That’s What Vampires Are For

Sarah Seltzer

Even in the movie adaptation, Twilight's basic storyline -- "I won't bite you, it's for your own good" -- can't be changed.

Teen vampire flick and pop-culture
juggernaut Twilight, like Mama Mia! and Sex and the
City
before it, shattered
records
this weekend
and made female moviegoers hard to ignore. 

Twilight is far from
a feminist triumph, though: it’s been interpreted by more writers than this one as a purity allegory perfectly tailored
for a (hopefully fading) era of abstinence-hype and hand-wringing about
"hook-up culture." With a heroine who yearns to both be ravished
and
bitten, and a hero loath to rob her of either soul or virginity,
the Twilight plot arc sells a pseudo-empowering fantasy (men
as the sexual and moral gatekeepers, leaving women free to express their
desires) while wholeheartedly embracing patriarchal norms. 

The film somewhat mitigates
the book’s rabid antifeminist message, providing more room to chuckle at the smoldering pouts of its young
protagonists (whether that campiness was intended is unclear) and downplaying
the extent to which human Bella’s singular fixation with vampire hunk
Edward precludes everything else. But the basic storyline of "I won’t
bite you, it’s for your own good" can’t be changed. It’s the
core of the tale. 

Putting a Stake in Victorian
Mores

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This not the first time vampires
in pop culture have been a perfect expression of the currents and anxieties
of their time. In fact, one might argue that that is their purpose.  

With immortality, a killer
instinct, and a life on the fringes, Vampires are a perfect conduit
for musings on the human condition.  "Vampires have long served
to remind us of the parts of our own psyches that seduce us," writes Salon’s Laura Miller (in a superb
analysis of the Twilight books). But the metaphor is often less
existential than that, as the vampire bite is easy shorthand for sex.
Vampirism allows consumers to take vicarious pleasure in rule-breaking
couplings, while also justifying phobias about sex-because the seducers
do
have lethal fangs, and their condition is quite contagious. 

Bram Stoker’s Dracula,
the most prominent sire of today’s fictive undead, was a repository
of post-Victorian fears: syphilis and shifting gender roles. Thus the
book is full of bizarre sexualized imagery that equates gender-bending
with evil. Hero Jonathan gets attacked and nearly bitten by a gang of
wanton vampiresses. Lucy, an ill-fated flirt, juggles three suitors;
by story’s end all three of them must stake the undead Lucy in a scene
that critics compare to a gang rape. Mina, the less transgressive woman
in the story, is forced to drink blood from a wound in Dracula’s chest,
a reverse-breastfeeding image that emphasizes the feminine qualities
of the Count.  

The entire book feels like
a last gasp of Victorian purity–as well as an anticipation of the
sexual revolution that was around the corner. It’s probably no coincidence
that the first film
version
of Dracula
was a huge hit just as the Depression ushered out the Jazz Age and its
socio-sexual upheaval.

Vampires in the Modern Era 

Indeed, pop culture vampires
have always adapted to rapidly shifting sexual politics. A film remake of Dracula in the late 1970s
(starring Frank Langella) gave the Count a real romance with Lucy, no
longer a doomed Edwardian flirt but instead an independent woman. In
her history
of vampires
, Nina
Auerbach describes this new Lucy as "everything a feminist vampire
should be. Her romance with Frank Langella could be one of the swoonier
inserts in Ms. Magazine. He loves her strength and self-assertion…" 

Anne Rice’s beloved vampire
hero Lestat (in books from the 70s onward) is
a rule-breaking iconoclast (even a rock star) whose lack of gender preference
when it comes to victims and vampire companions give bisexuality that
familiar terror-and-titillation combination. In the 1994 film adaptation of Interview With the
Vampire
, more than a few reviewers noted the AIDS metaphors now found
in a story conceived before the disease was known. 

