Vampires Are Dead—Again

Saturday, September 1, 2012

On a warm spring day back in 1999, I stood outside of Anne Rice’s house hoping to catch a glimpse of the brilliant mind that created the Interview with a Vampire series.  I was in love with Lestat and the idea of being a "real" writer.  I managed to catch a glimpse of the back of Rice’s head as she rode away in a limo.  While Rice no longer owns the beautiful New Orleans mansion, the experience was enough to make me feel like I was part the vampire trend rampant at the time.  Lestat was the vampire for our grungy, goth age.  Who, then, is the vampire for this age?  Is Edward the (sparkly) face of the vampire of the first decade of the 2000's?  As we roll toward the end of the Mayan calender, I would suggest that we have entered another reality.  The vampire, dear Dr. VanHelsing, is dead.
 
Bunnicula: A Rabbit-Tale of MysteryI’ve always liked vampire stories.  My dad took a friend and I to see Dracula in '92, and I developed a crush on Gary Oldman (aka Sirius Black--see below).  In fact, my favorite books as a child were the Bunnicula Series.  I remember reading The Celery Stalks at Midnight with great delight.  If you’re not familiar with the books, I suggest you check them out.  They chronicle the tale of a "vampire" rabbit.  As a scholar, I have studied Slavic folklore and early literary works like John Polidor's The Vampyre--a cheap rip off of Lord Byron's "Fragment of a Novel".  It seems that vampires or vampire-like beings have been noted in almost every culture.  Some scholars date the earliest vampire to ancient Sumerian civilization.  For the most part, I’ve always been “checked into” the vampire craze.  More recently, I loved the first Underworld movie.  We have entered the era of a strong female protagonist.  Ladies, we'll have no more shrieking in the corner thank-you-very-much.  As for the Underworld franchise, it has now gone down the same road from which the Highlander series never returned.  Alas.  I watched Blade with a woman who screamed: “Look out!  He’s behind you!” at Snipes all through the movie.  The day-walker ignored her.  But she might as well been shouting to the "race" of vampires as a whole.  Something was stalking them, but it wasn't Buffy.

 
When Twilight came on stage, I was not disgruntled like many vampire traditionalists.  Meyers did a great job of capturing the essence of a new kind of contemporary vampire.  As Nina Aurbach so eloquently put it, “every age embraces the vampire it needs.”  Edward appeals in Beatle-esque fashion to hordes of young women today.  “Twi-hards” should not be ridiculed.  Instead we should seek to understand the vein that Meyer hit—pun intended—and follow it to its natural conclusion.  While True Blood is still hot and we have another Twilight movie on the way—assuming we can all get past the fact that Stewart is a cheater--it appears that the most recent vampire "ride" is coming to an end.  The vampire doesn't seem to "do it" for us anymore.  But, why? 
 

Vampires have generally reflected the fears of the society from which they come.  Whether it is the fear of improper burial, contamination or disease, societal disconnect from sexuality, or the need to find someone who will love us “for reals,” the vampire serves a purpose.  The vampire reflects the fears of the society.  But what happens when a society is numbed?  Are vampires still scary?    For many, the answer is no.  With Twilight, we learn that the only one who can really, really love and understand us is someone who is dead inside.  Nice.  He might love you forever, but it’s only because you are both divorced from any sense of humanity.  The vampire has lost its punch, but it’s not Twilight’s fault.  In fact, Meyers clearly sees that the dead lover is the only effective lover we can possible have in western society where more than half of marriages end in divorce. 

 
We are numb to even the scariest of the bogey men in our closets.  No wonder we are dreaming up legions of zombies invading our streets.  We seek to understand our reality by putting a face on it, but Rice’s romantic Lestat just does not serve anymore and Edward just frustrates many.  We no longer have patience for lace collars, gentlemanly fiends, or poetic creatures of the night.   Our id is searching for a face for the great the dissatisfaction we feel with the general state of the world.  It is rather revealing that even a blood-sucking undead creature can’t serve as a figure of transference for our malaise.  As a result, the vampire is dead again.  Only time will tell if--or in what form--they will next be resurrected. 



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5 comments:

  1. A coworker of mine and I have been going around about vampire versus zombies for a couple months.

    The background of our argument was whether the Abe Lincoln Vampire Slayer movie or it's zombie parody got more traction. I'm pretty sure zombies did. <--unresearched opinion

    So, good point, good post! Also makes me think of this: http://www.npr.org/2012/07/19/157049292/terrible-virus-fascinating-history-in-rabid

    Let's hope "real" vampires make a come back someday. I so very much like them, more than zombies.

