Vampires and spirituality in Meyer’s Twilight

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From mythic vampires’ earlier incarnations as objects of (negative) fascination amidst horror, at least some of today’s vampires appear to have morphed into creatures of positive moral character and objects of romantic love. What accounts for the current widespread appeal of vampires to teen girls in the US?” (p.264)

“The affinity between girls and vampires is not new. Large numbers of the teen viewers of the 1960’s gothic vampire television soap Dark Shadows were girls. And vampire characters long existed in fictional literature and film as coded representations of sexuality sometimes in the form of irritable male vampires such as Dracula who seduce women with their gaze; other times as a cinematically safe way to depict “illicit” lesbian relationships, as in the early film Dracula’s Daughter, or somewhat more recently in The Hunger. In earlier times when women’s desire was even more suspect than it is today, vampires were a helpful trope for getting it onto the page or screen, as it was the irresistible vampire’s fault, and not the woman’s, for being seduced. Vampires have longed served this useful purpose in legend and fiction.” (p.264)

What makes it possible to walk up to a girl in a bookstore or library and expect to start what can become a brief yet substantive conversation about Twilight? My conversations with girls happened in the context of two interesting social developments among U.S. youth. The first of these concerns the widespread acceptance within mainstream U.S. culture of interest in fantasy, paranormal encounters and the possibility of experiencing supernatural forces. Several decades of film and the recent popularity of fantasy fiction works such as J.K. Rowling’s seven novels published between 1997 and 2007 as the popular Harry Potter series (Rowling 1999a, b, 2000; Rowling and GrandPré 1998, 2003, 2005, 2007), and television programs such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Whedon, 1997) paved the way for interest in vampires and supernatural phenomenon to be treated as mainstream and “normal” rather than as an odd dabbling in the occult.
The second development is related: the widespread experience of increased religious pluralism in the US creates and supports an openness to (or at least tolerance of) a wider variety of religiously oriented beliefs and practices, such that interest in supernatural creatures is no longer treated as necessarily oppositional to dominant religious groups such as Christian churches. Lynn Schofield Clark’s (Clark 2003) ethnography addresses young people’s fascination with supernatural phenomenon in relation to American evangelicalism in the late twentieth century, suggesting that the popularization of supernatural characters through the media led to a general acceptance of such figures. I would contend, following Clark’s argument, that for many people supernatural figures such as vampires, witches, and ghosts, became religiously insignificant during the twentieth century.…” (p.265)

“The first reason […] that girls like vampires so much is because the advertising industry stimulates their desires for them, and then provides a way to (temporarily) satisfy those desires through consumerism.” (p.266)

A second reason girls today are so drawn to vampires and to Twilight has to do with the power of reading/viewing as a social practice. Reading popular young adult fiction is not merely an individual activity for girls even though they may engage in it principally in private settings. Rather, reading is a social practice (Cherland 1994) of which sharing the “book world” with others is an important dimension in situating the identities of readers. […] the social practice of reading/viewing Twilight situates girls in a set of activities that are “approved” for girls: fantasy and star-fandom are socially acceptable ways for young teens to experience and express their desire even as these activities function to cement the bonds between young women who share the experience.” (p.266)

“As Pierre Bourdieu (Bourdieu and Passeron 1990) notes concerning social practices, choices such as which genre of fiction one reads may appear to be “arbitrary,” but in fact these choices take place within a habitus of social practices that give them legitimacy and participate in the construction of subjectivity in ways that tend to reproduce unjust power relations between women and men. Who reads (and who does not), and the types of literature encouraged (or discouraged) for different groups within the society are not random matters, but are practices that participate in structuring the positioning of groups in relation to one another, such as women and men.” (p.267)

“Power relations are embedded in the ways society structures reading. That is, reading is not a politically neutral activity but a social practice in and through which people are differently positioned.” (p.267) “As a social practice, part of the appeal of reading Twilight comes from the ways girls use it to support and enhance their relationships with each other.” (p.267)

I think it is worth noting, having quoted her quite a bit here (I really liked her thinking!), Mercer concludes: “When I step back from it all, I find myself more than a little concerned about desire’s distortions. I worry, for example, that many young women reading books like Twilight will not have thoughtful companions who can help them distinguish between anger and care when sexual desire seems linked to both. It concerns me that young people with spiritual hungers may only be offered weak or broken cultural images, such as fictional vampire characters in teen romance fiction, around which to wrap their deep longings for communion with Divinity, when in fact what they need and seek are far more complex symbols that invite participation in their meanings. At the same time, though, I understand that girls make multiple uses of these books: some simply enjoy them as romance fiction; others read them more critically.” (p.277)

Joyce Ann Mercer (2011)  Vampires, Desire, Girls and God: Twilight and the Spiritualities of Adolescent Girls Pastoral Psychol. 60:263–278

ABSTRACT: “Fantasy fiction long has been read for its capacity to narrate religious meanings and themes for young readers. Since its publication in 2005, Stephenie Meyer’s young adult series Twilight, in which an adolescent girl falls in love with a vampire, has become a pop culture phenomenon among U.S. teen girls. Although vampires usually represent dangerous desire, rarely have these creatures been treated as spiritually attractive figures. Using feminist perspectives on the psychology of gender and Christian feminist theology, this article offers a critical exploration of Twilight’s constructions of intimate relationships, supernatural masculinities, and girlhood, arguing that Twilight’s girl-appeal stems from its ability to tap into both the sexual and spiritual desires of girls.” (p.263)

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