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Why Twilight Could Not Have

Taken Place In Arizona

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Foreground image, main characters of the the Twilight movies. Background image by Miguel Folch and used under a Creative Commons license.
For Those Who Might Ponder Whether Twilight Should Have Been Set In The Author’s Home State, They Must Remember How Old, Foreboding And Downright Smelly The Desert Can Be

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By Stacy Graber
Special for Modern Times Magazine

July 22, 2013 — All things go underground during an Arizona summer. The entire place spasmodically stalls and there is no more eating or sleeping, only twisting in sodden sheets or else stiffening against the air conditioning. It is a good time to have surgery or retreat gratefully into a cocoon or coma. The heat causes you to surrender, yield to the inevitable, or perhaps even read Twilight.

If, on a sulfurous, Arizona afternoon, you self-inter in a luxury doomsday bunker and read Twilight, I know what question you will pencil into the margin of Meyer’s novel: Why couldn’t Twilight have taken place in the desert?

Contrary to the complaints of locals who feel cheated by the author’s place disloyalty, it matters little that Meyer grew up in Arizona: Twilight simply could not have taken place in the desert. Arizona is not a place for vampires: not because they would become visible (e.g., due to their telltale diamond-skin condition), but because they would become invisible. Arizona is too tough for vampires.

One: Arizona is much older than vampires; the drama of their lives is meaningless against the geologic backdrop of the desert. Remember when the critic Jean Baudrillard careened drunk in a sports-car across America in search of the end? Baudrillard explained how, in its incomprehensible immensity, the desert signs a Paleolithic f-you to all man-made constructions and flattens human drama in a gesture of stony erasure. Similarly, vampires may be the undying aristocrats of the monster realm, but their prestige is neutralized by the Arizona landscape which is far more awesome and eternal.

Each striation in limestone and shale mocks the blood-suckers’ trifling millennia in brutal contrast, and the vampires’ punk powers are deconstructed by the infinite mesa. Rock and sand don’t care about the fate of men or monsters. The mineral attitude of the plateau and canyon is unmoved except by sea, wind and time. So, if a vampire kills or seduces a mortal on the Mogollon Rim, it is a non-event.

Two: Desert wildlife is more lethal than the rogue vampire: it is legion. Edward continually bullies Bella and asserts how ‘dangerous’ he is, but nature is far more uncontainable and menacing than the supernatural in the desert setting. Toxic nature trumps the monster by threat of variety and number: Rattlesnakes, toads, black widows, brown recluses, bark scorpions, centipedes, cone-nose bugs, ants and wasps. The unbounded assortment of venomous creatures confirms Stephen Jay Gould’s argument regarding the misread of Darwin (that the supreme life form is most prolific and diverse). The insect colony teaming from a crusted wound in the earth suggests an implacable, pharaonic sentence. By contrast, how fixed in form and limited by feed is the vampire. The vampire is too individual, and too refined, to consume its prey as totally and mercilessly as the eclipsing swarm.

Three: The desert is desiccating and bests the vampire in the drainage of fluids. A simple binary: The desert is dry and sex is wet. The liquid sex-game of the vampire entails that s/he drinks in the victim/beloved. This requires time, seduction and consent. Conversely, the dehydrating intensity of the desert consumes bodily fluids more violently and efficiently than the vampire. In Arizona, all will to movement is paralyzed while insatiable light swallows its fill. Energy is sapped by merely breathing and conservation is futile. So lust dries up in the desert and the fluid romance of Dracula would be rendered impotent. Reciprocally, the vampire would have no interest in the husks that frequent the Scottsdale malls and day-spas.

Four: Vampires would be repulsed by the decaying smell of people in the desert. Readers of Twilight know that it is an extremely olfactory-contingent story. I’ve read nothing like it, except maybe Hawthorne’s story Rappaccini’s Daughterand parts of Nietzsche’s Ecce Homo, wherein the author argues that his “genius is in his nose.” In Meyer’s book, Edward and Bella smell the sex of each other and they are enraptured by it. But Arizonans know that smell is the enemy every May through October. A personal example: Due to heightened sensitivity from allergies, I am able to sense catalogues of unwholesome scents on people as they approach. Therefore, I know that a sensitive vampire would recoil from people, even if it meant starvation and death, for the smell of a life lived indoors is putrid.

So, in the smack-down between Arizona and the mythic predator, the vampire must plead nolo contendere. Meyer was forced to look elsewhere for a verdant, Goth-dreamscape against which teen-Nosferatu could look tough.

Stacy Graber is an assistant professor of English. Her areas of interest include popular culture, critical theory and semiotics.
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