The Vampire in Modern American Media
1975 - 2000
The vampire is one of the oldest, most resilient archetypes in modern media. It has existed in a variety of forms in nearly every culture around the world. Historically, vampire lore has reflected the values and social structures of the culture it has existed in. In the twentieth century, the United States became the focal point of the vampire genre. As the archetype became integrated into American culture, modern vampire media changed. Several cultural elements were responsible for these alterations. The American people's relationship with religion and spirituality were important elements of the changes. Also, the American fascination with a variety of scientific theories in the fields of evolutionary, medical and psychological science, were other forces that shaped vampire media in the modern era. Modern concepts of gender and sexuality also contributed to the dynamic alteration that occurred within vampire media in the last twenty-five years.
Chapter 1: Secularization in American Culture
Chapter 2: American Fascination with Psychoanalysis and Self-Help
Chapter 3: American Gender and Sexual Politics
Chapter 4: A Look to the Future
Over the course of several years, I have developed an interest in the dynamic relationship that exists between art and culture. The topic is of particular interest to me because I believe that American culture often destroys the creative talents of the individual at an early age. Creativity is an integral part of human identity. As we are encouraged to draw or paint or write the right way, we lose part of our creative selves. In some cases, the need for perfection becomes so pronounced that individuals become incapable of creating anything.
Through my studies of the fields of fine art, the humanities and the social sciences, I have endeavored to develop a better understanding of the way that humanity and art shape one another. My search has taken many forms. In the early years, I took classes in anthropology, women's literature, psychology, American history and creative writing. Though none of these courses were specifically designed with my particular interest in mind, I found ways to explore my fascination with the subject. In some classes, such as the anthropology course, I studied the bond between art and spirituality, while in others I focused on other concepts like gender and politics.
My associate degree thesis was written on the topic of Dissociative Identity Disorder, which is more popularly known as Multiple Personality Disorder. In the context of my thesis, I explored the cultural forces that were responsible for the surge in the diagnosis of D.I.D. since 1970. A portion of my argument consisted of an exploration of literature and film devoted to this topic.
During the summer that spanned between my graduation from community college and my attendance at Vermont College, I began exploring the artistic community on the internet. I developed close connections with artists in several genres. In response, I became an active participant in the online artistic community. As a result, this sphere of my life became a strong influence on my studies in the New College program.
In my first few semesters at New College, I focused on several broad art-related topics like the relationship between art and pornography. I also struggled to develop my personal relationship with art through painting, photography and digital artwork. These studies helped to strengthen my interest in the dynamics of art and culture, which had only been peripheral elements of my studies to this point.
In the year prior to beginning this thesis, I conducted a study that explored the cultural implications of deaf art and deaf artists. The information that I gathered throughout that study had a significant impact on me. I came to realize that the power of the performance artist in deaf culture is absolute. They are the chief source of identity for the outside world. Every action that a deaf artist performs becomes attached to every other deaf person. If they speak, people expect all deaf people to be able to speak. If they Sign, people expect all deaf people to Sign.
My study of deaf culture led me to look for another, even more dynamic example of the power of art in the lives of human beings. After becoming part of the internet community, I had stumbled into the sub-genre of vampire media. The topic fascinated me on many levels. I enjoyed the supernatural and romantic elements, but also found the spiritual and scientific facets to be fascinating as well.
As my interest in the topic developed, I became aware that belief in vampires stretched through thousands of years of human history. This, I decided, was the chance I was waiting for. The study of an artistic genre that had existed for so long and in so many different cultures had to be the capstone of my undergraduate work.
Over the last year, I have conducted two studies of vampire media. The first focused on the vampire as an historical entity, with a primary focus on vampire lore from Romania. Within the confines of this study, I explored the way that political upheaval, lack of knowledge of scientific principles, and cultural attitudes about gender and religion combined in the Romanian culture to create perhaps the most well-known body of vampire lore in modern times.
The research that I conducted over the course of that study helped me to realize that my final thesis needed to consist of an exploration of the role of the vampire in modern American media. The modern vampire genre has become a strong element of mainstream media in the last few decades. As this has happened, many new artists, myself included, have flocked to the genre. It is my hope that this thesis reflects the full scope of this exciting, perpetually changing artistic world. Though it is often dismissed as trivial, vampire media is an important, dynamic part of modern media that deserves more respect than it currently receives.
"Every age embraces the vampire it needs."
Our Vampires, Ourselves
"Horror is . . . the state of mind induced by one's confrontation with a violation of cultural categories"
-- Philip L. Simpson
Belief in vampires has existed since the beginning of human history, often appearing in many different cultures concurrently. Each culture's conception of the vampire has been unique. For example, one type of Indian vampire feeds on the livers of its victims, while a form of Japanese vampire subsists by consuming infants (Bunson, p. 138). As many other legendary creatures faded into obscurity, the vampire managed to retain its grasp on the human psyche. Vampires allow us to explore darker, mostly hidden aspects of ourselves. In the words of Anne Rice's vampire Lestat,
if [the vampire] wields any lovely power upon the minds of men, it is only because the human imagination is a secret place of primitive memories and unconfessed desires. The mind of each man is a Savage Garden . . . in which all manner of creatures rise and fall, and anthems are sung and things imagined that must finally be condemned and disavowed. (Vampire Lestat, p. 465)
It is because of their resilient, elemental nature that vampires demand to be explored. By sifting through the ebb and flow of the genre, we begin to see the scope and form of the impact that changes in human cultures have on art. In addition, we also become aware of the manner in which art has gently nudged humanity over the course of thousands of years.
Recent decades have witnessed dramatic alterations in the concept of the vampire. However, this is not a unique development. Vampire lore has always been remarkably adaptable, which has allowed the concept of the vampire to survive times of war, plague and religious crusade. Moreover, it has often been in these darkest moments that the human connection to vampires has thrived the most. Perhaps this is because, as Margaret L. Carter contends, "superstition is a symbolic activity, in which individuals of the same group mark one another as different" (Gordon & Hollinger, p. 27). The superstitious parameter of humanity's conception of the vampire meshes well with the most disturbing elements of these chaotic events. As the human race endeavors to brand others as deviant, it continues the eternal lives of the vampires themselves.
For the majority of their history, the role that vampires have played has been remarkably consistent across cultures. Frequently, the vampire served as a means to explain people and situations that did not comply with social expectations. In Romania, for example, women who resisted performing traditional duties, such as caring for the family or tending crops, were thought to be living vampires (Klingman, p. 21). 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.
For thousands of years, vampires were believed to be real. This began to change in the nineteenth century. The first acknowledged piece of vampire literature was published in 1819 (Heldreth & Pharr, p. 9). The Vampyre was particularly significant because it marked a change the way that the vampire acted as a social commentary. Instead of focusing on an individual's transgressions, the vampire was now used to explore elements of larger social environments.
As the majority of early nineteenth-century vampire literature was written by English authors, it explored English class and family structures. The earliest literary vampires were intimate friends or acquaintances who threatened "the sanctioned distance of class relationships and the hallowed authority of husbands and fathers" (Auerbach, p. 6). Characters like Polidori's Lord Ruthven and Le Fanu's Carmilla symbolized the tension between classes. According to scholar Valdine Clemens, this behavior corresponds with the "perceived weakening of the [English] social fabric" that was occurring during the period (Clemens, p. 5). These vampires had a tremendous impact on society not because they were real, but because they offered a frightening glimpse of the reality of cultural instability.
As the nineteenth century progressed, the alarm caused by this type of uncertainty seemed to become less of a social concern. Scholars hypothesize that this readjustment occurred because Gothic literary themes have a tendency to weaken over time (Clemens, p. 6). As the consumer becomes more aware of and accustomed to the fearful experience, it is no longer as frightening. In the face of these alterations, the vampire changed once more. Bram Stoker's novel, Dracula, mirrored the adjustments taking place in the collective minds of the English at the turn of the twentieth century. Instead of appearing in the visage of a family friend, Dracula exemplified the threat of the unknown (Halberstam, p. 4). Some scholars believe that this return to a more traditional approach to the vampire archetype occurred in response to the "acceleration" of the fields of science and technology that were occurring at the end of the century (Clemens, p. 153).
