Sexy Teenaged Werewolves In Love

It seems more or less obligatory that a website so concerned with rehashing the popular films of the 1980s should have an opinion on MTV’s big-budget rehash of Teen Wolf.  With that in mind, I sat down the other day to watch the pilot episode, which was… fine, I guess, but not all that interesting, which is why this post is about twelve hours behind schedule.  The one aspect worth systematic overthinking is the radical shift in tone from the original franchise to its modern reworking, which is neatly captured by these images:

1985.

2011.

Special effects have come a long way in twenty-five years, right?  Except they haven’t.  There’s nothing going on in the modern version that’s beyond the capabilities of 1980s technology.  Take a look at Ron Perlman in Beauty and the Beast — that’s Rick Baker working in 1987, just two years after the original Teen Wolf came out, and it holds up as well as anything I’ve seen since (unfortunate wrestler-hair aside). No, the crapulence of the original makeup is a conscious choice, designed to highlight the central theme of the movie, to wit, that puberty is gross.  The old Teen Wolf movie is fundamentally about being unhappy with the very bodily nature of one’s own developing body.  It’s not body horror in the classic sense, where what you are becoming is abominable and terrifying to look on.  Rather, the monstrous body is funny looking. Not terrifying but mortifying, embarrassing.  Teen Wolf is also about getting past that – realizing that along with funny odors and hair-every-which-where, puberty also maybe gives you some enhanced basketball skills.  And maybe members of the opposite sex aren’t as weirded out by your new body as you are yourself. And eventually once you’ve grown up completely, you start shaving and wearing deodorant, and your testosterone-crazed fight-or-flight reflexes calm down a little, and you make out with your childhood friend rather than the unattainable cheerleader type, opting for love and companionate marriage rather than a more juvenile romance based on lust and status. (But that always felt a little tacked on, to be honest:  after all, they didn’t call the movie Teen Not-Really-a-Wolf-After-All.)

Hey Chuck Barry! Listen to this!

The new Teen Wolf is very different.  By making the wolfman dreamy (or if not exactly dreamy, at least cool looking), they are changing the game rather dramatically.

There’s an interesting scene in the pilot where the titular teenwolf is dancing with his designated love interest, and her proximity causes an uptick in his heart rate which almost triggers his metamorphosis. This is a not-so-subtle metaphor for becoming, uh, conspicuously aroused, which can be a real issue for teenaged guys when they are dancing with girls that they like (or at, you know, any other time of the day or night).  It’s really, really, really not a subtle metaphor.  His reaction is to run off and take a cold shower.

But heavyhandedness aside, this is interesting.  In the original movie, this would have been fodder for the comedy of humiliation.  Oh no!  SHE’S GOING TO REALIZE THAT I HAVE AN ERECTION!  Must… fight… embarrassment!  And the important lesson, of course, is that eventually you have to realize that these sexual drives are part of who you are, and if the girl likes you enough she’s not going to mind even a little.  But in the darker and edgier Teen Wolf reboot, the threat is not that she’s going to notice — rather, it’s that he’s going to lose control and tear her limb from limb.  Taking its (deeply sexist and problematic) cue from the Twilight series, Teen Wolf: The Next Generation suggests that teenaged boys are seething cauldrons of hormonal lust that are always a whisker away from exploding into a whirlwind of passionate, bodice-ripping… well, rape.  There’s not a nice or polite way to put it; that’s what the subtext is about.  And it’s meant to be sexy, which is kind of gross.  (Although do let’s recall that this well-worn fantasy, where the guy loses control due to the woman’s overwhelming sexiness, has but NOTHING to do with the motivations behind actual sex crimes.)  It’s also interesting that in the TV show, the hero’s first clue that something is happening to his body is the development of lacrosse-based superpowers.   So where Teen Wolf Classic is about learning that puberty has a good side, Teened By The Wolf:  The New Class is more about learning that the personality traits that make you a big man on campus also have their ugly side.

And this, by the way, is where the show loses me.  Because I find most of the “good side” of the protagonist’s wolfification pretty ugly to begin with — there’s nothing wrong with enhanced senses or physical speed in and of themselves, but he quickly and cheerfully uses his gifts to turn himself into a fratty douche.  The character’s name is Scott, but I kept wanting to call him Chad, or possibly just “Broseph.”   Who knows, maybe over the course of the series he’ll learn a valuable lesson about not being a hyper-competitive Type-A jagoff all the damn time.  Something very much like that does happen in the original, if I recall.  But unless that process starts reeeaaal quick, I don’t think I’m sticking around to find out.

