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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Frankenstein's Monster, the Wolf-Man, and Vampirical Evidence

Recently, a friend announced, via Facebook (where else?) that he'd sold a satirical vampire short story. His exact announcement was something along the lines of, "After a three year dry spell, I just sold a satiric vampire short story. Is this death?"

In response to his announcement, someone mentioned "the vampire craze will be over soon and we can all move on." Thing is, I don't think the vampire craze ends.

(An aside: I once wrote a satiric vampire story. It was awful. A stream-of-consciousness rant from a vampire living in Seattle during the 1990s, suffering from insomnia because each of his victims' blood was full of Starbucks-fueled caffeine. He at last got some rest when he bit into Courtney Love and immediately fell into a drug-induced coma.)

A half-assed survey of vampires in pop culture, conducted via Google and through a quick scan of my personal DVDs and books, indicates the vampire craze is a fairly constant structure in our collective creative landscape, and nowhere near "over". From Nosferatu to Buffy and Angel to the depressingly popular Twilight abortion/phenomenon; from Munch's "Vampire" to Marschner's opera Der Vampyr to Vampire Weekend; from the "Dark Shadows" of the 1960s to the revival of "Dark Shadows" in 1991 to Tim Burton's threatened film remake starring Johnny Depp (who else?), not to mention Anne Rice's works, Hammer Films, and HBO's "True Blood," vampires are a pretty enduring cultural touchstone.

So. Vampires. Fleetingly popular or a subject we should just accept as always around, like sports movies or self-help books?

I vote the latter. Vampires remain. What changes about them is the presentation.

And here I'd like to launch into an academic study of vampires, and how they have been portrayed over the course of 1000 years, comparing/contrasting socio-political realities and citing obscure works. I'd like to, but I can't. First off, too exhausting research-wise. And secondly, it's been done before. The popularity of vampires has been attributed to everything from female hysteria to the AIDS epidemic to the urban isolation of teenagers. Any shift in society is accompanied by a new essay on why vampires are "suddenly" so popular. The funny thing is, they're always popular.

To be perfectly honest, which is rare, I have no clue why vampires are ever popular. Other creatures of the night come and go but vampires are always around, the top of the monster corpse-heap. Zombies are huge now, but their undead prominence will eventually slide into the background; interest in werewolves waxes and wanes with the moon; Frankenstein's monster bursts first to life and then into flame. For cultural tenacity, however, one seldom goes wrong with a good vampire story.

The only reason for this vampiric tenacity I can offer is that each version of the vampire story feels like a reinvention of it. For whatever reasons, vampires have such a rich mythology writers feel free to mess around, mixing-and-matching religious imagery, garlic aversion, wooden stakes, the magic of blood, spiritual emptiness and material possession, whatever. With Frankenstein stories, writers are kind of limited (once you bestow consciousness on a mindless thing, you've got a Frankenstein story--Pygmalion and Little Shop of Horrors owe a dept to Mary Shelley, even though they trace back to different sources).

Zombie stories are zombie stories. In the end characters are reduced to a live-or-die scenario. Fun to watch, but there's little difference between zombies and nuclear bombs--every zombie story might as well be a remake of "The Day After" or GWB's first term in office. A ground zero followed by additional senseless death.

I won't even speculate on the erratic popularity of werewolf stories. "Dark Shadows," Twilight (ugh!), "True Blood" and "Buffy" suggest you need a good vampire story to lead if you want to launch a convincing werewolf sub-plot.

No, I haven't seen Underworld.

(con't... no, seriously)

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