Thursday, November 19, 2009

"Where are the Vampire Cranks?"

Edward Cullen, century-old high school senior. Kept having to repeat because he never matured. Image found here.

Matthew Yglesias, a smart guy (his liking Harvey Danger notwithstanding) asks the searching questions:

I like vampires, but I’m not a Twilight fan, as evidenced by the fact that it was only yesterday when I learned that instead of burning in the sun and dying like real vampires, Twilight vamps just . . . sparkle in the sunlight. Nonsense. And isn’t the idea of a dude who’s over 100 years old hanging out with a high school student pretty creepy and weird?

That in turn got me thinking about the aging process. Across various fictions, why don’t vampires exhibit more cranky old man characteristics? I’m only 28 and already I feel myself periodically overtaken by a desire to tell the young people all about How It Was Back in the Day. I’ll bore people with tedious stories about the old Monroe Street Giant in Columbia Heights before the fancy new stores opened, or about how there used to not be all this stuff on U Street but The Kingpin was the best bar in DC. Just yesterday, I think, a colleague and I were explaining to the rest of the ThinkProgress team that if the new progressive infrastructure and its blogosphere last for a thousand years, men will stay say the Social Security privatization fight of 2005 was their finest hour. If I ever attain immortality, I fully intend to harangue the young people of the future with nonsense about Voltron and how people think of Harvey Danger as a one-hit wonder but really that whole album’s underrated and had other good songs.

That and, you know, murder people in order to feast on their blood.
I ruefully confess that I am halfway through the Twilight Saga. This is because I have teenage daughters who have also read them. I have also seen the first two High School Musical films because I have daughters.

A syllogism:

I at least feign interest in the things my daughters are interested in.
My daughters are interested in the Twilight saga.
Ergo . . .

Because I respect my reader(s), I feel I should warn you: All this is a roundabout way of saying that on down the road, you may see a Twilight post or two here. A preview: The books are pretty bad all the way around, but they are bad in an interesting way, if a maddening one--that way being that you realize how good they could have been if they weren't so single-minded in their drive to be bad. But on the other hand, their badness may be not a bug but a feature. And there's also the more general question of Why vampires? And why now?

Anyway. You've been warned.


R. Sherman said...

I happened to be thinking similar thoughts the other day about a different genre of undead, to wit zombies. Given that The Road is set to open shortly, I was thinking that perhaps McCarthy's novel is really just an artistic take on the whole "apocalypse leads to flesh eating ghoul plague" schtick.

As for vampires, I'm old school. Give me Stoker's version any day.


Pam said...

Okay, I will look forward to this! I haven't read the book(s) - but did read 'Interview with the Vampire' by Anne Rice when it first came out in 1976 (I was in high school then) and loved it - and am fascinated by how this one is so different (I have friends who have read it - and who have seen the movie - the most common take is that think it's a bad movie for young girls, but essentially the main female character is in an abusive relationship, more or less. Also - one friend has a female friend that is enamored by the series - and feels like it is the whole 'unrequited love' thing that older women identify with (this woman is in her early 40s...). Anyway - a comparison between the Twilight author and Anne Rice might be interesting too - on the Anne Rice website is an interesting 'tutorial' study guide kinda thing that might be of interest.

So, we're gladly warned!

imani said...

I am eager to hear your thoughts on the last book which, by all accounts, is more suited to David Croenberg fans.

John B. said...

Finally--a chance to respond by, first, thanking you for responding.

Randall, I'm with you: give me my folktales unadorned. I'm also very curious about the upsurge in mass culture products featuring zombies--perhaps Pam can clue us in; I happen to know she's fond of zombies. But having declared that I prefer my folktales-as-rides un-pimped, I'm also enough a student of myth to know that if they don't change with the times to reflect contemporary concerns and values, they stagnate and eventually die. [Aside: it occurs to me that the literalist and inerrancy hermeneutics among some Christians have certainly contributed in some measure to the shocking Bible-illiteracy I find even--especially--among many of those same Christians.] Hence Edward's skin glittering in the sun rather than being burned by it and (something I hope to make some hay of in a future post) vampires' being able to see their reflections in mirrors after all. None of that is to say that these particular changes are good ideas; just that changes like them become necessary if we still want vampires among us in some sense.

Pam, like you I read Interview with the Vampire and liked it, but I couldn't finish The Vampire Lestat and didn't try the others. One was enough for me. What I liked about the Rice novel is that she doesn't fiddle with the old-school stuff but does delve into some good old vampirological existentialism. The two Twilight books I've read--I've just started the third one, Eclipse--touch on that a bit via Edward; but because Bella is their narrator, all that talk goes in one ear and out the other because it harshes the mellow that is her fantasy of becoming a vampire, too, and thus living forever with Edward. As for your friends' concerns, believe me: I share them. To love someone who says, again and again, "All that keeps me from killing you is my love for you" is not the healthiest of relationships.

Imani! What a very pleasant surprise to hear from you! I have been warned about the fourth book, and I admit to being nervous about reading it. It'd be nice to maintain my usual grad-school-cultivated detachment regarding these books as I read them, but I can't: My daughters (and their friends) have read and like them, and my classes are filled with young women who are, as one of them put it, "slightly obsessed" about them. And for me, much more frightening than vampires and werewolves is Bella's utter lack of introspection beyond her own desires.

More on all this later.

Anonymous said...

Hey! Your wife likes Harvey Danger.

I guess what just kills me about these books are how crazy the adults get over this stuff. I mean, honestly, we can't fault teenagers for having poor taste, but as an adult?!

I'm obsessed with myth, but in a different way. I find the elasticity of these tales to be fascinating, and I love to see how they change in a culture obsessed with verisimilitude.

Personally, I can't wait to hear you groan when you read the 4th book. I can hear it in my head now.

John B. said...

Hey there, love. Thanks for commenting.

Re otherwise sane, grown adults getting hooked on these books: This semester I've read not one but two papers by students who write about encouraging their mothers to read them, and they found themselves bonding over them. While I'm certainly not one to say that mother-daughter bonding over books is a bad thing, it still begs the question of Why these books? In the ones I've read, there's no end of tension between Bella and Charlie (her father)--and, don't forget, Bella moved to Forks to live with her dad because she thinks her mother is flaky (though that does change over time). It's a mystery.

The meaning of verisimilitude--its implications, that is--is one worth pondering.

We'll just have to agree to disagree about Harvey Danger, I'm sorry to say.