Anyway, the similarities between Twilight and Teen Wolf:  The Chaddening have led me to determine the following formula for writing paranormal romance.  (Did you know that Twilight knockoffs are officially a genre now?  Yeah.) It basically works like this:

Step 1:  Select a classic movie monster.
Step 2:  Put your d!@& Make the monster wicked hawt.
Step 3:  Identify one of the the underlying social anxieties represented by the monster, and
Step 4:  invert it,
Step 5:  in a way that tends to reinforce societal norms of romance.

We’ve already pretty much seen how this works with Teen Wolf 4.0:  Live Free or Teen Wolf, right?

Step 1:  Werewolf.

Step 2:  Hawt werewolf.

Step 3:  Forget all the Marxist werewolf class-conflict stuff brilliantly exposed by Shechner here.  The big anxiety in this case is lack of control over our own bodily nature. Puberty is gross.

Step 4:  But in this case, the Teen Wolf has MORE control over his body, at least most of the time, which is what allows him to become an awesome lacrosse superstar, a ladies man, and an incredible bowler. Because, you know, dogs are so good at all of those things.

Step 5:  Getting bit by a wolf in this case has pros and cons.  The pros are:  being good at sports, loving the ladies, being more assertive and competitive.  The cons are — well, the con IS, I should say, that you might lose control over your manful sea of testosterone and do sex at your lady friend.  And I’m sure that just like with Twilight, they will find a way for this apparent con to get turned into a pro — having uncontrollable lusts will be okay, as long as it happens within the duly sanctioned confines of marriage, or true love, or going steady, or whatever.  (They’ve already floated the idea that there’s just one special girl out there who really gets the hero’s tail a waggin’.)  A similar approved outlet will probably be provided for the character’s anger issues and his overdeveloped sense of competition.

Twilight, just for the record, runs thusly.  (Oh, and spoilers, I guess.):

Step 1:  Vampire.

Step 2:  Hawt Vampire.

Step 3:  An interesting one.  We often hear vampires talked about as a metaphor for sex, or for old-world aristocratic power structures, or disease.  But I think it’s instructive to step back — and if nothing else, I’m glad I read Twilight because it provided this perspective — and consider the Dracula story from Mina and Lucy’s point of view.  They aren’t doing anything special or wrong at the beginning of the story. Well, maybe Lucy’s a bit of a flirt, but they’re still within the bounds of Victorian propriety.   Then along comes this strange, unappealing man, who wants to do horrible things to them.  Completely unprovoked!  There’s no rhyme or reason to it, all they had to do was be female at the right place and time, and suddenly they’re a target.  And yeah, there’s a certain horror to that.  I doubt that this accurately reflects modern female anxieties about male attention, and I wouldn’t even really want to bet that it’s an accurate portrayal of the female Victorian mindset.  But it’s DEFINITELY something that Victorian men such as Bram Stoker were worried about vis a vis the women they felt responsible for (sisters, daughters, etc.),  and there’s still plenty of of that rather specifically patriarchal sentiment floating around in our popular culture today.

Step 4:  But in Twilight, of course, the attention of strange monstrous men is entirely benign.  Because the Twilight-pires have teh moralz, you see, and possibly teh Jesusez.  So all he wants to do is hold your hand, sparkle in the daylight, and whisper sweet platonic nothings into your oh-so-fragile ear.  Even though he could tear you apart like a pack of tissues any minute, and is having trouble stopping himself from doing that because he is such a sea of throbbing hormones, you are totally safe.  (And of course it’s not like Bella ever gets special attention from a guy she finds desperately unappealing.  It’s all hotties crushing on hotties, here in romance land, even if in the end there can only be one.)

Step 5:  The crucial difference between this and Dracula, however, is that Edward’s attraction to Bella has nothing to do with her being female at the right place at the right time.  Rather, it’s a sign that the heroine is magically predestined to be with her special vampire boo for ever and ever, and a sign that the werewolf third leg of the triangle is magically predestined to be with one of her as-yet-unfertilized ova, which — hey, is there a reason why he didn’t fall preemptively in love with Edward as well?  Presumably half of Renesmee’s very special DNA is floating around in his sparkly vampiric sac, no?  But I’ve already answered my own question:  Jacob doesn’t fall in love with Edward, because that would not reinforce the societal notion of romantic love, and as we’ve established that’s against the rules of paranormal romance.

