Let’s talk about vampires. I know, I’m jumping on the bandwagon. Vampires are a popular topic for a reason, and that is what I want to look into.
First there’s a whole range of vampires from the cute to the terrifying. The Cute extreme goes to Count von Count from Sesame Street. He is not much of a blood sucker, despite the fangs. His claim to fame is his ability to call thunder and lightning when he has successfully counted something. On the other end, I put the sightless creatures from the movie Priest. That’s just my opinion. There are certainly plenty of other contenders for terrifying, but that is up to your point of view.
I like to think of vampires in broad categories.
The current most popular category are the romance vampires. Think “Twighlight” or “True Blood”. These are the vampires who are all about the seduction. Some more successfully than other. In some ways even Dracula falls into this category, but I’m not going to talk about him here. I want to talk about the seduction of death. What are we reacting to when we find a dead thing to be so sexually attractive? Is it our own fear of death? Actually, I think it is our fear of change. Life is change; we can’t help getting older. Vampires, being lifeless, don’t change. They are static. Not just living forever, but forever young. Oh how we dream of that. Don’t believe me? Just watch prime time TV (not sports) for about an hour and see how many commercials are for anti-aging products. There is still the creep factor in these vampires. Edward from “Twighlight” shoes all the classics signs of a stalker. He’s a bad boy and Bella loves him for it. The vampires in “True Blood” aren’t as honest as you might like about their tastes in blood. They have all kinds of ulterior motives for the things they do and I wouldn’t trust any of them – especially Bill even though he’s supposed to be the good example (at least in the beginning).
Another popular category are the brooders. “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”/”Angel” and all of Anne Rice’s vampires fall into this group. These are the “oh woe is me, I’m a vampire” types. These really do play on our fear of death. We are afraid of dying. Try as we might to hide it, it’s there in our focus on medical advances and unwillingness to talk about end of life decisions even when they are upon us. At the same time, we are afraid that we cannot be redeemed. Vampires like Angel – with his tortured soul – represents our hope that we will have time to redeem ourselves. We want the time to get it right. At the same time we want to see these bad boys (and girls) whine and moan and complain that they aren’t human any more. It makes us feel good that we are what they want to be even though they have all the power and we are just scared little bunnies in their presence.
The last category that I’m going to discuss today are the monsters. Most of these vampires go unnamed. They are the terrifying hoards that hunt in the night in movies like “Blade” or “Priest” or about a hundred low budget made for TV movies. These represent our generalized fear. They are the predators that we no longer fear in real life. Worse than that, they are us. These vampires represent the greed and “me first” attitude that permeates modern society. The blood sucking hoards – like bankers and lawyers and politicians and all those other people who are out to suck us dry and there is nothing much we can do about it. They are nameless for a reason.
The monster category also includes the vampires in “Underworld” – though we don’t see much of their relationship with the humans in their world. They get to be monsters for how they treat each other and the simple fact that human society barely touches them. Nosferatu and Dracula are in here too. They aren’t nameless, but they are predators and not apologetic about it in any way. Dracula was actually based on a real (and really awful) person named Vlad III of the house Draculesti. A real royal pain also known as Vlad the Impaler for his penchant for impaling anyone he labeled a traitor on a ten foot pole – it wasn’t hard to get the label “traitor” in his realm. Local legend claimed that he was immortal because of the number of assassination attempts that he survived. The people whispered that he must have made a deal with the Devil. Bram Stoker fictionalized the rumors about this very real (and still human as far as anyone can tell) leader in his book “Dracula”. Dracula has, of course, expanded beyond his original book. He represents blatant evil. We all know these people exist out there, but it’s hard to write a story about Hitler without getting buried under the baggage that comes with someone so real. Dracula, or whoever you choose as your vampire du jour, however can be just plain evil and scary without all that annoying history.
When I look at it this way, it makes complete sense that we should be obsessed with vampires. While they seem to be one thing, they are actually very flexible. They can be what ever you need a soulless bloodsucker for – whether it’s to be the bad boy stalker dude to fall in love with or the ultimate evil. Vampires have staying power in our culture.