Saturday, October 23, 2010
The Death Of A Vampire
Photographed By Ellinor Forje
“I am nothing, lifeless, soulless, hated and feared. I am dead to all the world. I am the monster that breathing men would to kill.”
Belonging to one of the prevailing self-reflective dialogues of a character of Victorian literature, Bram Stoker’s antagonist; in his existentialist speech to his beloved Mina, appears to have foreshadowed his imminent demise in the 21st century culture, which has presumably driven a stake through his heart: Leaving the archetypal vampire that the world has yet known to finally bleed to death under our knives.
The manager of the Harvard Coop bookstore, Nancie Scherier sits outside the store, with her significant other, eating ice cream on a warm summer day in July. She is wearing a black tailored dress paired with a black oversized bag. Her hair-do is as reflection of “Vogue’s” Anna Wintour’s. “She is a tremendous reader” says her companion Rick. She counts Charlaine Harris’ “Southern Vampire Mysteries” as her favorite among the vampire genre. She likes a Stoker’s “Dracula” as well. And stresses on the word “Yes” – as in “Yes I do”, when asked. She is not a fan of Stephanie Meyers “Twilight” series, although it is a vampire fiction top seller. Due to privacy policies the Coop does not release book sales figures, but Scherier affirms that Stoker’s “Dracula” is not exactly selling the way butter melts in the sun, anymore.
Given the interest people have in vampire literature – in 2010 there are 1100 new vampire books in circulation, and considering the fact that Stoker’s book established the trend, it is justifiable to ask: “When and how did the prototypal vampire in literature and film become obsolete?”
The world is obsessed with vampires. They appear in ancient Assyrian, Indian, Greek, Babylonian, and African folklore, from time immemorial. Anne Rice revived the vampire tale in her bestselling Vampire Chronicles. And 5.3 million viewers are tuning in every Sunday to watch HBO’s critically acclaimed series “True Blood” - to catch a glimpse of the living-dead, and the folks belonging to the freshly coined term, “fang bangers” of the fictional town of Bon Temps. The road of the vampire from mythological creature, to a fictive residence of a fictive township in a television fiction, was initially paved by John Polidori’s “The Vampyre: A Tale” in 1819.
But, it was Stoker’s bestselling rendition of a nocturnal, mortifying, enigmatic, aristocratic, narcissistic, heterosexual alpha male creature, which cemented his vampire into the nature of a quintessence, in the second half of the 19th - through the 20th century. The name Dracula became synomous with the word “vampire” and his representation came in several films: Starting from the first Dracula inspired movie in 1922, based on F.W Muranu’s “Nosferatu”, to “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” of 1992, starring Gary Oldman. However, by the late 20th the mesmer of Dracula seemed to have veined. The 1992 movie was the last rendition of Stoker’s novel. And judging from the $300 million box office sales of the “Twilight Saga: Eclipse”, and by the top 10 selections on Amazon’s present - “Bestsellers in Vampire Romances” (list of books with sensual Harlequin inspired covers and titles); it seems that the vampires of the 21th century have taken a new shape.
According to Freudian psychology, vampires are a reflection of two crucial needs in the human being, Eros – or sexual desire, and the duality of the desire to die juxtaposed with the desire to live eternally . And the vampire is the perfect embodiment of these traits. But, the reflections of human nature can no longer be represented or met by one figurative character alone. There has been a shift in the social paradigms of society – the need for diversity. A need, which was recognized and expressed by Rice in her 1970’s “The Vampire Chronicles” – where she introduced a cast of new vampires with a multiple dimension of race, sexual orientation and psychic.
“We saw the remorseful vampire” says Dr. Sue Schopf – referring to Rice’s character Louis’ laments over the loss of his humanity, while seated behind her Victorian inspired desk, which could easily have served as a prop in the stage set of 1994 movie “Interview with the Vampire”. Her curly hair is jet black, and both her hands are decorated with gold jewelry. Her coat is black and the chemise underneath is red. She speaks with a southern accent, and accentuates the last “t” in the name Lestat, and the last four letters in Nosferatu, with a twang. Schopf adds that the Dracula novel is based in an era represented by female subordination, colonial rule, the influence of the church and the fear of immigration, homophobia, the lack of scientific knowledge, to mention a few themes.
However, different times, called for a different vampire. And perhaps the reason why the nocturnal, mortifying, enigmatic, aristocratic, narcissistic, flamboyant, homosexual alpha male creature, Russel, in the TV series "True Blood" would state, with conviction, "Mine is the true face of vampires!".
The post September 11 period of uncertainty and the age of terrorism, combined with a down spiraling economy, conjured up the need for a more family oriented monster to pacify some of society’s anxiety. In both Harris’ and Meyer’s books some vampires have made a commitment to the human race to not feed on their blood. In “The Southern Vampire Mysteries” for example, the vampires have the option of drinking an artificial blood subsitute called “Tru Blood”.
The vampire remains a useful beast, and some of the essential characters of this beast, were catalogued if not invented by Stoker in his 1897 book “Dracula. Chapter 18, of the novel, summarizes what is perceived as the weaknesses and strengths of the vampire, Dracula according to Stoker's legend. The other authors of the vampire genre seem to have diverged or converged, to or from these traits. One attribute which is re-currant in other novels such as “Salem’s Lot” is that, the older the vampire, the more powerful it is.
Dracula is 113 years old, this year to date. When he celebrated his centennial birthday in 1997, novelist such as Stephen King and Naomi Wolf all paid their homage at the “Dracula Centennial: Aesthetics of Fear Conference” held in New York.
Considering all the hoopla surrounding a dead man's birthday, would it really be fair then to suggest that Count Dracula has fallen from grace?
“How has he fallen from 'grace' - was he ever 'in grace'?” asks Harvard Professor, Davíd Carrasco. “You might say that every generation gets the Dracula it ‘deserves' meaning the one it creates. Therefore Dracula is a 'mirror' an aesthetic mirror of different subcultures that flock to his story and then they project their own fears and desires onto his nocturnal powers. Like all these heroes of our unconscious made conscious: He will rise again” said Carrasco, with emphasis on the word, “will”.