Guilty Pleasures

*cough* This is a really old post that’s been in my drafts folder since January. I thought you guys might actually like to read it!

I spent most of today out with a friend and running errands, so I haven’t had time to write.

Translation: I didn’t get home till three and that felt too late to get any real work done, so I decided to do some less productive crafty work and watch old episodes of The Vampire Diaries. Episodes I’ve seen before. Episodes that aren’t particularly noteworthy except for the abundance of pretty people moping about who’s not sleeping with whom.

Yep. I’m a shameless lover of teen vampires. In fact, while I’m confessing things, I’ll admit that I’ve read Twilight. More than once. The Kindle was a godsend because it meant I no longer had to deal with my husband’s mockery when I wanted to read something really and truly awful—now I don’t have to face the shame of, say, the cover of Breaking Dawn staring at him from my nightstand, giving away my weakness. I read Twilight like some women read bodice-rippers, the ones with shiny, shirtless men on the covers: furtively, pop-eyed, and generally while hiding the evidence.

Come to think of it, that sounds rather like one of the signs of addiction. The one where you lie about your problem. Also the one where you feel guilt and shame. And that other one, where you put time and effort into your habit.

I only know about those signs for research, of course. Totally.

I like literature, too, I’ll have you know. I reread Jane Austen’s complete works every year. A Farewell to Arms is one of two books that makes me cry. I am capable of exerting some self control and occasionally reading things that actually merit my love.

But, damn it, every now and then I just like to lose myself in a fluffy, high-stakes romance between two pretty (and often fanged) people. I also like dipping my fries in mustard. Whatchu gonna do, sue me?

I AM NOT ASHAMED.*

The fact is, I’m not alone. Twilight sold a flobbity-gillion copies. Margot Adler incorporated her obsession with vampire novels (including Twilight) into a series of academic lectures. How many people watch The Vampire Diaries? More than a few, judging by Twitter on Thursday nights.

Everyone has a few guilty pleasures. Maybe for you it’s not teen vampires. Maybe it’s wealthy teens who sleep around a lot. Maybe it’s those afternoon soap operas. (Do those still exist anymore?) Maybe it’s some terrible sitcom.

But you know… you can tell me.

This is a safe space. No one here will judge you.** C’mon. you know you want to share. What’s your guilty pleasure?

 

 

*Okay, I’m a little ashamed. Fine, a lot. That doesn’t stop me, though.

**Much

 

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Top Ten Reasons I DO NOT Want to Be a Vampire

Last week, Emmie Mears wrote a blog post enumerating the top ten reasons she wants to be a vampire.

She said WHAT?

This week, I’d like to offer a rebuttal. In spite of the fabulous eyelash extensions she-vamps seem to get upon rebirth, the super-speed and super-strength, the eternal youth, and the occasional ability to turn into a bat, vampires are nasty parasites, little more than a sexually-transmitted disease. I’m just not down with signing on for that… and here’s why:

1. Vampires are parasites.
The definition of parasitism calls it “a type of non mutual relationship between organisms of different species where one organism, the parasite, benefits at the expense of the other, the host.” In the human-vampire relationship, vampires win… until humans die out because of global warming, and then the vampires are screwed because their only food source is gone. I can’t agree to join a race with such a glaring single point of failure. Plus, then I could be classed with things like tapeworms and fleas… ew.

So queenly, she relies on her servants for life.

2. I’m a vegetarian.
Those blood-colored juices coming out of your steak give me barfy feelings… so how could I possibly want to drink blood? I don’t like eating animals, so I definitely couldn’t like drinking humans.

I’m with Jessica: gross.

3. You’re just as likely to end up an animated corpse as a carnivorous supermodel.
Some alternate series, like Ilona Andrews’s Kate Daniels series, portray vampires as meat puppets, controlled by necromancers who retain their humanity while they make their stinky minions do their bidding from afar. I also hear that in Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian, vampires are nasty animated corpses… and that’s a bestseller! I’m just saying, it’s a big gamble: sparkly, stone supermodel or rotting puppet. And I’m not willing to take the chance.

This is what Angel is going to look like in 1000 years, Buffy.

4. Vampirism is a sexually transmitted disease.
Ever notice how vampire-lovers frequently end up vampires themselves? There’s a reason for that. Vampirism is passed through the exchange of bodily fluids, after all. And, since I’m monogamous, I’d be pretty darn upset if that particular disease got passed on to me.

This can’t be sanitary.

5. Murder is bad.
We have these things called laws, and those laws say that killing people is bad. If your very existence depends on committing murder, you’re probably a fellow. And also, not a very nice person.

