How to Domesticate a Vampire: Gender, Blood Relations and Sexuality in Stephenie Meyer's Twilight

By Nayar, Pramod | Nebula, September 2010 | Go to article overview

How to Domesticate a Vampire: Gender, Blood Relations and Sexuality in Stephenie Meyer's Twilight


Nayar, Pramod, Nebula


The cult status acquired by Stephenie Meyer's Twilight saga (2005-2010), described as a 'romance ... with a paranormal twist' (Backstein 2009: 39), has been offset by criticism that savages its stereotyping, sexism, limited vocabulary, pathetic storyline, and several other aspects. Meyer may be, in my opinion, rightly accused of all these, yet she has managed to persuade customers to queue up all night waiting for bookstores to open so they can get their hands on the new volume. Meyer represents, with all her flaws, a significant moment in teen romances, and merits study just for the popularity the saga has accrued.

I assume here that popular culture is the site of struggle over meanings. Cultural Studies which deals with popular texts examines the practices, institutions and modes of representation through which norms and values are circulated and instilled in populations. Attention must therefore be paid to works like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Twilight, the popular fiction of Brett Easton Ellis (seen as heralding a new Gothic with American Psycho, 1991) and horror writer Stephen King to see what kinds of meanings and values are generated in their work--meanings that constitute, through a slow but steady osmotic absorption, the cultural imaginaire and frames of reference in public culture, offering us a repertoire of images and ideas from which we draw and which we use to interpret the world. We therefore need to examine popular modes such as television, fiction and film through which culturally accepted social relations or sexual norms are made available. Thus Rebecca Feasey's 2008 study of masculinities on popular television looks at teen programming, reality TV, crime and police drama, sports, lifestyle, situation comedy on TV in order to examine the 'norms' and 'models' of masculinity that are being suggested to us viewers. The present essay is one such preliminary exercise, an anterior moment in what could be studies of masculinity, gender relations, the familial and sexual politics of popular vampire tales.

Terry Spaise (2005) in an innovative reading of the cult TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer makes a persuasive argument for the 'domestication of the vampire' in modern horror/Gothic (I use the terms interchangeably though clearly there are major differences in the two forms). Spaise proposes that there has been a radical shift in modern representations of the vampire. We see the emergence of the suave form of the vampire in the 20th century, as opposed to the 19th century versions, where the vampire is a sex object, and a monster who looks like us. This modern vampire disturbs the distinction between humans and vampires, Spaise suggests, and marks 'domestication of the vampire'.

This domestication of the vampire, my paper argues, is worked out through the themes of masculinity, the family and sexuality with a concluding speculation on new forms of kinship in Stephenie Meyer's vampire tale. In my first section, 'vampiric masculinity' I examine the hegemonic masculinity of the protector male, who is also a fashion icon and a superbly fit one, and marks a supernatural masculinity in drag. In section II, on vampire families and their blood relations I explore the domestic relations and arrangements of vampires, arguing that the family becomes a key mode of, and moment in, the domestication-socialization of the vampire. I then turn to sexuality in the novel, arguing that Twilight appropriates two positions, of the threatened teen from conventional Gothic fiction and the teen as threat from contemporary Gothic, with touches of SM and necrophilic fantasies and where the channeling of sexuality is a mode of domestication. In my conclusion I speculate on the cultural imaginary and anxieties of race and gender, blood lines and racial mixing that Twilight seems to encode.

Vampiric Masculinity

The vampire tale's gender politics have been discussed far too often to bear repetition here (see Moers 1978, Hoeveler 1998, Heiland 2004, Spooner 2006). …

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