In the 1990s we had Buffy, a kick-ass vampire-slayer struggling
both to save the world and grow up–all while wearing hip, form-fitting
outfits. She’s the embodiment of the third wave feminist ideal, and
the field of feminist
criticism
of Buffy
is an intensely crowded one.  Her very human struggles to "do
it all," rid the world of demons, take care of her friends and family,
and maybe meet a nice soulful vampire, interrogated the limitations
of the "girl power" mantra and gave the world a truly multi-dimensional
heroine. Buffy’s protracted love affairs with two male vampires-Angel
and Spike-range from sublime to abusive to egalitarian, reflecting
the complex dynamics of sex and power in the modern world. 

Today we have the HBO series True Blood, whose lusty vampires have started
drinking fake blood, and are struggling for social and political equality.
Comparisons to both racial and sexual civil rights battles are unavoidable,
but the fact that some members of this oppressed minority don’t want
their rights–they just want to eat humans–complicates the metaphor. 

And then there’s Twilight.
If Buffy was the teen vamp tale of the Clinton years, Twilight
is definitively its equivalent for the Bush era. Rather than kicking
ass, Twilight’s Bella stumbles into danger, excusing her vampire-love-interest
Edward’s creepy protectiveness. Sigh. 

It’s unfortunate that the
story, like the past decade has been, is so old-school. But before we
feminists concern-troll Twilight‘s besotted teenage
fans, let’s remember this: the part of the formula that appeals so
widely is not the story’s morality, but rather its adolescent hunger.
It’s the sexual budding, the fraught glances across the cafeteria,
the craving to be singled out, and in Dana Stevens’ words "the grandiosity that can make self-destructive
decisions feel somehow divinely fated." It’s teenagedom. Edward
gives younger girls a chance to express their nascent desires en
masse
, loudly.  

Just as Dracula‘s
reactionary plotlines failed to bring back Victorian mores, Twilight‘s
unfortunate gender roles will join abstinence-only on the trash heap
of history. Some of its screaming young fans will grow up to be sexually
empowered, some won’t, and some won’t end up fancying men (dead
or undead) at all. But they’ll all share the fact that Twilight’s
dangerous liaison turned them on. And that’s what Vampires, even sparkly ones, are for.

News Human Rights

Feds Prep for Second Mass Deportation of Asylum Seekers in Three Months

Tina Vasquez

Those asylum seekers include Mahbubur Rahman, the leader of #FreedomGiving, the nationwide hunger strike that spanned nine detention centers last year and ended when an Alabama judge ordered one of the hunger strikers to be force fed.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), for the second time in three months, will conduct a mass deportation of at least four dozen South Asian asylum seekers.

Those asylum seekers include Mahbubur Rahman, the leader of #FreedomGiving, the nationwide hunger strike that spanned nine detention centers last year and ended when an Alabama judge ordered one of the hunger strikers to be force-fed.

Rahman’s case is moving quickly. The asylum seeker had an emergency stay pending with the immigration appeals court, but on Monday morning, Fahd Ahmed, executive director of Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM), a New York-based organization of youth and low-wage South Asian immigrant workers, told Rewire that an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officer called Rahman’s attorney saying Rahman would be deported within 48 hours. As of 4 p.m. Monday, Rahman’s attorney told Ahmed that Rahman was on a plane to be deported.

As of Monday afternoon, Rahman’s emergency stay was granted while his appeal was still pending, which meant he wouldn’t be deported until the appeal decision. Ahmed told Rewire earlier Monday that an appeal decision could come at any moment, and concerns about the process, and Rahman’s case, remain.

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An online petition was created in hopes of saving Rahman from deportation.

ICE has yet to confirm that a mass deportation of South Asian asylum seekers is set to take place this week. Katherine Weathers, a visitor volunteer with the Etowah Visitation Project, an organization that enables community members to visit with men in detention at the Etowah County Detention Center in Gadsden, Alabama, told Rewire that last week eight South Asian men were moved from Etowah to Louisiana, the same transfer route made in April when 85 mostly Muslim South Asian asylum seekers were deported.

