He's handsome and dresses with care, and he's what Joe Biden might call "clean and articulate." Women love him. He's the new beau ideal of the popular culture. But we're not talking about Barack Obama.
Men hardly look to politics to find a heroic model to aspire to, nor do women go there seeking a man of elegance and eloquence to sweep them off their feet, having given up on the knight in shining armor with whom to gallop into the sunset. The horse finished out of the money. We no longer care whether Rhett Butler gives a damn about tomorrow, and Prince Charming, looking for a foot to fit a glass slipper, might settle for a stinky running shoe abandoned in a marathon somewhere along the way.
But a woman won't be deprived or discouraged in seeking the man of her dreams, and in the transition to post-election paradise there's suddenly a hot new hero who isn't even a real man. He's a vampire. At a theater near you, virginal young girls, anxious young women and lots of mothers are lining up for the opening of "Twilight," a movie based on the first volume of the best-selling four-book vampire series by Stephanie Meyer, all of which sold in the millions. The books, aimed at the young adult market, are advertised as "wholesome fare."
But a vampire is still a vampire who wants to make dinner of a bucket of blood, so what's the attraction? Vampires have their roots in stories about the bad boys of literature -- think Heathcliff in "Wuthering Heights" or bad Byron, a lord but a romantic poet for all that, who mocked and defied prim and proper 19th century social conventions. But something else is going on here. Those bad boys weren't out for blood.
The modern vampire comes to us with an ironic twist. He's Mr. Nice Guy, the kind you might take home to meet Mom. He's more into the teasing passion of '50s foreplay than the explicit down 'n' dirty of music videos and rap lyrics. That makes him too good to be true, a young man even Dad might approve of. He has a conscience that accompanies courtship, but he dominates like an alpha male. Eschewing equal opportunity sexuality, he wants his girlfriend to indulge femininity rather than asserting feminism. He woos with manners.
Is this wish fulfillment or what? In an essay titled "Love in the Time of Darwinism" in City magazine, Kay Hymowitz observes that "the dating and mating scene is in chaos." Men are angry that women demand both equality and deference, giving off mixed signals, damning men if they do and damning them if they don't. If men open a car door (or any door) they show chauvinist boorishness, and if they don't they show a lack of breeding.