Dracula left a lasting impression that typified the genre for several decades, even surviving numerous changes that occurred during the first half of the twentieth century. With the advent and overwhelming popularity of American motion pictures, the point of origin of vampire media shifted. Countries like Romania and the United Kingdom were no longer the strongest source of interest in the vampire. In the twentieth century, the United States became the vampire capital of the world.
Bram Stoker's creature survived the transfer to the United States quite well. While many screen villains fell victim to American cinematic trends, Dracula managed to stand the test of time (Auerbach, p. 112). One scholar contends that this is because Dracula "[represents] the American fixation on youth" (Wolf, p. 3). This is probably partially the case; however, it is far more likely that the character's adaptability is the reason why it has survived in America for so long.
Bela Lugosi's interpretation of Dracula in the 1931 film of the same name represented the first time that the fear of the "notably foreign" was applied to an American adaptation of this piece (Auerbach, p. 112). The decision to cast Lugosi as the central character of the tale was vital. His speech, mannerisms and dress all identified the Count as a profoundly alien entity. In some ways, these features were as effective in making Lugosi appear like a creature from another species as Max Schreck's elongated fingers and rodent-like teeth did in Murnau's Nosferatu of 1922 (Auerbach, p. 113).
Later adaptations featured versions of Dracula that met the cultural needs and expectations of the time. For example, the 1992 rendition of Stoker's classic novel reflected the "Hollywoodization" of many films of the period. In this tale, Dracula becomes a misunderstood, tortured romantic figure. The novel is entangled with an historically inaccurate interpretation of the life of the Romanian political figure Vlad Dracula. In the confines of this film, Dracula spends his time hunting for the reincarnated form of his long dead wife. He does so with a mindless intensity, heedless of the destruction that he leaves in his wake. However, the audience forgives him because they deem his quest worthy. This Dracula becomes the Hollywood version of the romantic model of the vampire that permeated much of the modern era. It is not a mindless killing machine. Instead the vampire is a fractured, emotionally fragile creature who is all too easily destroyed.
The small changes in the genre that began with the 1931 adaptation of Dracula became more powerful and more significant during the 1970s. Beginning early in the decade, the narrative structure of vampire media shifted. Prior to the 1970s, the genre had consisted chiefly of an external narrative structure (Gordon & Hollinger, p. 2). This meant that narration occurred outside of the creature these tales were about. The vampires' internal workings were left almost completely unknown, which made them feel less human. The internalized structure that began to be developed in 1970s vampire media established a closer connection between the audience and the creatures. In works like Anne Rice's The Vampire Chronicles, the vampire became far more human. It displayed thoughts, feelings, fears, hope, dreams and infinite sadness. These vampires allowed people to feel the alienation that these creatures had experienced for centuries.
In addition to changes in the structural quality of the genre, other facets were modified as well. Beginning with Anne Rice's novel Interview with the Vampire in 1976, elements of homoeroticism began to appear in vampire novels, movies, music and television. This is not to say that themes of this nature had not previously appeared in vampire media. However, the degree and quality of inclusion were unique.
Besides the genre's relationship with sexuality, concepts of gender were also modified. Prior to the mid-1970s, women were almost strictly confined to the role of victim in mainstream vampire media. The Hammer films of the late 1960s and early 1970s were particularly famous for plunging ineffectual women into peril until their male counterparts could rescue them from Dracula or other equally threatening male vampires.
Over the last twenty-five years, these gender expectations have changed a great deal. Vampires now appear in the guise of both men and women. And, as in the case of Jewelle Gomez's The Gilda Stories, women sometimes become the most powerful vampires. Furthermore, through characters like Buffy Summers, the title character of the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, women now destroy the very creatures that had hunted them in previous decades.
Other changes include the addition of scientific and psychological theories to the genre. Through these themes, vampires became more complex than they had ever been before. Vampires were no longer simply an evil, supernatural force. They began to display biological and psychological motivations for their actions. And, even more disturbing, vampires also exhibited signs of human emotions.
Scientific theory only added to the tumult. Vampires of the late seventies, eighties and nineties began to be identified as diseased. There were numerous scientific rationalizations behind their appearance, ranging from rare genetic disorders to sicknesses of the blood and psychological hallucinations. In later years, television shows like The X-Files and novels like The Vampire Tapestry advanced the notion that vampires were the next step in human evolution.
Several facets of American cultural identity have contributed to the alterations in the makeup of vampire media that have been witnessed in the last twenty-five years. These elements include: secularization in American culture, American fascination with psychoanalysis and self-help, and American gender and sexual politics. While each of these factors has endowed the genre with smaller, more specific elements of lore, it is their combined impact that has established a new sense of the vampire archetype in the modern era. As the American culture continues to grow and change, the vampire will continue to mirror the development of the human species.
Chapter 1: Secularization in American Culture
Several factors have contributed to the alteration of the vampire genre over the last twenty-five years. One of the most important elements has been American culture's relationship with religion. Traditionally, vampire lore has been intimately connected with religious mores. In recent years, the vampire has come to reflect America's complex association with these principles.
Some scholars of the genre insist that the bond between the vampire and religion has been abolished in "a secular, technological culture nearly devoid of spiritualism" (Heldreth & Pharr, p. 60). It is their opinion that an utter lack of religious beliefs has caused the vampire to change in modern media. They speculate that the appearance and inclusion of scientific themes within the genre proves that the religious connection with the vampire is dead. This is not the case. While it is true that organized religion does not have the same stranglehold on Americans that it has had on the people of other cultures in the past, there is no reason to contend that American culture or American vampires are "devoid of spiritualism" (Heldreth & Pharr, p. 60). In fact, it appears that the opposite is true.
Historically, vampirism was most often associated with those who had sinned. Individuals who had committed suicide or who had led an immoral life were strongly suspect (Bunson, p. 20). Until 1823, English law required that all bodies of suicides must be staked before burial to ensure that the victim would not rise from the grave (Florescu & McNally, p. 121). Likewise, individuals who had been excommunicated or who had committed other mortal sins, like murder, were believed to have the ability to turn into vampires (Wright, p. 20).
In some cultures, it was conjectured that the condition of the soul could cause an individual to become a vampire. In Romania, for example, the preservation and satisfaction of the soul was deemed to be of the utmost importance (Klingman, p. 170). Romanians believe that without careful attention, the soul can become lost, unable to find its way to heaven. If this were to occur, the soul would be forced to exist on the earthly plane, eventually becoming a vampire (Klingman, p. 171). In response to this structure of spiritual beliefs, Romanians developed a rich ritualistic life that they believed would enable them to avoid becoming vampires. In other cultures, similar beliefs were held. For example, many people throughout Europe believed that the souls of the excommunicated could not enter heaven (Bunson, p. 88). In these instances, individuals were also assumed to have become vampires.
In response to these precepts, people aligned vampires and vampirism with evil. The argument became a simple battle between God and the devil. These concepts found a foothold and support in the Catholic Church, which used people's fears to gather more believers into congregations (Wright, p. 21). While the Church initially rejected the belief in vampires because it did not correspond to religious doctrine that stated that the soul immediately goes to heaven upon death, this soon changed (Wright, p. 22). As it became apparent that people were unwilling to believe that vampires could not exist, the Church's stance on this issue weakened. The clergy began providing religious relics like crosses and holy water to individuals who attended Mass, insisting that the items would protect them from harm (Klingman, p. 3). They also introduced the concept that burial on consecrated ground could prevent an individual from becoming a vampire (Klingman, p. 3). Not only did these actions bring more people to the Church, they also strengthened the association between the vampire and sinful behavior.
