Heterosexual Vampire Monogamy

Popular culture continues to frame weddings as THE EVENT of a woman’s life, as in all the shows dedicated to getting married (The Bachelor), to planning a wedding (My Fair Wedding), to brides (Bridezillas). They’re followed in short order by shows dedicated to the NEXT EVENT (no, not the breakup)–the baby, as in A Baby Story, Bringing Home Baby and Baby’s First Day.

One arena in which this marriage-then-baby fever runs particularly rampant is in Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Saga and its surrounding fandom.

Sure to be rivaled only by Royal Wedding fervor, the Bella Swan/Edward Cullen union will, come November, have the world agog in all things wedding. To whet our appetites, the recently released Breaking Dawn trailer fetishizes the wedding invitation–an aspect of weddings that is of utmost importance, as anyone who’s planned a wedding surely knows.

The trailer’s framing of the wedding as “the event that will change everything”  is hardly surprising given the way the wedding/honeymoon/headboard-busting has been framed as THE climax (pun intended) of the Twilight saga. This is one of the many reasons we, as a society, are so seduced by Twilight: It taps into our cultural love affair with weddings and romance big time. In a few short months, this human-vampire union will be writ large on cinematic screens, allowing fans to wed themselves even more deeply to the immortal love story between Bella and Edward.

As documented in books such as White Weddings or in posts about the wedding-industrial-complex, society is in the grip of severe wedding fever–a fever which is, on the one hand, very expensive and promotes our consumer-driven society and, on the other, keeps humans (and women especially) wrapped up in a romance narrative framed by ideas about (white) purity, true love, happily ever after and normative (monogamous, heterosexual) gender/sexuality roles.

This narrative drives a huge part of Twilight’s popularity: Love can last forever and the best kind of love is that between a woman and a man joined in marriage and then creating children. New? Hardly. New for vampire tales? Why yes! And that is a large part of the allure of this saga: taking things that are subversive and sinister (vampires, werewolves, immortality) and wrapping them in a true-love-conquers-all package. Such a perfect depoliticized message for our conformist times.

Rather than promoting questioning of power and privilege hierarchies, a la True Blood, or indicating that women can be strong (and unwed), a la The Vampire Diaries, this vampire saga equates non-attached women with villainy and deifies married mothers, while also steering readers away from overt representations of sex/sexuality. That’s in stark contrast to the other two vampire series noted above.

Though there is pronounced excitement about the pending sex scenes in Breaking Dawn, the recently released trailer seems to be telling viewers, “You should be thinking about the wedding and the marriage, NOT about Edward’s headboard busting!” Though there is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it headboard crunching image, the trailer drips with WEDDING, not S-E-X. Hence, it delivers the same message as the abstinence paradigm (and Beyonce); If you like it (and wanna do it), you better put a ring on it.

Accordingly, fans have been going gaga over the engagement ring and talk of Bella’s dress. They were perhaps never more twitterpated than when this photo of Bella, post-honeymoon coitus, was released:

Described variously as “hot”, as the best tease ever, or with “OME” (Oh My Edward), the photo captures the morning after, with Bella gripping feathers from the pillows Edward ripped apart (he left her covered in bruises too, which she lovingly (and very problematically) calls “decorations”. But while the images are sexually charged, it’s still in a very safe, vanilla, “they are so in love” type of way.

The fever surrounding the cinematic depiction of the pending Bella/Edward wedding will no doubt rival another union that recently captured the public imagination: Kate and William’s royal nuptials. Like the sexy feminist, I was annoyed with this wedding and its hijacking of our mental desktops. As she asked, “When was the last time you saw the media go ga-ga over a minority union, interracial marriage or gay marriage for that matter?” Uh, never?

It’s not that weddings themselves are bad, but as the sexy feminist puts it so well, it’s that “The global focus on this wedding reinforces the most anti-feminist message around: Get married, ladies, and all your dreams will come true.”

As for whether the Twilight universe could ever accommodate same-sex marriage, as I’ve posted elsewhere, Meyer frames marriage and children as achievements only possible for heterosexuals. Though a fan once asked, “This is not meant to be offensive in ANY way, shape or form, but do gay vampires exist? What if someone changed a human, intending them to be their permanent companion or something and it turned out they were… er… well, gay?,” Meyer skirted the issue of gay relationships, answering “If someone was to bite a gay person, that person would still be who they were before, so they would still be gay.”

This question is, of course, problematic in its presumption that even mentioning the dreaded word “gay” might be offensive, let alone–gasp!!!!–the notion that one of the sparkly Meyer vamps might desire a gay companion. Oh, the horror! It also harkens back to Meyer’s claim that, “When vampires are choosing companions, they are drawn to the most special and beautiful of humans.” Hmmm, since ALL the Twilight vampires “choose” heterosexual mates, are we to surmise this means non-heterosexuals are less special/beautiful? And that there never could be a same-sex wedding gala in the Twilight world, let alone an inter-racial marriage or a wedding wherein the partners were not socio-economically privileged? Yes, I think we are. If we want that type of union, we will have to look towards the looming season of True Blood and feed our more queer vampire passions.

TOP: Invitation to the wedding of Bella Swan/Edward Cullen.

BELOW: Scene from Breaking Dawn

Comments

  1. did you see “thirst” by chan wook park? heterosexual yes, but definitely not white. no marriage or baby, either. fantastic movie and puts twilight to shame (not that this is hard to do.)

  2. Yes, I did see Thirst. Great vampire movie! I also enjoyed Let the Right One In, as well as the US remake – Let Me In. And there are some queer components there… As well as in many other vampire tales. But not Twilight!

