Thursday, June 17, 2010

Monstrous Musings: A Father’s Day Monstrous Musings: Vampire Daddies and Wolf-y Father Figures

"Natalie Wilson is literature and women’s studies scholar and author of the blogs Professor, what if…? and Seduced by Twilight. She is currently writing a book examining the Twilight cultural phenomenon from a feminist perspective, forthcoming from McFarland in 2010. Her interest in vampires and werewolves dates back to her childhood fascination with all types of monsters."

In my post from awhile back, Monstrous Mothers, I chronicled the largely negative representation of motherhood that stretches from Beowulf to Coraline. Now, in honor of this Sunday’s pending Father’s Day, I offer some musings on Monstrous Fathers. Well, surprise, surprise, there are far fewer bad dad’s to discuss…

To take my current immersion in vampires as a starting point, contemporary vampire series present us with a number of good (and even godly) vampire fathers. Edward and Carlisle are the perfect vampire/god dads in Twilight while Bill steps up to his enforced fathering of his new vampire daughter Jessica quite well in True Blood

Carlisle is the Twilight saga’s ultimate patriarch – the kind father who welcomes Bella into his vampire family and saves her life multiple times. Associated with healing, restraint, and wisdom, Carlisle represents paternalistic care as a benevolent force. He also literally MAKES his family – how preferable to having to reside in one of those icky woman wombs for nine months! After he has turned Edward vamp, he does what any good father might – turns Rosalie in order so that his son might have a beautiful mate. Alas, Edward and Rosalie don’t work as a pair and Carlisle later makes the crucial yes vote regarding Bella’s desire to be a vampire. You see, not only is Carlisle a daddy dream, he is also his children’s best matchmaker!

Edward is also a vampire-father figure in the saga, first to the child-like Bella whom he endlessly rocks and carries, then to his vampire-human daughter Renesmee, and finally to his son-in-law to be, Jacob, whom he literally calls son near the saga’s end. (The gendered and racial implications are rather gag-inducing here. Females are mere children in need of male fathering, while men of color are similarly “childish” and require godly white patriarchs to father them.)

In True Blood, Bill is patient with the impetuous Jessica, helping her to find a synthetic blood she can tolerate and teaching her the rules of vampire life. And, with Sookie’s help, he recognizes Jessica is a sexual being and does not go all Edward-crazy with talk of her “virtue” or how sex will damn her soul. The final episode of season two includes a particularly touching scene where Bill and Jessica are each dressed to the nines for their impending meet-ups with Sookie and Hoyt. Bill tells Jessica “you look quite the vision,” and she worries this is a nice comment to soften his coming complaints about her seeing Hoyt. Instead, Bill admits “times have changed” and tells her “I hope you and Hoyt have a nice time.” What a nice change from dad as quasi-virginity warrior (a concept Jessica Valenti explores in her book The Purity Myth).

Both series also include good non-vampire dads. In Twilight, Charlie is a benevolent dad to Bella, giving her the space and independence most teens desire and even supplying her with cool wheels, Billy is touchingly protective of both Jacob and Bella, and Sam is the dedicated (if overly authoritarian) dad to the wolf pack. 

In True Blood, Lafayette serves as a quasi-father to Tara, especially when Maryann makes Tara all evil-eyed and Lafayette decides to stage an “intervention, Sam acts as dad to Arlene’s kids when she is on her Maryann induced bender, feeding and protecting them, even the rather immature Hoyt plays the role of compassionate, forgiving father-figure to his unlikeable mother. And, when Sam seeks information of his biological parents it is his adopted dad, who appears near death, who hands him a laboriously written note (just after, mind you, his adopted mom refuses to give him any information).

In older vampire/werewolf texts, dads similarly play the role of savior, protector, and/or benign patriarch (while moms are usually dead, bitchy, or evil). 

In Teen Wolf the dad accepts the family habit of turning wolf with aplomb, teaching his son that hairiness need not be treated as a catastrophe. 

In Near Dark, Caleb is turned back into a human by his father, rescued from the dangerous world of the lawless vampire family that allows – horror of horrors – its women a modicum of power. 

In Lost Boys, the ditzy single mom not only fails to protect her kids form the local vampire clan, but falls for the vampire patriarch himself – in the end – thanks to her father, her sons are saved from being lost to the vampire world. 

In Buffy, Giles can be read as a protective, kind father to the teen slayer and is far more of a presence than her mother.

In the daddy of all vampire texts, Dracula, Van Helsing is the savior-father. He and his “crew of light” put the world back in order by undoing Dracula’s wrong and driving a stake through the “wanton woman” Dracula has made of Lucy and the threat Dracula’s actions pose to rightful patriarchy. 

Thus, while moms are often portrayed as very beastly in all sorts of narratives (as in, for example, Carrie, Mommie Dearest, Coraline, and most of Disney…) dads, even when they are vampires or wolves, are often good fathers. Dads may be bumbling fools (Homer Simpson), rather inept (like Tim Allen’s character Tim Taylor in Home Improvement), or fond of crazy sweaters (Cliff Huxtable), but rarely are they monstrous or evil (yes, there are horror film exceptions, but I would wager there are many more evil moms in horror films – in fact, bad mothering often CREATES male monsters – as with Psycho or the Friday the 13th series).

While the vampire daddies and wolfy father-figures cited above are only a sampling of the many good dads that populate our narratives, they reveal the sad fact that our culture still assumes men (and fathers) are superior to women (and mothers). Alas it seems even when said dads are vampires, werewolves, or shape shifters, fathers still know (and are) best… 

(Here’s hoping that you, dear readers, have a good father or father-figure in your life to celebrate this Sunday. And, nope, I don’t mind at all if that figure happens to be a vampire, werewolf, or even a female! Seems to me we should celebrate parenting in general rather than gendering the phenomenon – but then Hallmark et al would have only one holiday to commodify and we can’t have that can we?!?)