This inverse affinity between vampires and organized religion flourished throughout the Victorian era. It is likely that this was due in large part to the Victorian concept of self, which mirrored beliefs held in Romania and other cultures. Victorians believed that the self consisted of " a body which enveloped . . . [or] indeed, enthralled . . . its soul" (Halberstam, p. 2). As such, though the vampire had become a fictional entity, the threat inspired by these creatures was still plausible. Given this, it is not surprising that the vampire was such a powerful figure throughout the era. The religious alliance that had been formed between the vampire and the Church in other cultures in previous centuries prospered in this environment.
When the vampire genre first appeared in the United States at the beginning of the twentieth century, it retained many of its traditional spiritual connections. Elements like the cross and holy water were still powerful parts of vampire lore. This association prospered for several decades. However, in the midst of the 1980s, this began to change. In that decade, vampires began to explore realms of reality that they had never entered. In novels like The Vampire Tapestry, they became not only creatures of spirituality, but of science as well. It was this adaptation of vampire lore that inspired many scholars to insist that the bond between the vampire and religion has been abolished.
In the decade prior to the new millennium, the spiritual climate of the United States changed dramatically. A surge in interest in spirituality occurred in the form of alternative medicine, naturalism, shamanism and wiccan religions, to name only a few. Likewise, a renewed interest in more traditional spiritual paths occurred as well. The Catholic Church became increasingly more vocal in the last year of the twentieth century, going so far as to ask for forgiveness for the many sins it had perpetrated over the course of the previous two thousand years (Karon).
This alteration in the basic character of American religious life is supported by many religious scholars, who believe that it is not the scope but the breadth of American religious beliefs that has changed (Broadway). In the past, the American culture had been dominated by the most prominent and familiar religions such as Catholicism, Protestantism and Judaism. However, Diana L. Eck, professor of comparative religion at Harvard University, believes that American culture has experienced an "interfaith explosion" in the last ten years (Broadway). Americans are no longer strictly defined by traditional religious boundaries. Instead they often experience spirituality in a more diverse way. The Church, Mass and organized religion may or may not play a role in this new form of spirituality.
The new American relationship with spirituality altered the religious connection with the vampire genre. A recent interview with Father Gregory Coiro supports this contention. He believes that "there could be a variety of reasons why vampires and vampirism [are] popular right now" (The Blood Tide). Father Coiro contends that the approach of the new millennium and the religious or spiritual surge that always accompanies this type of event has had tremendous influence over the popularity of the genre (The Blood Tide). Even in a culture where traditional religious canon may not have an overwhelming cultural influence, people are fascinated by "things having to do with the ultimate, final battle between good and evil" (The Blood Tide).
The modern American vampire certainly has not lost its connection with religion, spirituality or God. Truly, as Anne Rice's vampires exemplify particularly well, the vampires' struggle with God and their place in the order of life is an integral part of what these creatures have become. In the novel Interview With the Vampire, the title character, Louis de Point du Lac, spends a great deal of time reflecting on his vampiric nature. He labors with the concept of God, not understanding how vampires could be allowed to exist if such a creature were real. In one truly low point, he reasons that
if God doesn't exist, [vampires] are the creatures of the highest consciousness in the universe. [They] alone understand the passage of time and the value of every minute of human life. And what constitutes evil, real evil, is the taking of a single human life. Whether a man would have died tomorrow or the day after or eventually . . . it doesn't matter. Because if God does not exist, this life . . . every second of it . . . is all we have. (Interview, p. 238)
Here, in the face of a culture "devoid of spiritualism," we find a vampire quite devout in his spiritual beliefs. True, he may not be Catholic or Buddhist or Jewish, but he is spiritual and therein lies an important difference. The vampire in the modern era has established a unique relationship with religion and spirituality. Instead of being hunted and condemned by it, some vampires are now acting in the role of aggressor. They are searching within themselves and within the culture around them for some level of understanding of God. In the modern era, the vampire has been used to illustrate spirituality in its many forms and thus reflects the religious identity of modern American culture.
As we have seen, in the latter part of the twentieth century, American culture has stepped away from the major organized religions in favor of a broader, more amorphous concept of spirituality. As this cultural shift has occurred, the demonic model of the vampire that was established hundreds of years ago and that was glorified in Bram Stoker's Dracula is no longer effectual (Gordon & Hollinger, p. 30).
The vampire in the modern era has become far more complex than it has ever been before. As the reliance on the religious connection with vampire lore eased, other elements made their way into the genre. Perhaps the most significant of these new aspects was the inclusion of scientific themes, many of which existed in direct conflict with religious sensibilities. As such, they had not appeared in vampire media prior to this point. While medical conditions had been associated with the historic vampire, the demonic model favored in the nineteenth century and the early twentieth century required a more traditional spiritual source.
Prior to the establishment of the religious connection with the vampire, another important bond was forged. Medical conditions, like death in childbirth, were often blamed on or associated with vampirism (Gordon & Hollinger, p. 47). Moreover, individuals with diseases like anemia and, more rarely, porphyria, a deficiency of a vital enzyme of the blood, were believed to be vampires (Bunson, p. 7, 200, 210). In recent years, this connection has been reestablished in modern vampire media.
With the approach of the new millennium, the American public became fascinated by the interconnections of science, spirituality and the supernatural. In part, science has been used to explain the origins of superstition. Medical science, for example, has illuminated the connection between the historical interpretation of the natural processes of decomposition and the belief in vampires that existed throughout Europe in previous centuries. At the same time, science and spirituality have also been used to enrich the realm of supernatural plausibility. On television series like The X-Files, the American public has been introduced to scientific and spiritual theories that support some of the wildest of human imaginings.
Within vampire media, the modern sciences have offered several feasible explanations for the existence of vampires. In many cases, the vampires have once more become associated with disease. Several vampire films, like Blade and Bram Stoker's Dracula, have established vampirism as a disorder of the blood (Grant, p.395). This connection is not astounding given the devastation that AIDS has caused in recent decades. Several scholars contend that only Anne Rice's vampires have managed to avoid this new trend (Auerbach, p. 175; Gordon & Hollinger, p. 219). Their "[portrayal of an] alternate, supernaturalized sexuality that survives a world of death" is what makes them so powerful. (Auerbach, p. 218). They alone are capable of surviving a disease that continues to kill millions.
Not only may vampires be diseased, but in some cases they may be an entirely new species. Many artists in the modern vampire genre have embraced and utilized Darwin's theories of evolution in their artistic creations. In Suzy McKee Charnas's groundbreaking novel, The Vampire Tapestry, her vampire is the result of a genetic mutation. He is the only creature of his kind and the author uses well-established animal behavioral patterns, like hibernation, to explain his behavior. Similar storylines were explored on The X-Files, where the question was raised, what if there was another branch on the ape's evolutionary tree that we never knew about? This theme has also been explored throughout the broader genre of science fiction.
These relatively new additions have established many layers within the vampire genre. For example, as Stephen King hypothesizes in his novel Salem's Lot, do crosses and holy water suddenly stop working when we lose faith in organized religion? What about silver, garlic and sunlight? Are the reactions caused by these substances simple allergies? If so, would a few antihistamines get rid of the symptoms entirely? And, on a grander scale, as we broaden the scope of possibility, what else exists beyond our current realm of understanding?
America's relationship with religion and spirituality has not vanished. In reality, it has become deeper and more complex in recent years than it has ever been before. This connection was boosted by the approach of the millennium. As many scholars have confirmed, interest in greater spiritual and religious questions always accompanies this type of event (The Blood Ties, Broadway). While it is true that American spirituality is no longer exclusively tied with organized religion, it is instead the depth and breadth of this important facet of American culture that have helped to create many exhilarating changes in the vampire genre over the last few decades. With the inclusion of the internal narrative structure seen in novels like Anne Rice's Interview With the Vampire, and scientific elements like disease and evolution documented in television series like The X-Files, the vampire has become more reflective of the social fears and questions of the modern era. Americans are no longer satisfied with the simple religious argument of good versus evil. They demand more and the modern American vampire has come to reflect these needs.
