CONduit 2011 Report -- Are Vampires Hurting Our Girls?

Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

June 4, 2011 -- 10:11 p.m.

It's interesting how two people can have two completely different interpretations of a story. For example, my eyes widened at CONduit last weekend when Dragonlance author Tracy Hickman referred to the old folktale Bluebeard as a 'feminist empowerment story'.

In the story, a woman ends up married to a nobleman who tells her she may go into every room in his mansion except the basement. Of course, she goes into that basement while he's away and finds his dead wives hanging on hooks. Before she can escape, the nobleman comes home and tries to kill her, but she delays him long enough that her brothers save her.

I used to love this story, probably because the key the woman uses to open the basement door turns blood red when she uses it and won't scrub clean. Because I was that kind of kid. Bloody keys are cool.

So I've known this story for a long time, and I've always thought of it as a variation on the 'pandora/eve motif' where a woman is punished for her curiosity. The moral of the story is don't disobey your husband, or he might turn into a sociopathic maniac and kill you. A quick browse on the internet reveals that this interpretation is the most prevalent among folklore scholars...or at least among students attempting to sell their papers online. (This is one thing that bugs me on essay-selling web sites--the writing/analysis is usually so poor that if you did buy one and use it, you'd get a bad grade. If you're going to make money selling essays, you ought to at least be selling quality essays.)

However, Hickman's contention is that the Bluebeard story is actually a feminist cautionary tale about abusers. Don't marry someone who's perfect except for the fact he murders people, because the beast will come out in the end.

Now arguing about the legitimacy of an interpretation is somewhat silly--after all, what's the definition of legitimacy? By who's metric do you judge? Hickman's interpretation may have more substantiation than mine, because the female isn't punished at the end for her curiosity--she escapes death and is rewarded by retaining her dead fortune's husband. And Bluebeard killed his first wife even though she couldn't have found the room with the bodies, ergo curiosity may not have been what killed her (although Bluebeard could still have been using the room for something else he didn't want discovered.) So the female character could have been in danger regardless.

But it was more interesting to me how two people could view the same story and take completely different messages away from it. In extension, Hickman served on a panel talking about the modern romantic interpretations of vampires, which basically degenerated into bashing Twilight. (Which bugs me. Not because I like Twilight, because I don't, but because bashing on Twilight is too easy/popular. I never like people who shoot fish in a barrel--that's why I stopped watching South Park. Making fun of Paris Hilton is not a difficult feat of comedy. Same with the Daily Show and it's target on stupid right-wing nutjobs. It's better when it focuses on the nutjobs within the government, instead of the nutjobs commenting on the government.)

Anyway, Hickman views the vampire romance genre as bad because it suggests the monster--the traditional vampire seducer/rapist etc.--can be tamed and loving. He believes it tells women that it's okay to live and love abusers who hunger for blood because love conquers all.

My response, on the other hand, is that the vampire romance is an extension of the traditional romance genre's 'bad boy' with a supernatural twist. That twist gives heaps of wish fulfillment because the (mostly) ordinary girl (stand-in for the reader) is special enough that she's chosen to be privy to a secret world that her peers aren't. Whether it's Sookie Stackhouse or Rachel Morgan, she has a special access to a world of wealth and magic that ordinary mortals can only dream of. Every woman wants to believe they are that special enough to have that kind of access, and every woman loves the hint of danger that comes with the bad boy motif, with werewolves instead of bikers.

Because of my worldview, I tend to look at the vampire romance genre with benign amusement, viewing it as no worse/better than any other romance genre involving a lovable rake. I used to enjoy the books, until I felt the concept got too trite and predictable. Tracy Hickman, on the other hand, views the whole paranormal subgenre as very dangerous indeed.

The point is: Two people can have different ideas about the world, and their interpretations may not touch anywhere.

I was going to segue into stories about bad con etiquette, which seems to be getting worse every year, (including someone having an actual phone conversation during the vampire panel when Tracy Hickman was speaking. A REAL CONVERSATION.), but I've decided to try to be more understanding of other people's worldviews. Even if that worldview includes changing a baby's diaper during a lecture on the carpet two feet in front of my sneakers.


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