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Vampire Obsession

abstract:

"Awaken to darkness on this place we call Earth, One vampire's bite brings another one's birth. A vampire wakes with blood thirsty needs On the warm rich sensation he feels when he feeds. He stalks in the night like a disastrous beast, And what once was alive will soon be deceased. So when the last bit of sunlight disappears from the sky, You better watch out unless you want to die." -Victoria Boatwright

What is our obsession with Vampires all about? They have been lurking in the depths of our human history for thousands of years, their popularity never diminishing; a myth that is perpetuated and reinvented throughout time with astonishing resilience. Is it the promise of eternal life that draws us in, or the sexy undertones of a stranger coming into your bedroom in the middle of the night…

article:

April 10, 2009












  • Twilight (The Twilight Saga, Book 1) by Stephanie Meyer
  • Complete Vampire Chronicles (Interview with the Vampire, The Vampire Lestat, The Queen of the Damned, The Tale of the body Thief) By Ann Rice
  • Dracula (Penguin Popular Classics) by Bram Stoker
  • The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

    What do you imagine when someone says the word vampire? I know that if someone was to ask me I would be pulling images from films and books that since the 18th century have developed the vampire as we know him today. The idea of the vampire is not new, for thousands of years, these images come from character development that can be traced back to the Ancient Greeks, Romans and Hebrews; each had their own versions of what was to become one of the greatest horror characters of all time. Evil spirits and demons that share some of the same blood sucking characteristics have existed all over the globe, India’s goddess ‘Kali’, Egypt’s ‘Sekhmet’, the Ancient Greeks’ ‘Hecate’ and from Hebrew demonology ‘Lilitu’.

    John Polidori’s The Vampyre released in 1819 (Colburn) and then Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula (Archibald Constible & Company) have given us the premise from which has stemmed our modern vampire imagery; a tall, pale character that haunts dark places, with a hatred of all things holy, sun lit or garlic smelling, sharp teeth poking out over his lower lip with a bit of human blood dribbling artistically down the side. These attributes seem to be a culmination from different folktales mostly from Eastern Europe, the gaunt frame and long fingernails come from Transylvanian tales, and the sleeping with crossed thumbs from Bavaria. There are more bizarre attributes connected to this evil spirit in the folk tales from around the world such as furry feet, one nostril and a love of high-heeled shoes!

    When Christianity split in the 11th century, the Roman Catholic Church dominating the West side of Europe and the Orthodox Church the East, their slight difference in beliefs over burial meant that the vampire myth stayed more prevalent in the East, who were more closely linked to past pagan roots.

    "Only be sure that thou eat not the blood: for the blood is the life; and thou mayest not eat the life with the flesh." (Deuteronomy 12:23)

    As the Catholic Church grew it was worried about the pagan mythologies, drawn from years of tradition and folklore, and that they would undermine the Catholic beliefs. Linking vampires with the devil and satan, the Catholic faith decreed that holy water and the cross would protect people from this demon. Strangely in trying to squash these ideas the Church actually seemed to lend more esteem to a myth that they wanted to eradicate. The Church then used this fear to their own advantages claiming if you committed suicide, were excommunicated or didn’t receive your last rites, then you were in danger of becoming a vampire. As vampire legend flowed from Eastern parts of Europe through to the Western side, it created mass hysteria and panic, with some horrendous outcomes such as people being charged with ‘vamperism’ and bodies being exhumed for staking.

    Death is the final frontier for all of us, unless you believe in reincarnation, and we always tend to fear the unknown, so it doesn’t come as much of a surprise that researchers believe that the myth of the vampire stems from a misunderstanding over the decomposition of the body after death and some unfortunate cases of pre-mature burial. For those CSI fans out there we know that the decomposition of a body can depend on many things such as soil type, that as a body decomposes the skin retracts and nails and teeth can look abnormally long, excess gases and blood gathering can produce after death noises and bloating. For pre-industrialized societies explaining and rationalizing these occurrences lead to some of the scariest folktales in history. What is interesting is how the more traditional image is that of a more bloated and ruddy appearance whereas our modern vampire is lean and pale, I think Bram Stoker plays a huge role in this turnaround and shift to a more charismatic and seductive character.

