The Twilight Saga—comprised of multiple controversial books and movies that have been debated around questions of passivity, female sexuality and consumerism—created a trend within the film world through its marketing efforts and post-feminist qualities. Twilight’s marketing campaign positioned consuming as a way to find personal identity by promoting merchandise and creating a super-fandom space for a female protagonist that spectators can relate to. From the merchandise, to the fan pages and social media obsessions, infatuation with vampires was not just a movement associated with Stephenie Meyer’s series—it was also a way of life, compelling girls and women to form an obsession with the fantasy that for them became a reality. Through this heavily romanticized scheme emerged the larger contemporary vampire culture visible across shows such as The Vampire Diaries (2009–present, CW) and True Blood (2008–2014, HBO). These shows, popular amongst females of all ages from tweens to women, emphasize female sexuality by focusing on the heroine as sexually active protagonist. However, while women appear to maintain control of their identity in these stories, the male gaze within the show continues to behold them as hyper-sexualized beings. Thus, Twilight began the phenomenon of the hyper-sexualized protagonist female, a larger movement toward a sexually saturated femininity, which remained visible in cinematic and televisual vampire tales.
Post-feminism Displayed Through Cinema
While critics disagree on the exact definition of post-feminism, a broad set of norms throughout cinema and the media discursively shape the idea of femininity in contemporary culture. In fact, post-feminism seeks to position women today differently than ‘yesterday’. This difference often concentrates on sexual freedom and independence. As stated by Rosalind Gill, “in shift from earlier representational practices it appears that femininity is defined as a bodily property rather than (say) a social structural or psychological one. “Women are now imagined as equal with men within the larger social hierarchy, whereas before women were seen as men’s property and beneath them. However, women are still primarily the sexual objects of desire, as seen through their male counterpart’s point of view. In Twilight, The Vampire Diaries, and True Blood, females have become the main character, and yet their sexuality is still defined in terms of the male gaze. Post-feminist media ranges from adolescence to adulthood and requires the heroine to go through stage of extreme sexualization. This trajectory can be seen in reality, such as with popular female stars like Kirsten Dunst and Nina Dobrev, as they transform from child to adult actors. The main difference from previous versions of gendered representation is that the myth surrounding post-feminist cultureemphasizess the woman’s need for choice and empowerment; she believes she decides to sexualize herself, though she is actually objectified by her male counterpart.
The Twilight Saga, written by Stephenie Meyer, offered a good case study for how post-feminism shaped female identity. The saga became a worldwide phenomenon in 2008 when the best-selling novels were adapted for the big screen (four movies in total were released from 2008 to 2012). Bella Swan, played by Kristen Stewart, is a desexualized 17-year-old girl who just moved to Forks, WA. Edward Cullen, played by Robert Pattinson, is an eternally 18-year-old “humane” vampire whose family practices feasting on animals instead of humans. Fitting with post-feminism’s larger trope of equating adulthood with sexualization, Bella’s metamorphosis from teen to adult coincides alongside her graduation and future marriage to Edward. Bella’s sexualization happens later in the books and films, culminating when Edward officially turns her into a vampire just as she gives birth to her child. The timing is significant because she never gains her own identity since she turns into mother immediately when becoming an ‘adult’.
Twilight proved that centering a film around a teenage girl and her journey to a sexualized womanhood could enjoy great dividends at the box office, which promised nothing but success for post-feminist films with a protagonist female lead. Although the series has been debated, defended, and condemned in the popular media for promoting domestic violence, female passivity, and pandering to a young female audience, Twilight, as a marketing behemoth, has provided a model for other franchises to follow.
Strong marketing and public relations campaigns deliberately fostered a “cult” fan base for Edward and Bella that boosted popularity on- and off-screen. In spite of its small budget, the Twilight series went down as one of the highest grossing film franchises in history with a total of $1,363,537,109 earned over the entire series. Twilight proved that by targeting females as a consuming audience, releasing the film at the right time in the thick of post-feminist era, and depicting the right story of the transformation from girl to woman, a movie could change the culture of the film and television industry all while showing the ideologies of post-feminism in the coming age.
