Our society’s preoccupation with Vampire fiction and film (and TV)

Apparently, vampires are sexy. I’m not really sure how that happened. If you think about it, they’ve been bitten by someone and died due to blood loss or infection, and then they’re supposed to come back all powerful. How is that supposed to happen? Vampires should be more like zombies, falling apart and forever moaning for more food.

They have a tradition of suave regality, calling back to Bram Stoker‘s original novel, Dracula:

Within, stood a tall old man, clean shaven save for a long white moustache, and clad in black from head to foot, without a single speck of colour about him anywhere…The instant, however, that I had stepped over the threshold, he moved impulsively forward, and holding out his hand grasped mine with a strength which made me wince, an effect which was not lessened by the fact that it seemed cold as ice, more like the hand of a dead than a living man.

His face was a strong, a very strong, aquiline, with high bridge of the thin nose and peculiarly arched nostrils, with lofty domed forehead, and hair growing scantily round the temples but profusely elsewhere. His eyebrows were very massive, almost meeting over the nose, and with bushy hair that seemed to curl in its own profusion. The mouth, so far as I could see it under the heavy moustache, was fixed and rather cruel-looking, with peculiarly sharp white teeth. These protruded over the lips, whose remarkable ruddiness showed astonishing vitality in a man of his years. For the rest, his ears were pale, and at the tops extremely pointed. The chin was broad and strong, and the cheeks firm though thin. The general effect was one of extraordinary pallor. (Dracula, via Project Gutenberg)

Excepting the startling eyebrows, the Count seems to be august and aristocratic. Yet his descriptions are always tempered by the note of death. He cannot be utterly refined or pure, as he is dead–undead. I imagine him more as Gary Oldman‘s creepy portrayal:

This is why I love Catherine Jinks: she points this out in a wonderfully witty way in her book, The Reformed Vampire Support Group. It tells the story of Nina, a forever-fifteen-year-old vampire who does not fall into the Count Dracula, Lestat, or Edward Cullen:

The plain fact is, I can’t do anything much. That’s part of the problem. Vampires are meant to be so glamorous and powerful, but I’m here to inform you that being a vampire is nothing like that. Not one bit. It’s like being stuck indoors with the flu watching daytime television, forever and ever (5).

[From the back cover:] Contrary to popular opinion, vampires are not sexy, romantic, or powerful. In case you hadn’t noticed, vampires are dead. And the only ones who don’t get staked are the ones who avoid attacking people, admit they have a problem, and join a support group.

This, I love. Why would vampires be sexy? It doesn’t make sense. Jinks’ book really delves into this idea and depicts decrepit teenaged vampires who are just plain said. Now, that’s certainly not a typical portrayal of vampires in this day and age, but I have to give Jinks kudos for going against the flow.

Today, The Twilight Saga, True Blood, and The Vampire Diaries (based on L.J. Smith’s series of the same name) are making their mark upon pop culture. They’re everywhere. A surprising number of people watch them–people I know who I’d never have guessed. Theaters are filled with screaming teenage girls, going wild over the sparkliness of Edward Cullen, devoted viewers wait eagerly for the next season of True Blood (based on Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse series), to see the absolute depravity depicted therein, or to tune into The Vampire Diaries‘ two smoldering male leads fighting over the equally seductive Elena (who, I have to give the show credit: Elena is not stupid or bland, unlike another major point in a vampire love triangle I know).

This, I think, is the source of the mania. The idea that a “normal girl” could not only find an all-consuming eternal love, which is enough, I think. However, she then finds another one, and they fight over her. It’s an enticing fantasy; I can see its appeal. Add to it the prospect of ultra-riches, eternal partying with your forever-youthful beau who would (and probably has on multiple occasions) killed someone else for you–what could be better? Really?

These shows, films, and books all make interesting commentaries on society and human nature overall.

In the world of the vampire, you seem to have two major choices: you get bitten and you brood, denying yourself all happiness until you find the girl of your dreams, or you give into the utter hedonism of it all and just go wild. This is really a great picture of human nature.

Both choices are hyperbolized, but on the right track. We as humans are constantly faced with decisions in our lives. We’re sinful people, and it’s easier to do the wrong thing. We’re all flawed and must resist those urges. However, their answer is to do it on their own (there is no Christ in that conversation). The Cullens are “vegetarian” vampires, resisting their basest instinct which tells them to kill other humans all the time. They don’t go down that path: they eat animals instead. That’s commendable, and metaphorically discusses the choices we make daily. It would be easier to just give in and forget all the consequences, living it up completely. This is embodied by Stefan and Damon Salvatore of The Vampire Diaries. Stefan has given up the hedonism to do the right thing. He fights his urges daily. Edward Cullen does the same thing, and both of them turn into brooding hulks with smoldering gazes who, when faced with someone that helps ease their pain, they latch on for dear life. Damon Salvatore (and James, from Twilight) made the second choice. They went all out and indulged every whim, no matter how many suffered because of them.

We’re faced with similar choices, and a life with no absolute moral compass is one which leads down into awful disarray and disappointment, with eternal consequences. I appreciate the discussion that these films and books bring up, though not always the place that they lead. See the end of my Eclipse review for more along the following lines.

For example: the Twilight films do not handle love well. Edward is a 100 year old teenager. This means he is more mature than the average teenage guy, and is therefore a bit safer and in control of himself, because he’s over the hormonal urges that are coursing through the teens. There is a scene in which Bella literally throws herself at him, and he quite easily and forcefully says no. This is not a safe thing that teen girls should expect from their boyfriends. Furthermore, the obsessive, controlling nature of Edward, as well as the complete and utter attachment (and subsequent detachment from the rest of her life) that Bella forms is unhealthy for a teen (all this aside from the fact that she’s dating a killer vampire…). Elena fares better than Bella at this, for the most part, though her choices aren’t as saintly. She is strong enough to break things off when things get too wrong or strange, and she’s a better role model for her younger fan base–to a point.

I could go on about this for quite awhile, and I admit I’ve leaving quite a large gap of vampire literature and film out of my analysis, but I’ll end with this:

The questions raised by this genre of fantasy fiction and film are good ones. What will you do with your life? How will you live and make your choices? Will you delve into a hedonistic life with no moral direction, or will you save yourself from those consequences, because when it comes down to it, those consequences can’t just be ignored. Young girls should make sure that they aren’t following the examples set in these films, particularly Twilight, as they are not the models for love and safety. The more popular vampire pop culture icons are all sparkle and luster, with very little substance to support it, as they raise questions but avoid answering them well.


2 thoughts on “Our society’s preoccupation with Vampire fiction and film (and TV)

  1. Pingback: Our society’s preoccupation with magic and sorcery in books and movies | Elementary, My Dear Reader

  2. Pingback: Our society’s preoccupation with Zombies in books and movies | Elementary, My Dear Reader

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