The Imaginary Heroine

searching for the plot

A New Dawn part 6: “Tall, Dark, and…Thirsty?” by Ellen Steiber March 14, 2010

[Part of a series discussing the essays in A New Dawn edited by Ellen Hopkins. These posts may contain spoilers about all four Twilight novels.]

This essay was one of my favorites of the lot. It started with a fun overview of vampire mythology, literature, and movies and some of the social constructs our changing vampires have reflected over the years. Unsurprisingly, when Steiber begins interpreting Meyer’s vampires as part of that continuing tradition she’s more than a little disappointed in how they stack up. As a traditional vampire novel, Twilight kind of sucks (lame pun intended). [Maybe because they’re a different kind of blood drinker? The “drink this wine it is my body” kind of blood drinker?… Ahem…] She then finds something even more creepy than blood-drinking monsters lurking beneath the vampiric veneer.

Steiber places the origins of our current crop of vampires in the Balkan “Vampire Epidemic” of the 1730’s. The legends and old wives tales found their way to Britain and were popularized by two works in particular. The first was John Polidori’s “The Vampyre” (I got my hot little hands on it for free right here). Published in 1819, Polidori’s tale of the vampire Lord Ruthven is said to be a product of the same ghost story session that spawned Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. The darkly magnetic Ruthven, Steiber tells us, was even based upon another of the session’s participants, the bad boy, rock star poet Lord Byron.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897) amped up the sexual tension. What with his trio of sexy lady vampire roommates and taste for young innocent women, Dracula was clearly a metaphor for the specter of sexuality in the repressed Victorian Era. “He’s a perfect example of the exotic, inscrutable stranger whom good girls really should avoid,” says Steiber. In 1931, Dracula became immortalized on the silver screen by the Hungarian actor Bela Lugosi. His portrayal was so arresting that it has held up for 80 years as the prototypical vampire. Ask anyone to do a vampire imitation and I’m betting it will owe quite a bit to Lugosi’s Dracula.

Over the years vampires have become even more tied to sexuality and romance. Steiber points out the advantages to a vampire as a romantic lead. A vampire is powerful and magnetic, making him immediately appealing to other characters and readers alike. The vampire has also become something of a sympathetic loner, making them emotionally vulnerable in ways that can be exploited for a number of plot devices, particularly a romance.

After setting up the source material for our modern vampires, Steiber decides that Meyer has actually inverted numerous traditional elements of the vampire. Edward is not a dark parasite destroying the life and virtue of his innocent victim. Quite the reverse, Edward is a paragon of Victorian morality, safeguarding his beloved’s virtue – even when she begs not only to become a monster, but to jump his bones as well. Even Bella’s transformation into a vampire is an inversion of the classic story line. Bella does not become a fallen monster, instead her transformation saves her life and enables her to raise her child.

If the vampires in Meyer’s universe aren’t about sexuality and destruction of innocence, then what on earth are they about?

“What I’ve come to see about vampires, though, is that they change with the time and culture they appear in. They’re mirrors of our fears and desires. Early bloodsucking vampires were all about the hold that the dead had on the living…The stories of psychic vampires told of people who fed on other’s energy, drawing their strength from weakening those around them… Even Bram Stoker’s Dracula has been interpreted as a reflection of fears of its time: of foreign influence threatening british society, of our animal nature threatening to overwhelm our reason, and of illicit and irresistible sexual compulsion threatening marriage…Meyer’s vampires – or more accurately Bella’s obsession with Edward seems to mirror our current terror of aging, our own deep fear that without flawless physical beauty, we’ll never truly be worth loving.”

The prevalence of the beauty as virtue has a major impact on the young women of today. Especially now that we live in an age of rhinoplasty for sixteen year olds and Photoshop features for personal digital cameras. Steiber is rightfully concerned that Twilight seems to whole-heartedly endorse this philosophy and export it to the millions of teen girls who read it.

“She’s taken our warped attitude toward age and made it even more extreme, and because Bella is so easy to identify with, I can’t help but feel uneasy with this. Life is change. What Bella’s so eagerly signing up for is everlasting stasis.”