The movies and the books follow Bella closely by focusing the narrative through her perspective; the use of first person narration creates a close identification with Bella on the part of her audience. The use of “I” throughout reinforces the sense that this franchise specifically targets women and thus establishes the female as a consumer. Mendelson marks how the female audience played an important role in the ticket sales and franchise success:
The most interesting statistic was that the audience was 80% women. The stat showed that even if not a single ticket buyer for New Moon had been male, the film still would have snagged the biggest opening weekend of 2009. This was hard proof that a film entirely targeted at females, centered around a female, and concerning the narrative journey of a female, could attract genuine blockbuster dollars without the male audience […] Twilight’s legacy is that is proved once and for all that females were a strong enough movie going demographic to power a franchise to blockbuster heights all by themselves […] It proved that female-driven blockbuster could do anything that male-driven blockbusters could do at the box office.1
Female spectators connected with the protagonist and the film, each in their own way, and that kept them hooked on the series and always wanting more, thus equaling more money earned for the film.
A main indicator of post-feminism’s success at targeting the female consumer for not only Twilight but future films as well (i.e. The Hunger Games , Divergent ) was the establishment of a young female protagonist. Twilight was the first franchise to successfully prove that other films could tap into young female market by building upon the transition into adulthood and concerning the “princess” culture and ideology so popular with the contemporary girl market. A focus on self-insecurities, romance, and the desire to be special is similar across youth and adult texts aimed at females. Indeed, the producers made Bella relatable by playing into the insecurities and desires. For example, Bella recognizes that she is “normal” in a sea of extraordinary people. Before she transforms into a vampire, her characteristics focus on her pre-sexualization and being awe-struck by Edward’s beauty and love. Similarly, teenage girls are often portrayed as yearning to be desired bay handsome man and to do anything to attract his attention. During the saga, Bella will do anything Edward commands. In the second movie, New Moon, Bella wants to kill herself but only relents when Edward’s voice commands her to stop. This example shows that Bella is not even in control to end her own life, and that Edward owns her and her body.
As more films are created that cater specifically to females in hopes of having a “Twilight effect,”2 other film franchises are recognizing the power that females have, especially in movie-going, that allow for the industry to grow in unexpected ways.
Twilight spawned the success of similar shows such as Vampire Diaries and True Blood. The saga created a market for vampire-loving girls and women who want nothing more than to be “devoured” by the sexy love of their life. While vampires have become the way to represent and to show how this intensity of love relates to females’ actual feelings on relationships, the genre-focused narratives are striving toward creating a sense of choice for the female character. Ashley Donnelly states, “Meyer’s manifest messages about true love, self-sacrifice, and self-control are laudable for young adult fiction, particularly in a world so saturated with over-sexualized material aimed at tweens and teenagers who are already bombarded with media that trivializes sex in general.”3 Twilight began a new young adult trend of dramatizing maturation through supernatural love and of epitomized postfeminist sexualization within each of its movies. Donnelly points out the importance of self and choice throughout Twilight and the decisions Bella makes from adolescence to adulthood—whether to be controlled by her sexualization is Bella’s choice.
The strength of the fan base played a huge role in success of the franchise, showing that tweens and young adults, who were brought up in post-feminist consumer and identity logic, could create millions of dollars in revenue. In Hollywood, it can be difficult to create a multimillion-dollar film without a largely inflated budget, but Twilight bucked that trend. Scott Mendelson comments:
In a time when studios routinely spend $175–$225million chasing mega-franchise profits, Summit pulled off the ultimate coup, creating a top-tier blockbuster franchise for budgets usually associated with Oscar-bait prestige dramas or Adam Sandler comedies. The first film cost $37 million but pulled in $191 million in the US and $392 million worldwide. New Moon, at a cost of just $50 million, ended up with$296 million domestic and $709 million worldwide. Eclipse earned another $300 million in the US and$698 million worldwide at a cost of $68 million.4
The Twilight Saga created a blockbuster film with little cost compared to the money it made. The high profit shows the achievement that can come from films, whether good or bad, as long as the fan base and target market is on par. Twilight producers understood that they would make the most money while the films and the drama surrounding them were present in spectators’ minds. Releasing the films in quick succession, most only a year apart, gave fans something to look forward to, and provided just enough time to promote the films in between. Mendelson also comments that “The Twilight Saga may have mediocre acting, shoddy special effects, and very little action, but they did have leads that audience scared deeply about and supporting characters worth spending time with, which is the cheapest special effect of all.”5 The business comes down to who is in the film and which actors will make the fans comeback to see more, regardless of the quality—making the investment in the fans rather than the film itself.
