Monday, December 26, 2011

The "Cliche": When It Wasn't (Dracula Style)

Maybe it's just because I'm feeling old these days, but have you ever had a conversation that goes something like this:

(Scene: watching Star Wars V: the Empire Strikes Back)

Kid Obviously Born Sometime in the 90s:  Pffffff, "I'm your father," what a cliche!

Grown-Up Born Before the 90s: Umm. . .I don't know if you're aware, but this is the first time that was ever really used.  This is in fact not a cliche, but the thing which others copied for it to become a cliche.

KOBSit90s:  Oh.

GUBBt90s:  *facepalm*

Perhaps I've just been talking to too many youngsters, but I seem to be having days like this frequently.  My forehead is rather sore from all the intense facepalming I have had to do lately.  That is, until a week or so ago, while I was reading Dracula, I became one of them.  Yes, that's right.  I became one of those people who yelled, "What a cliche!" while reading the first instance of the use (i.e. therefore not a cliche).

How embarrassing.

At the same time, how stupid are these people?  If you have not had the pleasure of reading Dracula (which I do recommend -- it's exciting in a decidedly 19th century, plodding plotline way, an oxymoron if ever I heard one), let me key you in on some crucial details.

First of all, Van Helsing (world-renowed scientist and vampire slayer, apparently) isn't the sharing type.  Actually, he seems to be the number one adherent to the old adage: "Ignorance is bliss".  Because vampires are wrecking havoc and he doesn't seem to think it's necessary to clue his friends in on what's going on.  It's not like they haven't noticed anything weird, either.  I mean, beautiful and surprisingly frail Lucy has these two unusual puncture marks on her neck that look odd, and there's always this bloody great bat hanging around outside her window.  I'd be suspicious.  Bats don't hang around, except in caves (ba dum ch).  Is there a mosquito fest outside her window every night?  If not, it's time to get the bat repellent.  Secondly, she's suffering from massive blood loss and they replace it with the blood of FOUR different guys!  (Aside from the idiocy factor and the gross factor, isn't this some kind of tip off, even if you're not the brightest bulb in the lamp factory?)  Then, her teeth start to get extra pointed.  Just her canines, mind you.  And she has weird mood swings.  And Van Helsing won't let her fiance kiss her goodbye on her lips.  Do they bat an eyelash?  Yes, but all their fears are allayed with one word of "don't worry about it" from shifty Professor Van Helsing.

Later on, Van Helsing's policy of noncooperation is helped out invaluably by that other 19th century bugaboo, racism's best friend, sexism!  When he finally decides to share what's going on with the other characters and meets up with Jonathan and Mina Harker and after about twenty pages of them expounding on each other's good qualities (shut up already), he still has reservations.  I mean, women.  They like, faint all the time and stuff.  Men should shield them from the really intense stuff.  But it's okay for them to still be the ones having babies.  I hate to say it, mostly because I hate these books, but who suffers the most bodily in Twilight, the still vampiric but decidedly idiotic saga?  The girl giving birth, whose body is literally ripped apart.  Gross.

But anyhow, the fairer sex can't handle it, blah blah blah, and they decide to not tell Mina about any of the really juicy, important details.  Yes, these details perhaps could of saved her, but should we really quibble over the little things?  Nevermind that she's been copying down all their diaries diligently and keeping accurate records, so that now they all essentially have their own copies of Dracula (which is interestingly written completely in letter and diary format).  No no, she must be protected.  Meanwhile, somewhere in a dank castle, Dracula's practicing his maniacal laugh and wringing his hands because this all means that Mina is super perfect vampire food.  And sure enough, before the night is out, she has drunk of his blood (from his manly pectoral -- that's a bit much, Mr. Stoker), and she is destined to become the Un-Dead.

You would think this would make Van Helsing or his companions take pause and reconsider their stances.  They do, and they start to include Mina in their exploits, but she can't come with them (too scary for dainty women) and after a while they even stop telling her about it because she could be a conduit to the Count (okay, that's a fair enough concern).  But Dr. Van H's wily ways are never quite satisfied.  Time and again, like a klepto shoplifting a pack of gum, his habits of controlling vital information resurface more frequently than I'd like to count.  It's almost more than the times Dorothy cries in the Wizard of Oz movie (something in the ballpark of 30, mind you -- we counted).  It makes you wonder.  I mean, after a certain point, Dracula makes no bones about his plans.  Perhaps this is where other bad guys got the idea that it was not smart to monologue, but he always seems to be turning around at the last minute and saying, "And this is my plan!  You are too late!"  But of course, they never are.  He has stupidly given them his evil itinerary and they manage to somehow stay abreast of him, if not one bumbling step ahead.

All in all, I'm glad I read it.  Yes, it took 250 pages to get really exciting.  Yes, Van Helsing is a sadist.  Yes, there's an undercurrent of hatred against the Irish by the British (my boyfriend could explain it better, but Stoker was an Irishman who was a British citizen and was for Home Rule?  Confusing, yes, but that's okay).  Yes, Dracula is supposed to be creepily attractive (you know, where you're repulsed that you're attracted?).  And yet, all of that adds to the charm of a decidedly classic novel, rife with suspense and emotion, at least on the part of the characters, who cry ALL THE TIME.  I am always one for a truly Victorian read, and I was amply rewarded.  I have discovered the root of the cliche. . .and it was obvious why it became a cliche, and then even more obvious why it was incessantly parodied.  Next up on the classic novel reading list: The Phantom of the Opera!

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