Chapter 2: American Fascination with Psychoanalysis and Self-help
Over the last few decades, American culture has developed a dynamic relationship with psychological theory. These concepts have become an integral part of American identity. Though the genre has never had an historical connection with these ideas, one has developed in modern vampire media. In recent years, the vampire has come to reflect the American public's knowledge of themselves and their psychological health.
Traditionally, vampires were peripheral characters in the tales that were told about them (Auerbach, p. 109). Bram Stoker's Dracula is an excellent example of this characteristic. Stoker's novel consists of a series of letters and diary entries. The vampire appears in relatively few of these. In response to this narrative structure, vampires remained securely defined by external judgments made about them rather than their internal processes. As such, they remained relegated to the categorization of the inhumane.
Another notable factor to the historic conceptualization of the nature of vampires is that psychoanalysis and psychoanalytical theory were not established until relatively recently. As such, these concepts may not been have recognized or understood by the individuals creating vampire media in previous centuries. This lack of knowledge is particularly important when considering eroticism or sexuality and their relationship with vampire media in the pre-Freudian era. Current theories insist that these concepts are integral parts of the vampire's identity. However, this supposition is faulty.
Prior to the beginning of the twentieth century, the majority of artists creating vampire media would not have had any concept of Freud. In fact, people who knew Bram Stoker have said that they "doubt[ed] whether [he] had any inkling of the erotic content of vampire superstition" (Frayling, p. 420). This is not to say that sexuality or erotic content were excluded in vampire media during this time. However, it does mean that modern conceptions about sexuality and eroticism cannot be applied to the vampire genre in previous centuries with any degree of certainty.
In the Victorian era, the imputation of "eroticism was a punishment" (Gordon & Hollinger, p. 29). The vampire was confounding or horrifying because it had the ability to achieve the forbidden. For Victorian audiences, the "spectre of sexuality run wild" and the break with social propriety implied by these behaviors was disturbing (Heldreth & Pharr, p. 73). An excellent example of this characteristic of Victorian vampire literature can be found in Bram Stoker's Dracula. In the novel, the title character successfully attacks both of the major female characters. What ensues is perhaps the most sexually graphic passage of the novel. Here, Mina Harker succumbs to Dracula and begins the process of turning into a vampire. This passage would have been disturbing to Victorian readers not only because of the implied rape, but because this unseemly behavior is occurring to a married woman, with her husband in the room nonetheless (Heldreth & Pharr, p. 40).
On the bed bedside the window lay Jonathan Harker, his face flushed and breathing heavily as though in a stupor. Kneeling on the near edge of the bed facing outwards was the white-clad figure of his wife. By her side stood a tall, thin man, clad in black. His face was turned from us, but the instant we saw him all recognized the Count . . . With his left hand he held both Mrs. Harker's hands, keeping them away with her arms at full tension; his right hand gripped her by the neck, forcing her face down to his bosom. Her white nightdress was smeared with blood, and a thin stream trickled down the man's bare breast which was shown by his torn-open dress. (Stoker, p. 249)
Just as the erotic and violent content of the previous passage was disturbing to Victorian readers, so too were the homoerotic relationships found in early vampire stories like The Vampyre and Carmilla. In both of these novels, homosexuality or a perceived deviance in sexual expectations was terrifying. In all of these cases, the threat of the breakdown of the traditional familial structure was at the heart of Victorian terror.
In the modern genre, the development and understanding of psychological theories have drastically altered the appearance of the vampire. Changes in the concepts of good, evil and personal responsibility have established an entirely new reality for these creatures. The evil they display has become more complex and harder to define. In some cases, it seems that they may not be evil at all, only misunderstood.
In the words of one scholar, Americans have come to live "in an age where metaphysical evil has been largely dethroned by notions of psychological dysfunction" (Simpson, p. 3). As we have come to understand some of the more complex workings of the psychological structures of human beings, our reliance and faith in the concepts of good and evil have been tested. We are no longer able to conclude that a vampire is evil based solely on his or her deeds. The line has become grayed.
In the novel Salem's Lot, Stephen King discusses the Freudian concept of "evil with a small 'e'" (King, p. 303). According to Freudian theory, "the devil . . . would be a gigantic composite id, the subconscious of all of us" (King, p. 303). In this novel, the balance between the two primal forces of good and evil exists within each of us. We all carry some level of responsibility. There is no serpent crawling in the garden. King defines real evil as "bombers over Cambodia, the war in Ireland and the Middle East, cop-killings and ghetto riots, the billion smaller evils loosed on the world each day like a plague of gnats" (King, p. 304).
In addition to this new, amorphous concept of evil, modern psychological sciences have also established a connection between the vampire and mental illness. In the latter part of the twentieth century, the concept of clinical vampirism was developed. This behavior is described as "the act of drawing blood from an object (usually a love object) and receiving resultant sexual excitement and pleasure" (Dundes, p. 147). The condition is believed to be a rare form of schizophrenia and has been displayed by numerous serial killers, the most famous being Jeffery Dahmer (Dundes, p. 152). The sexual element of this disorder has become an inherent part of the modern notion of the vampire. In addition, the hyper-violent behaviors displayed by the most famous clinical vampires has also become a strong element of the genre.
As these connections were established, vampires began to hide behind the mask of serial crime. On the television series Kindred: The Embraced, one out-of-control vampire managed to hide his true nature by veiling his crimes through the mutilation of his victims. Similar behaviors were also seen on the television series The X-Files and in the novels The Tale of the Body Thief and The Hunger. Because these behaviors are now attributed to mental illness, it is far more difficult to rely on traditional concepts of good and evil to explain the actions of these individuals.
Some scholars also believe that vampires may symbolize "oral sadists" who were either "overindulged or deprived of the maternal breast" (Dundes, p. 167). This certainly seems possible in the case of Anne Rice's infamous vampire Lestat de Lioncourt, the central figure of The Vampire Chronicles, who has a rather enigmatic relationship with his mother, Gabrielle. Gabrielle is trapped in a loveless marriage and is withdrawn from everyone. She does not like to be spoken to or touched (Ramsland, p. 154). After Lestat changes Gabrielle into a vampire, he spends a lot of time hoping to establish a lasting relationship with her. Unfortunately, he is doomed to failure, as Gabrielle is far more interested in exploring the freedom afforded her by her status as a vampire than in developing her relationship with her son (Ramsland, p. 155). Thus, Lestat experiences a second deprivation of the maternal in his life. This theory also seems to be supported by the actions of several other Ricean vampires. In the novel Interview With the Vampire, Louis de Point du Lac relays the experience of feeding on a victim. The following passage shows remarkable similarity with the act of breast feeding:
the sucking mesmerized me; the warm struggling of the man was soothing to the tension of my hands; and there came the beating of the drum again, which was the drumbeat of his heart -- only this time it beat in perfect rhythm with the drumbeat of my own heart, the two resounding in every fiber of my being, until the heart began to grow slower and slower, so that each was a soft rumble that threatened to go on without end. I was drowsing, falling into weightlessness. (Interview, p. 27)
As American culture's relationship with psychological theory developed, vampires became more complex. Ricean vampires are the best example of the complexity that has developed within the genre over the last twenty-five years. They simply cannot find satisfaction in anything. They struggle with concepts of self and morality. They toil with the realities of loneliness and exclusion from society. They are social outcasts. Vampires are not allowed to share in human joys, tears and triumphs because they are no longer truly human. They bear the brunt of immortality and it isn't pretty.
With the removal of the absolutes of good and evil from their preconceived notion of identity, vampires are left with few certainties. Their lives are open to a larger range of possibilities. They may be lovers, parents and outcasts. They may kill. They may give the gift of everlasting life. In the face of all of this uncertainty, authors of vampire media have begun using the genre in a new way. One of the most significant accomplishments of this change in the genre has been that authors are now able to use their work as a tool for dealing with their own psychological issues. At times, this allows for the development of a more intimate connection between author and audience, thus creating a deeper, more long-lasting impression in the mind of the spectator.
