Episode 229: For Certain Definitions of Vampire

Peter Fenzel and Matthew Wrather talk about Vampires, Werewolves, Zombies, and Twilight: Breaking Dawn 2. Special Thanks to Phil from Michigan for his email question.

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29 Comments on “Episode 229: For Certain Definitions of Vampire”

  1. Chris #

    So, how about those conversations about topics? They are very interesting. I hope somebody from the podcast chimes in on this to add further substance…

    I have mentioned Overthinking It on my podcast a few times and have had one Matthew “Matt” Wrather as a guest on two non-consecutive occasions. I do believe I have done my duty as a citizen.

    • fenzel #


      (and thanks!)

  2. cat #

    We’ve brought up Twilight in one of my classes that has featured Jane Eyre and this discussion is making me wonder how well they map onto one another. Do you get the sense from the books/films that in spite of her inadequacies, Bella has a (somewhat vaguely defined) essential quality that makes her and Edward a good match. Is she a symbol of humanity or is she almost more of a vampire in her vampire form than the “real” vampires? Does it seem like her job is to reform the corrupt vampire society with either of these talents? Does she reject Edward only to ultimately accept him once the boundaries to their relationship have been eliminated? Is their child a figure of hope for the future, possessing physical traits inherited from her vampire father but lacking the corruption? Are we encouraged by the thought that Bella will be the one raising this child correctly to be a good human or vampire? I think I saw a trailer that mentioned something about the child growing. Certainly, this idea of growth seems to reflect a shift from the stagnation of a corrupt, old-world vampire stereotype.

    Thoughts? (Also, I should have claimed first comment when I had the chance.)

    • cat #

      Oh, and hugs for random references to Carousel.

      • Chris #

        I like certain specific reference to Carousel, but only because I am a fan of Liverpool F.C.

    • fenzel #

      Isn’t the main reason Edward and Bella are together because Bella smells really good in a vampire food sort of way? As in, the match is made by his animal desire – Edward doesn’t even have a choice in the matter. The complications to the relationship are almost entirely external – related to vampire politics and Edward trying to protect Bella from his pseudo-cannibalistic monster family. It’s not like there ever seems to actually be a doubt in his mind that he wants to be with her from the moment he is overpowered by her odor.

      Meanwhile, she is basically just lonely, insecure, desperate to be wanted and kind of generally attracted to the various sexy dudes who show her attention. She experiences love for the first time, loss for the first time, and basically just quietly primally screams at these things, and then absurd things are forced to happen by external events and she never has to make any actual decisions.

      This makes it pretty different from Bronte and Austin younger-w-4-older-m heroines, where the physical attraction of the older man for the younger woman is either ignored, framed as a cruel joke, or virtually absent until the very end of the book. Instead we’re led to believe there is some quality of personality, social self-construction or spirit that brings these people together despite them being kind of absurd for one another — and that the woman coming around to wanting to be with the man is a realization of some form of personal growth for her.

      It’s not like Jane Eyre and Rochester know immediately that they are going to be together forever and the rest of the book is about Jane trying to recruit a bunch of Italian dudes to jump kick Rochester’s crazy wife before she burns the house down.

      • fenzel #

        You know, I should be kinder to Twilight. To roll it back a bit, the important distinction is that Twilight (especially New Moon, which as I understand it is the heart of the overarching narrative) is about _forbidden love_. It’s sensual and sensory, with social rules set in opposition to both lower carnal desires and the exaltations of love triumphant.

        So, it’s related to Renaissance poetry, Elizabethan drama, high opera, stuff like that — not so much to the Victorian novel.

        In stuff like Jane Eyre, social organization, ideas of the self, and even ambitions in the material world are kind of marbled in with passions — it’s not one on one side and one on the other. In the Victorian novel, a “good match” is about a lot more than who you happen to yearn for at any given time, and yearnings can move back and forth between ally and enemy over the course of the story.

        I don’t think there’s much about Edward’s and Bella’s relationship that should encourage us about the social order of the future — but that’s not the point. The point is that they _want_ to _be together_, and the story follows that journey. That they get to be together is victory enough, and identifying with that sort of desire and the obstacles set against it in a high romantic style is why the books and movies are so popular and beloved.

  3. Pasteur #

    Are there spoilers in the podcast? I’m genuinely excited to see BDpII, but won’t have a chance until wednesday.

    • fenzel #

      We talk about events at the end of Breaking Dawn, yes — although the spoilers come from Wrather reading the books, not from either of us seeing the movie.

      There are also spoilers from the 1994 film Interview with the Vampire. So get on seeing that.

      • Skab #

        Ugh, 90s spoilers are the worst!
        These are movies that I could not make the time to watch and almost 20 years later you spoil them for me?


