"I Was a Teenage Vampire..."
- Monday, December 14, 2009
It's a great time to be a cute blood sucking teenage boy, or a girl who loves one. On movie screens across the country, the adaptation of the second book of the best selling Twilight series, New Moon is showing. Lest moviegoers be confused by not having the original book title, the filmmaker's created a franchiseable: The Twilight Saga: New Moon. And the CW network's got a successful new series, The Vampire Diaries, based on an earlier book series, with a similar premise about vampires attending high school. What's with this trend and why do vampires keep rising again in popular culture?
The original appeal of the vampire to the modern audience is best exemplified by Bram Stoker's Dracula, the book published on the eve of the turn of the century in Victorian England. In it, evil was distilled in the dreaded Transylvanian count whose thirst for blood brings him to England to prey on young women. These pitiable innocents cannot resist his hypnotic charm and fall under his terrible control to become undead like him. The 19th century audience could clearly read Dracula's gaining eternal life through the blood of the innocent, as a perversion of the Christianity's Communion sacrament based on the Gospel of John, Chapter 6, verse 53, where Jesus says, "Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day." Dracula is repelled by the blessed elements of bread and wine and by crucifixes, amazing the book's modern characters who start the story skeptical of spiritual powers of good and evil. The undead count's erotic pull on his victims, as well as his collection of bloodthristy wives, symbolized the horror of sexual immorality run rampant. Lust, the tale tells us, will drain you of your humanity. Dracula preys by night for he cannot stand to walk in the light, the symbol of truth.
The twentieth century saw the decline of belief in the underlying doctrines that supported such symbols of power against darkness. The typical contemporary vampire tale either shows these evil creatures unaffected by the cross (as in the movie Van Helsing) or such symbols are absent altogether, relics of an age of faith. In fact the whole use of vampirism as a metaphor for unbridled lust has shifted to capture decidedly different types of behavior in a relativistic age. Anne Rice's series of novels about Lestat and his undead companions featured a homosexual subtext that suggested the concept of the vampires as the beautiful, socially marginalized gays.
The 19th century had its many taboos and forbidden relationships based in everything from one's class to one's religiously based morality, which fed the conflicts both in society and in many great classic novels. The crumbling of such beliefs in the 20th century has made it harder to tell powerful stories about characters who defy society's conventions to find true love since cultural elites value transgression against established morality. When nothing is forbidden, it's hard to tell stories with romantic and social conflict. So, perhaps this becomes the reason writers have resorted to the vampire to restore some sense of struggle to finding true love. Twilight series author Stephanie Meyer, a Mormon, created such a tortured relationship when high school student Bella Swan finds herself strongly attracted to the impossibly handsome and remote Edward Cullen. A vampire since the early 20th century, Edward is strongly attracted to the smell of Bella's blood, a rich metaphor for romantic/sexual longing, but with his undead "family" has forsworn human blood, feasting on animals instead. Of course Bella eventually figures out just why he is so strong and incredibly fast and confronts Edward who explains his history and why he must not engage in anything but circumspect shows of affection. His dark desire overpower Edward and lead to Bella's destruction.
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