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  2. The Abe Lincoln bit seemed a "jump the shark" moment, and I'm not sure why. I have been working with some vampire characters and my sense of the matter is that, perhaps, we can't connect with the aristocratic vampire. Perhaps we need something more self-loathing in the mix. I wonder, does "real" mean scary or sexy or both?

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  3. I think scary first, then sympathetic. Dexter kind of does for me what Louis and Lestat once did.

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  4. I agree that vampires have become a bit played-out. I, for one, am sick of the bleeding-heart, good-guy vampire. The amount of vampire, or vampire and werewolf themed modern fiction that's out there right now is just sad. Can't anyone think of a more original idea?

    The Walking Dead series (both television show and graphic novels) were written under the premise of, "hey, let's make zombies scarey again." I think, in order for the vampire to find new validity, this is the direction that should next be explored.

    I remember watching Coppola's "Dracula" when it came out, and hating it at the time, for various reasons. Watching it again, years later, I came to appreciate Coppola's presentation of the vampire as a terrible, infectious evil that slowly destroys everything it comes into contact with. Still, of course, the book was much better.

    Stephen King wrote a similar presentation of the vampire in _Salem's Lot_, wherein the little everyday evils and sins of the towns' people were what made it possible for the vampire to come to their town. They'd prepared a harvest, and the vampire was simply there for the reaping.

    Our modern storytellers have forgotten that fear is most effective when left in shadow. Something Ridley Scott remembered very well in the first two Alien movies. Once you shine a spotlight on a monster, there's no more mystery. The what-ifs fade away; our imaginations no longer have that uncertainty to feast on.

    Show me a story about a person who seeks, and succeeds in becoming a vampire only to find that the warnings of its nightmarishly cursed existance pale in comparison to the reality. Show me a vampire who says, if only I'd listened, or made a different choice; what have I gotten myself into? Show me a vampire with no soul. Show me a vampire who's only motives are fear, pain, & destruction. Show me an "ex-Lestat" who's lost ALL of his lust for life, feels nothing but terrible apathy, and has no hope of changing anything for the better, ever.

    I didn't read the Twilight novels, and have no plan to. I've seen some of the movies. Bleh. I've joked that the whole series would be made valid if they ended with the teenaged girl finally becoming a vampire. And as she dies, her soul descends into the unspeakable torments of Hell forever, while watching a horrifying demon take over her physical body to become the new vampire who will assume her past identity to walk the Earth with no other intent than to spend all eternity destroying the lives and souls of humans. And all this happens while Pretty-Boy-Sparkles and his "family" of vampires stand around laughing about how their elaborate ruse has paid off; thus destroying the life and soul of another hapless human fool.

    The point being, that what is really scarey in the modern world is the evils that we choose for ourselves. The consequences of things that seemed like good ideas back then. The destination that this path of self-centered consumerism and greed is leading us.

    What if the ones whom you trust the most are inherently un-trustworthy? There's a horror that I think anyone who's experienced divorce can identify with.

    For a good vampire novel, I recommend my favorite contemporary fiction author, Steven Brust. The novel is called _Agyar_. I also recommend his novel _To Reign in Hell_, a tongue-in-cheek novelization of the Fall of Satan and the War in Heaven leading up to the Biblical Creation story. Brust's "Vlad Taltos" is also excellent (as long as you endure the lull that occures towards the middle of the series).

    Also, while the second and third Underworld movies were not as good as the first, I thoroughly enjoyed the most recent (4th) movie.

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  5. I heart Glenn Harris. Thank you for the thoughtful reply. I have been thinking about the modern vampire in this vein as well. How could it be reconfigured to evoke fear and not a chuckle? This is of particular interest to me since I do write about them--mostly intending to show irony at this point, but I have larger “plans.” It seems like we have gone the direction of it being "fun" to be a vampire. True, being immortal might be cool, but to be stripped of your humanity would not. I think the vampire that hates its very existence, and the existence of all others like it, is attractive. I would serve well to reflect malaise that is realistic. And as you note, the world seems to be very good and showing us the vampiric side of people we actually know. Thank you for the reading suggestions. I will check them out as well. I do think The Walking Dead started to explore some sophisticated questions about the make-up of mankind in the characters of Dale and Shane. With the id and the super-ego dispatched, we are left with all the "types" left in the middle. I have to give them credit for embracing something other than romance. Half of me worries, however, that Season 3 will swing too far in the other direction--more goo, less brains. I guess we'll see. Thanks for reading and posting. It felt like "Philosophy Night" again for a minute :)

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