  4. Justin Mohareb #

    As always, good episode, even if it is a two hander. The reference to football played by vampires and zombies made me think of Blood Bowl, a Games Workshop game where zombies & vampires (and dwarves & elves) play American Football.

    • fenzel #

      I saw this on twitter, and have been thinking about it quite a bit today. It seems like it would make for a fun movie that would hit the culture where it lives right now — sort of Transformers meets Real Steel. I’m imagining a trailer clip of a small, unarmored human quarterback scrambling and pump-faking as he dodges club swings from a giant Ogre defensive tackle.

      Seems like it would be awesome.

      • Skab #

        Besides waiting for a movie, Bloodbowl might just be what the OTI steam group could play some night.

  5. Tim #

    A few years ago, I read a book called “Our Vampires, Ourselves,” by Nina Auerbach, which looked at several different vampire books and movies and tried to link each one with a different anxiety at the time. “Lost Boys,” for example, was about the anxieties of step-parents as divorce and remarriage became a much more common thing.

    Thinking about that, and the podcast, I would say that vampires tend to represent some kind of feared invader (e.g., immigrants and homosexuals). Zombies tend to be about anxieties regarding changes in one’s own population. I have never seen “Dawn of the Dead” (which means I would be an excellent podcast guest for the movie), but the interpretation I most frequently hear about it is that it was about the anxieties of consumer culture.

    I find that my own peer groups focuses a lot more on zombies, and make a lot of cheap jokes about zombies. This could be because I have a lot of friends who worry about the perceived brainwashing of America through mass culture.

    • Dimwit #

      We had a discussion about the underlying anxiety causes from our pop culture myth tropes. I still think that vampires represent sexual desires equating with death. Blood borne diseases are terrifying. AIDS jumpstarted the whole vampire thing again.

      Now it seems to be about transgressive sexual behaviour. Twilight, 50 Shades, True Blood, the rise of porn culture all point to us getting *bored* with simple sex. A love story can’t be simple, it has to cross boundaries. It’s a small segment. Vampires are on the wane.

      Zombies are rising! What are zombies? The other, masquerading as your friends and loved ones. Lack of trust. Lack of empathy for your viewpoint because they are dead and can’t be reasoned with. No one is safe. Given the economic times, where the person the next cubicle over may survive while you get the axe; your loyalty and hard work meets indifference, and those that get ahead seem soulless; well zombies seem perfect for the times.

  6. Rich Thomas #

    It Doesn’t Matter if people get your Rock references.

  7. The Eye Collector #

    Matt – ‘can’t FIGHT the moonlight,’ please! If you’re going to make references to the unsurpassed and unsurpassable greatest work of cinema ever in any language – Coyote Ugly – they ought to at least be accurate.

    As far as my tuppence on Twilight – more than anything I think they’re excellent wish-fulfilment for pre-teen/adolescent girls. Edward wants Bella because she’s special, and no-one else will do. Then when the other vampires are introduced her novelty increases because she’s the only human with access to that world. Not only that, but this other boy is willing to lay down his life to save her. Everyone wants a piece of Bella, and whether their intentions are to help or yet her, it’s all attention – something I think we all secretly crave, teenagers or not. I only wish I was ten years younger, because I’m sure I would absolutely love these books if I was about 12. My version was the Alex Rider series of books by Anthony Horowitz, about a teenage boy who becomes a spy.

    • The Eye Collector #

      ‘Help or *hurt*’ – bloody autocorrect.

    • Matthew Wrather #

      Fair enough. I regret the error, and hereby apologize to Ms. Perabo and Ms. Rimes.

  8. Lee #

    Pete, I’m sorry I wasn’t there to act as the sounding board to your Louie joke, but FWIW I wouldn’t have gotten the reference. I’ve seen one or two episodes of “Louie,” and liked what I saw, though. I would have tried to banter about how reasonable it is or isn’t to expect our demographic to get “Louie” references. He’s still on the niche side of mainstream, no?

    • fenzel #

      Yeah, Louis C.K. is probably more famous among our age group for releasing DRM-free stand-up specials online than for his show. The Emmy a few months ago for comedy writing is definitely niche.

      I’d say a general reference to Louis C.K. is niche, and a specific reference to his show is borderline obscure.

      • Amanda #

        Are you guys serious about the Louie demographics? I’ve seen every episode, and I absolutely love the show and was laughing hysterically at your joke! Maybe not as hysterically as I did with “Lincoln, Lincoln, Lincoln, Linc-eeeeeeeee”, but almost. Actually, having just mentioned it I realize, they spoofed it on SNL, so how obscure is it really?
        And what age group do you think most Louie viewers belong to? I’m just completely baffled by yours and Lee’s comments. I gotta admit I don’t know a lot of people who watch the show, but my friends who do are all in their early 30s. Isn’t that the same age as you guys? Just curious :)

  9. LeighH #

    Wrather, I’m with you. Whenever I need a generic scapegoat, I always Blame it on the Rain.