Anne Rice's novel Interview With the Vampire was written in the aftermath of the death of her daughter, Michele, in 1972 (Smith, p. 3). Rice used her novel to explore the feelings of sadness and despair that accompanied her loss. In addition, the creation of the novel also allowed her to reckon with the addiction, alcoholism, that she had lapsed into upon her daughter's demise (Smith, p. 3). She used the novel to find answers to the doubts and fears she experienced and credits it with allowing her to move beyond her grief (Smith, p. 4).
Similarly, the creation of the groundbreaking vampire novel The Gilda Stories, by Jewelle Gomez, allowed the author to explore her feelings about being treated like an outcast within her own culture (Gordon & Hollinger, p. 86). Gilda is both a black woman and a lesbian, making her unique in mainstream vampire media. Gomez used the expanded life expectancy of the vampire to illustrate the experience of the black American female in a number of times and places, beginning in the midst of the Civil War. Through Gilda's eyes, we see what it means to have to create an identity in the face of a culture that does not wish to allow you to have one. Here, the psychological turmoil of racial identity, gender identity and sexual identity combine in the form of a vampire, to illustrate what it means to be excluded from many facets of society.
In response to the inclusion of psychological theory in the works of the genre's most famous authors, a new classification of vampire developed. The psychological vampire first made its appearance in the 1970s and has come to be the most common variety of vampire in the modern era (Wolf, p. 67). Unlike clinical vampires, these creatures do not need to feed on blood. Instead, they often prefer to consume energy or vitality from their victims.
Thomas Harris's character Hannibal Lecter from the novels Red Dragon, Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal is one of the most famous psychological vampires of the last twenty-five years. He is a particularly good example of the way that psychological theory has impacted the modern day vampire. One scholar has said that Lecter "is not evil incarnate but a representation of the evil of psychology; his influence [working] across discourse, bodies, and minds, across behaviors, actions, and passivities, across systems, bureaucracies and institutions" (Halberstam, p. 177). In short, the power and scope of these new vampires may be limitless.
These vampires are unique because they display no outward signs of the reality of their nature. The only fangs they possess are the metaphoric variety. And it is unlikely that they will be found drinking blood from a cooling corpse. Many, like Hannibal Lecter, are quite adept at manipulating situations to meet their needs. In many instances, this type of vampire may go completely undetected. Even more frightening, their charismatic nature may lead their victims to them without much effort on the part of the vampire. Public response to the film Silence of the Lambs is an excellent example of this. When the film was released, it met with an unexpected audience response to the character Hannibal Lecter. Many people found him to be alluring, strangely sexy (Silence). Though some of the public's response can be attributed to the potent delivery of Anthony Hopkins's portrayal of Lecter, it is the character that is powerful and alluring.
The addition of psychological theory to this genre has caused many changes in the lives of the vampire. In the case of Anne Rice's vampires, they have become more human. Meanwhile psychological theory has allowed Thomas Harris's vampire to become only more chilling. Vampires no longer need to lurk in the twilight hours, evading the sun. They could be your quiet, unassuming next-door neighbor. Vampires may now be anyone.
Chapter 3: American Gender and Sexual Politics
Throughout the history of vampire lore, gender and sexuality have played an important role in the appearance and behaviors of the vampire. Beginning with ancient Babylonian vampire folklore, women played a pivotal role in the creation and sustainment of vampires, often being seen as an integral part of this destructive force (Bunson, p. 157). Many of these initial concepts were supported by religious dogma which developed after the Babylonian beliefs were well established. The Judeo-Christian Creation story, particularly the expulsion of Eve from the Garden of Eden, bolstered the pre-existing folklore. Many cultures also perpetuated the belief that vampirism originated with Lilith, the first wife of Adam (Bunson, p. 157). Stories suggest that she was ejected from the Garden of Eden because she was filled with an evil spirit (Bunson, p. 157).
In some countries, these stories had such an impact upon gender identity that women came to be associated with immoral behavior. Romanian culture, for example, took a firm stance on this issue. As devout followers of the Orthodox Christian faith, they believed that Eve and her actions in the Garden of Eden were the root of all evil (Dundes, p. 21). Consequently, women were believed to be the source of all trouble that occurred within the culture (Klingman, p. 43). Russians held similar beliefs, concluding that vampires were the result of a corporeal union between female witches and the devil (Wright, p. 110). These conceptualizations of the female gender continued the connection between women and vampirism.
Lilith was also considered to have a "special hatred for children," which developed out of the connection between vampirism and childbirth that was well established during ancient times (Bunson, p. 157). Some scholars speculate that that this connection was forged out of a fear of female power (Dundes, p. 155). Not only were women able to create life, but they also shared blood with their unborn children. This ability was not held by nor could it be directly bestowed upon men. Hence, in many cultures, childbirth became something to be feared. Invariably, male power was reaffirmed within vampire lore, as male vampires came to dominate the genre.
Eventually, the vampire became an instrument of fiction and its relationship with gender changed. Within the cultural climate of the Victorian era, women chiefly became the victims of the vampires rather than being the vampires themselves. One notable exception was the title character of the novella Carmilla, which was published in 1872 (Bunson, p. 40). In this story, the vampire takes on the guise of woman. It is speculated that this gender choice was made because the tale centers on the friendship between the vampire and a female victim (Bunson, p. 40). In this instance, the gender of the vampire adds believability and horror to the story.
With the approach of the twentieth century, the genre altered once more. Bram Stoker used his novel Dracula to explore two very different examples of female gender identity. The character of Lucy Westenra is a rich, fickle, somewhat flighty girl. She is seemingly incapable of taking care of herself, a characteristic that eventually leads to her death after she is bitten by Dracula and turned into a vampire. Many scholars believe that Lucy acts as a representation of traditional female gender roles (Heldreth & Pharr, pp. 32 - 33). The other female character of Stoker's novel is quite different. Mina Harker is, under Stoker's pen, a fine example of feminine strength. While Lucy falls under Dracula's thrall, Mina is able to use her powers of reasoning and intuition to thwart Dracula's goals. With her guidance, the male characters in the novel are able to find Dracula and destroy him. Mina is the embodiment of Stoker's impression of a newer model of female gender identity. She is capable of being intelligent, forceful and powerful, without the added detraction of being sexually promiscuous (Heldreth & Pharr, p. 35).
As mentioned in chapter two, sexuality for the sake of eroticism was not a focal point of the pre-American vampire genre. When referenced, sexuality in Victorian vampire media was used as a way to increase the feelings of alienation that the audience felt toward the vampire. Since vampires were considered to be evil and inhumane, it seemed reasonable that they would not behave according to social expectations. This theme persisted well into the twentieth century, becoming an integral part of many early vampire films. However, the alteration of this perception of sexuality was central to many of the changes that occurred in the vampire genre in the 1970s.
When vampires first appeared on American movie screens, their messages about gender roles were in keeping with many of the concepts that had been established during the Victorian era. Women were nearly universally the victim, while men were almost always cast as the heroes. By the time the Hammer films were released in the late 1960s and early 1970s, this gender stereotyping had become well developed. In films like Dracula, Prince of Darkness and Taste the Blood of Dracula, brunette women always became vampires while blondes managed to escape that fate and ride off into the sunset with their rescuers.
Similarly, sexual themes in early vampire films were also in keeping with traditional Victorian attitudes. If acknowledged, sexuality was always the vehicle for anti-social behavior. For example, in the film Scars of Dracula, a female character is killed by a vampire after falsely accusing a male character of rape. In another movie of the period, the ingenue becomes a victim of a vampire after she meets her lover for a secret tryst in the moonlight. Women acting in an overtly sexual manner pay for it with their lives. Their shame is further called to attention by their dress. The necklines of these character's gowns drop precariously low after the women become vampires, seemingly illustrating their fall from grace. Some scholars contend that the sexualization seen in films of this genre were popular because "patriarchal [societies] . . . promote individual masculine terrorism against female victims, even in . . . fiction" (Simpson, p. x).