    Recent studies have suggested that a mistaken case of rabies could have had similar characteristics to ‘vampirish’ behavior, hypersensitivity to light and strong odors like garlic, frothing at the mouth, and a tendency to bite others, sounds about right! Psychoanalyst Ernest Jones states that we believe that as we mourn the passing of our loved ones and wish to be reunited, then the dead must yearn the same, this links in with the folk tales where the dead visit loved ones and family members. I think elements like this make for the more romantic tales of the legend. Going into the more sexual elements, Jones explains that repression of natural feelings may escalate to the sadism that is associated with many vampire tales.

    Beast to Beauty

    More recently vampires have become less and less associated with the monstrous visions of traditional Eastern European beliefs, thank you, Bram Stoker. His novel began a revolutionary shift for the vampire image, his decadently regal, seductive Count Dracula gave sexual connotations to a creature that had been regarded with revulsion and disdain in the past. The Victorian age had strict social outlines for men and women, and ‘sex’ was considered a taboo subject, a frightening activity that could destroy reputations and lives. Stoker begins a tradition which horror stories then emulated through time; if you were are wanton women then you were often punished or died, whereas the virtuous virgin always seems to survive. One of the major horror films I saw when I was a teenager was Scream (1996, Wes Craven), one of the characters points out jovially that you should never say the line “I’ll be back”, because in a horror flick this means you won’t be, and you shouldn’t have sex, because the chances are you’ll die. Ironically this character was also killed off, perhaps because he was the smart, geeky one.

    Bram Stoker’s Dracula ,the film, released in 1992 (Francis Ford Coppola) gave us a Dracula that was seductive and handsome. A slightly ambiguous character as he captures young Jonathan Harker, played by Keanu Reeves, is he lusting after Keanu’s youth or something else? He holds him prisoner showing him the delights of his castle, in a harem style boudoir Jonathan meets the female vampires that seem to lust for sex as much as they lust for blood. Beautiful sirens that have much more power and strength than the other, human, female characters which in contrast seem very weak and frail. My feminist side hastens to point out that through researching this topic it has become rather apparent that when you apply the same traits that a male vampire has to a female they do have a more negative connotation. The exaggerated strength and sexual appetite are seen as alluring in the male character, whereas they seem to be deemed whorish in the female.

    In contrast to these more recent films, the first ever vampire movie showed a rodent-like, bat eared character in the 1922 film Nosferatu, not as alluring as either Keanu or Brad Pitt in Interview with the Vampire released in 1994 (Neil Jordan). As we move into the modern era the vampire looks, well really, like a human with fangs. The stories have become more about the social development of these creatures, the hierarchy between them, how they live in this underworld and how they come into contact with the human beings. Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles (1976, Ballentine) is a perfect example of this, with the vampire character exhibiting humanistic traits and a sense of tragedy surrounding his situation.

    Recent films and TV shows such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997, Joss Whedon) and Twilight (2008, Catherine Hardwicke)whose tag line ‘When you can live forever what do you live for?’ mix the tale of the vampire with teenage angst, love, rebellion and rule breaking. In a cruel twist of fate, Buffy, actually falls in love with a vampire, who suffers from a constant struggle between his love and his need for blood. Lost Boys a film released in 1987 (Joel Schumacher) depicted the vampires as the cool kids, the rebels, no rules and no boundaries.

