The Changing Vampire
EACH GENERATION HAS A NEW VERSION
Why do we like being scared by vampires so much?
“Every age embraces the vampire it needs,” writes author Nina Auerbach in her book
Our Vampires, Ourselves. Vampires were extremely alien and extremely deadly monsters when they first appeared in Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel “Dracula.” Bram Stoker would not recognize the friendly teen vampires (like Edward Cullen in the “Twilight” series) of today. Why have we changed the way we imagine vampires? What is their basic appeal? Here are four concepts that have been applied to this topic:
1) Vampires are all about religion – specifically, all the bad things that happen if society strays away from the Church. Vampires are sinners, vampires are our or lost fallen brothers who live lives with no moral meaning. Vampires are so compelling, this theory goes, because represent pure Godlessness. Since they are the counter- religious devils, they can be warded off with Bibles, holy water, and crosses. Closely following the ritualistic life of the Church enables us to avoid becoming vampires.
In recent years, the traditional vampire has changed to reflect America’s complex association with these principles.
2) Vampires represent our anxieties about sex. They are figures who act out our combined thrill and fear about coming of sexual age. The Bram Stoker Dracula reached its popularity at the height of the Victorian age, when sex was hidden beneath prim attitudes and layers of formal clothing. That Dracula would appear suddenly in the open window of a pretty teenage girl’s bedroom, and attack her in her bed. Yikes ! The idea of a monster representing repressed sexuality would certainly appeal to Sigmund Freud. He wrote, “All human experiences of morbid dread signify the presence of repressed sexual and aggressive wishes, and in vampirism we see these repressed wishes becoming plainly visible.” We are afraid of our own powerful desires. The idea is that if vampires win, then we face a society where our own sexuality runs wild.
Bela Lugosi in an early portrayal of Dracula
The original Dracula (like sex in the Victorian era) was not seen much – the story carried on all around him, but the monster himself only appeared briefly and violently. Edward Cullen’s scare factor is much lower – he is more like a misunderstood boyfriend. Now we are comfortable with the whole notion of sex, so our vampire monster is part of the everyday world. In the Twilight stories, we chat with the moody young vampires in our school cafeteria, we go to parties at their house. The vampire figure has changed from a ruthless bloodsucking villain to a romantic figure who displays feelings, fears, hope, dreams and sadness.
In this light, Buffy the Vampire Slayer shows how far society has come. Instead of playing victim to her sexuality, the modern woman (who is liberated from her fear of sex) is the one best equipped to destroy the monster.
The teen vampires of Twilight might represent drug addicts – members of society we cannot really figure out or accept.
3) Dracula represents invasion. In a recent dissertation, associate professor Gensea Carter offers the theory that the original Dracula was a powerful foreshadowing of the real-life horrors of World War I.
Carter sees the novel’s depiction of a siege of vampirism descending on England as a glimpse of the mechanized warfare that would soon kill an entire generation of Englishmen. Stoker’s outrageous scenario — that a monstrous foreign entity (from the Austro-Hungarian Empire) invades innocent England using unforeseen, forbidden tactics to slaughter her citizens – came horrifyingly true less than two decades later. Count Dracula’s speech, dress and mannerisms were all really weird and really “foreign.”
“Questions of invasion, identity, and war were entangled in a dramatic story about vampires feeding on women and children in London,” writes Carter. She proves her thesis with a close examination of Stoker’s research. Magazines of the times were using pretty monstrous rhetoric to express fears about Germany’s aggression. Stoker, she suggests, simply capitalized on these anxieties – and that is why English readers found the story so frightening. When Dracula asks, “What devil or what witch was ever so great as Attila, whose blood is in these veins?” Carter sees him as a clear expression of Germany’s thirst for global domination.
4) The vampire character is a way to explain people and situations that did not comply with social expectations. This is the thesis of Jennifer Fountain’s recent dissertation, The Vampire in Modern American Media. “In Romania,” she writes, “women who resisted performing traditional duties — caring for the family, tending crops — were thought to be vampires. Likewise, vampires were also blamed for the spread of the plague throughout Europe. When greeted with disturbing, unexplainable phenomena, it was easier to blame events on vampires than to live with the unknown.” Under this theory, the teen vampires of Twilight might represent drug addicts – members of society we cannot really figure out or accept.