The Twilight series of books and movies is the latest stage, and perhaps the culmination, of a daring philosophical exploration that began in its most public aspect with Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Stoker, of course, did not invent the vampire, as most cultures have, most appropriately, dreaded blood-sucking nocturnal monsters. What Stoker did most successfully was to highlight how attracted we are to them, to their power, their sexuality, and their immortality. He didn’t came up with that, either, but his story would henceforth shape the question for Western civilization.
Ever since Lucy fell for Dracula’s supernatural charms, we have been grappling with the fact that we want it. We want it… but what about the moral cost of a blood-based diet? (There are animals for that, or perhaps synthetic substitutes.) We want it… but what about the loneliness of immortality? (When was the last time you saw a vampire without a date, or without the kind of family trouble that makes you wish for some loneliness?) We want it… but what about our humanity?
Stereotypically, although perhaps not in point of fact, there’s no being on Earth less philosophically inclined than a young teenager in love, all hormones and impulse. Neither Romeo nor Juliet were Hamlet, nor could they be Nietzsche. They want what they want for the most personal and least abstract of reasons, and Twilight‘s protagonist, the improbably nicknamed Bella, took a single look at immortality, superstrength, brooding intensity, and, yes, superhumanly enthusiastic sex, and said “sign me up.”
The cultural relevance of Twilight hinges on the fact that it’s not a vampire story in Stoker’s sense. It’s not a struggle between morality and the seductiveness of darkness, because there is no darkness involved. In Bella’s world, vampires and werewolves are beautiful people with superpowers, and conflicts are not of a moral nature, but mostly classic variations of traditional romantic plots (e.g., choosing between the now-attractive lifelong friend and the attractive and mysterious stranger). She’s the visible culmination of a cultural thought process that has taken centuries, and that has decided, with the tacit, un-self-aware clarity of youth, that non-humanity is not an issue for romance. And if it’s not an issue for romance, it’s not an issue at all.
Bella isn’t a Nietzschean character (to say the least), and her passive attitude toward the supernatural and/or the stalking seems anachronistic and disquieting in a post-Buffy the Vampire Slayer, post-Scream world. But even in her perpetual state of romantic confusion, her constant pestering for Edward to make her a vampire (thus giving her the twin boons of eternal youth and probably very interesting sex) speaks loudly and clearly about how our civilization has finally resolved the question put forward by Stoker’s Dracula.
Would we give up our non-vampireness for youth and pleasure? Yes. Sign us up.