After a long silence, I have returned to careen down the superhighway of information like Vin Diesel in either the first or fourth installment of The Fast in the Furious. Or, given the infrequency of my posts, perhaps more like his cameo in Toyko Drift.
But now I can no longer sit idly by!
Blame the vampires.
Twilight. True Blood. That other WB show that’s not True Blood. Not to mention the Underworld prequel, Let the Right One In, or that upcoming movie with John C. Reilly in some crazy hairdo. Turn on any television and if you don’t see a vampire within thirty minutes, chances are your television is broken. We Americans are just like those poor, bumbling mortals in the aforementioned films who “never even heard of no vampires before, my goodness!” and are suddenly surprised to find that they are EVERYWHERE and they are MULTIPLYING.
There’s certainly precedent. Back in the late 90s-early 00s (what are we calling this decade anyway? The ‘o’s?), we had that flood of Buffy, Blades, Underworlds, Queens of the Damned, and that lamentable Van Helsing (thank God for X-Men, right Hugh Jackman? It was touch and go there for a moment). And then, another five years or so before that, we have Coppola’s Dracula, Interviews with a Vampire, and on and on back to Boris Karloff in the silent era.
Every year, there’s another addition to the inexhaustible archive of vampire cinema, but the drizzle has become a thunderstorm.
And, as those pasty, undead protagonists of True Blood and Twilight remind us in somber tones, glaring balefully at their suntanned, female counterparts “WE VAMPIRES ARE NOTHING LIKE THE LEGENDS YOU’VE HEARD ABOUT.”
Listen, pasty-face, I don’t buy it. Legends are EXACTLY what you’re like. It’s just that our attitudes towards these legends have changed.
Let’s deconstruct this mother.
I don’t give a hoot where you Goth kids think vampires first came from, for all intents and purposes, Bram Stroker’s Dracula is the source of our modern myth.
Reader’s digest version: Dracula’s some uptight, thousand year old aristocrat with unusual tastes (décor and favorite food). He’s got lots of money, which he does not spend, but he’s always trying to get more. He is a leech, literally sucking the life force from others to survive. Dracula spends all of his energy taking what is valuable – blood, money – without producing anything of value in return. And that don’t jive with the hard working, good Protestant, industrial revolutionaries he’s up against. Nosireebob. He’s taken down by Van Helsing, the Harkers, and their friends – all bourgeoisie, suit and tie types who were able to ecru enough paid time off to leave the office for a week and save humanity. And why? Because he’s bad for business. He makes woman uppity. He makes men miss work.
If you’re Karl Marx, the ultimate victory in the novel is less about the defeat of Dracula but the triumph of productive capitalist, the worthy rich, over the undeservingly greedy. And that’s probably why it struck a cord with Stoker’s audience, who found themselves in an era where the dynamic was changing.
Vampires become popular again when our attitude towards money changes, and since each shift is different, so are the vampires. In the 60s and 70s, the beguiling but dangerous vampires embodied by Christopher Lee and Frank Langella cautioned against the temptation of riches during a time when material things lost a bit of their luster – either because they were unvalued or unaffordable. We enjoyed chatting it up and wining and dining with these vampires, entertaining the idea of sharing in their decadence, but knew in the end we would have to make do with less, tighten our belt, not buy the new car, and stake them in the heart.
In the late 90s and early 00s, where we were flushed with cash and spending like drunken sailors, the vampires of Buffy and Blade were things that deserved to have their asses kicked without a lot of conversation. There was never any question about the morality of killing when Wesley Snipes sliced his way through the ranks of the undead like Shaft with a samurai sword, we knew everyone would be better off with them gone. In this era, we derived satisfaction from watching the stereotypically disenfranchised – a teenage girl, a black man without a sustainable day job – sticking it to those rich-boy vampires because we thought we could spend their money better than they could. HO-UH! Take that, you stuffy, undead white guy! I trash your palace and kill you the second time, for real! Then I’ll buy some new sunglasses! SHA-KLACKY!
Of course, somewhere in that frenzy of living outside of our means in the late 90s and early 00s, we lost track of the fact that we were becoming more like the vampires and less like their slayers. WHOOPS! Now, with economy wheezing at rock bottom, we have to come to terms with the fact that we’ve been bitten. Like the vampires, we took more than we should without giving some back. And, as much as we know we should live frugally, the allure of our past recklessness, the power that overspending still holds is undeniable.
This is where the forbidden love of Twilight and True Blood comes from. We are trying to bargain with our vampiric past, insisting that there is something good there to hold onto despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. We have selectively filtered out the unpleasant aspects of the ghoulishness. Our new vampires are restrained, polite, devoted. Gentlemen with the capacity to hurt us, but never the inclination. All the power but none of the danger. We do not have to abjure their company if we can live with them.
This is what worries me. Like the late 60s and 70s, we find ourselves in a time when our material reality falls short of our expectations. We say publicly that we know we can no longer drive hummers or get a small island as a year-end bonus. And, yet, we seem unable to recognize the monster for what it is, insisting instead that the world is wrong to judge us.
“No, no, no. You just don’t understand. I know he feeds off the blood of the living, destroying everything sacred and holy to quench his monstrous thirst, but he is soooooooo sweet.”
Yeah, well. Bite me.