“You can’t do that. It’s wrong.”

6. Eternal life is overrated.
In Kelly Armstrong’s Women of the Otherworld series, vampires don’t live thousands of years… because they get bored. You can only go to high school so many times before it makes you suicidal. Plus, look at Godric in True Blood: after you’ve seen the world go to hellrepeatedlyand take your offspring with it, there’s really nothing left to live for.

High school biology again? I think I’m going to be sick!

7. Blood is salty… and salt equals bloat.
This is just Feeling Attractive 101, folks. Don’t go eating a bag of chips before a hot date, because it will make you look and feel all blimpy. And, even if you do look like a supermodel, if you feel like you can’t fasten the button of your jeans, you’re just not going to have the self-confidence to seduce that sexy young ingenue next to you at the vampire bar. 

And you can’t even check a mirror to make sure you don’t look like this.

8. I like food. And hot blood is just not as satisfying as hot tea.
I admit it: I look forward to meals. I like pie. And popcorn. And black bean burgers. I get positively murderous if I can’t have a cup of strong, sweet hot tea in the morning… now just imagine if I hadn’t had my hot tea for a century of mornings. That’s not a pretty picture. And we already talked about how killing people is wrong.

Giles looks much happier with his drink of choice.

9. SAD would get a lot worse.
No sun, ever? I already have to use a sunlamp for three seasons of the year. If it made me burst into flames, I’d cry every single day. And, in some universes, vampire-tears are blood. Worse, in other worlds, vampires can’t cry AT ALL. Depression + no tears = murderous Kristin again, and that whole murder-is-wrong thing causes a problem.

That’s not a good look for anyone.

10. I like to wear colors other than black. And corsets are so confining.
Sure, vampires look badass in their chest-exposing black shirts and their cleavage-exposing shiny corsets. But I like a little variety in my wardrobe… and really, my default uniform is jeans, t-shirt, and Converse sneakers. And no one would be intimidated by a short vampire in beat-up Chucks wearing a shirt with owls that look like Doctor Who.

Because the wannabe look is just SO cool.

Freudian Friday: “He’s Too Good for Me!”

This post is going to branch beyond fantasy, because it’s a trend that’s bugging the heck out of me. We could also call this post Freudian Friday: “I’m Just Not Good Enough!”

You see, I read 50 Shades of Grey while I was away. It was… not the best… but I’m not going to review it in depth. What irks me enough to write about today is the main character’s perpetual insistence that she’s too plain, too boring, too normal to be with the rich, attractive, intelligent, athletic, attractive (yup, throwing that in twice, ’cause the main character is always bringing it up), and deeply disturbed Christian Grey.

The internet has pulled the book to pieces because it’s based on a piece of the author’s Twilight fanfiction, and the resemblance to Twilight is impossible to miss… but frankly, 50 Shades makes Twilight look like a portrayal of a nice, healthy relationship between two nice, healthy people.

I’m not talking about the BDSM elements, either: that’s probably material for another, very different post.

I’m really talking about the female lead’s attitude toward herself. The last fifteen years have seen a lot of books, television shows, and movies that revolve around a plain (or Hollywood Homely) main character who attracts a stunningly attractive man and then can’t believe her luck, even when he turns out to be a controlling a-hole. The heart-warming idea these works are supposed to convey is that real beauty is on the inside, and sometimes even ridiculously handsome men are smart enough to see the wonders of a Plain Jane or at least a Normal Nancy.

“Bizarre what some men find attractive,” says ANOTHER WOMAN about adorable Bridget.

Here’s just a small selection:

  • Bridget Jones’s Diary (1996), which I love, portrays an awkward, normal woman who really thinks that, at 130 pounds, she needs to lose weight. She goes on to snag TWO handsome, rich men who love her just the way she is.
  • Twilight (published 2005-2008), in which Bella, who at least perceives herself as plain, wins the heart of sexy-vampire Edward. She spends a lot of her free time thinking about how she’s just not good enough to have won him. The series ends with her becoming a beautiful vampire and thus “worthy” of her mate.
  • Ugly Betty (2006-2010), which I’ve never watched, has the whole less-than-lovely-woman built right into the title. I gather that the awkward title character and her handsome boss become friends, and Betty overcomes her awkwardness enough to become a magazine (sort of) bigshot.
  • Drop Dead Diva (2009-present), portrays, weirdly, the soul of a beautiful young wannabe-model who refuses to “go into the light” after her death, and ends up in the body of a plump (but still beautiful) lawyer. The show continues today, but it revolves largely around the main character’s quest to make her former body’s fiance continue to love her, new figure and all.
  • 50 Shades of Grey (2011), a titular reference to the shades of effed-upness shown by the love interest, portrays a basically normal girl getting swept up into the sexual life of a 27-year-old billionaire and wondering how she could possibly have done to deserve it.

