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Tuesday, October 26, 2004
Spooky Stuff: Why I Hate Vampires
I really fail to see the appeal of the vampire in horror fiction and films. It's a ridiculous, over-used, and ultimately dumb concept that just never gets used well. Instead, we're treated to a lot of silly tragi-romantic figures designed to appeal to people who think that no, really, Anne Rice is a good writer.
Let's start with the basics here, and look at the vampire figure in Eastern European myth. It's a bloated corpse, it's mouth flecked with blood, that spreads corruption and death throughout the community. It's a breakdown of the natural order, the stubborn refusal of the unwanted to leave people alone. It's not a pleasant thing. It's a disease metaphor, in fact. We'll get back to that later, but come on! What the heck is so romantic and tragic about a blood-bloated corpse.
Clearly, the vampire was in need of some serious renovation in order to make it a figure palatable to the masses. Luckily, Bram Stoker and his Victorian-era sexual fetishes came along and provided just the right refurbishments. Gone is the dead, fat peasant, and along comes the elegant nobleman. And he's not here to infect everyone with disease, no, he's just looking for love. Love that requires him to sneak into women's rooms at night and take them by force. What a bold and terrific improvement! Let's take a symbol of corruption and disease and turn it into a symbol for rape and sexual violence! Brilliant! And just for good measure, let's make it damn clear that the women being violated by the handsome stranger derive pleasure from it. Sheesh...
And so the vampire as "man women want to rape them" theme played out for a good long while...until Interview With A Vampire came out. I suspect that, on some level, Anne Rice may have been both aware and uncomfortable with the sexual violence aspect of vampire stories. So, she turned the tables. Instead of a vampire preying on young women because they secretly desire it, she has the vampire prey on young men because they secretly desire it. Now, homoeroticism had already been introduced into the vampire myth, several times. Dracula's Daughter, Carmilla and Vampyros Lesbos are proof enough of that. Of course, lesbian chic and titillation of the male audience was more the point of those works than any a serious attempt to again reinvent the vampire myth. I sort of have to admire those works for being so shameless in their pandering. No, what Rice did was to attempt to remake the vampire as a symbol of homosexuality while retaining the elements of sexual violence and disease. Just in time, I might add, for a real disease to mark out gay men in the public's eyes as sexual predators and carriers of disease. Way to go Anne!
Now given all that, you'd think the figure could be opened up to some further deconstruction. Nope, generally people seem fairly content with this figure. I walk into book-stores, and I check out the horror section, in the vain hope that something of merit like House of Leaves has been published, but what I find instead is shelf-upon-shelf of turgid novels all written by women who wear too much black eye-liner about tragic effeminate noblemen who prey on innocents, spouting angst-filled monologues at every opportunity, living a life of decadence until they find that special woman (always named Mary Sue, oddly enough) who can bring some light and life into their endless undead night. I'd find reading a transcript of the goth kids down the street weekly "World of Darkness" gaming session more compelling.
So, what are we left with the vampire...a disease metaphor, a Victorian metaphor for rape, and a very strange woman's twisted take on gay relationships. And people eat this stuff up! They can't get enough of it! Vampire books, vampire movies, hell, even vampire cereal! Eat a big bowl of your Eastern European inability to understand the process of decomposition, kids!
And don't get me started on zombies...I can't stand those either. Every zombie film and comic is essentially the same...a band of plucky survivors band together to fight the odds until human nature causes them to pick each other off one by one. And the zombies themselves...come on, yes, we all get that Romero used them as a metaphor for mindless consumerism and the dehumanizing effects of 20th century American culture. SAY SOMETHING NEW! (Shaun of the Dead gets a pass on this critique because it's not technically a zombie film, it's a romantic comedy with zombies in it.)