Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Sinking their teeth into a conception of an idea

Editor's note: Pinkmingo's professors gave her a one-hour break this weekend to write something that wasn't a term paper. We're looking forward to semester break when all of her pent-up ideas come flooding out of her computer and we can queue posts for the next three months. :)

Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire; The Vampire Lestat; Queen of the Damned; Ellen Schreiber's Vampire Kisses series; HBO's True Blood; and South Park's commentary on the vampire phenomenon (Tre and Matt blame Hot Topic for the whole thing). Now, Twilight.

Twilight, released this month, is based on one of four novels written by Stephanie Meyer about a vampire, Edward Mullen, and a teenage girl, Isabella Swan, who live out a breathtaking—or in this case, bloodsucking— romance. Their love only blossoms after she finds out that although he ignored her when they first met, it was only because her blood smelled exceptionally delicious. So, to save her, he drinks animal blood instead. (Ah, romance.) Another vampire tries to kill her, Mullen saves the day, Swan almost turns into a vampire after being bitten by another one, Mullen sucks the vampire venom out of her so she remains human, and they go to prom as if nothing happened. Just another day for these average American teenagers.

For anyone guessing this movie is just another cheesy flick based on some books no one has heard of, that’d be a serious mistake. Twilight is a pop culture phenomenon, the book having sold millions of copies, and the film being one of the most anticipated of the year. So what makes a movie that people can relate to because they might have gone to prom (and hopefully didn’t bring a vampire) so popular? Is it just a worldwide depression that’s making consumers look for extraordinary circumstances to see the good in people and the world? Or do we just have such high expectations for our romantic partners now that they now have to be “magical” to be good enough?

We’re guessing a little of both. According to developmental psychologist Jean Piaget, this fascination with the unreal can be explained by what he calls Naïve Idealism. Naïve Idealism happens when people, whatever their age and sex, construct an ideal world (romantic vampires) and compare it to the real world (actual people). Not surprisingly, the real world usually falls short of these expectations and the people who create them become depressed or unhappy with their own lives. The reticular formation, or decision-making part of the brain, also isn’t fully developed until the early 20s, so to some, getting their blood sucked by a “not as handsome as the screaming fans make him seem” vampire seems more glamorous than it actually is.

In other words, the realization and separation of fantasy and reality, which should happen during adolescence, combined with the development of the brain, is supposed to override the desire for an alternate universe, but apparently some peoples’ brains haven’t gotten that memo. The Naïve Idealism approach is logical enough, but it doesn't explain the behavior of women who just pretend to be in their early 20s, but are actually much older and still holding on to fantasies of men in shining armor (or capes, or fangs).

All of this idealism may have begun when these same women who are “in love” with Mullen were five-year-olds watching Disney movies while truly believing all men were princes. It is right around the time when Disney has the biggest impact on children’s lives that they also cannot determine reality from fantasy. That giant purple octopus is real to a five-year-old, as are pumpkins turning into carriages, and, of course, so is Prince Charming. Once they get too old or embarrassed to still lust after a cartoon character, they switch to a real person with a touch of fantasy.

As a result, many women may carry these visions of ideal mates into their real lives and become disappointed when their significant other doesn’t live up to the expectations constucted for a prince. This in turns offers the final explanation for why they desire these made-up men (creatures) in the first place.

WB finds the most interesting part of all this to be that the women don’t want the actor who plays Cullen, Robert Pattinson, they want Cullen (fangs and all). Meredith Viera from the Today show delved into this topic the day the Twilight cast visited her set. One audience member didn’t hesitate to answer her question and said, “Because it’s Edward Cullen, come on!” When asked “But why?” by Pattinson, the same woman laughed and said, “I don’t know.” A younger fan at a mall previous to the Today appearance answered the question by saying, “Because he’s the love of my life, the reason for my existence, and I love him.”

The actress who portrays Isabella Swan, Kirsten Stewart, thinks people “get off” on the fact that “under the surface [of the movie] is a strained, impossible, difficult love,” although on the surface “it sounds really shallow and ideological.”

Something tells us that real marriage proposals to a fake vampire played by a person they’ve never met speaks the opposite of the fans understanding either of those levels.


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