With a massive fan base already established from the books, many anticipated the movies, hyping them up from the beginning. However, the success of the marketing department aided the most by maximizing people in the theatre and money earned. Carol Roth states that there are five business strategies that The Twilight Saga teaches us. “1. Don’t underestimate the power oaf loyal target market. 2. Have a hook that appeals toy our target market (aka don’t underestimate the power of cute boys when targeting teen/tween girls). 3. Strike while the iron is hot. 4. If you are successful, there will be imitators. 5. Find a way for 1 plus 1 to equal 3.”6
Her key points sum up the marketing strategy of the Twilight franchise. First, the book series had a huge fanbase already; this is attributed partially to Stephenie Meyer’s writing style, which allows for easy page-turners by captivating and keeping readers interested from the second they open the first page. She pinpoints what her audience, of girls and women, wants to hear and keeps them engaged as each word tugs exactly at their yearnings of love and desire. As previously mentioned, the books focus Bella’s point of view, as told in the first person, which offers intimate contact between the readers and the main character. Loyal fans felt more attached to Bella and stayed true to the franchise throughout the books, which transferred into the movies. Thus, the films retained their loyal target market.
In the second point, by utilizing the appeal of attractive men, marketers entice the girls who dream of finding their future husbands, especially at a young age.7 Post-feminism, collapsing consumerism, and femininity has overtly marketed and sold the “princess culture” to girls through the issues of being a damsel in distress who is saved by a prince. While the modern trend is to go for an independent woman, she still possesses an end motive for marriage—desiring to be man’s object of desire. Twilight strengthens this target market by casting two completely different males, Jacob, played by Taylor Lautner, and Edward Cullen, played by Robert Pattinson. Lautner encompasses the strong, earthly wolf while Pattinson is the thin, delicate vampire. Fan girls can fall head over heels for whomever they choose, seeing that there are notable qualities in each.
Fans went crazy over the heartthrob men—feeling attached to them emotionally—and turned into consumers, buying every piece of merchandise with their lover’s face. Post-feminism plays heavily on consumerism, encouraging the ostentatious consumption of merchandise with young teens that are being taught to perform their romantic and sexual desires. These teens felt sexually drawn to the Twilight characters, whether Edward or Jacob. Producers realized their time would be short-lived, meaning they had to milk the franchise while they could. Audience members would eventually begin to age out, growing older and more mature, and would phase out of the tween phase of womanhood. Twilight marketers went wild selling posters, buttons, and books to get young girls to fall in love with the mystical boys and continue coming back movie after movie. Roth states, “The Twilight people know that no business cycle lasts forever, so they are not shy about maximizing their potential while they can.”8
Stephenie Meyer kickstarted the fixation with her books, and then transferred this fixation to her movies, bringing more people into the obsession. Mendelson states “[Twilight] helped prove that you didn’t need to expand your fan base if that fan base was big enough.”9 The Twilight franchise recognized that its success came strictly from the girls who were already in love with the story and were ready to pay money to see it on the big screen. Fan girls not only wanted it to be a film, but also wanted it to be an identity and culture that people could talk about and wish they were a part of. The marketing began with the investment into the free publicity as the fan girls took to “Team Edward” or “Team Jacob.” “Fans of the Twilight Saga” Facebook page posts regularly (even to this day) graphics, quotes, and photos of their favorite moments in the books andmovies.10 One recent post quotes Bella: “I dream about being with you forever;” Edward follows up with a “forever” as the two go back and forth, showing a loving look in their eyes in a photo still from the movie.11 Fans were—and still are—captivated instantly by the romance surrounding the couple, on- and off-screen, and want to be a part of their world. Online forums continue, with blogs and other posts from Twilight fans showing creative photoshopped images in the “Edward (hearts) Bella Appreciation Thread,” where, like Facebook, they also post quotes and images.12 Blogger Lion Lamb quotes Edward, “ Bella, I can’t live in a world where you don’t exist,” alongside a photo of them gazing longingly into each other’s eyes as they lie down in the grass.13 Fans are consumed with the words on the page, the words in the movie, and the photos of the two lovebirds, wishing that they could be Bella.
