Monday, November 17, 2008

It was November fourth, I last held your hand

Last Friday, legions of teenage girls lined up in the rain in Saugus, Massachusetts hoping to get a glimpse of Robert Pattinson, erstwhile of the Harry Potter films, now the pretty young star of Twilight, soon to be relased. The movie is based on a series of young-reader books about vampires, the sort of PG-13 dark fantasy literature which has boomed in the last ten years, as evidenced by my occasional bookstore perusal of the teen section (intending to have some copy lying around if/when Junior ever gets into reading). Maybe they're anticipating the evolving Potter audience--Pattinson's star turn is appropriate--and certainly all these new series have been doing their damndest to capitalize on Rowling's success for a while now.

Twilight is about a young girl's attraction and relationship to a hundred-year-old vampire, conveniently stuck in the body of a seventeen-year-old boy. They find some common emotional ground. Against all traditions of the genre, this sort of teen vampirism is a big new thing. In addition to Twilight, HBO has been running True Blood based on another book series, where Rogue makes friends with the local Nosferatous Jeunes and they all try to fit into high school or something similarly insipid. I like a good fantasy now and again myself, but I this is not my brand. I'm not a teenage girl, for one thing, and for another, it's all just wrong, wrong, wrong.

It wasn't much better in my day, of course. The first inkling I had that vampires could be more compelling characters than Count Chocula came through that awful 1980s flick Fright Night, in which a teenage guy, with the help of a goofy old man, matches wits against the timeless specter who moves in next door. The kid wins out against the dark forces, but this generation of bad films didn't have it all wrong. Charlie's success is at the expense of his dignity (accurate: for teenagers, everything is at the expense of dignity), and the vampire sports a classy front, like he should. His bastard friend is the guy that inherits the curse and he was, let's face it, a whole lot cooler than Charlie Brewster. If your vampires must be young--and they do have to be new at some point--then they work better as outcasts and rebels. People who are already outsiders won't be have quite the same dorky constraints as, say, young Corey Haim. But then again, outcasts and rebels are Romance interests too, and I guess it was just a matter of time.

(Parenthetically, I see eighties cinema delivering a more powerful commentary on youthful lycanthropy. Werewolves fit into adolescence so much more perfectly. Teenagers know all about strange animal urges and the horror of sprouting hair in unexpected places.)

The popularity of vampires is enduring. They were early film stars, and maybe some aficionado can come along and tell me whether the image of a vampire as the charismatic seducer is an invention of Bram Stoker or Bela Lugosi. As folklore and cinematic convenience began to accrete around these creatures, certain character traits began to logically emerge. A nearly human creature that is immortal, confined to dark places, and yet must beguile its victims requires a certain temperment. Seduction requires a grasp (clinical or intuitive) of the desires of one's prey, and the pool of victims is selected from society's most gullible and dumb, just like a lion can spot the young and the sick in the herd. The vampire can't be expected to respect the passionate, transient emotional appeals of young humans. He's seen it all, anyway. The vampire has had centuries to accumulate style, and lifetimes to grow weary of the pleasures of the world, and it's no wonder they make such fine aristocrats. They may be attracted to innocence, and they may have private longings, but such a creature should know by now the inability of some young ingenue to fill their sophisticated emotional voids. The bloodsucker is wise of the world, good at manipulating people, and is possessed of a deep, well-earned cynicisim. He is, in other words, the polar opposite of an American teenager. He gets her easily, but it would take many years to get him. You're fooling yourself, Bella.

I'm all for messing with old stories--and nothing's been more messed-with than vampires--but it's good to respect the source material at least a little. Twilight just looks horrible in every way. I expect to see a copy in my daughter's hands any day now.



twiffer said...

it's things like this that make me so happy to have a son.


Keifus said...

I keep waiting for the prebuscent lunacy to hit, but the little girl defies my worst concerns at every opportunity. I seem to be growing wonderful people, in spite of being, you know, me.

bright said...

ha ha twiffer - boys like twilight too!

twif said...

no one ever accused bat boy of having good taste.

Thomas Paine said...

Can't believe it, but my 50-something wife and 23-year-old daughter, both bright, literate women, are both hooked on these books and are awaiting the movie with huge anticipation.