Beginning in the late seventies and continuing into the eighties and nineties, treatment of gender and sexuality in vampire media changed. In the "polarizing" social environment of the time, both female and homosexual cultures "fought free of traditional medical and moral labels" (Auerbach, p. 182). These movements combined to create a surge toward "self-definition and determination" that rendered the traditional gender roles perpetuated by the vampire genre obsolete (Auerbach, p. 182). As these two important social groups struggled to redefine American culture's perception of their identity, a ripple effect formed that eventually reached into the heart of the genre. Consequently, vampire media began to change in reflection of these new cultural values.
As a result of the acknowledgment of the ostracization of women and other social groups that began in the 1970s, the vampire became a "metaphor for the outsider" (Gordon & Hollinger, p. 27). This new concept was particularly potent when paired with the internal narrative structure that was popularized in Anne Rice's novels Interview With the Vampire and The Vampire Lestat. As the reader experiences life through the vampire's eyes, it is difficult to ignore the torment experienced by these creatures. In the words of Martin J. Wood, a literary scholar, "instead of a ruthless monster driven by appetite, readers find a lonely, anguished creature yearning for understanding" (Heldreth & Pharr, p. 64).
In response to the new social identities that began to be displayed in vampire media, artists from many disenfranchised social groups flocked to the genre. Female artists became a particularly strong force in the realm of vampire literature. These new voices combined to bring many exciting changes to vampire media.
Bram Stoker's Dracula introduced an interpretation of the vampire that was a mainstay of the vampire genre for much of the twentieth century. Stoker's vampire was meant to symbolize the "Anti-Christ" (Gordon & Hollinger, p. 18). The novel represented an abandonment of the romantic façade that the vampire had developed throughout the nineteenth century in novels like Polidori's The Vampyre and Le Fanu's Carmilla (Gordon & Hollinger, p. 17). As female artists began dominating the genre in the 1970s, one of the most significant changes that occurred was the return of the vampire as a romantic figure. It is believed that this change was the feminine response to the patriarchal victimization of women that had been occurring in novels and on screen for decades (Gordon & Hollinger, p. 62). The first female artist to address this new element of gender identity was Anne Rice. Rice's vampires, though chiefly male, rarely behaved like their predecessors. Feeding upon victims was only a peripheral element of their lives. Instead, their interpersonal relationships and internal thought processes took precedence in Rice's narratives. Additionally, Rice's novels marked the return of "homoerotic bonds," which were reminiscent of vampire fiction of the early nineteenth century (Auerbach, p. 153).
Some critics condemn this new form of vampire fiction, saying that "the only 'good' male [has become] a feminized male; or, the only male with any likelihood of behaving like a decent human being is a male who has been deprived of his automatic swagger-privileges" (Gordon & Hollinger, p. 63). These individuals seem to be missing the point. While it is true that Rice has broadened the boundaries for acceptable male behavior, she has not created a new gender of "feminized" men. In fact, Rice establishes her complex love-hate relationship with traditional masculinity in her novel The Queen of the Damned. In one particularly illuminating exchange, the title character says to the vampire Lestat de Lioncourt, "I love you because you are so perfectly what is wrong with all things male. Aggressive, full of hate and recklessness, and endlessly eloquent excuses for violence -- you are the essence of masculinity" (Queen, p. 336, emphasis added).
This concept was further refined by another successful female author of modern vampire fiction. Suzy McKee Charnas published the novel The Vampire Tapestry in 1980. Charnas's novel focuses on a male vampire named Wayland. When writing the novel, Charnas found herself crafting the character as male because she believed that the male gender identity was the "predominant and successful predatory identity in human society" (Gordon & Hollinger, p. 62). She did not select the male gender identity as a means of enforcing some type of feminist judgment. Instead, she endeavored to create a male vampire because female vampires, in her experience, were not as effective (Gordon & Hollinger, p. 62). According to Charnas, female vampires are frequently ineffectual because "there is no widespread . . . female identity to play off of with the fictional monster" (Gordon & Hollinger, p. 62). Because Charnas hoped to remove all supernatural features from her version of vampire lore, thus creating a more realistic monster, she felt that it was necessary to create a predatory masculine main character. However, by the conclusion of Charnas's novel, Wayland is not strictly the predatory creature that the author had imagined. Instead, in spite of Charnas's original intentions, he becomes a romantic figure (Gordon & Hollinger, p. 66). Wayland experiences a full range of emotions from anger and fear to loneliness and love. His romantic nature is not a rejection of traditional male gender identity. Instead, as he allows himself to experience emotions that he had previously believed himself incapable of feeling, the novel becomes an expansion of the possibilities for the male gender.
The gender identity of women in modern vampire media has also been altered by the proliferation of female artists in the genre over the last twenty-five years. One of the biggest changes in female gender identity has been the treatment of female eroticism. While women had previously been punished for displaying any type of overt sexuality, it was now accepted as "a positive -- or at least neutral -- characteristic" (Heldreth & Pharr, p. 206).
Another important change was the popularity and proliferation of the female vampire in modern media. This was important because prior to this point, female vampires had almost exclusively acted as minions or underlings to more powerful male vampires. As Suzy McKee Charnas had recognized, traditional concepts of female gender identity had largely prevented female vampires from playing a dominant role in traditional vampire media. As the female vampire became more prevalent in the genre, the concept of the feminine as either absolutely good or absolutely powerless faded. A broader, more inclusive definition of female gender identity took the place of the traditional stereotype.
Anne Rice's female vampires are particularly good representations of the deepening and broadening that occurred within female gender identity in the genre during the modern era. Some female vampires are weak, made necessarily so by the circumstances of their birth as vampires. However, even in their weakness, these characters show great strength of character. Claudia in the novel Interview With the Vampire is a good example of this. She was turned into a vampire by Lestat de Lioncourt and Louis de Point du Lac at the age of five. Here, in an expression of rage and torment, Claudia verbally lashes her vampire father in a manner never before seen in vampire fiction:
Do you know how I despise you! Do you know that I despise you with a passion that eats me like a canker . . . Snatching me from mortal hands like two grim monsters in a nightmare fairy tale, you idle, blind parents! Fathers . . . Let tears gather in your eyes. You haven't tears enough for what you've done to me. Six more mortal years, seven, eight . . . I might have had that shape . . . Yes, that shape, I might have known what it was to walk at your side. Monsters! To give me immortality in this hopeless guise, this helpless form . . . I love you still, that's the torment of it. Lestat I never loved. But you! The measure of my hatred is that love. They are the same! (Interview, p. 235)
Through Claudia's eyes, the reader learns what it means to have one's concepts of gender identity and sense of self change when the body cannot. Claudia lives far beyond the scope of human female adulthood, all the while trapped in the body of a five-year-old.
The pinnacle of achievement in the empowerment of women and the broadening of female gender identity through vampire media has come in the form of the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The series focuses on the trials and tribulations of a young woman as she grows from adolescence to young adulthood with the added pressure of slaying the undead and saving the world. Each week, the title character, and her support network of family and friends, explores themes of love, trust, alienation, fear and faith. In doing so, Buffy the Vampire Slayer gives its audience a glimpse into what it means to be female in the modern era. The series is not a fairy tale, by any means. Instead, it has done an excellent job of depicting the difficult balance between self-reliance and self-destruction. As the character Buffy Summers has struggled to develop her sense of gender identity, she has learned the hard way that being superhuman does not mean you have all of life's answers. By making dreadful mistakes and facing the consequences, she has come to realize that asking for help and looking for emotional support do not make you weak. A woman can be powerful and still need all of these things.
A second social group that has become a powerful force in modern vampire media is the homosexual community. The modern metaphor of vampire as outsider meshes particularly well with the social identity of this group in the modern era. One of vampire media's central questions, "what happens to human nature when a single element is changed, putting a person at odds with the rest of humanity," seems particularly fitting in relation to this association (Gordon & Hollinger, p. 87).