As such, the fans began to almost market the movie themselves, sharing their love of the story with their friends as well as the virtual world. Anne Helen Petersen addresses the upsurge in site traffic from a single mention of Twilight and characters:
Twilight fuels more than just blogs. It also drives traffic to social networking and corporate sites; indeed, following the premiere of the New Moon trailer on the MTV Movie Awards, Finke declared the traffic states’ astounding’: Summit Entertainment has a count of 4.2 million views for the New Moon trailer from MySpace, and another 1.6 million from MTV.comso that’s 5.8 million combined views in the first 24 hours from its two domestic online launch partners.14
In a mere 24 hours, the New Moon trailer went viral, and fans overtook the Internet with excitement by blasting it all over social media. The marketing strategy took hold all by itself, as fans just wanted a glimpse of the next movie they had been waiting so long to see. Twilight’s franchise hosted segments on popular television stations amongst teens and tweens. Terri Schwartz states “[…] MTV’s old ‘Twilight Tuesdays’ which were used to promote ‘Twilight’ back in 2008 by releasing fresh content every Tuesday leading up until the film's release.”15 Twilight films continued to market to stores such as Hot Topic as well as use Indie/Hipster music to relate to other segments of the target market.16 Fans attracted other followers, which led to the ultimate culmination of intense admirers with a powerful obsession over the Twilight films, needing a bit of it every chance they get, in whatever form they could get it.
The Twilight Effect: The Vampire Diaries and True Blood
The phenomenon of Twilight left an imprint on society and culture in the vampire-fanatic world of pre-teens, teens, and young adults, because of its post-feminism consumerism making the primary focus on the female. Marketing campaigns of True Blood and The Vampire Diaries take new spins off of Twilight, while encompassing several of the same tactics used to engross fans into the vampire-cult obsession. Twilight, The Vampire Diaries, and True Blood target different sub-age groups to relay the overarching message of vampires—encompassing sexuality and gender issues in today’s modern world. Twilight proved that a female-protagonist could succeed in a mythical setting and earn money through a blockbuster stint. Though True Blood and The Vampire Diaries relay different messages on sexuality and gender, they incorporate a similar format of Twilight, showing the female lead on a sexualized transition through life’s unknowns. Twilight embodies a reactionary text, supporting women upholding the status quo, whereas The Vampire Diaries and True Blood attempt to disrupt the status quo; their characters are seen engaging in premarital sex, and their stories focus on the older stages of womanhood. Vampires here are known as sexy and deviant, alluring women with their fangs and searching for blood. The culmination of the vampire obsession relays different messages on sexuality and how gender roles play a significant part in the quest for self-exploration. Hila Shachar states:
Meyer’s Twilight saga compels us to consider the fact that as members of modern societies, we have a choice to either accept inherited modes of love and gender, formed in vastly different historical contexts to our own, or to question them, forming our own ideas of masculinity, femininity and love.17
Spectators now can question the unknown, the mythical, and the strange, allowing for any possibilities in a world of vampires.
Moving past the “innocence” of Twilight, these knock-off shows delve into females’ sexual ambitions with partners, as well as masturbation. Sexuality is not represented as bad, only more mature as the shows aim for an older audience. Twilight opened the door into the world of female sexual desire, and allowed other shows to sexualize the idea more and offer different meaning to females, captivating them the same way The Twilight Saga did. Each piece shows a different stage of post-feminism, depicting the pre-sexualized object of desire and the movement of girl to woman through sexual contact with a male character.
As explained earlier, Twilight prospered because the producers understood that every successful movie begins with a good marketing plan. While both True Blood and The Vampire Diaries piggybacked off the success of Twilight, they both cleverly marketed their shows to the proper audiences. The Vampire Diaries, while taking a different marketing turn, was still as successful in its target market field as True Blood and Twilight. Modeled off of the “hot male ready to draw in a vulnerable teenager” as seen in Twilight and True Blood, The Vampire Diaries used the same story line. Many Tumblr blogs and tweets demonstrate the fandom of Twilight and how young girls relate to connecting with Bella.Vampires284’s Tumblr page states, “the concept of the ‘amazing’ guy getting with the ‘average’ girl seems to be a driving point in what makes these vampires and series so popular.”18 This began with Twilight and Bella Swan, an average awkward girl, falling for Edward Cullen, the deep and mysterious hunk at the school. In The Vampire Diaries, Elena Gilbert, while not as awkward as Bella, has the hot and mysterious new guy, Stefan Salvatore, fall for her. The CW marketed The Vampire Diaries to highlight the brooding male hunk as a figure of want and desire, drawing in women of all ages to drool over the men portrayed in a sexual manner. Jessica Hatch writes, “All three of my female friends interviewed concerning Vampire Diaries—ranging from thirteen to twenty years old and from middle to upper middle class families—names its ‘hot vampires’ as their primary or only reason for watching.”19 The CW marketed the show correctly, recognizing the notion that teen girls and women in general would be drawn to the sexualized male. This begins the discussion of sexuality and gender roles within such shows as these roles grow throughout the ages of those marketed. Mary Bridgeman states, “the CW targets a young female viewership using language obliquely associated with feminism yet entirely appropriated to a commercial rather than a political context.”20 The show caters to teen women while the CW recognizes that vampires have become a much bigger influence on sexuality in television than most spectators fully grasp.
