Friday in my class we talked about the meanings of vampires in the cultural imagination. Here is a powerpoint slideshow I put together based on a poll taken from my class and my Facebook friends. There’s not a lot of commentary here, but it’s a very compelling document indeed! Can you tell which comments were from my students (mostly freshmen, all women) and which are from my “grownup” friends?
And for those of you with older versions of Office:
The reading for that day included the intro and final section of Nina Auerbach’s Our Vampires, Ourselves and this article from NPR. I found that the girls were fairly resistant (maybe?) to the idea that a culture’s version of the vampire is reflective of the zeitgeist. We talked a bit about the conservative vampire of the 1980s and how he (why always male?) reflected paternalistic Reagan-era politics and AIDS fear, and how Stoker’s vampire interrogated the figure of the New Woman and late-Victorian xenophobia (which we will discuss later this week).
From there I asked them to describe Edward Cullen, who is this moment’s Vampire du Jour. They came up with protective, creeper, sugar daddy, father figure, stalker, unconditional love, and a few others I can’t remember right now. From there, I asked them what it is about Edward’s “ambient ethos” (a phrase I shamelessly stole from Snehal Shingavi) that is reflective of our zeitgeist. Twilight came out in 2005, smack in the middle of GWB’s presidential regime, we were embroiled in both Afghanistan and Iraq, Katrina happened, the first of a number of personnel changes on the Supreme Court, etc. The past five years have been full of all sorts of upheaval and uncertainty, and Sarah Hepola argues that for 30-something women, Twilight offers an escape from the disappointments of the real love plot, and that it is particularly resonant with women going through major life changes (I, for one, got sucked in while expecting my daughter, who just turned 2 yesterday).
It would serve then, I suggested to my class, that the reason we responded so overwhelmingly to Edward Cullen is that we needed or wanted someone to take care of us. I might even argue that both Presidents Bush AND Obama can be reflective of our desire for a savior-protector.
This week we’re discussing Buffy the Vampire Slayer and moving on to Stoker’s Dracula before embarking upon Eclipse. This is still very much in progress, but I’m keen to see how they respond to thinking critically about someone as polarizing as Edward Cullen and Bella Swan. Stay tuned!