A friend forwarded me this article on Slate on the new vampire phenomenon, and pointed out a piece of it that I haven’t thought much about: the new sexy vampires don’t actually drink blood. Or if they do, they don’t kill.
Yet, like many people who acquire mega-celebrity, the vampire has developed an eating disorder. Read the books. Watch the movies. You’ll see vampires who manage nightclubs, build computer databases, work as private investigators, go to prep school, lobby Congress, chat with humans, live near humans, have sex with humans, and pine over humans, but the one thing you won’t see them do is suck the blood of humans.
Grady Hendrix snarks on a lot of the most popular vampires of recent pop culture, starting with Anne Rice and moving on to the one that many of my peers grew up crushing on: Angel, from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Faced with the impact of his diet on humans, Angel accepts a yucky, cruelty-free substitute, then endlessly lectures other vampires about their moral failings because they don’t do the same. He’s not a vampire—he’s a vegan.
I’ve more than once made the comparison of Angel to Edward Cullen in Twilight, but I hadn’t thought about the spiral this way: as one spinning from less and less consumption of human blood. (There are, of course, occasional recurrences of the bloodthirsty, evil vampires like those of 30 Days of Night, but I digress.)
But Hendrix doesn’t seem to actually be that up on the details of Buffy. Witness:
At least Angel, Anita Blake’s vampires, Sookie Stackhouse, and most of the rest of them have a lot of sex.
Well, I haven’t gotten around to Anita Blake or into True Blood yet, but I know my Buffy, and Angel didn’t have a lot of sex–because if and when he did, he lost his soul and turned evil. People love to compare Buffy to Twilight, but the fact is that Angel and Edward Cullen indeed have a lot in common. They can’t get it on with their human lady-loves, because something BAAAD could happen. They don’t drink blood, because they have consciences.
The whole story of both Angel and Edward Cullen, in other words, is that of the monster tamed by the woman he loves. The just-bad-enough boy who’s really a sweetheart on the inside. Sure, Buffy kicks Angel to the curb (after running him through with a sword) but soon enough she’s taken up with a new vampire–this one with a chip in his brain so he can’t, er, drink human blood.
I don’t agree with Hendrix’s faux concern for the way kids might be receiving mixed messages from their media, because I tend to read media for clues about the way we’re already heading, not look at it as something that shapes us. Pop culture as a symptom. So what does it signify to me that out of millions of books, I see more women (yes, grown women) on the subway reading Twilight books than anything else? After all, we’re adults. We’re not adolescent girls having our perception of men shaped by some sensitive emo-boy vampire. We already know that relationships are messy and fraught with danger.
True Blood is next on my Netflix list, so until then, I really can’t comment on the symbolism there, but this piece has set me thinking in yet another way about what it might be that we get from these defanged monsters. If you take away the blood drinking and sleeping in coffins (which neither Angel nor Edward do), what do you have but a boyfriend who never grows old?