In contrast, True Blood’s executive team came up with the slogan, “friends don’t let friends drink friends,” which can be found on posters alongside major bus stations and billboards through metropolitan areas. This slogan aims at older audiences, mimicking the drinking and drive motto, “friends don’t let friends drive drunk.” Marketers wanted the campaign to feel real and to have it connect on another level to spectators. Marta Kagan states:
What made the marketing campaign for HBO’s first seasons of True Blood so remarkable was the way it was woven into the mythology of the show itself […] Videos featuring “real vampires” debating whether or not they should reveal themselves to an unsuspecting human populace were ‘leaked’. An outdoor poster campaign promoting a new beverage called TruBlood (available for sale at www.trubeverage.com) and featuring PSAs supporting equal rights for vampires appeared in major metro areas, none of which ever mentioned the TV show.21
True Blood’s marketing team made it appear as areal event happening in real time. They triggered emotions, especially in dealing with similar issues such as gay rights, to appear as a joint similarity between the two in “supporting equal rights. “After all, vampires are people too, and should be given equal rights, according the marketing team at HBO and True Blood. Along with this, the marketing team created a social media frenzy for the True Blood premieres to hype up the fan bases and allow for more talk to occur online to boost the ratings. Pamela Levine, HBO head of marketing, states:
Social media has been core to the marketing strategy for True Blood since the first season leading to one of the most engaged fan bases of any television series. #TrueBlood: Live from the Set will reward our devotees by allowing them to both participate in and affect the live broadcast through a unique intersection of linear television and digital media.22
Twilight opened the door for True Blood to recognize the significance of social media and the significance of the way information and fan bases spread like wildfire. It is meant to create a strong and loyal fanbase, by connecting to the series on every level that it can. While making it appear realistic, this strategy also utilizes forums and Twitter for fans to live chat.
Sexuality represented through film and television has advanced and grown throughout years of filmmaking. What began as scandalous—kissing on screen back in the early 1890s, for example—has now become a regular, even expected, afterthought to witnessing sexual encounters on a weekly basis through True Blood and The Vampire Diaries in the late 2000s. Though targeted to different markets, the vampire world in these forms has brought sexuality and the sexualization of women to the attention of pre-teens, teens, and young adults today. True Blood brings sex into every episode, which when witnessed at first is uncomfortable to watch—but eventually spectators are desensitized after seeing it replayed over and over again throughout the series. The Vampire Diaries, while not completely sexual in nature, still presents the constant desires of Elena as she is torn between her two vampire lovers. In the complete reverse reaction, Twilight offers the motto of abstinence, where even though Edward desires Bella, he refuses to let himself “hurt” her, signifying that through sex he would be damaging her. When he finally consents after they have been married, she is left with bruises all over her body.
