Actually, they don't. And that's the problem.
Last week at Comic-Con, the big story wasn't comic books—it was vampires. Some 2,000 young women set up a tent city outside the San Diego Convention Center on Tuesday, sleeping rough so that they could attend the Thursday panel on New Moon, the upcoming sequel to vampire blockbuster Twilight.
It's just another sign of the massive popularity of vampires. Yet, like many people who acquire mega-celebrity, the vampire has developed an eating disorder. Read the books. Watch the movies. You'll see vampires who manage nightclubs, build computer databases, work as private investigators, go to prep school, lobby Congress, chat with humans, live near humans, have sex with humans, and pine over humans, but the one thing you won't see them do is suck the blood of humans.
No, bloodsucking is so yesterday. It's so 1994. It's so Anne Rice. Today's vampire is a good listener. He cares about our love lives and our problems, which is strange because we're supposed to be his food. Humans just assume that we are the center of the universe and so, faced with a literary creation that should, by all rights, just conk us over the head and suck us down like Slurpees, we've decided that we're too fascinating to be eaten. And so the modern vampire stalks, seduces, sleeps with, and cries over us. They don't eat us.
The original Dracula in Draculaloved to drink blood. He has "white sharp teeth, behind the full lips of the blood-dripping mouth." He forces Mina Harker to his bosom, where "[h]er white nightdress was smeared with blood, and a thin stream trickled down [his] bare chest," and he compels her to drink his blood, like a "child forcing a kitten's nose into a saucer of milk. ..." This bodily fluid fetishism was par for the course for the next 79 years, until Anne Rice's Interview With the Vampire, when Ms. Rice started to tweak up the Gothness. In her books, vampires were better known for being immortal than for sucking blood, which makes their fascination with humans even more mysterious: After living among us for hundreds of years, haven't they heard all of our jokes by now?
At least Anne Rice's vampires were still primarily bloodsuckers. The first sign that something was awry came with the introduction of Angel in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. A prime example of the brooding, crying-on-the-inside, leather-jacketed emo boy of the '90s (see also: Dylan McKay, Beverly Hills, 90210; James Hurley, Twin Peaks), Angel was a vampire who had a soul. He fell in love with Buffy, teared up a lot, and believed in random acts of kindness. Angel, in short, sucked. Or, rather, he didn't suck, which was the problem. When he did suck, he took limited amounts of blood from consenting human women, or sucked blood against his will, or sucked rat blood.
Think about it. Faced with the impact of his diet on humans, Angel accepts a yucky, cruelty-free substitute, then endlessly lectures other vampires about their moral failings because they don't do the same. He's not a vampire—he's a vegan.
But the ladies loved him, and he launched a sensitive-vampire industry. These days, you have Laurel K. Hamilton's Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter series, Charlaine Harris' Sookie Stackhouse novels (from which we derive True Blood), Richelle Mead's Vampire Academy books, and Leslie Esdaile Banks' Vampire Huntress Legends series featuring Damali Richards, a spoken-word artist who fights vampires, a detailwhich guarantees that I'm rooting for the vampires. But most damaging of all are Stephenie Meyer's Twilight books.
At least Angel, Anita Blake's vampires, Sookie Stackhouse, and most of the rest of them have a lot of sex. But Edward Cullen, immortal star of the Twilight books, does not have sex. Edward tells Bella, his human paramour, that they need to wait until they're married before doing the deed. In the meantime, he's fascinated by her, beguiled by her, he can't stay away from her—but he can't touch her. Instead, he lies next to her in bed and moons over her as she sleeps. Leaving aside the fact that he's a 90-year-old man, this is what stalkers do, not boyfriends.
Just as America's young men are being given deeply erroneous ideas about sex by what they watch on the Web, so, too, are America's young women receiving troubling misinformation about the male of the species from Twilight. These women are going to be shocked when the sensitive, emotionally available, poetry-writing boys of their dreams expect a bit more from a sleepover than dew-eyed gazes and chaste hugs. The young man, having been schooled in love online, will be expecting extreme bondage and a lesbian three-way.
Grady Hendrix is one of the founders of the New York Asian Film Festival and he writes about pop culture on his blog.
Illustration by Robert Neubecker.