With this in mind, I offer a few treatments for Twilight and or The Teen Wolf Reloaded style reimaginings of other classic movie monsters.  With these in hand, writing the next smash hit paranormal romance novel will be easy!  Feel free to help yourself to any of them, just be sure thank me in the author’s note.  And if you do end up getting to quit your day job when your magnum opus shoots to the top of the New York Times Bestseller’s list, consider buying an OTI t-shirt.

20 Comments on “Sexy Teenaged Werewolves In Love”

  1. Chris #

    I didn’t have time to read the whole piece, but in the spirit of the pedantry that Overthinking It champions, I would like to point out you used the word crapulence incorrectly. Also, the only worthwhile werewolf based entertainment is the MST3K version of the movie Werewolf.

     
    • Stokes #

      Huh. I had always assumed it was a neologism from The Simpsons meaning “crappyness,” but it turns out to be a real word. You learn something new every day. Thanks, Chris!

       
  2. Gab #

    I read the Twilight series, too, and I think I may have interpreted it slightly differently than you present in 3. and 5. on the first page. It seems like you’re implying Bella did nothing to get with and had no interest in Edward at all. But I beg to differ- she may not have walked up to him like a manic-pixie-dream-girl, but he was certainly the dominant topic for her thoughts from the moment she first saw him. She didn’t stalk him to the creepy extent he did her, no, but she was certainly obsessing over him, at the very least. I suppose for your purposes, 5. fixes things, but I don’t really think there’s a pre-destiny connection between Bella and Edward, so much as what eventually becomes unbridled lust and passion. (While the books are certainly rather maudlin, I do think the force-of-nature type description that I vaguely remember is, actually, quite apt. It was a random connection, but once made, it was totally unstoppable.) Jacob and the Renesme, yes, that whole imprinting thing is totally predestiny (and also pedophilic and a cop-out, ahem); but B and E don’t really have the deep-rooted “connection” both characters seem to think they have. It’s not her being or not being in the right/wrong place at the right/wrong time, it’s that they both lusted and by their powers combined, huzzah, makin’ teh vampyre baybeez.

    How about The Little Mermaid? It has enough creepy/dark stuff going on (in the original), after all, aye?

    1. Mermaid/merman
    2. Sexy mermaid/merman (although I guess they’re already sexy, eh? I suppose if we went for a different version of merfolk to start with, like say the version from the Harry Potter series, where they screech instead of speak, mayhap… hm…)
    3. I think it’s fair to say the Mermaid in the original is searching for herself. She doesn’t know who she is or where she belongs.
    4. So instead, no, she knows exactly who she is and where she belongs: She loves him and needs to be by his side.
    5. Perpetuating the notion that we are incomplete without a romantic partner in our life.

    Another way to read the mermaid scenario is to turn it sort of into a classist commentary. So 3. Class differentiation 4. doesn’t matter, since she can fake it and pretend to be like him 5. which is problematic, because he doesn’t actually accept her for being different, he accepts a persona of sameness, which perpetuates the classist divides in society. This one could also be more about “identity,” too.

    And I guess that sort of happened already with Splash, I just thought of it as I was about to post the comment. Poo.

     
  3. Stokes #

    Yeah, the Little Mermaid is pretty on point. Especially if you go past Hans Christian Andersen to the general folklore surrounding mermaids, where they’re supposed to lure sailors overboard with their sexuality, and drown them. What’s the reverse of that? Obviously the mermaid needs to be lured up on land by the dude’s sexuality. Which is exactly what happens. The message isn’t just “we’re incomplete without a romantic partner,” it’s “Hey ladies! Completely abandon your own life and dedicate yourself to a guy! And if he’s not into you, stalk him.”

    (Full disclosure: I love The Little Mermaid, and think it’s heartwarming.)

     
    • Gab #

      So that made me think of sirens, and then satyrs. The latter would play out similar to the werewolves, wouldn’t it? Since satyrs are so… excitable… all the time. The satyr could do something similar to the one in the Percy Jackson books to blend in, just wear pants and sneakers; or maybe have some charm that makes his legs look normal to people not looking for it or some kinda jazz. So maybe he encounters a saucy minx that pursues him pretty fervently while he tries oh so hard to repress his urges, but she eventually gets him to let it all hang out and totally dominate her, perpetuating the notion that women must submit to their male partners because men know what’s best for them.

      Actually, I bet the formula could be applied to a lot of Greco-Roman mythological creatures. New time waster for the day!

       
  4. Kal #

    Just on a (underthunk) side note: mummies, or people completely wrapped in bandages, aren’t necessarily unsexy all the time. Take Shishio (Rurouni Kenshin/Samurai X series) as an example. I find him awfully, drop dead (no pun intended) sexy.