    The night is no longer a place of exile and fear as it has been, it is now all about the excitement of the night, it means freedom and possibility. This is in contrast to the times when people saw the night as a dangerous time; vampires were banished from ‘gods light’, from societies’ warmth and protection. The night time now signifies an end to the work day, a place of escapism, bars and clubs are designed for meeting friends, or strangers, and each night can be a different adventure if you want. So these creatures whose only curfew is the sunrise live the high life, no rules apply and this is pretty appealing, who can’t help but love a rebel? So instead of being repulsed and terrified, we have become fascinated by these creatures that can live out our wildest dreams, and do it forever.

    Although filmmakers often twist tales to suite their own genre of vampire movie, the theme that prevails the most amongst the vampire stories is the fact that they are eternal beings and that the price for this is the need for human blood. Going back to what Ernest Jones says about repressed fantasies, the idea of sustaining life through a bite in the neck evokes both eroticism and violence. As an example if you take a poster for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, you can see the girl almost lusting for the vampire to dig his canine teeth right into her delicate neck.

    Along this line of thought comes the sexual nature of the vampire, an animal with appetites and desires, this one carnal action seems to be escalated for the vampire. Their lust for sexual pleasure becomes interwoven with their lust for blood, which is insatiable, humans can control their appetites and this control over our bodies in both desire for blood and sex sets us apart. One of the luring factors of vampirism may be the freedom of sexuality, to be free from judgment and do as one pleases. Some people could see our control as being trapped and crave the life of a vampire, to be guiltless and free, but no mentally stable human being could capable of the acts of a vampire and still retain control.

    A Freudian Slant

    In an attempt to look further into our obsession with vampires I turned to Freud for a few answers. Freud worked on the basis that most of our actions center around either the expression or repression of the sex drive. A lot of his work points out the avoidance of sexuality, as we sometimes forget that we have only recently been through something of a sex revolution and it wasn’t that long ago that it was very much a taboo subject. Vampires were a way of expressing something that wasn’t viewed as correct, but as Freud points out, a natural behavior. Freud’s doctrine has different stages, if you take a vampire character and apply these theories then you could say that vampires suffer a slightly exaggerated ‘oral fixation’, where the person gets pleasure from taking nourishment through sucking, like a child nursing. Freud believed that if a person was fed too early, or late, too much or too little, this person would ‘hunger’ for activities involving the mouth, sound familiar? But instead of milk we are talking about blood.

    More recently there have been sexual links to the vampires feeding, as the vampire became a more complex and human like creature and ‘we’ became more than just their next snack. The blood that they seek seems to arouse them, some researchers connect this to menstruation, a virgin’s blood during penetration, much like a vampires fangs penetrating the delicate skin on the neck. Pushing the sexual angle a little further and you could even say that the weapons used to kill the vampire are phallic in nature; a stake through the heart is another pointed penetration. Again I just want to reiterate that this is a more modern aspect to the vampires character, in the past these beings did not have the sexual and erotic sides to them that are so prevalent now.

    Passing the buck

    Another thing that has changed over time is a persons ‘choice’ in becoming a vampire, back in the day if a cat walked over your grave, if you had red hair, were the seventh child, then you were in danger of becoming a vampire. Now it is the exchange of bodily fluid that changes your fate, do you decide to drink the vampires blood and become immortal or do they drink you dry? The ‘victim’ now has a choice; do you want to be a vampire? Is it a repressed sexual action that makes us hunger for the life of this character? Freud also studied the theory of ‘sadomasochism, the idea that some people get pleasure from inflicting or submitting to physical or emotional abuse. In more modern depictions of the vampire we often see the ‘victim’ swooning instead of screaming. Is the vampire myth our way of getting rid of some suppressed sexual feelings that we feel guilty about? Feelings that need to be hidden by the night? That only a guiltless character can carry out?

    Whatever the reason for our obsession over the tale of the vampire, it has certainly captured the imaginations of the world and is forever changing it’s form as we as a society change ours.

    Long live the vampire!

    Article about the history behind vampires and Dracula

    Vampire Movie Guide

    Vampire History

     

     

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