Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Vampire Blues

So, in her last post, Mary Hallab discsussed vampires' sexiness, among other things. Today she explores how immortality also provides vampires a link to their pasts, which often causes them a great deal of sturm und drang. They can't seem to fully escape the past, nor do some of them want to. Why do audiences find this appealing? Read on...

Sexiness is not all that immortality offers. It also offers ties with the past. The more I read and watch vampire stories, the more I am convinced that one reason for their popularity is their constant movement back and forth between present and past—although admittedly the past is often quite fabulous. Early folklore vampires do not hang around very long, one generation maybe, at most, but scholars tell us that they serve to stand for family continuity within the system of belief and ritual associated with the dead. They are related to ancestor worship, and come from our past to reward or punish us. They remind us to respect our ancestors and our elderly.

Well, you might say, but modern vampires do not do this. And I might say: Watch some vampire movies and notice how the vampires live in the past, in recollections and in flashbacks. Dracula in the novel and the movies reminisces about his family and their heroic history, which he remembers perfectly, having been there. Have you seen the television series Forever Knight? We are constantly popped back into seventeenth-century France, with costumes and all. Buffy’s Angel and Spike are always repenting their historically disreputable behavior, amply demonstrated in flashbacks. They can never escape it. Is there a message there? Why would modern American youth care for such a message?

And do we entirely want to escape our history? If the past enters our modern world insidiously, affects us, determines our actions, will it be for good or evil? Should we love it or hate it? The nineteenth century admired and tried to emulate the Middle Ages. Dracula is a perfect villain from the Middle Ages and he teaches (unwillingly, of course) knightly heroism to Van Helsing’s band of vampire killers. In some works, the vampire is the Knight. In either case, he stands for traditional virtues lost or revived, perverted or ennobled. The vampire asks us: To what extent is the survival (or revival) of the past in the present desirable? What good is the past to us?

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