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April 19, 2014

Vamps Aren't Tramps: Why Vampires Rule Right Now

by Stephanie Earp, posted Dec 8th 2009 11:55PM


What is the deal with vampires? That seems to be the question on everyone's lips this season. Not just us commoners either - last week George Stromboulopolos asked Shawn Ashmore for his opinion (who is apparently qualified to answer based on his appearance in the 'X-Men' movies) - and Shawn had no reply. When such great minds as these are flummoxed, who am I to tackle the subject? And yet, here we are.

I think we all know that vampires in pop culture are metaphorical, but we're not really sure what they're standing in for. With zombies, George Romero pretty much decided it for us. In fact, the idea that zombies stand for consumerism is so entrenched that one of the few moments of purposeful comedy in 'New Moon' has Bella's friend dismissing the latest horror flick for being so predictable.

What is the deal with vampires? That seems to be the question on everyone's lips this season. Not just us commoners either - last week George Stromboulopolos asked Shawn Ashmore for his opinion (who is apparently qualified to answer based on his appearance in the 'X-Men' movies) - and Shawn had no reply. When such great minds as these are flummoxed, who am I to tackle the subject? And yet, here we are.

I think we all know that vampires in pop culture are metaphorical, but we're not really sure what they're standing in for. With zombies, George Romero pretty much decided it for us. In fact, the idea that zombies stand for consumerism is so entrenched that one of the few moments of purposeful comedy in 'New Moon' has Bella's friend dismissing the latest horror flick for being so predictable.

The most obvious answer is that vampires are symbols for sex. And when it comes to the old stand-bys like 'Dracula', that reading works. For a repressed Victorian, who probably had a skirt to cover the provocative legs of his piano, a fellow who went around biting ladies' necks would seem incredibly liberated. But these days, when a fictional young woman can have sex with all kinds of different people, why would she choose one who is undead? It was in debating this point that I stumbled on my thesis.

Vampires Are Taboo

In a world where, at least on television, there are no barriers to love, it's hard to come up with a pair of star-crossed lovers without making at least one of them supernatural. Once upon a time, race, class, religion and previous marriages could all have barred a couple's way to happiness. The previous-marriage storyline still rears its head - think Meredith and Derek on 'Grey's Anatomy' and Shue and Emma on 'Glee' - but if a character remains too firmly attached to his or her wedding vows for too long, the fans revolt. Patrick Dempsey tells stories of being exhorted by angry fans to leave Addison. He claims he was surprised that they didn't support the idea of marriage as sacred. Imagine how they would react to a character who refused to follow his heart because his beloved was not white, not Jewish or not rich. Audiences wouldn't stand for it. But a vampire - now that's a bad scene. That's like a fish trying to have a relationship with a shark.


Vampires Are Old


The immortality of vampires is a boon to writers, giving them a chance to show a world-weariness that is unfashionable for breathing characters. On screen, it also offers the chance to do some period work. Many a 'Buffy' fan will remember with delight the unexpected comedy of David Boreanaz's Irish accent in his flashback scenes. But frilly costumes and ridiculous accents aside, we live in a time where youth is revered. And not just youth in age, but youth in attitude - cheerfulness, optimism, and humour are valued above all things. The vampire is a welcome respite. They have seen it all, and they know it's not pretty. With the exception of 'Buffy's' Spike, it appears the gift of everlasting life has been bestowed on those least likely to appreciate it. Perhaps that's the unique predicament of the 'good' vampire that populates the latest vampire stories - 'Twilight's miserable Edward, 'The Vampire Diaries' Stefan and 'True Blood's Bill all seem as though they have nothing to live for, except of course, the much-younger girl they've ensnared.

Vampires Are Rich

If you believe the vampire novelists and filmmakers, we could all be rich if only our lifespans were doubled or tripled. While some vampires may choose to squat in a nearby crypt (Spike, again bucking the trend), most live in elegant homes or at least modern basement apartments, and never seem to be in want of ready cash. In the 'Twilight' series in particular, the house occupied by the Cullens is lavish, and the garage is home to any number of pricey cars. In 'True Blood', Bill has the family manse, which is derelict but obviously worth a great deal of money. And none of them, apart from the Cullen patriarch, appear to have jobs. While Carlisle Cullen is a doctor, he still has a family of six to support on his earnings. So there it is: vampires are rich because they steal. How else could they come in to so much wealth? They kill people and take their money. The ones who have sworn off killing are still living off the profits of when they did kill, one must assume. But so little is said about the financial affairs of our favourite vampires, it's easy to imagine that if you joined them, you'd never have to work or worry about money again. Like marrying into the Kennedy clan.

Vampires Are Foreigners


If TV characters are overwhelmingly young, they are even more overwhelmingly American. Usually white, usually from the Northeast or the West Coast, usually middle-class. Most TV shows now include characters from more diverse backgrounds as sidekicks and supporting cast, but even these characters are typically American - the children of immigrants perhaps, who retain their charming accents and attachments to cultural traditions while living and working in modern American society. Vampires, on the other hand, tend to come from far away. Being so old, many of them are European - after all, a 500-year-old vampire couldn't find much to amuse him in the New World back then. Others are from the South. Louisiana, thanks largely to Anne Rice, has a reputation for spawning vamps, and there is no region of America more exotic and foreign. Even the American vampires, like the Cullens, have connections to the old world through secret vampire societies. So for mainstream TV and film audiences, vampire dramas offer the rare chance to see a character who is worldly and well-travelled.

Vampires Are Prudes

I mentioned earlier that these days, a girl can have healthy, safe sex with almost anyone she wants without the disapprobation of audiences. Sex is routine, expected, and normal, which is the opposite of what we all hope sex will be, especially when we are teenage girls. This subject is more fit for a Women's Studies thesis than a television column - Edward's regard for Bella's soul is actually his regard for her virginity, Angel's post-coital transformation on 'Buffy' is similar to the way teenage boys treat their conquests, Sookie discovers she is more powerful than Bill on 'True Blood' and so on - but an essay on the appeal of vampires wouldn't be complete without addressing it. For a young woman today, what could be more rebellious than to date a wealthy much-older man who may or may not murder people and isn't even American? I'll tell you - to not sleep with that guy.

No wonder so many guys say they don't get it.

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