  3. moonhubris says:
  4. Plenty of (albeit, white) gay vampires in Ann Rice books! What exactly can we expect from Meyer’s books given her religious convictions? Religious communities generally sell that getting married and having kids is the dream…apparently even among the vampires they write about.

  5. Aliza,

    True regarding Rice’s vampires. However, I think the book that best represents the vampire as a queer, subversive figure is Jewel Gomez’s The Gilda Stories. (I wrote about it here: http://www.womanist-musings.com/2010/02/monstrous

    And regarding the notion we should “expect” nothing more of Meyer’s vampires, while that claim has merit, I am writing about the movie trailer here. Summit et al COULD change the emphasis if they wanted or at least de-emphasize “marriage is all” as the message. The first movie, with a female director at the helm, did inject a more feminist feel to Bella’s character and to the narrative. Sadly, the film adaptations that came after lost this component and Bella has become more true to her non-feminist, totally true-love-focused self (as she is written in the books)…

  6. Meyer skirted the issue of gay relationships, answering “If someone was to bite a gay person, that person would still be who they were before, so they would still be gay.”

    That doesn’t sound like skirting the issue, that sounds like answering the question.
    This story happens to be about a straight couple, do you freak out about all the other books and movies that involve straight couples? I mean, I think it’s great that there are more gay characters out there in books and movies but I’m not going to flip out if every book I read doesn’t have a token gay character or something. (I also wouldn’t mind reading a book about a gay couple with no straight characters, it’s more about the story.) So if you want gay vamps write your own story, I’ll give it a try.
    Also, in this book the wedding wasn’t even the biggest thing and it certainly never meant much to Bella in the books. She was much more interested in becoming a powerful vampire than getting married, but made a deal with Edward since getting married meant a lot to him (being from a different era) and having sex and turning into a vamp meant more to Bella. Who always gets her way. So yea, in the end she ends up stronger than Edward the strongest vampire who saves them all, because you know it is her story and it’s all fairy tale fantasy it’s not like a moral code for living your life so I say lighten up and if you don’t like the books than don’t read them.

    • Firstly, I completely agree with Elan. What you neglected to mention in this article is that Bella herself cared nothing about the wedding. What she does care about is the sex and the immortality. Sure, she’s heterosexual, and sure, she’s monogamous, but the former she can’t change and the latter is her choice to make. Edward proposed (pun intended) that she had to marry him if she wanted to be changed. She INSISTED that if he wanted her to marry him, he HAD TO have sex with her. Alice was the one who forced her into the “princess” wedding.

      Perhaps the marketing for the movie and the fanbase is “idealizing” the wedding in a very hetero-conformist way, but the series is not written as such. It is true there are no homosexual, pansexual, bisexual, transgender (etc.) characters in the series (or if there are, it isn’t mentioned), but that fact is of little importance to the plot.

      Secondly, this statement particularly bothered me: “Hence, it delivers the same message as the abstinence paradigm (and Beyonce); If you like it (and wanna do it), you better put a ring on it.”

      While I completely agree with you that this should not be the only view getting media attention, who are you to say that their ideals are not of worth? Many women (and men for that matter!) want to be married because it is a symbol of commitment and equality between two individuals who love each other. The fact that many of those individuals also believe that chastity before marriage is important is something that is deeply personal, and I find it very hypocritical and offensive that you would demonize those views when you’re so offended by our views being merely unmentioned. Everyone has a choice and a comfort level. That should be respected. Just because an ideal CAN be anti-feminist does not mean that it ALWAYS is.

      Thirdly, I find it problematic (to use your wording) that you would mention Bella’s “decorations” in such a negative light when I have read on this website (see Ms. Magazine’s Sex and the City article) about the want for more characters who practice S&M and are open about their comfort levels with their partners. I believe I’m even more put off because I read the novels and I know that Meyer’s version of vampires comes with extreme animal/predator instinct and outrageous strength, so I know that the bruises were a far better outcome than her being dead and I also know that Edward was deeply ashamed, guilt-ridden, and regretful of ever having touched her.

      This is the first Ms. article I have ever disagreed with, so it’s possible I’m being too harsh. I don’t want to take up more space.

      • Your 3rd objection made me think. Now, correct me if I’m wrong (I’ve never seen the movies or read the book), but I’ve heard Bella “passes out” while having sex with Edward.

        While I’m not experienced with Twilight, I do know a bit about S&M, and most (responsible) practitioners would STOP at that point. An unconcious partner is not the goal of S&M. And the shame… To me, that just screams “Yeah, I’m an abuser, I know what I did was wrong, so that’s why I’m guilty.” Two consenting adults who engage in rough play tend to not be ashamed, at least to each other, about bruises.

  7. Personally I do not think that The Vampire Diaries champions single women. Not for a long time at least. Basically the women featured in today’s paranormal fare—like The Vampire Diaries’ Elena Gilbert, who vies for the affections of and is often rescued from damsel-in-supernatural-distress situations by vampire Stefan Salvatore and his brother Damon—have regressed back to traditional gender roles.
    TVD clearly segregates character roles according to gender – all female vampires have been all about manipulation, subterfuge, romance, while male vampires showed more violent tendencies, more strength, fought more.

    Then you have the roles female characters are denounced towards. Every female character, be it Elena, Caroline, Bonnie, Meredith or whoever else is on that show are devalued into one of following plotpoints:
    1.Angst over love triangle.
    2.Being kidnapped and being a damsel in distress.
    3.objectification.
    4.support of male figures.

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