Ellen Steiber‘s essay really surprised me. I thought I was in for a bit of historical info, but she really shifted my perspective on Edward’s sparkling, marble pecs and gave me another interpretation about the underlying meaning of Twilight. Her assertion that we have abandoned our disgust of the monstrous, parasitic vampires of the past in order to focus our loathing on humanity has given me plenty of tasty food for thought. Her bio at the end of the essay says that she’s also written for a book called Demigods and Monsters: Your Favorite Authors on Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians Series. Sounds delicious… *Adds to Amazon wishlist*

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Magazine Line Geometry March 6, 2010

Filed under: Fashion and Beauty — imaginaryheroine @ 6:00 am
Tags: ,

A point on a line takes up no space. Though it exists, it has no area, volume, length nor any other dimensions. It is real, but does not take up dimensional space.

A picture is a recording of a point in time. Though that point in time really happened, the picture refers to a reality that has changed over time. It doesn’t exist anymore in the present.

A commercially produced image does not refer to a point in time. It doesn’t refer to anything that ever existed. It reflects an impossible fantasy not dependent upon the constraints of realty.

So why do we factor them into our equations of reality?

Are these images attractive because of their impossibility?

Or are they attractive because they make the impossible plausible?

An oldy but goody.

 

You Need Hands: a product review March 2, 2010

My hands and feet have been really ragged lately. Nothing I’ve put on them has helped.

But BEHOLD the Fresh & Easy baby sleep time massage balm!

Fresh & Easy is a grocery store chain that specializes in small inventory and high quality stock. One opened up a few blocks away in the Fall. The store brand groceries are really nice and the location is convenient. It’s far cheaper than Trader Joe’s and on par with the other stores in the area (inner city shrinkage costs BITE). I never realized the store brand had skin care products until I picked up some laundry detergent yesterday.

My eyes wandered over to the baby products and there it was. Nestled in the middle of Fresh & Easy’s all natural baby products. The baby sleep time massage balm.

Ingredients? Olive oil, beeswax, shea butter, jojoba seed oil, oat kernel oil, safflower seed oil, aloe, aloe leaf extract, lavender, chamomile flower oil, ylang ylang flower oil, bitter orange flower oil. That’s it. It looks like a big slice of lip balm in the tub and smells faintly sweet.

Sadly, I have no baby to massage, but it’s great for hands, feet, lips, and elbows – anywhere that needs a bit of moisture. It’s fairly soft and sinks right in to my skin. It’s not heavy like many petroleum-based deep moisture products, but it still manages to pack a punch. My cuticles are mending after one day.

At $4 for 2.5oz, it’s a pretty good deal too. A little goes a long way and it should last me a while.

“You need hands to hold someone you care for
When you fear nobody wants to know you
You need hands to brush away the tears

When you hold a brand new baby
You need tender hands to guide them on their way
You need hands to thank the Lord for living
And forgiving us this day

You need hands to show the world you’re happy
And you need hands when you have to stop the bus
But the hands that we love so dear
Are the hands that we love to hear
Are the hands that You give to us
Everybody holds the hands that You give to us!”
– The Sex Pistols, “You Need Hands”

We all know Sid Vicious was seriously into his skin care products…

Total Metro, amirite?

[Yes, I know “You Need Hands” is sung by Malcolm McLaren, not Sid Vicious. I’m sure he’s a metro too.]

 

Doppelgängers of Facebook February 17, 2010

A few days late to the party, I decided to join Celebrity Doppelgänger Week on Facebook, during which members change their profile picture to a look-a-like celeb and let the flattering comments roll in. As a general rule, I latch on to Facebook trends just as everyone stops paying attention to them. The difficulty of living away from real-time friends is you’re pretty slow on the uptake.

I’ve always had a fair amount of people tell me I look like *insert fair, dark-haired and -eyed celebrity here* or someone they know. I had a classmate tell me I look just like their friend Wendy and then call me by her name the rest of the class. One day on campus I had an entire conversation with a girl I desperately tried to place, before realizing I actually had no clue who she was…and she didn’t seem to know me either. She had mistaken me for someone else.

The BooHooWhatAboutMe part of my brain says I must look pretty generic if I look “just like” so many people. The OhGrowUpNotEverythingIsAboutYou part of my brain says that people are generally just not that perceptive. The majority of the world has no reason to be as interested in me as more intimate acquaintances. We observe in broad strokes, discarding idiosyncratic minutia for a passable short hand (tall, pale, brown hair. Done.). When considering the big picture it’s also interesting to note that the physical limitations on facial morphology for humans mean all of us are going to look like a lot of other people.