The feelings and experiences of homosexual artists are expressed strongly in their contributions to modern American vampire media. The homosexual and lesbian vampires in these stories express the sadness and grief that the artists have felt in relation to their treatment by the rest of society. In the words of one of the vampires in Jewelle Gomez's The Gilda Stories,
you've searched admirably for your humanity. Indeed, this is the key to the joy found in our lives, maintaining our link in the chain of living things. But we are no longer the same as they. We are no longer the same as we once were ourselves. (Gomez, p. 210).
Through vampire fiction and erotica, the homosexual community has been able to address issues of sexuality and gender. However, perhaps their most important contribution has been the way they have used their art to explore the reality of intolerance in modern society. When writing the novel The Gilda Stories, it was Jewelle Gomez's goal to "try to push boundaries outward for women, lesbians, and writers" (Gordon & Hollinger, p. 85). By crafting several strong homosexual and lesbian vampires, Gomez was able to broaden the concepts of sexual and gender identity that have been perpetuated by society. Over the course of Gomez's novel, the vampires develop deep and meaningful relationships with one another. They may not marry, as a "normal" mortal would have done; however, they do manage to stay together in mutually exclusive relationships that last far beyond the scope of a human lifetime, a feat rarely replicated in the United States at the end of the twentieth century. By pushing the genre forward, Gomez has offered a glimpse into what it means to be different. It is not difficult to understand the differences in these creatures. As vampires, they are unlike us, but they are not incomprehensible.
The changes in vampire media that have been brought about by altered concepts of gender and sexuality have electrified the genre. There has been renewed interest in these creatures since artists began utilizing the vampire to "rebel against the stultifying constraints of society" (Gordon & Hollinger, p. 30). With this rebellion has come a loving, though sometimes bitter, look at the depth and breadth of what it means to be human. Modern vampires illustrate the complexities of gender and sexual identity. Women are not always victims, nor are they always powerful. Sometimes, as in the case of Anne Rice's Claudia, their strength lies within what seems to be their weakness. Men are not always victors. But, as predators, they need not be completely inhumane either. Homosexuality is not a curse. In some cases, a vampire's polysexuality may open a broader realm of relationships and self-knowledge to creatures who are doomed to remain isolated from the rest of humanity. The changing face of the vampire in the modern era has made the genre more accessible; and, perhaps for some, it has made vampires only more frightening. To begin to understand those who are different, you first have to acknowledge and confront your fears. The treatment of gender and sexuality in the modern American vampire genre has begun to allow us to do just that.
Chapter 4: A Look to the Future
In the last three decades, the influence of American culture has helped vampires to transform themselves from solitary, disorganized killers to the highly organized, complex predators that dominate current vampire media (Auerbach, p. 161; Gordon & Hollinger, p. 106). Cultural attitudes about spirituality, technology, disease, gender and sexuality have all contributed to these changes. As vampires have developed, they have continued to represent humanity's constantly changing attitudes, behaviors and fears. Though we have come to understand and appreciate the impact of culture on these creatures, there remains one question begging to be answered. What does the future hold for the vampire genre?
In the early 1990s, several scholars of vampire media began referring to the vampire as an archetype in decline. Many insisted that the genre was becoming redundant, that no new blood is circulating in the veins of these creatures (Auerbach, p. 192, Heldreth & Pharr, p. 102, Wolf, p. 1). This opinion developed due to the perceived weakening of the vampire that occurred in the 1980s.
Throughout much of the decade, the shadow of conservatism from the Reagan and Bush political administrations saw a mutation in the genre (Auerbach, p. 176). Many of the progressive attributes seen in vampire media of the 1970s momentarily vanished. As vampires became the "casualties" of the AIDS epidemic and the war on drugs, the genre became as sterile as possible and any sense of eroticism vanished (Auerbach, p. 167). As fear paralyzed the nation, the growth of mainstream vampire media became anemic and stunted. In films like The Lost Boys, which was released in 1987, blood was consumed from a bottle, rather than an unwilling victim (Lost Boys).
Because of the implied connection between homosexuality and the AIDS epidemic, homoerotic themes were referred to only in the most general of terms. Homosexual vampires became "givers, not killers" (Auerbach, p. 184). They were benevolent creatures who spent a great deal of time protecting humans from the renegade killers that lived among them (Auerbach, p. 183).
Though the threats of AIDS and drug addiction prevented the genre from enjoying the explosive growth it had experienced during the 1970s, the assessment that the genre was fading was premature. Given the approach of the millennium, and the belief of religious scholars that such an event always impacts humanity's relationship to the larger questions of life, death, good and evil, it was unlikely that interest in the genre would suddenly dissipate.
The influence of the beginning of a new millennium and the changing political climate of the 1990s cannot be underestimated. As the "anxieties of the Persian Gulf war" and other social stressors of the 1980s and early 1990s faded under the "looser, more [relaxed] climate of the Clinton administration," the vampire genre regained its strength (Auerbach, p. 5). Without the global threat of violence that accompanied much of the eighties, the focus of the nation shifted inward, allowing the genre to return its focus to the concepts of gender and sexuality that had played such a dominant role in vampire media of the 1970s. As we looked at the more unsavory elements of American society, the vampire came to reflect smaller, more intimate fears, some of which Americans were only beginning to recognize. And, as the millennium approached, American culture began to reconsider the larger social, moral and spiritual issues that were facing humanity.
Due to these changing cultural values, I believe that the vampire genre will continue to flourish for several more years. The relatively strong cult audiences of television series like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel have already secured the success of vampire series in the immediate future. In addition, Anne Rice is currently in talks with the NBC television network to bring a series to network television sometime in the 2001-2002 television season. Even if the show is not centered around vampires, it is likely to bring renewed interest to her body of work.
Film adaptations of Rice's novels The Queen of the Damned and The Feast of All Saints are also currently in production, with planned release dates of October, 2001 (cnn.com, imdb.com, upcomingmovies.com). In addition, sequels to at least two major vampire films, Blade and John Carpenter's Vampires, will also be in production. Four other vampire films are currently expected to be released within the year.
As the previous chapters have shown, the future of vampire media is dependent on many factors. Cultural attitudes about gender, sexuality and spirituality have all contributed to the changing face of the vampire in the modern era. Given the manner in which these themes have influenced the genre over the last twenty-five years, it seems certain that they will remain important elements in the immediate future. The four most important significant facets of the vampire genre in coming years include sexuality, gender, urbanization, and the internet.
Sexuality has become an extremely important facet of vampire media in the last couple of decades. As America's cultural relationship and comfort with sexuality and alternate forms of sexuality have altered, the vampire's relationship with sexuality has changed as well. Beginning in the mid-1970s with Anne Rice's Interview With the Vampire, female exploration of same-sex pairings has become a dominant element of vampire media. As the Millennium approached, this element was picked up by not only professional writers, but amateurs as well. Given this behavior, it is likely that female artists will continue to explore the many facets of sexuality in the coming years.
Additionally, a smaller sexually related movement is underway. Slowly, over the course of the last twenty-five years, male artists have begun using the vampire genre to explore human sexuality in its many forms. This has been difficult. There has yet to be a significant breakthrough on this front. While female artists like Anne Rice have become celebrated within the genre, no male artist has yet to enjoy this level of recognition. Instead, these artists tend to struggle, their work admired and acknowledged by people in the know but not by the mainstream public.
Unfortunately, many scholars of the genre appear to hold strong stereotypes about male-generated homosexual or polysexual vampire media. They frequently consider it to be "fringe media," exploring only the darker, more animalistic facets of human sexuality (Gordon & Hollinger, p. 172). Often, these artists and products are diluted to only the simplest of terms: sadomasochist, pervert, freak. J. Gordon Melton describes the movement as
beyond just a demand for sexual freedom or the acceptance of homosexuality, some . . . [have] also argued for the destruction of the taboos that surround sado-masochism (an essentially androgynous activity that explores the pleasure of pain), fetishism, bondage, and all sexual activities still considered perverted even by many who consider themselves otherwise sexually liberated (Gordon & Hollinger, p. 173).
