In the past four years I have become overwhelmed by society’s thirst for vampires. The introduction of True Blood, Twilight, and The Vampire Diaries has marked a downright fervor for anything and everything “vampire.” Now don’t get me wrong, I like a good vampire story now and again. One of the first books I remember reading solely on my own was Bram Stoker’s Dracula. I grew up watching the WB show Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It was a coup d’état that I got to watch a show that had very visible scenes of violence, evil, and death, but I’m pretty sure that my parents thought that if watching this show was my only act of rebellion, they were in good shape. What I remember most about watching Buffy wasn’t really that it was a show about vampires, but that it was a show about a strong high school girl that had to save the world — which is exactly what I wanted to do.
I have always gravitated towards the mythical and supernatural, which is one of the reasons I study religion in the first place. Society uses vampire stories as a way to transmit social critiques. Vampire stories began to expand on the common idea that women were easily seduced by the “dark side” and that a strong male would need to swing in to save the day. Women were either being tricked by the allure of vampires or they were the ultra -seductive vampires luring the “good old boys” into mortal danger. I would say that it wasn’t until Buffy Summers hit the halls of Sunnydale High that the winds of change shifted. 2003 took the strong woman figure to the big screen with the development of the Underworld movie saga. The main character was a seductive but fierce fighting female vampire. Both males and females flocked to watch Selene save the human and vampire race.
Then Twilight happened. It made vampirism safe for young girls to read since it didn’t feature overtly sexual tones and depictions. People have flocked to the books and the movies, yet I wonder at what cost? With Buffy and Selene, I was taught that one can be feminine and fierce. We can worry about what to wear AND save the world all in the same breath. Twilight’s heroine pales in comparison to her predecessors. It makes me wonder what we are trying to tell our girls. Twilight, True Blood, and The Vampire Diaries are all successful books that have been adapted for television and movies. All three have human females struggling to decide between two supernatural men. These books reaffirm the notion that women need to be saved by men. The three main heroines might have found strength and power, but they have molded their identities into that of their male counterparts. Bella has the daunting task of choosing between the vampire Edward and the werewolf Jacob. The choice is weighted by Edward’s ability to grant immortality but not until Bella almost kills herself and then begs to be turned into a vampire. Gone is the imagery of capable fighting women.
Twilight has created quite a stir and not just because of the shift on the depictions of girls. Every genre now seems to want to include vampires. It has even infiltrated historical figures. The last scene of the trailer Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter pretty much sums it up: “Are you a patriot or a vampire?” Where you stand on vampires transmits to society your political, national, and gender ideals. It carries significant meaning and status to know what “Team Edward” and “Team Jacob” mean in both the Twilight community as well as society as a whole. Team Edward is the quintessential girl falls for “bad boy” and helps bring him to salvation. Team Jacob is the typical boy next door who offers safety and security. Both perpetuate the idea that women need to choose a man in order to survive in the world. All I know is I’m thankful for growing up in the halls of Sunnydale High, where a girl can expand her mind AND kick some butt, so I’m Team Buffy.
Anjeanette LeBoeuf is a M.A. student in Women Studies in Religion at Claremont Graduate University. Her focuses are in comparative religions, death practices, gang culture, and the representation in pop culture of iconic religious women like that of Lilith and Esther. She is an avid supporter of both soccer and hockey. She is also a television and movie buff which probably takes way too much of her time, but she enjoys every minute of it.