After discarding Anne Hathaway (pale and brunette, but totally unlike me in all other meaningful ways) and Sandra Bullock (thanks Dad and random hobo guy outside my office building, but meh…not really similar), I tried the MyHeritage face recognizer. What I got was a selection of stars who neither looked like me, each other, or themselves – the photos were from odd angles or with weird faces or very dated. I suspect that MyHeritage simply cobbles together a random list and hopes you’re so flattered that you’ll just run with whatever they give you.

I also suspect this may be the point of Celebrity Doppelgänger Week. It’s a way for people to have their appearances validated by association with cultural ideals. I’m attractive – see! I look just like So-and-so!

Other bloggers have pointed out the problematic racist/sizeist elements to the doppelgänger game. With the limited number of popular, non-white celebrities, should someone select a doppelgänger that is of the same race, but otherwise unlike them (playing into the “All *people of group X* look the same” stereotype) or should they select a celebrity with similar features who may be of another race (eliding their racial identity). If you are fat, are you required to chose from the minuscule pool of celebrities with a similar size or should you risk ridicule by selecting someone whose features are more similar of yours, but happens to be smaller than you? What do you do when there really isn’t a celebrity who looks like you at all?

Celebrity Doppelgänger Week is simply another way of reinforcing the reductive power of beauty ideals. I look enough like a celebrity to be considered attractive OR I don’t look like any celebrity and thus I must not be attractive. It’s a way of sorting, dividing, and excluding the majority of people in favor of the few who posses prized and rare physical qualities. We don’t really question the dubious connection between physical perfection and perceived intellectual/spiritual perfection, but the implication is deeply ingrained in our communal identity. For myriad reasons, beautiful people are treated as valuable people.

In reality, the vast majority of us don’t look like the narrowly defined and ever-homogenizing beauties that populate Hollywood (taking into account the overuse of Photoshop, neither do they). Which is okay! It really is. Not only because it’s demonstrably false that outer beauty is a necessary condition for inner beauty, but because the parameters of a term like Beauty change based on time, place, point of view, etc – everyone and everything is beautiful to someone.

A lack of celebrity doppelgänger is especially good when you think about what the word “doppelgänger” actually means. A doppelgänger is not a super attractive celebrity that everyone will pretend looks just like you so you can get a self-esteem boost. Although the Facebook meme uses it as a synonym for “twin” or “double”, “doppelgänger” is actually a very old and well-used trope of the horror/fantasy genre:

“In German folklore, a wraith or apparition of a living person, as distinguished from a ghost… To meet one’s double is a sign that one’s death is imminent.”

Sure, celebrity “doppelgänger” profile pictures might not be a sign of imminent mortal peril, but they do seem to be indicative of a certain kind of identity peril, a willingness to discard our unique features in favor of those approved by society as “correct.” It invites the erasure of intimate beauty that lies in the individual nature of someone’s form. Isn’t that a different kind of imminent death?

After climbing out of that philosophical rabbit hole, I decided to change my profile picture to Waterhouse’s “Pandora” instead.

 

A Serious PSA About a Frivolous Matter January 30, 2010

Filed under: Fashion and Beauty — imaginaryheroine @ 8:05 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

While I did enjoy my trip to the movies last night, the evening was ever so slightly marred by one of our fellow movie patrons. 7abibi and I were seated and chatting about the pre-preview bits when another couple came and sat in the row in front of us.

An almost palpable wave of perfume wafted off the very pretty and charming lady of the couple. I want to stress that she seemed like a nice enough person. She just wanted to smell pretty for her date. And she did smell good. In fact, she was wearing one of my most beloved fragrances, Vera Wang.

She just smelled too much.

I love perfume. Love it. The right perfume can evoke happy memories, unveil your inner sex goddess, and give you the steely wherewithal to swim with the sharks. My dear friend Kimberlyloc and I can and do talk about our favorite perfumes for hours. Heck, she even writes about them in blog posts. Maybe I will too sometime.

However (this is the PSA), it is really important to remember that with perfume less is more. Your perfume should not follow you around like some kind of airborne toxic event. What smells good to you may not smell good to someone else. What smells good does not smell better with increased quantity.

This goes for men too. Dear men, Tag does not make hot chicks hunt you down and tackle you in lusty fervor. Bod spray does not make us think “I want your bod” in a porny squeal. We have indoor plumbing now and body spray does not replace regular bathing.

So, please, for the love of all that is good and right, be considerate with your spritzing. Everyone else in the room thanks you.