Starting with Twilight, this has been aimed at the younger crowd of preteens, while still attracting audiences from a range of ages. The Vampire Diaries targets teens while True Blood focuses on the adult and over-21 crowd. Edward makes it known throughout the series that sex is not to happen until marriage, while Bella is more persistent in her wanting. Edward comes from an “old-fashioned” background, standing firm in his beliefs that he will wed Bella before consenting to sleep with her. His passion for her and refusal to “hurt” her sexually, knowing he is more powerful than she is, relays the message of sexual dominance throughout the series. Sarah Seltzer writes “[Bella’s] physical safety becomes a symbolic substitute for her virginity, and Edward guards it with overprotective ezeal.”23 While Bella remains a virgin for majority of the series, she is constantly trying to have sex with Edward, and he is refusing to allow it to happen. When they finally proclaim their love, he ends up “abusing” her during sex and tears apart her body, leaving her covered in bruises. Not only is she in pain, but also she is immediately impregnated. Emma Gray states:
The twilight series’ brand of sexuality is fairly straight-forward. Sex equals bloodlust, and in general the rule is ‘Just Say No!’—unless you put a ring on it. The series reads (and watches) like one giant exercise in sexual frustration […] The implications of this dynamic are clear. Sexual urges exist, but must be repressed. This repression is a sign of commitment and love24
This post-feminism culture, while pushing to be more sexually oriented, still shows the old ways of patriarchy and “no sex before marriage,” a world that Edward grew up in. Bella, however, is more modern than Edward, and attempts sleep with him without consenting to marriage. While promoted as a sign of love, this repression can also be compared to signs of an abusive relationship. He takes her away from her family and friends to a remote location to have sex for their first time, only to leave her battered and bruised afterward. Her undying affection toward him could be seen as an abusive relationship—her self-worthlessness prevents her from leaving her partner, since she feels that she will never deserve better. Seltzer states, “Bella’s willingness to sacrifice her physical safety, her education, anther family and social ties for Edward, and the well-meaning but stringent control he exerts over her, are reminiscent of abusive relationships.”25 As preteens fantasize over their Edward Cullen, they imagine an overprotective boyfriend who is perfect in every way. While Twilight teaches them the value of waiting for marriage, it also hopefully teaches teens the issues of an abusive relationship throughout the course of the series. Vampires, through an essence of sexual nature, also depict the deepest and darkest regrets of a relationship, signifying the underlying desires that preteens and teens may not have realized existed.
As is visible with Twilight, debates take place culturally about the meaning of the sexuality depicted, while many arguments continuously state that it is clear that the female is configured prematurely through sexuality. The Vampire Diaries targets the next market of teens, showing more sexuality than Twilight but not nearly as much as witnessed in True Blood. The Vampire Diaries focuses on Elena Gilbert, a teen that struggles not only with her average every day life but her vampire boyfriend and the mystical wonders he brings along. She gets every guy she wants, and even has several fighting for her attention at a time. Early in the show, a main character named Vicki Donovan gets trans-formed into a vampire. She becomes the empowered woman that is sexually aggressive. Jessica Hatch states:
In its enlightened sexism, Vampire Diaries subtly subscribes to the belief that too much female power and liberated sexuality can be dangerous and violent. When this sexist belief is deployed on television shows, it often involved “bad girls” doing impulsive or unstable things, which here equates to being one of the evil vampires. Once Vicki becomes a vampire, her hunger for blood—a metaphor other characters explain as “love, lust, anger, desire,” all blurring “into one urge: hunger”—is uncontrollable and constant. She becomes the stereotypical uncontrollably powerful woman.26
The Vampire Diaries encourages sexual behavior among teens, as well as other audiences, by describing becoming a vampire as similar to becoming an adult—requiring movement through sexuality, gaining the ability to be stronger and faster. It is upgrading the “Twilight effect”27 for a different audience by giving some of the lustful desires that come with the modern day versions of vampires. Vampire urge is derived through the female protagonist, and the way she allows herself to do whatever she wants with her body. In contrast to Twilight, Elena and Vicki do as they please because they feel empowered. They do not wait for marriage to have sex, yet they don’t “sleep” around either. However, Elena yearns for the attention of Damon and Stefan, allowing herself to be under their control, meaning that she has no real power over her sexuality; it is still in the hands of the two vampire brothers. Thus, post-feminism sends multiple mixed messages, making the woman seem like she is in power when she is truly just an object of male attention.
True Blood, being the most sexual of the three, is 99% likely to have someone having sex on screen in each episode. Emma Gray states, “Sex is everywhere in ‘True Blood.’ For each moment of lingering eye contact that happens in ‘Twilight’, ‘True Blood’ depicts an orgasm.”28 True Blood raises the large questions of female pleasure and visualizes it to spectators. The show expresses this through the main character Sookie Stackhouse, who begins the series as a virgin and the audience witnesses her sexualization thru womanhood. She is a humble girl from a humble family working as a waitress in the middle of Louisiana. Gray states: Even Sookie, the blond, virginal innocent, departs substantially from Bella. Although she starts off a virgin, just waiting for the right man, once she has sex, she doesn’t end up pregnant—or dead, as so often occurs when women are sexual beings in horror films. In fact, she becomes emboldened, asking for what she wants in and out of bed, allowing (and thoroughly enjoying) being bitten by her vampire companion.29 True Blood encapsulates a combination of the other two, The Vampire Diaries and Twilight, bringing forth the shy virgin yet turning her into a female empowered main protagonist. It is not uncomfortable watching Sookie’s transformation; rather, the audience roots for her, and she discovers herself among other partners. She moves much more quickly into sex compared to the other shows, since it is aimed at a more adult audience. Sookie has begun the transformation into adult womanhood and is thus able to move more quickly through her sexual experiences, making her more relatable to her target audience.