One of the men in detention told Weathers that an ICE officer said to him a “mass deportation was being arranged.” The South Asian asylum seeker who contacted Weathers lived in the United States for more than 20 years before being detained. He said he would call her Monday morning if he wasn’t transferred out of Etowah for deportation. He never called.

In the weeks following the mass deportation in April, it was alleged by the deported South Asian migrants that ICE forcefully placed them in “body bags” and that officers shocked them with Tasers. DRUM has been in touch with some of the Bangladeshis who were deported. Ahmed said many returned to Bangladesh, but there were others who remain in hiding.

“There are a few of them [who were deported] who despite being in Bangladesh for three months, have not returned to their homes because their homes keep getting visited by police or intelligence,” Ahmed said.

The Bangladeshi men escaped to the United States because of their affiliations and activities with the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), the opposition party in Bangladesh, as Rewire reported in April. Being affiliated with this party, advocates said, has made them targets of the Bangladesh Awami League, the country’s governing party.

DHS last year adopted the position that BNP, the second largest political party in Bangladesh, is an “undesignated ‘Tier III’ terrorist organization” and that members of the BNP are ineligible for asylum or withholding of removal due to alleged engagement in terrorist activities. It is unclear how many of the estimated four dozen men who will be deported this week are from Bangladesh.

Ahmed said that mass deportations of a particular group are not unusual. When there are many migrants from the same country who are going to be deported, DHS arranges large charter flights. However, South Asian asylum seekers appear to be targeted in a different way. After two years in detention, the four dozen men set to be deported have been denied due process for their asylum requests, according to Ahmed.

“South Asians are coming here and being locked in detention for indefinite periods and the ability for anybody, but especially smaller communities, to win their asylum cases while inside detention is nearly impossible,” Ahmed told Rewire. “South Asians also continue to get the highest bond amounts, from $20,000 to $50,000. All of this prevents them from being able to properly present their asylum cases. The fact that those who have been deported back to Bangladesh are still afraid to go back to their homes proves that they were in the United States because they feared for their safety. They don’t get a chance to properly file their cases while in detention.”

Winning an asylum claim while in detention is rare. Access to legal counsel is limited inside detention centers, which are often in remote, rural areas.

As the Tahirih Justice Center reported, attorneys face “enormous hurdles in representing their clients, such as difficulty communicating regularly, prohibitions on meeting with and accompanying clients to appointments with immigration officials, restrictions on the use of office equipment in client meetings, and other difficulties would not exist if refugees were free to attend meetings in attorneys’ offices.”

“I worry about the situation they’re returning to and how they fear for their lives,” Ahmed said. “They’ve been identified by the government they were trying to escape and because of their participation in the hunger strike, they are believed to have dishonored their country. These men fear for their lives.”

Roundups Law and Policy

Gavel Drop: Republicans Can’t Help But Play Politics With the Judiciary

Jessica Mason Pieklo & Imani Gandy

Republicans have a good grip on the courts and are fighting hard to keep it that way.

Welcome to Gavel Drop, our roundup of legal news, headlines, and head-shaking moments in the courts.

Linda Greenhouse has another don’t-miss column in the New York Times on how the GOP outsourced the judicial nomination process to the National Rifle Association.

Meanwhile, Dahlia Lithwick has this smart piece on how we know the U.S. Supreme Court is the biggest election issue this year: The Republicans refuse to talk about it.

The American Academy of Pediatrics is urging doctors to fill in the blanks left by “abstinence-centric” sex education and talk to their young patients about issues including sexual consent and gender identity.

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Good news from Alaska, where the state’s supreme court struck down its parental notification law.

Bad news from Virginia, though, where the supreme court struck down Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s executive order restoring voting rights to more than 200,000 felons.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) will leave behind one of the most politicized state supreme courts in modern history.

Turns out all those health gadgets and apps leave their users vulnerable to inadvertently disclosing private health data.

Julie Rovner breaks down the strategies anti-choice advocates are considering after their Supreme Court loss in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt.   

Finally, Becca Andrews at Mother Jones writes that Texas intends to keep passing abortion restrictions based on junk science, despite its loss in Whole Woman’s Health.