For an intelligent girl, “Twilight” heroine Bella easily slips into the passenger seat when it comes to her relationship with her undead boyfriend Edward Cullen. Edward, who has been 17 for almost a century, may drive a snazzy sports car and look like a GQ model, but he has some old-fashioned ideas about a man’s role in a relationship.
He is Bella’s protector, even sneaking into her bedroom to watch her sleep or disabling her vehicle so she can’t go somewhere he deems dangerous. Bella’s besotted by Edward, and willingly wants to enter the vampire world even if it means giving up her family and friends — not to mention hunting down wildlife to suck their blood.
Sookie, like Bella, started as the main character in a popular book series. She took shape in the HBO series “True Blood,” which returns for a second season on June 14. While the two share a common story — the love between a mortal and a vampire — the characters couldn’t be more different when it comes to their relationship with their undead boyfriends.
Sookie doesn’t need a guy with a pulse to make her blood race, but she’s not about to make the leap into that cold, dead world. Bella’s obsessed with spending eternity with her love.
In a long history of girl-meets-blood-sucker fantasies, these two fictional women have taken the spotlight in the resurgence of vampire obsession. Bella slips into a controlling relationship, hoping to toss her mortality away like last year’s fashion trend. Sookie’s just looking for a good time before moving on to something that resembles a normal life.
Young women like 17-year-old Sara represent the target audience for “Twilight,” and she admits being uncomfortable with the character of Bella.
“She does everything this guy tells her to do, and it’s not right,” Sara says. “I think too many girls my age don’t want to be themselves. They say they are in love, but they are pretending to be something they aren’t because they want their boyfriends to like them more than they want to be who they really are.”
And, Sara says, who even knows who they really are at 17?
No need for a dashing savior prince
Certainly not Sookie, who is still struggling with those questions at 25. She’s a telepathic waitress in the small Louisiana town of Bon Temps. Because of her strange abilities, her social and academic life has suffered. Yet she embodies the independent woman Bella believes she represents. Sookie’s world may have gotten a jolt once vampire Bill entered her diner, but she makes sure he knows she doesn’t need him to be her dashing savior prince, no matter how charming he may be.
Slideshow: ‘Twilight’ stars light up Hollywood In “New Moon,” a distraught Bella contemplates suicide when Edward decides its best for him to leave her to her mortal life. She’s comforted by her friend Jacob, who is in love with her. Jacob believes in Bella, and encourages her to be herself and not be influenced by the controlling Edward. He gets kicked to the curb for his efforts as soon as Edward pops back into the picture. And the author Stephenie Meyer opts to give Jacob a seedy side by suddenly turning him into a person who would force himself on Bella.
Sookie often tells Bill she can take care of herself, and although she’s certainly benefited more than once from his super powers, she doesn’t allow the immortals to dictate her life. From a role model standpoint, that puts her several notches above the more malleable Bella. Yet the soft porn aspect of both the Sookie Stackhouse books, “The Southern Vampire Mysteries,” and the skin fest “True Blood” should be a no-teen zone. And that’s too bad, because young girls could benefit from watching a woman hold her own against the fang gang.
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Slideshow: Celebrity sightings The defining moment in both the Bella/Edward and the Sookie/Bill romances comes early on. Edward seems oddly repelled by new student Bella, but when a van careens out of control in the school parking lot, his quick vamp abilities come into play as he springs to her side and stops the van from crushing her with just his outstretched hand. The damsel has been saved.
Sookie’s immediately mesmerized when Bill wanders into her diner. Finally, someone whose mind she cannot read, who gives her some mental quiet and forces her to discover his thoughts without supernatural means. When he’s lured out to the parking lot by some nasty humans who subdue him with silver chains while they drain his marketable blood, it’s Sookie to the rescue.
While Sookie’s obviously the more self-reliant spirit, there’s no getting around the graphic sex aspect of “True Blood.” So for role models, we’re hoping the new CW series “Vampire Diaries” —based on a book series that predates the “Twilight” saga by more than a decade, might fill the gap. The series offers the same girl-meets-vampire formula, but Elena appears from the pilot to more Buffy than Bella.
Even a vampire slayer like Buffy can’t resist the lure of the blood suckers. Everything about the cold ones, as Edward points out to Bella, is made to be seductive to their human prey. The bad boys represent the ultimate sensual catnip, yet even they can fall under the enchantment of a mortal. These women usually represent a strong, vital personality that proves just as seductive to the vampire as the thought of knocking back a few pints of A negative.
It’s too bad that a force as strong as “Twilight” can’t serve to show young women that they have their own power, and don’t need to be subservient in order to find true love.
Susan C. Young is a San Francisco Bay Area writer.
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