     
    • Lee #

      “I find him awfully, drop dead (no pun intended) sexy.”

      It’s OK, you can intend the pun. This is a safe space.

      For puns and for mummiephilia.

       
  5. Richard #

    I was going to comment on how few female werewolves there seem to be in pop culture, but Latoya Peterson seems to have that covered.

    However, I OverThought it a bit more. Lycanthropy is clearly linked to the monthly lunar cycle. Women also have a monthly cycle, which, in one stereotype, turns them into violently irritable beings at regular intervals. Has anyone attempted to link PMS to lycanthropy?

    And survived? :)

     
    • Richard #

      Trying to close that tag…

       
    • Brian #

      Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing #40, “The Curse”
      I forget what goes down exactly put I do remember it’s gruesome. The way he wrote made the idea feel obvious, probably a good thing, so I don’t know why the idea hasn’t caught on.

      He also had underwater vampires in Swamp Thing, using some sound logic Moore figured that they don’t use oxygen and thus could live underwater, they had a whole city in a small towns lake.

       
    • Mike HD #

      In Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels it’s pretty explicitly stated that way.

       
    • Breda #

      Yes. Justine Larbalestier’s excellent YA novel LIAR does this very well, including putting the teenaged narrator on strict birth control so as to prevent the change. (She lives in NYC, you see, which is perhaps not the best place for wild wolves to be loose.)

      I mean, I did just give away the plot twist that occurs halfway through the book, but there was pretty much no other way for me to share this information, and also, I called that twist about 50 pages in, so it doesn’t ruin your enjoyment should you choose to read it!

       
  6. Stokes #

    Interestingly enough, all of my favorite pop-culture werewolf stories are centered around women. Ginger Snaps, mentioned in Peterson’s article, is a treatment of lycanthropy as a metaphor for female puberty — it’s not about menstruation in particular, but that’s part of it. The webcomic Family Man, which I’ve linked to (or at least tweeted about) before, is even harder to pigeonhole, but it’s still in the ballpark. Neil Jordan and Angela Carter’s The Company of Wolves is another good one, but that’s more of a Little Red Riding Hood story than a werewolf story, and I think all of the wolves are men anyway.

     
  7. Crystal #

    “Teen Paranormal Romance” is now a section at Barns N’ Noble. And I think it takes up three bookshelves. Back in my day, the Teen section was only three bookshelves.

     
  8. Alex #

    On the topic of female werewolves, Anne Rice is very well-known, but not nearly as many people have heard of her (now late) sister, Alice Borchardt, who wrote my second favourite book of all time: The Silver Wolf. For one thing, there are at least three female werewolves in the book, for another, the main character is, herself, a werewolf. I’ve read it over ten times, and I’ve always wondered why Hollywood never picked up on it, but you know, women turning into wolves and ripping throats out, older courtesans who are strong and resourceful, the pope being said courtesan’s lover…too much for the status quo to handle I guess. Oh, and if the Bechdel test goes for books too, this totally passes it.

     
    • Gab #

      A beloved YA novel of mine is Blood and Chocolate. The film version was rather lack-luster, though. Anyhoo, it’s about a teenaged, female werewolf.

       
  9. aravind #

    [Regarding Count Dracula] Then along comes this strange, unappealing man, who wants to do horrible things to them.

    Are you sure we don’t want to read that as not just as patriarchal warning about the dangers of men, but as a particularly Victorian warning about the dangers of male foreign-types? Then the formula becomes:

    1. Vampire

    2. Sexy Vampire (shocker, I know)

    3. Strange foreign men want to accost you (the ostensibly female and “English” audience) with unwanted sexual attention, stalk you, sexually assault you, and generally be inscrutably foreign in a way that will not only seduce you but also be strange and threatening and disturbing (and anti-Christian).

    4. So instead, this sexy brooding vampire is the opposite of foreign and confusingly exotic, he’s overtly local, and like an old fashion Mormon boy in the Pacific Northwest, he doesn’t stick out at all.

    5. And so a key part of the happy ending is that the sexy vampire doesn’t test cultural limits but rather embraces and epitomizes locally existing (if conservative) ideals. Because of that, when he wants to do odd and threatening things to his love interest (and of course it’s a heterosexual relationship, naturally), it’s okay because their brand of oddness is a vaguely familiar form of strangeness. This contrasts with the original creature, whose status as foreign exacerbated his unusual nature and therefore marked him as threatening.