Gender Norms and Sexuality
While Twilight kick started the obsession with vampires among young women, The Vampire Diaries and True Blood took it to a whole new level sexually, recognizing the empowerment that female women feel with their body today and their rights as humans. The Vampire Diaries and True Blood showcase females’ intense desire to do as they please, giving younger women a notion that they don’t need to follow a male in their life—but, rather, themselves. This issue brings up several questions on gender, and how it is formulated and expressed throughout the “vampire media” today. To begin again with Twilight, Bella plays the helpless damsel in distress. In New Moon, she resorts to committing acts of suicide after recognizing that her beloved Edward will come running to save her. She jumps off a cliff and crashes a motorcycle; all forms of huge dependency issues. In an article by D Trem (Darren) on Yahoo!Voices, he describes Bella’s behavior and how society views the gender roles played out in Twilight. He states:
Bella’s damsel-like behavior also reinforces the victim role of women who are raped […] The main characters of the film both fall into stereotypical male and female images depicted by the media. Bella is weak and defenseless. She has to be rescued on a daily basis. At times she can even be absent minded. Edward is dark, control-ling and strong. He is always there to save his damsel.30
Twilight gives spectators the premise that they need to be saved. Young women cannot fend for themselves, or make choices on their own, and need to wait for a man to save them from their distress. Bella and Edward end up having sex that hurts her tremendously, showing girls that it is okay to be beaten up in the process of showing someone you love them. M. Carmen Gomez-Galisteo states:
Feminist readings of The Twilight Saga denounce that […] rough sex can be pleasurable even though it cane harmful, that giving up one’s dreams, aspirations, lifestyle […] becomes a positive choice for American teenage girls. It all ends up present a picture of love as full of sacrifices and personal renunciations for women. Even more harmful, being more than willing to make costly personal sacrifices, and losing friends in the process are seen as indicators of love.31
Twilight, in reality, promotes very few ideals for a healthy relationship. The saga convinces preteens to idolize over a perfect fantasy man who they must devote their entire life to. Bella must change the very essence of who she is in order to be with Edward forever. She would die as human and he would live on, so naturally the only way to stay would have to be turning into a vampire—and thus relinquishing all human rights to her friends, family, and any normal existence she may have had, all for that of a man. The story points preteens to the role of being a damsel all their life, rather than become the empowered females that they have every right to be.
Within The Vampire Diaries, though Elena does not have the typical “damsel in distress” mode of thinking, seeing that she is much more sexually empowered than Bella, she still will never be equal to her male counter parts. Regardless of what happens to her during the show, her male boyfriends still control her. Camilie Johnson writes:
[Female empowerment] seems limiting because for Elena, without becoming a vampire, she will never be able to be at an equal playing field with her love interests. And even when she does become a vampire she has a bond with her love interest Damon where she is forced to do anything he says and can’t not listen. This show that thought she is independent, she will never be equal with her boyfriend […] This brought up an idea that for women to have power, then they have to be sexual.32
Elena encompasses the gender stereotype that most women still feel today—that they will never be as equal as men, even when given the same amount of rights. Many women on the show are treated as objects of desire, especially by Damon Salvatore, seeing that the vampire is the desire and the woman helps fulfill that craving. Twilight showed the powerless female who was wanted, whereas The Vampire Diaries shows the sexually empowered female who is still desired by male vampires. Elena is constantly hurt over what she cannot fix in her life, yet she has a choice as to those she dates or sleeps with. However, even when she picks an above-average male, she cannot compare to his level of being even when she too becomes a vampire. Lauren Hart states:
[Damon] treats [women] as a source of life and also a way to satisfy his sexual nature. Even Elena, the girl who he is in love with, is seen in his eyes as a sexual conquest […] The young girls watching this show are having high expectations about themselves and those that they are hoping to attract. The show teaches our youth to accept that being the victim isn’t negative, that nothing can be done when all falls apart.33
With two vampire shows signifying male dominance over females, this gives questionable opinions on what information we are feeding the youth of today. While each tackle a different issue, they are marketed toward similar audiences but within different age groups. This allows spectators to witness several different ways that females battle through life—whether through a damsel-like movement or through empowered sexual practices—while never being made equal with males.
