Glorifying the vampire normalises relationship violence
- Published: 10 July 2010
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The current cultural trend of glorifying the vampire reflects – and works to construct – the normalisation and justification of a certain type of relational violence and we risk tolerating abusive behaviour as we read our relationships through the vampire genre, writes Max Attitude.
Power in relationships is not permanent but constantly shifting. In different contexts, different parties have different powers and access to power.
Too often we ignore these transferences of power and the ways in which our decisions and actions impact those around us.
Same-sex couples commonly overlook the ways in which there are inequalities in their relationships because they see the sameness of their sex-gender as a level playing field.
But there remain other histories, experiences and social inequalities that lead some people into positions of power and others into subordination.
Male privilege is certainly one such factor, but one of many.
The physical prowess of the vampire can be seen as a metaphor for varying power dynamics in relationships; that is, that one party (always) has power over the other.
The abusive potential of this relation is especially evident in the Twilight series, as Bella’s physical inferiority to Edward is not complicated (unlike in other vampire stories in which the female has some kind of super human powers to rival that of the vampire, as in Buffy or, to a lesser extent, True Blood).
Here, his violent tendencies – his ability and potential to abuse that power – are justified as a part of ‘who he is’ because he’s a vampire.
This way of thinking can be seen as an extension of the social theory offered by Susan Brownmiller in her 1975 book Against Our Will, where she argues that man’s physical potential for rape constitutes an integral part of sexual difference; of “who he [and she] is”.
That all of these contemporary vampire love stories consist of a male vampire and female human is no coincidence (John Ajvide Lindqvist’s Let The Right One In provides a welcome exception).
The possibility of power being held by men is more palatable to us because of reasons highlighted by analysis like Brownmiller’s. However – as becomes clear in same-sex relationships – there are many factors affecting how power functions between people, and who is more likely to relinquish power in certain contexts.
One such context occurs when one party likes another more than is reciprocated. This dynamic is one we tend to be aware of, though it’s infelicitous to verbalise.
It’s certainly not unacceptable in itself; however, the potential for the person who most likes the other to forfeit their desires quicker and easier is an affective factor in considering power in a relationship.
What is interesting and important (and too often ignored) is what the partner ‘in power’ does, how they use that power (ir)responsibly.
And what we learn from contemporary vampire stories is that power is held ‘naturally’ by some over others, rather than situationally dependent and changeable.
Particularly in polyamorous relationships and discourse, these complexities of power are avoided through hedonistic defenses like ‘we [or I] do what we [or I] want.’
This type of reasoning is problematically presented as subversive and radical in itself (as resisting the ‘control’ aspect of monogamy) and thus without need for further consideration.
Being clear about what you want helps, but things are more complicated than that.
Polyamorous discourse fails when rules (often named ‘ethics’) are uncritically asserted, such as [the archetypal example]: ‘everyone is responsible for articulating their needs.’
Things would be significantly less high maintenance if everyone just did what they wanted. But not everyone feels as though they are entitled to what they want, or knows how to ask for it.
And when someone has power over you – how do you (re)gain any kind of power except in denying yourself to someone: withdrawing or withholding your affection, your time?
I want to agree with Gauche Sinister that “it’s damaging and wasteful to withhold something you want, in order to punish someone else.”
But it’s damaging and painful to be giving something to someone who wants it, when they are constantly denying you what you want. Not least because it takes a toll on one’s self-esteem.
When desires differ, which they certainly will in one context or another, someone wins out. Power is always at play. Pretending that we’re autonomous, that our decisions and actions don’t affect others, isn’t helpful. All it does is overwrite and invalidate ways in which power is abused.
The potential for power to be abused is a part of all relationships, but too often we refuse even to recognise this possibility. And that’s really dangerous.
In our glorification of the vampire we accept relational inequalities as inherent, unchangeable and justified. Being aware of the ways in which people are likely to be accommodating to others, and taking care with that, is the only responsible way to relate to anyone.
Max Attitude is a social commentator, queer tranny boi hero. He is co-creator of the queer hanky guide at flagging opinicus rampant and this article is an adaptation from his regular column What’s Queer Here?