  10. Gab #

    I about lost it when you were talking about Jacob peeing on the baby. Seriously, I about died, that was the hardest I’ve laughed in months. I had to rewind the podcast twice to finally hear everything. Thanks, Fenzel. :)

    Do you honestly want the explanation? Because I could give it.

  11. Gab #

    So I’m actually powering through Buffy and Angel right now (yay Netflix). I think an important sort-of-plot-thread in Buffy is the Council of Watchers to which Giles reports. They’re from England, for one thing, but also they represent tradition and structure. Constantly, Buffy and Giles operate counter to their rules, even going rogue, so to speak, for some of the series. Buffy’s uniqueness is totally contrasted to Bella’s because she marches to the beat of her own drum and “is just her,” so to speak; Bella’s so bland, anything nifty about her is superficial (her scent or “clumsiness”). So if you add that to the other trends mentioned, those of women entering the workforce, and of teens coming of age and experiencing/experimenting with sexuality, I think a broad umbrella theme these all can fit under is not globalization, per se, but rather modernization. Her refusal to follow the counsel’s rules, her going to college and stuff, and all of the things both she and Willow experience with their romantic relationships point to changing views of women in society.

    • Gonzo #

      I agree that Buffy is more about modernization than globalization. She’s fighting less against things that are foreign, and more against things that are OLD. Patrolling and killing vampires and demons every night in the graveyard is only a small part of the responsibility she takes on; the real challenges she faces are against centuries-old evils: Angel, The Master, the old god Glory, the First Slayer. The foreign-ness of most of these things is mostly inconsequential, since most of them existed well before America did. The usual plot is that this ancient, conservative Big Bad wants to open up the Hellmouth and undo all the un-hell-ing of Sunnydale and beyond; of course, it’s up to Buffy and her modern strength to defeat these ancients that nobody has been able to stop before. And in the meantime, she’s also fighting against the Watcher’s Council and the traditions of the Slayer, and being a kick ass woman, and engaging in non-traditional relationships and such. :-)

  12. Gonzo #

    I agree that zombies are generally about economic anxieties and perhaps masculinity (or perhaps metrosexuality), but I wish the conversation could have talked more about zombie movies specifically, because there’s a recent trend that came to mind immediately for me: the zombie movie as preparation fantasy.

    I feel like the past couple of years–probably through some combination of the “December 21, 2012” end of the world rumor and the hype over swine flu, H1N1, et al–Americans (at least) have been fixated on the idea that humanity could fall to ruin at any moment. And only the few who are physically and emotionally prepared will make it through. It’s all about having lots of steel and a steely resolve, and maybe finding others to team up with, but maybe not. I’m thinking particularly about Zombieland, because, despite the seeming unlikelihood of such a young, scrawny, insecure protagonist, he survives, and lays down his set of survival rules for the rest of us throughout the movie.

    But what I’m really thinking about is beyond the movies — all the books and other merchandise. On the internet I’ve seen many different Zombie Apocalypse Preparedness tests, Zombie Survival Kits for purchase, and discussions about all kinds of zombie scenarios; the CDC even has a page about zombies [http://www.cdc.gov/phpr/zombies.htm]. Sometimes they’re specific to certain movies or shows, but usually they’re not, if only because the sheer number of different stories about zombies (fast zombies vs. slow zombies, contagion vs. rising from the dead) leads to more possible scenarios to ponder and prepare for. What I’m getting at is: people feel engaged by the possibility of a zombie apocalypse! Even if it’s just being at work and having the fleeting thought, “hey, this would probably be the best building downtown to be in if a zombie apocalypse happened,” we’ve all thought about it at least a little bit. And the “scientific” explanations of zombie outbreaks in movies are usually obscure or obfuscated enough that it hardly feels like we have to suspend our disbelief, so that believability can continue on after we’ve finished the movie.

    Sidebar: Just a few years ago, my college classmates and I wrote and produced a movie that equated the “hipster” trend with a zombie outbreak. I’ve been preparing for a zombie outbreak since before it was cool.

  13. Rambler #

    2 things:

    1 – An interesting divergence in the “anxieties vampires represent” is Nosferatu. This is a distinctly Eastern European interpretation of Stoker’s novel. Without a drop of sexuality and heavily laden with the anxieties of a culture that had recently survived the Spanish Influenza. Here the vampire is an incarnation of plague and pestilence.

    2 – A trailer for “Warm Bodies” aired today before the Hobbit. It didn’t seem to be making a pretense of taking itself completely seriously… but Teen-Zombie-RomCom has arrived and it’s here for the table scraps.