all Sinister Vampire I begin laughing and cannot stop until he desists. Some of the vampire stuff seems so self-parodic -- like the protagonist, Sookie, running barefoot in a filmy empire-waisted nightgown to Bill the Vampire's house to bang him in front of the fire in summer in Louisiana: are you shitting me? -- that I wonder if it's not the correct reaction after all, if probably still the minority reaction. In the context of this genre the actor who plays him reads strongly as a werewolf to me -- I don't know, maybe it's the stubble -- which just makes everything weirder.
I had intended to analyze Sookie's refusal to go in the damsel box no matter how hard half the other characters on the show are trying to shove her in there, but on further consideration, I'm going to let the season one finale speak for me. All episode, Things Have Been Falling Together as regards the identity of the serial killer who has been a topic of discussion all season. Events culminate in a confrontation in a graveyard ... during which Sookie, who is not an Action Girl, decapitates the killer with a spade while Bill the Vampire is lying in a useless pile of smoldering carbon compounds a hundred feet away, the werewolf (not really) next door is stark naked and apparently unconscious on the ground, and I'm rocking back and forth in my chair and laughing with glee. Fuck, yes.
I leave you with one last observation. Halfway through the season, Stephen Root shows up as a nebbishy gay vampire. Jimmy James. The man so nice they named him twice. Gay vampire. I just ... okay. Sure. He's a good actor and he sells the role, but ... Jimmy James.
¹ It took me ages to understand this dynamic, because I don't grok blood families at all. Mommy/daddy play is apparently commonest among people who had poor or nonexistent relationships with their parents because it fills a need that was never satisfied; I had poor-to-nonexistent relationships with both of my parents, and what it did to me was cauterize the need so entirely that I can't understand it except in the most distant, intellectual way. (I have good relationships with my father and sister now, but my familial relation to them is a weird complication of my affection, not a foundation.) You can see this in my writing. I think of families as machines for creating children with conflicting combinations of traits. Biracial much? I am so transparent sometimes it embarrasses me.
² Not that I wouldn't advise actual men in the audience against having sex with Bella also. Her last name is Swan. Keep an eye out, and don't go there.
³ To my knowledge, I just made this word up. Which is why I should not be in charge of making up fandom jargon.
4 Who, like a lot of male actors that age, started off kind of unearthly but, now that he's matured a bit, is just starting to look really peculiar. My obsession means I've seen a lot of images of him recently and I have the same 'what, really?' reaction every time.
5 He takes off his earrings. Oh, Lafayette. Please don't be dead.