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The vampire subgenre of horror film has existed for nearly a century, ranging from Tod Browning’s 1931 “Dracula” to vampires with mullets in Joel Schumacher’s “The Lost Boy’s” in 1987 to the mid-2010’s vampire craze we all know and love. And despite the various locations, characters and conflicts of the mid-2010’s vampire craze, the mainstream modern vampire genre seems to have one universal trait: a boring brunette love interest.
I know this may sound hypocritical. A large part of being a feminist — at least on a day-to-day level — is not being judgemental of women’s self-expression or behaviors. Women are dynamic, interesting and diverse, with a plethora of different personality traits; I know that. But, come on, some of the characters in modern vampire stories seem like a genuine disservice to women everywhere. And when a main character’s only identity is her relation to her male counterpart, with absolutely no other personality, it reeks of anti-feminism.
This is very confusing, considering a typical film trope is the “brainy brunette.” So why does an uninteresting brunette seem to be a vital ingredient in the vampire-flick recipe?
The “boring brunette vampire love interest” is a recognizable trope within the 2010’s vampire explosion. From “The Vampire Diaries” in 2009 to “The Twilight Saga” in 2010, everyone loved vampires. However, in both of these classic, sign-of-the-times tales, the main character/love interest is basically a carbon copy of the other: brunette and boring.
Let’s break down both.
The royalty of the modern vampire genre — “The Twilight Saga” — is guilty as charged in terms of making Forks, Wash.’s dream girl excruciatingly bland. Based on Stephanie Meyer’s novels, the movie version of Bella Swan is cumbersome, clumsy and, well, boring. She doesn’t say much and never appears to have any hobbies or passions. Yet, every guy at Forks High School is obsessed with her. And later on, there are wars between vampires and werewolves fought entirely for her.
After having countless conversations with friends regarding the Twilight movies, there is something we just can’t wrap our heads around: why?
Why did everyone love Bella Swan? What message is this sending? Women who are bland and passionless are attractive to the most unattainable men, and therefore that’s who we should dull ourselves down to be?
When Bella later becomes a vampire, due to Edward’s venom, she appears physically and emotionally stronger. Suddenly, Bella is witty and overall interesting. Coincidence? I don’t think so.
Is this all just subliminal messaging that women are nothing without their male counterparts? That Bella Swan could not possibly be interesting or strong without Edward’s venom coursing through her veins, literally changing her neurological and physical composition?
“The Vampire Diaries’” Elena Gilbert is another boring brunette who fits the bill. Even though the book character was notably blonde, Nina Dobrev’s brunette locks have become a recognizable feature of the main character of “The Vampire Diaries” series. Despite Mystic Falls, Va. being freckled with fantastically dynamic women characters, both of the (vampire) Salvatore brothers fall for the same girl: the boring brunette.
Elena’s only personality trait appears to be tragedy; her life a continuous pattern of losing the people she loves. And while this can emit sympathy to an extent, when it’s all the character is known for, it gets a bit old. For some reason, however, it’s never old to the two vampires — who have lived for over a century and traveled around the world — who are inexplicably, madly in love with her.
So what’s with brunette women with nonexistent personalities in the modern vampire film genre?
A common rebuttal is that bland love interests allow for female viewers to insert themselves in the story. This type of character is usually found in fanfiction, where the term “y/n” is used in place of a character name so the reader can insert their own.
However, this story type doesn’t always mean a character is boring. So if this theory were to be true, the character being insanely bland so a viewer can insert themself into the narrative is a tradeoff for using an actual name, as opposed to “y/n.”
Is that the role women play in film? Self-insert characters so we could imagine a reality where an attractive, hard to pin down man actually cares for us? Chooses us over all of the objectively more interesting women with actual personality traits, interests and hobbies? Wow!
Shockingly, many women aren’t into the bland brunette love interest trope. To be honest, no one is.
Even when googling “Why is Bella Swan ___” or “Why is Elena ____” autofill always suggest the same adjectives: boring, bland, annoying, pathetic. In addition, blogs titled “Why I hate Bella Swan” or “Why I hate Elena Gilbert” are not hard to come by. Buzzfeed writer Louis Peitzman even wrote he prefers Elena when she turns into an emotionless vampire. Because at least then she is badass and fun, as opposed to a boring character who offers nothing to the story besides who she is in relation to others.
Ultimately, the boring brunette love interest being anti-feminist makes a pretty solid argument. To convey women as uninteresting and sought after alludes to that type of woman being attractive and liked. To create a character that exists solely to be in a romantic relationship with a man, with no other interests or personality traits, draws the conclusion that women’s overarching interest and purpose is to be a partner to a man.
Lastly, to assume all women want out of a cinematic experience is to insert themselves into a storyline where a previously emotionally unavailable man yearns for them reinforces the idea that women exist solely to be loved and desired by men which is the farthest from the truth.
Will we ever stop consuming vampire media? No. Would vampire media be one million times better if the main character was a woman who actually embodied the complexity and characteristics of a woman? Yes.
The asinine assumption that the woman characters we want to see on screen are so uninteresting that we can insert ourselves into them, or who don’t distract from the hot vampire love interest, isn’t hitting the mark. The women we portray in film and TV are influential in terms of how we define and describe women, and therefore should encapsulate the complexity of women.
So with this I say, with love and respect to Bella Swan and Elena Gilbert, I am ready for a modern vampire romance where a potential partner is multi-faceted, strong and actually has a personality.