True Blood focuses more on gay rights than dominance over the female protagonist. As stated above, both prove that the female protagonist has the power over herself and her body, with free will to do as she pleases rather than consenting to whatever male desires her. Instead, they focus on gay rights and other gender empowerment through the metaphor of the vampire sector. While True Blood follows the notion and model of Twilight, with the female lead and jumping on the vampire bandwagon, it actually deviates from the characters of Twilight by bringing to the table new issues and topics that teens and young adults battle with currently. Asia Johnson states, “True Blood uses vampires as a metaphorical means of representing marginalized sexual communities in America. The program explores contemporary political debates about race and sexuality.”34 True Blood uses the issues of gay rights and portrays that debate through the message of vampires, especially through its plot and marketing slogans. Vampires are not able to marry except in Vermont. They are given limited rights even though they are deemed as people. This can be seen as a direct parallel to the gay rights movement in today’s society. Johnson also states:
The “Great Revelation” is the term used to describe the day when vampires first announced their existence to mankind. As claimed by Richard Dyer, strategies of identifying as homosexual and ‘coming out’ immediately raise the problem of visibility, of being seen to be gay. The discovery of vampires ‘coming out’ of the coffin draws comparison with the contemporary dilemma of homosexuals “coming out of the closet.” The Great Revelation poses an identity crisis for the vampire community because they must decide if they are going to assimilate into human society or maintain a separate identity.35
The show even gives way to the “Fellowship of the Sun,” a group who hates vampires, a metaphor for the Church not accepting homosexuals. With the parallels clearly dictated throughout the show, they use the vampire metaphor for gay rights, instead of female rights. While Sookie remains the female protagonist who is free to do as she pleases, she is not the one fighting for equality. The vampires are the ones looking for acceptance among the humans rather than vice versa. Majority of the humans have no desire to become vampires, and most vampires were forced to become so. True Blood’s characters rebel against cultural norms, forcing the new progressive movements to eventually be accepted as normal as the show continues. Women’s rights are aligned with this, represented in each female handling their sexuality in a different way. Through the depiction of gay rights and women’s freedom of sexuality, True Blood encompasses the varying stances on the issues of today.
Twilight paved the way for True Blood and The Vampire Diaries to become more successful, but they each hold a different target market and advertise different messages throughout the entirety of the series. Twilight focuses on the female damsel who wants nothing more than to please her beloved boyfriend, advertising majorly to preteens. The Vampire Diaries focuses on female empowerment through sexuality, yet still never being equal with the male counterpart, advertising primarily to teens. True Blood, showcased in the young adult world, illustrates female empowerment as well as soapboxing for gay rights by using the vampire as a metaphor. Vampires are usually known for their desire and sexuality, but Twilight, True Blood, and The Vampire Diaries showcase this in a completely different manner by highlighting several aspects of the world we live in, yet emphasizing the female protagonist at the base of the stories. Twilight began the obsession which lead to a new phenomenon of desires, wants, and wishes, portrayed on screen, which allowed the youth of today to learn the bad and the good that comes along with relationships and gender issues.
While Twilight allowed for post-feminist films and television shows to be successful, its presence attends to the varied ways of needing to understand how contemporary society positions femininity as related to a consumer identity and fantasy. The post-feminist spectator has become a powerful force in consuming content, purchasing merchandise, and watching films, while the Twilight creators recognize the true potential with the female consumers of the age. Females desire to be recognized as sexual beings, all while still maintaining the centrality of the male gaze. These texts, while seemingly offering possibilities for a female to function at the center of the narrative, still imagine the female identity through a male-centric sexual lens. They long for the dreamy hero to sweep them off their feet, all while seeming to be the protagonist of the story and in control of their life. Throughout the vampire novels, female protagonists are never fully in control of their life, and still remain an object of the male, wanting and waiting to be sexually devoured.
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