Friday, November 21, 2008

My boyfriend is a vampire

This weekend marks the release of the feature film, Twilight, based on the first in Stephenie Meyer’s quartet of young adult novels featuring the awkward human teen, Bella Swan and her beautiful and perfect vampire boyfriend Edward Cullen. Haven’t seen the film yet—not bold enough to venture out to last night’s midnight screenings—and promised my sister a joint outing to see it over Thanksgiving weekend anyway. But I’ve read the book and am thisclose to being done with Breaking Dawn, the fourth and final in the series. I’m pretty sure I’ve already encountered the major plot points of BD, and if there is a surprise twist I’m not expecting, well, I’ll be pretty damn surprised.

These books are not exactly stellar works of writing, or plotting, or characterization, or really any of the things one might want in a novel. But I kept reading after Twilight, which I picked up in order to be in on the tweens-and-their-moms buzz, so there must be something there that’s drawing me back.

Maybe it’s the vampire boyfriend. There’s a lot of them floating around these days. Buffy’s Angel, of course, but also Sookie Stackhouse and her vbf. (I’m trying to coin a slang term here, so please keep up) of the Charlaine Harris books and HBO series, True Blood, as well as Edward, dreamy vbf of the moment. I’ve read the first in the Harris series and have been watching True Blood, though am, per usual, a couple of episodes behind. There’s no real competition for Buffy and Angel in any of this, so I kind of want to put them aside as exceptional. But certainly all three vbf stories have something in common. (Just remembered another! The short-lived CBS series of last season, Moonlight, with the young blonde reporter and her vbf—too lazy to go look up character names.)

In vbf stories, there is an inherent obstacle to the characters’ couplehood—namely, that vbf, as gorgeous and attentive as he might be—could also kill you, or make you all coffin-sleeping immortal, or revert to his soulless origins and cruelly dump you—if his manly passions get the better of him. Girls just know that guys aren’t so good at keeping those manly passions in check and, after all, what hetero-leaning girl doesn’t want to be the object of the perfect guy’s manly passions? Herein lies the problem—the thing you want most, that wants you most, could be very, very bad for you. Sigh.

In the Twilight series, the hook, if you could call it that, is that Edward is actually very good for Bella, and good to her. He nobly restrains his passion for her, like, indefinitely, for fear of doing her in, and many others have rightly noted that this makes him a supremely safe fantasy object for very young girls contemplating heterosexual sex but freaked out about it all the same. Edward is the abstinence king who really, really loves her like crazy anyway. Interestingly, this is the dimension of the books that has kept me from really getting into the Bella/Edward romance—well, that, and the fact that Bella is a supremely uninteresting young woman. (I think this is actually part of the appeal for many—she is so plain, so unremarkable, that you could actually be in her shoes—it’s not a far stretch to imagine since she is no more impressive than you.) I’ve been much more into the possibility/fantasy of a Bella/Jacob romance, Jacob being B’s bff, rival to Edward for Bella’s affections, and oh yeah, a werewolf. Jacob’s passion for Bella is much less restrained than Edward’s, plus she could actually have a real human life with him and he is unlikely to kill her when they have sex—seems like a no-brainer choice to me but, alas, events thus far in Breaking Dawn have indicated that Jacob is totally off the canvas as a romantic possibility for Bella, which I think may be why I’ve lost enthusiasm for the books and have yet to finish the last one. Up till a certain point in BD, I held out hope for a proper romantic triangle. Now that I’m pretty sure all such hope is gone, not so into it.

The other vbf stories make the vbf a much more appealing choice—for all the typical vbf reasons listed above but also because he doesn’t go to the extreme of protecting her by squelching his passion. True Blood is getting way too much of its mileage from its premium cable raciness, but I admit that Bill and Sookie are a pretty hot pair. Bill’s got old school gentlemanly charm (he was a Civil War soldier when turned vamp) as well as manly man passion and toughness. And he respects Sookie as pretty tough herself, as well as capable of things he is not (reading minds). She’s a great character, a million times more interesting than Bella (and definitely enhanced by Anna Paquin’s performance—I like on-screen Sookie better than I did on-page Sookie). I’m not going to get into the multiple appeals of Buffy and Angel as a pair, or Buffy and Spike, for that matter (TWO vbfs! Buffy is awesome).

In any case, the non-Twilight vbf stories find ways to create dramatic and sexual tension between the couple, to put up obstacles to their romance, without requiring the woman to be helpless, hapless, and hopeless. Having a vampire for a boyfriend is quite enough of a problem on its very own.


Kristina Busse said...

I like the vbf concept :)

And we could probably add a few more. How about Natalie and Nick in Forever Knight and Vicky Nelson and Henry Fitzroy in Blood Ties, the all too short-lived recent Lifetime series?

tvfan said...

I used to like watching the Dark Shadows reruns when I was a kid. But I never once watched Buffy, possibly due to the effects of testosterone on my viewing preferences.

Dan Heath said...

OK, first to TVFAN: Testosterone shouldn't be a roadblock to Buffy. I've gotten several testosterone-soaked friends into the show. And if you can sink your teeth into the early Season 1 episodes that play more like Goosebumps books than anything else, you'll be hooked for the rest.

Second, to the Doctor herself, after we talked SVM/True Blood (awesome to see you, btw), I'm so glad to find you had a vamp post for me to come home to. I agree with the fantasy about how the hetero girl is seeking a guy that can be very bad for her, but I think it's a little more than that in BVS, SVM, or their other stories of after-dark romance. The girl, try as she might, is only dealing with a fling that can't solidify into something serious. However many adventures they have, she's dealing with nothing more than a romantic, after-dark booty call that has no potential to develop into whatever traditional couples do, like 4th of July picnics or parent/teacher conferences. She's in it for the good parts once the sun goes down, and the vbf does the walk-o-shame before sunrise and leaves her with the day to herself. It's fun, but most importantly it lacks social expectations of women in long-term relationships.

If I'm wrong, then where are the vgf stories?

Also, I'm definitely going to make vbf happen.

Elana Levine said...

Totally right, Dan, about the non-normative appeals of the vbf. This is another problem for the Twilight series, in which Bella and Edward (ESPECIALLY Edward) are all about the normative hetero-monogamous coupling. Much more appealing as fantasy when you know that part of things can't happen. Thanks for adding that--I knew there was more going on and hadn't put my finger on it.