As I said, that’s just a small sample. And it’s quite a trend reversal from what TV Tropes calls, “Ugly Guy, Hot Wife,” prevalent in sitcoms, in which a seriously unattractive dude lands a total hottie… and as far as I’ve seen, takes it as his due and never broods about how he’s just not good enough.

All in all, the pattern suggests that “normal” women should be grateful to have attracted “beautiful”men and that they should put up with any sort of bad behavior, up to and including outright abuse, in order to keep their beloved happy.

Talk about inferiority complex: These women feel so inferior to their mates that they will try to lose weight, try to change their interests, try to adopt an “alternative” sexual lifestyle, or even die and become a vampire, all in the name of “keeping” the man.

This is not a good message to send.

What do you think, readers? Why are inferior-feeling women a much-enjoyed trope in books, television, and movies?

Freudian Friday: A Woman’s Right to Know

One theme that has come up a lot in these Freudian Friday posts is the trope of a paranormal man who hides things from his beloved in the interest of protecting her. Typically this man is a vampire or at least someone with magical powers who has led a long, complicated life, and has secrets that would horrify or frighten the leading lady, or he keeps plans for her rescue a secret.

Urban fantasy relationships so frequently have the warning signs of abusive relationships, like jealousy and possessiveness, control of the woman’s actions, violent tempers, blaming the woman for relationship problems, and general dominance of the woman’s life.

But what about the common, passively cruel act of hiding things? It’s a form of control, because it prevents the woman from making fully-informed decisions, and it assumes she does not have the strength to live with whatever her man is hiding. Let’s look at some examples:

Edward quite literally sweeps Bella off her feet.

Twilight: This is the prototypical abusive paranormal romance. We all know Edward’s abuse signs: he removes the battery from her car to keep her from driving out to see a friend, he puts her in the role of “dangerous” sexual temptress by saying he might not be able to control himself, and the list goes on. Meanwhile, Jacob kisses Bella against her will, blames her for his temper, and acts consistently jealous. But both young men hide things from her in the interest of “protecting” her, not telling her when they’re going into dangerous situations or neglecting to mention their super-powers. At one point in the books, Jacob judges Edward for not telling Bella about an attack on her hometown while she was away, but Jacob himself misleads Bella into kissing him. They both assume she will not act rationally, so they manipulate her by withholding information.

A Discovery of WitchesMatthew refuses to tell Sarah about his past, to the point where an ex-girlfriend almost kills both of them because Sarah doesn’t know she can defend herself without qualm. That’s just one specific example: Sarah resorts to sneaking around to discover Matthew’s secrets because he won’t tell her why she is in so much danger. It’s a theme of the book, actually, and while the vampire eventually apologizes, that doesn’t make it okay. So much danger could have been avoided if Sarah had all the information she needed to make a rational decision.

In her dreams, she has control.

True BloodBetween the pair of them, Bill and Eric have hidden an encyclopedia of secrets from Sookie. Bill hides the true story of their meeting, his past, her powers, his plans… The occasions when he gives Sookie the whole truth are rare. Eric, similarly, is the strong but silent type, and doesn’t tell Sookie his plans for fear of drawing her into danger. If they loved Sookie, wouldn’t they love the whole her, bad decisions and all? It can’t really be love if they’re manipulating her into feeling something.

Your love makes me evil, baby.

Buffy the Vampire SlayerAngel and Riley both keep secrets about their identity from Buffy. Would Buffy have started to fall for Angel if she had known from the outset that he was a vampire? Would she have dated Riley knowing he works for a crazy, bigoted government agency? Even Giles keeps things from Buffy “for her best interest,” deciding he must neutralize Spike to keep Buffy focused. But Buffy is marginally better-informed than other paranormal heroines because she isn’t cast as the star of a romance: she’s a super-hero, and her romance with a vampire is even described as maudlin.

The trouble with this perfidious trope is that it suggests women will not act rationally if they have all the information. It also suggests that men can control women “to protect them.” It perpetuates the age-old stereotype that women are ruled by their emotions and therefore cannot be trusted to make logical decisions.

You could also just call it a lazy-writing trick: if my heroine knows everything, she won’t let me manipulate her into this dangerous situation.

