Wednesday, December 14, 2011

They're Taking Over, Dammit!

I'm not really interested in keeping up to date, but I figure I've dawdled enough on this one.

Given Takei's history of tongue-in-cheek video clips, I'm not sure how seriously to take this one. As a joke it's a good one. It works as a jape at the old sf trope that humanity would drop our petty international quarrels and band together if we faced an extraterrestrial threat, but given the current hysteria over Breaking Dawn's box-office success, and coming so soon after Anne Rice jumped on the same bandwagon, I fear that Takei may be inveighing seriously against the Bella/Edward threat to heroic values and our precious bodily fluids.

Then there was this article, linked on Facebook by a fellow-blogger. I hadn't even heard of most of these movies, and will be looking for some of them. But I don't get this at all.
What with so many vampire movies being essays on “the tension between a young woman’s compulsion to mate and her partner’s terror that doing so will unleash demonic forces” (David Edelstein, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn—Part 1), it’s a relief to find one that just does what it says on the box.
"So many vampire movies", you say? What others fit Edelstein's description of the Twilight Saga? There's a good chance the series' success will spawn imitators: that is how the movie industry reacts to top-grossing products. (I believe I've seen the print knockoffs on the Young-Adult fiction shelves at the library, but that's a different industry.) But not always. Twilight is a chick flick, after all, and even though such films are reliable moneymakers, Hollywood (which is run by boys, often elderly ones) doesn't like chick flicks. The boys who run the industry and dominate the reviewing scene react to them like Dracula to garlic. (I always think of Thelma and Louise, a popular and critical success that wasn't followed up by Hollywood at all; the only movies that were compared to it -- Boys on the Side and Leaving Normal -- were more like clueless straight guys' misunderstandings of what Thelma and Louise was about.) And really, it's a bit late to attack a successful vampire franchise because its vampires are ssssssensitive; Anne Rice blazed that trail in Interview with a Vampire, whose Louis was a whining, self-pitying loser whose main concern was whether his boyfriend liked him. (I suspect she was forgiven because she eventually gave center stage to the strutting Lestat.) The tortured romance between Buffy and Angel also was a prominent theme in that series, but I guess it can be forgiven in the interests of the Alliance.

But for now, as I suggested, there really seems to be only one movie that fits Edelstein's stricture. So why "so many"? Because that's the way people react to things they don't like, I guess. Imagine someone writing "What with so many American Presidents being black these days." Or remember the old joke about two women at a corporate meeting: "Don't sit next to me," one says to the other, "or they'll say we're taking over." One is safe tokenism; two is a threat, the camel striding boldly into the tent, and there goes the neighborhood.

So I suppose the yammering is pre-emptive. But c'mon -- vampires have been sex symbols since the genre took off in the early nineteenth century. And since when were horror movies supposed to be any good? The fanboys I've seen shrieking online about the vileness of Twilight generally don't exhibit high standards in the films they treasure: many of them were weaned on "extreme" low-budget horror cheapies that make Twilight look like Shakespeare. Geysers of blood, dismemberment, and titties are the main criteria of quality they recognize, and if you can get a car chase with lots of crashes and explosions in there, so much the better.

Takei points elsewhere to a comparison of Bella with Harry Potter's Hermione: "When the love of Hermione's life left her, she continued to search for the keys to destroying the world's most powerful wizard." Unlike the hero of that series, who for most of the increasingly chunky volumes sits around moping until someone else does the studying and other work for him. Rowling has tried to cover for the fact that Hermione isn't the hero of the series by pointing to her competence, hard work, and courage -- but it's at least arguable that if she'd put Hermione at the center of the story and named the series after her, it wouldn't have become the worldwide phenomenon it has. Harry's the hero because of his destiny -- because of who he is rather than what he does -- and because he's a guy. Boy culture triumphs again. And though Rowling is a better writer than Stephanie Meyer, I don't mistake her work for great art either.

And frankly, m'dear George, neither Star Trek nor Star Wars are all that great either, to put it diplomatically. Star Trek was good for television science-fiction, which sets the bar pretty low; what made the Flash-Gordon knockoff Star Wars stand out was its special effects, not its story, dialogue, or acting/character development. (Yeah, The Empire Strikes Back was better, but it was written by an actual professional science fiction writer -- a woman, by the way -- and had a competent director.) Fans of either franchise, of course, are likely to respond by pointing to their enduring popularity, but that's their complaint: Twilight is also enormously popular, shoving aside the boy-culture competition like a snowplow. Whether its popularity will endure will have to be seen, but I'm betting it will. (And, as I wrote before, in twenty-five years its fans will be fuming at whatever popular-culture phenomenon their daughters are embracing.) The trouble with Twilight isn't that it's so bad, though of course it is; the trouble is that it's trash for girls, pandering to their fantasies and not to boys' -- and for that it can never be forgiven.