Saturday, July 12, 2008

I Vant to

Gail Collins' Op-Ed today is about teenagers and vampires. It's hard for me to say which group is more monstrous, but either way Collins gets props for her brave foray into the ungodly popular series of teen vampire novels called The Twilight Saga.

These novels, the fourth of which, Breaking Dawn, is due out in August, were apparently written by a Mormon housewife who dreamed up the characters one night and received novelistic dictation from them thereafer. The plot revolves around a high school girl named Bella who snags the attention of her classmate, a vampire named Edward. Important things to note are that Edward hasn't fallen for anyone else in over 100 years of undead existence (possibly his technique is rusty). Furthermore, he and Bella can't have sex: something to do with the supernatural consequences of the heat of the moment. So, according to Collins, "they are forced to spend all their time kissing and cuddling and talking about their feelings."

According to my YA librarian friend, teenage girls can't get enough of this stuff.

What interests me, though, isn't so much that The Twilight Saga is popular but rather why this is so. There's something buried at the heart of every popular phenomenon: some soft, brown part of the psyche, some scratch that needs balm. Marketers of SUVs target the connection our reptilian brains make between height and dominance. Romance novels trade on idealized love, yes, but also on an ever-present subplot in which each woman finds her place as a valued member of a community.

Collins hypothesizes that the key to The Twilight Saga is the fact that it's the man who sets the sexual boundaries. Women have for years been cast in the role of sexual gatekeepers, deciding quite literally how far to let men in. What a relief, then, to hand the keys of the kingdom over to your partner, to absolve yourself of the responsibility for making choices in at least one area of your life.

I'm guessing it's something else. Edward wants only Bella; he doesn't have a string of ex-lovers and broken hearts strewn across his century-long afterlife, and he's presumably not going to go hook up with the zombie next door. His singular focus implies that Bella is not only lovable, but special: purely by dint of who she is (never mind action; never mind agency), Bella is the complete fulfillment of another person's desire.

In real life, of course, we compromise. We play musical chairs; we end up with whomever is standing next to us when the music stops. We cherish our mates, but very few of us imagine our partner would spend 100 years alone if we hadn't made it to that party after all. There would have been someone else, or a different someone else, and none of them a perfect fit.

Still, there's that bruise, that craving to be special, accepted whole, drunk to the dregs. It's a powerful need, and a dangerous one. It makes us buy vampire novels. It makes us keep reading.

1 comment:

Laura said...

Okay, time for an admission. I have read the first book in the Twilight series. It was at the urging of a coworker who loves them.

Anne, it was so bad. SO BAD. So unbelievably bad. And not in that "Oh well it's for kids" way or a "Oh it's just for fun" way. Total crap. These books are just setting kids up for Anne Rice or Danielle Steel.