     
  10. Hans #

    Fright Night follows the classic Dracula formula pretty well, then – it’s about the threat of a fully realized womanizer/vampire who is after you mom and girlfriend. That’s part of the nice tensioin it, which I didnt get until now. Only he’s also The Sexy.

     
  11. Qnarf #

    Ooh, I wanna have a go at this, and while “Young Elder Gods in Love – or All is Fair in Love and Craft” would make for an interesting title, and I’m sure there are people out there who have a thing for non-euclidean bodies, that sort of thing has already been done to death (and almost to the point where even death may die). Let us instead try:

    1) Zombies.
    2) Hawt zombies. This is going to be tricky, but let’s say, rather than following the standard post-mortem procedure of rotting and slowly falling to pieces (and, you know… walking around and craving brainsss), our zombies merely turn into pale, skinny things with a sort of “romantic”, brooding, distant look on their faces. Probably they wear a lot of black, and lots of dark eyeshadow for zombies of both sexes (in a totally heterosexual sort of way).
    3) Obviously, the contemporary zombie story is one of disease, which clearly resonates well with our collective fear of bird-/swine-/creepy Asian foreigner-flu, weaponised computer viruses and “viral” political extremism, shock videos and what have you.
    All the same, the disease theme is a little to icky and physical for your standard family friendly paranormal romance. The zombie myth does however embody another theme which is – oh teh ironiez – universally relatable to teenagers everywhere: the fear of conformity.
    4) This one practically writes itself, given how we have chosen to hunkify the zombies; clearly they are the “alternative” clique, and we – cue angsty pseudophilosophical musing – are the real, conformist, zombies (or if you prefer “No John, you are the demons!”).
    5) Well, I’m sure the edgy non-conformist zombies can find their place within our social mores as long as they don’t engage in anything more subversive than wearing black and looking brooding, also our zombie Cullen expy would be every bit as reluctant as the original to bite the heroine and drag her with him into the dark, dangerous world of… wearing black and looking brooding. And when he finally does, the lesson to be learned is simply that it is perfectly all right to rebel against the norms of society, as long as one subscribes to the social norms for doing so.
    Also: isn’t it about time that teenage girls get to fantasise about a guy who’s interested in them for their brains?

     
    • Vibishan #

      Has it been done to death? I am actually intrigued here.

      1. Elder God

      2. Hawt Elder God. Despite the obvious existence of someone, somewhere into non-euclidean horrors (and the burgeoning population of tentacle fetishists on the internet) I’m going to go with a Nyarlathotep sort of abomination here, who interacts with mortals and to do so manifests in humanish form, even if that form is anywhere from slightly eerie to makes-one-mad-to-gaze-upon-his-beauty.

      3. Obviously, the basic fear underpinning the Cthulu mythos is our absolute insignificance in the vast tremors of the apathetic cosmos. Therefore –

      4. In All’s Fair in Love and Craft, we really *are* the center of the universe; our actions matter on a cosmic scale. The mortal human POV/audience stand-in/Designated Love Interest character really *does* catch the attention and affection of this ancient and unspeakably powerful being connected to the most fundamental workings of the universe, and furthermore, her actions could have terrifying repercussions for her civilization/planet/galaxy if she slights him, or even simply gives him the wrong butterfly painted coffee mug, or whatever, which is it’s whole own kind of terrifying.

      5. This one *is* incredibly easy, now that I think about it. Instead of being a harrowing parable about the ways men with power can abuse that power to scare and pressure women, it turns out that Nyarla-expy really *does* love his super-special human cupcake in ways that fulfill human romantic expectations, and furthermore the Power of True Love persuades him to ensure that Earth is protected from the accidental sleep rumblings of the other Great Old Ones. With relevance in the cosmos comes great responsibility, but of course Our Heroine will use her power for Good, which really does have some meaning after all. This also plays nicely into skeevy societal myths about women using their sexual allure to manipulate men in power, despite how completely opposite the power dynamic at play really is. Anyway, they get a Happily Ever After, with Our Heroine’s triumphant ascension to psuedo-godhood and/or honeymoon tentacles optional.

      Already exists because: …wow, you’re right, it HAS been done to death. Just about every angel and/or demon falling in love with a human story runs along these lines, usually with a malicious apocalypse to prevent in tow. Not really my genre, so I can’t give specifics, but I’ve definitely seen the format around. And the whole Cole storyline in Charmed is totally this, with more dramatic ups and downs for serial suspense’s sake. Damn.