Many male artists are actively working to dispel the assumptions made about their work. They are accomplishing this task in many ways. Some, like Trevor Holmes, a doctoral student in English at York University, do so by publishing scholarly articles on the topic and teaching, while others work toward developing anthologies of popular vampire fiction written by homosexual men (Gordon & Hollinger, p. 185, 262). In addition, the establishment of a strong online literary community is also helping to strengthen the bonds within this artistic sub-group. In the future, as male artists continue to work hard to abolish the stereotypes that exist in relation to their growing exploration of sexuality, these opinions will begin to change.
Vampire media's exploration of sexuality has gone hand-in-hand with the broadening of American perception of gender identity. Gender role expectations of women have altered significantly in the last three decades. In response, female roles in vampire media too have changed. Women have become significantly more powerful and influential in the genre than they had ever been before. The last ten years alone have witnessed the proliferation of female artists, female vampires and female vampire slayers within mainstream vampire media. Those who were once the hunted have now become the hunters.
In modern vampire media, power or dominance is frequently determined not "by gender but by role" (Gordon & Hollinger, p. 32). As vampires have established a hierarchical social structure, reliance on traditional gender behavior has weakened. For example, in the Hammer films of the 1970s, women were restricted to the roles of victim, underling or minion. They were never given any sort of appreciable power. However, by the 1990s, this had changed. In movies like Blade and novels like those of Anne Rice's series The Vampire Chronicles, power was resolved through the individual's overall position within the hierarchy of the vampire community. In some cases, as witnessed by Rice's characters Maharet, Mekare and Akasha, women became the most powerful vampires in existence. These stories illustrate that power and strength come with age and experience and are not related to masculine or feminine gender identity. Thus, it stands to reason that women may be just as powerful as men. For the moment, women are no longer bound by the oppressive confines of physiology.
Future years will attest to the continued growth and change of the concepts of gender identity within the genre. As many women continue or begin to use vampire media as a way to express their conceptualization of gender roles, their ideas of gender parity and gender fluidity will continue to diversify the genre. Traditional power structures will be rethought (Gordon & Hollinger, p. 32). In the future, artists may begin to explore the inherent power that comes with the giving of life rather than just that which takes life (Gordon & Hollinger, p. 32). In this way, the beneficent vampire that has been modeled by the homosexual community may become a more appreciated and widely recognized segment of the mainstream vampire genre.
If future decades witness the inundation of Anne Rice's androgynous model of the vampire, it will be vital that artists continue to develop the balance between male and female gender identity. As gender roles become more amorphous, the implications of these ideas become increasingly difficult to predict. If, as with the majority of vampires, creation of new vampires is not dependent on sexual intercourse, what is the need for separation of gender identity? As cloning and other technological advancements loom on humanity's horizon, the vampire will continue to address these deeper questions and fears about the future of gender in the human race.
The way Americans live has altered dramatically over the last one hundred years. The population of the United States has largely become made up of urban dwellers. According to the United States census that was conducted in 1990, an average of 68.84 percent of the American population lives in an urban setting (American). As such, urban living has become one of the most significant shaping forces of American culture in the last century. In the relative anonymity of these cultural centers, "death has become more terrible, [because] it can strike when we are among strangers" (Gordon & Hollinger, p. ix). And, as these urban areas have grown, their tightly packed confines have become "blood banks for those who seek blood" (Gordon & Hollinger, p. ix). The explosion of city living in the twentieth century changed the vampire radically. Instead of the solitary figure seen in Bram Stoker's Dracula, vampires have adopted a more menacing gang-like appearance.
The fear of random, anonymous violence has permeated American culture in recent decades. Television news programs are inundated with stories of gang violence, school shootings, and other signs of urban decay. These threats are exacerbated by the fact that Americans "live in a society where physical mobility is essentially unchecked" (Simpson, p. 6). Unfortunately, these concerns became real over the course of the 1990s. Events like the World Trade Center bombing and the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City showed the American people that the threat of violence in American society is genuine. And, as the world wide web made finding "recipes" for building explosive devices relatively simple, they became all the more terrifying.
In the future, it is likely that vampires will continue to mirror threats experienced by the American public. In movies like Blade, vampires have developed a stranglehold on banks, properties, even the police. They lurk just beneath the surface of American society, much like the gangsters or mafiosos of the popular television drama The Sopranos. Vampires allow us to explore our fears in relation to these frightening new elements of late twentieth-century and early twenty-first-century America.
The vampire genre is developing in ways that have never before been witnessed. Life in the digital world has become a reality and the growth of the internet has revitalized vampire media and its relationship with its fans. Since the genre first appeared in literary form in the nineteenth century, it has almost exclusively been driven by professional artists. The evolution of fan websites, mailing lists, bulletin boards and chat rooms, and amateur fiction archives has altered this element of vampire media radically. Instead of being created for the fans, vampire media is now being created by the fans.
Fan-sites are an important element of this new segment of vampire media. These official, artist-sanctioned websites allow fans to interact with one another and to interact with professional artists. For example, the official Anne Rice website (www.anne-rice.com) offers news and information about the author, her projects and fan organizations dedicated to her work.
Fan-sponsored websites are also very important. They allow fans to share information and new ideas with one another. For example, the site Pathway to Darkness (www.pathwaytodarkness.com) offers critical articles on vampire films, literature and television. It also offers information on vampire folklore and historic figures who have played a large role in the evolution of the vampire.
In some cases, fan support can substantially influence the viability of an artistic project. The Warner Brothers television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer is an excellent example of this phenomenon. The series, currently in its fifth year, has reached the end of its contract. Filming costs are extremely high and the show is not the network's top performer. However, overwhelming fan support for this program, which includes fan sites numbering in the thousands, has led to a fight among at least three networksWarner Brothers, Fox and ABCfor the future rights to the series (Tuned In).
Mailing Lists, Bulletin Boards and Chat Rooms
Mailing lists, bulletin boards and chat rooms allow fans of vampire media to interact with one another daily, hourly and, in some cases, minute-by-minute. A search of Yahoo! Groups (groups.yahoo.com), the official mailing list service of Yahoo! Incorporated, shows over 3,600 vampire-related mailing lists currently in operation. These lists cover a broad range of vampire media, including but not limited to films, television, animation, literature, visual art and role-playing games.
This form of communication allows fans to develop a dynamic rapport with one another. After watching a television show, reading a novel or viewing a film, they can turn to their computers and discuss their thoughts, feelings and questions about the art they have witnessed. Within these exchanges, fans of the vampire genre are able to communicate in ways never before seen. What was once relegated to a cultish corner of the entertainment industry has now become a powerful, mainstream fan network.
Amateur Fiction Archives
Amateur fiction, or fan fiction, is another important segment of modern vampire media. This fiction, sometimes inspired or driven by other artistic pieces in the genre, is quickly becoming one of the most active elements of internet fandom. Fans throughout the many facets of vampire lore have embraced this new creative endeavor. There are currently over 3,000 websites dedicated strictly to amateur vampire fiction. Some of these sites are quite large. For example, the Fanfiction.net website currently lists over 3,500 vampire-related stories.
These artistic endeavors are important because they allow fans to become active participants in shaping modern vampire lore. Though relatively few authors ever have the opportunity to publish their fiction through mainstream publishing houses, internet publishing allows fans to post new stories on a daily basis. These stories, many of which would never have been read in the past, now have an active life. In a recent personal email on this topic, one writer said that her fan fiction website averages at least one hundred visitors per day and that many of her stories have been read by thousands of visitors. As thousands of amateur writers publish stories, the genre becomes richer than it ever has been before. Not since the days when the vampire genre was strictly an oral art form has it been accessible to and used by this many artists.
As the vampire makes its way through the next millennium, it will continue to grow and change in many interesting and dynamic ways. It is hard to predict the definite future of the genre. However, it is safe to assume that the vampire will continue to be a vital and exciting archetype for years to come.
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