A few months ago, Laura U., a typical 16-year-old at an international school in Paris, sat at her computer wishing she looked just like the emaciated women on her Tumblr dashboard. She pined to be mysterious, haunted, fascinating, like the other people her age that she saw in black and white photos with scars along their wrists, from taking razor blades to their skin. She convinced herself that the melancholic quotes she was reading—“Can I just disappear?” or “People who die by suicide don’t want to end their lives, they want to end their pain”—applied to her.
Among Tumblr’s 140+ million blogs, social communities form around specific topics: music, fashion, photography, and also kinds of disorders. Months ago Laura was part of one such community, scrolling through hundreds of photographs on Tumblr that evoke negative emotions through art and call it depression. Black and white photographs of mystical emaciated women who stare off into the distance put psychological torment and beauty on the same page, and quotes like “So it’s okay for you to hurt me, but I can’t hurt myself?” and “I want to die a lovely death,” try to justify self-harm. All this is at the tip of anyone’s fingertips: anyone can search tags like “self-harm,” “depression,” or “sadness,” and find thousands of blogs with a similarly distorted vision of what it means to be depressed.
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The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones crashed and burned in theaters this weekend, ending up with a meager five-day total of $14 million, according to early estimates. Add it to the rapidly growing list of fantasy and sci-fi films for teens—including Beautiful Creatures, Beastly, I Am Number Four, The Golden Compass, Eragon, The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising, and more—that have disappointed at the box office. Even the Chronicles of Narnia and Percy Jackson franchises, which started promisingly, soon began to taper off.
But why? The success of the Harry Potter, Twilight, and Hunger Games franchises—Hollywood’s version of a holy trinity—seemed to prove that teen fantasy and sci-fi could be counted on to rake in the cash, especially when based on bestselling books. And yet, in recent years, more of these films have flopped than soared. Which leads one to wonder: Is there a fatal flaw in what looked like an ironclad formula?
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TO THE NAKED EYE, IT MAY APPEAR THAT: The Twilight saga is a story about love. And vampires. And family. And abstinence. And racism. And the founding of the Mormon faith. And orphans, in a really weird way.
BUT ACCORDING TO SOME EXPERTS WHO THOUGHT REALLY HARD ABOUT THIS: Twilight is a story about all of these things. And more things.
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Brian McGreevy published a peculiar and profane essay on Vulture last year. In the essay, “Why Don Draper Is a Far Better Vampire Than Any of Twilight’s or True Blood’s,” the screenwriter-turned-novelist laments the “emasculation” of vampires in American popular culture. Whereas we once had menacing and handsome Byronic antiheroes, upholding the genre’s Romantic tradition, McGreevy claims that we now have Twilight and True Blood, which “is essentially what you would get if a Tennessee Williams play fucked The Rocky Horror Show Picture Show.” There’s nothing to be frightened of—and in McGreevy’s view, that’s a wasted opportunity.
In his essay, McGreevy argued that the only figure in American culture worthy of Dracula’s cape was Mad Men's Don Draper: debonair, “magnetic and urbane,” and a danger to the women who get involved with him. You see, “men are predators at heart,” McGreevy wrote. “It is a killer's heart that is the motive force of masculinity and predation its spirit.” Draper has that, McGreevy says, and what's more, we'd be right to emulate him.
"You get certain people saying, ‘Oh, this is an extremely reductive point of view and offensively untrue,’" McGreevy told me in a recent interview. "And at the same time, I’d be getting private emails from women saying, ‘I want you to come over to my house and eat me.’"
McGreevy set out to correct the problem of the emasculated vampire with his first novel,Hemlock Grove, which came out last month from Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Hemlock Grove is, essentially, McGreevy’s essay novelized. It’s a mystery story—who’s killing girls in the titular town, a dying Rust Belt hamlet?—and a mashup of many classic monster-story motifs. The heroes are two teenagers: Peter, a gypsy and, when the moon is right, a werewolf, and his new friend Roman, a tortured, rich, handsome, egotistical, pill-popping, girl-abusing, vampire type straight out of the Byronic mold. Roman, whose brain-damaged sister, Shelley, has been turned into a gentle, Frankensteinian giant, is the scion of the Godfrey family. The Godfreys’ steel holdings once dominated the area’s economy, but the clan has since moved into biotech. While they’re still fabulously wealthy, Roman’s mother keeps dark secrets (the least of them is that she’s having an affair with her brother-in-law). And the White Tower, the research facility founded by Roman’s dead father, is a site of strange experiments and a source of rumor and conspiracy; it may also have a role in the gruesome murders, which involve the girls’ being vivisected by some sort of wolf-like creature.
Read more. [Images: AMC/Summit Entertainment]