But why is it so pervasive? Is it because mystery makes a man sexy? Is it because we like the vicarious feeling of giving up control? I confess that when I feel like reading romance, I do enjoy a man sweeping a woman off her feet from time to time. But sweeping her up and keeping her from ever walking of her own volition again really troubles me.

We need to think about what we’re saying by reading and writing this trope. Are we okay with women’s free will being taken away by the men who supposedly love them?

I’m not sure how this all plays into what Freud said, but doing the Freudian Friday posts has led me to observe a few upsetting trends in the romantic relationships portrayed in the urban fantasy/paranormal genre, and I want to put it out there for discussion.

What do you think, readers? Why has this trend taken hold? What about it makes readers salivate so? Does it bother you?

Freudian Friday: Bella Swann

Oh, come on. You knew we’d get to Bella Swann for Freudian Friday. She may not have serious daddy issues, but she has a lot of other issues worth discussing.

Before we get started, though, I want to issue an open call for nominations: Who would you like to see on the couch for future Freudian Fridays? Male, female, alien, you name it. I’ll continue with the urban fantasy theme for awhile yet, but I’d like to get to the wider fantasy and sci-fi genres as well. We haven’t even talked about Harry Dresden yet, so we’ll get to him, as well as some other male urban fantasy stars.

Why is her mouth always open?

So. Let’s talk Twilight. I read these books in 2009 when my fiance (then boyfriend) and I were moving from California to Illinois. We moved to California from Indiana after I finished graduate school in 2008, with all the high hopes that an internship at a newspaper in Berkeley and plenty of job prospects bring. But in the fall of 2008, the economy went down the toilet, taking all our job opportunities with it. Suddenly $1200/month rent for a one-bedroom apartment in a not-pleasant suburb of Oakland seemed dire as well as outrageous.

We packed up to move to rural Illinois, where we could live cheaply and help some family with financial issues.

It was not the happiest time for either of us.

I needed a distraction on the cross-country drive, so I picked up Twilight. It was blandly written, it promoted abusive relationships, and it was completely captivating. I bought the next three books at various stops along Interstate 80, and they kept my mind enthralled until we’d settled into the house in Illinois.

Because of this, I am and will always be a little fond of Twilight. 

Still, the series has its issues. More knowledgeable analysts than I have discussed Bella’s relationship with Edward and how it meets the National Domestic Violence Hotline’s criteria for an abusive relationship, so I won’t go into too much depth about their relationship. Other writers have also discussed how Bella as a character is essentially a mask, an unformed mold into which young girls can pour their own personalities and live vicariously through Bella’s romantic adventures.

That’s true, I think, but also not true. Bella does have a personality, defined by her relationships with others and her intense desire to sacrifice herself for those she loves.

Always putting her life on the line.

In the first book, Bella is willing to die to save her mother. In the second, she’s willing to die to save Edward. In the third, she’s willing to die to save, well, everyone. In the fourth, she’s more than willing to die to save her vampire-baby and, later, everyone else.

Selflessness can be a good trait, and unconditional love for your family is wonderful… but it’s easy to take these traits beyond nobility and into desperation. Bella’s only defining characteristic is a martyr complex, which Wikipedia tells me is often considered a form of masochism—unsurprising in this case, given Bella’s physical relationship with Edward. Bella lives to die, which she even says in the final books: it’s like she was born to be a vampire. Even after she becomes supernatural, her superpower is the ability to protect those she loves. She is a human shield… her purpose is to protect.

On a simpler level—which kind of makes it more disturbing—Bella defines herself in relation to those around her. She’s her mother’s protector, her father’s caretaker, Jacob’s best friend, Edward’s girlfriend/wife, Renesmee’s mother. Edward turns her into a living zombie, Jacob brings her back to life. There is very little time in the book when Bella is just herself, and when she is, she’s, well, boring. And she knows it.

And that is perhaps the saddest, most upsetting thing about her. Young girls are learning that they are nothing without the people (particularly the men) she cares about. Her only role is forming half a relationship.

Is this a happy ending?

I’m not sure we know enough about her to consider why she lives this way. her parents split up when she was young, sure, and that’s perhaps why she adopts a caretaker role for both of them. But all of Bella’s decisions, actions, and even her super powers are reactionary: she rarely does something because she wants to… except, perhaps, becoming a vampire.

Yikes.

What do you think, readers? Why is Bella Swan so determined to die? What upsets you about her? What do you like about her? Anything?

And don’t forget to tell me what other characters you’d like to see appear on future Freudian Fridays!