Hello all. I’m Joy, one of the multiple new Beaufort interns, and I’ve chosen BigRedBeau as my pseudonym for the summer.
So I love YA. And I don’t believe in guilty pleasures. The hosts of Pop Culture Happy Hour—an NPR podcast—put it best when they stated in one of their live shows, “That’s not guilt it’s shame, and shame is external.” Basically I’m saying I dig YA and I’m trying not to be ashamed of it.
And there’s something I’ve noticed, sitting over here and loving YA. A trend, if you will. These days, one thing you get with YA is vampires. Vampires everywhere. Heck, if you’re a human being during this time in world history, you’re going to encounter vampires. In their many and varying media forms, from your Trueblood to your Twilight, vampires just can’t seem to leave us alone.
Recently, the primary media form I’ve been experiencing Vampires in is The Vampire Diaries.
I started watching it one morning over my bowl of cereal when I realized I was in the mood for something that wouldn’t engage my emotions or my intelligence.
Way back (not that far) when I was in middle school, one of my friends who had previously recommended the Twilight series suggested the Vampire Diaries as a follow up; at the time, I wasn’t interested because I felt the covers of the books were silly. Not to mention I was two kinds of done with Twilight and vampires; literally done, as in I had finished the published books, and emotionally done, as in I wasn’t really into any further exposure to vampires. I’ve had one or two friends ask me never to call them again as they have no desire to further associate with me (jokingly, I think), but so far it’s been pretty good. It’s a much smarter show than I was anticipating. I think it made me cry once? As of now I am almost finished with Season 1.
So obviously vampires are currently one sweeping cultural trend. They’re kind of the thing, the hot topic (I hate this phrase, this joke, but it fits: you can’t deny that). They show up in all kinds of media, and they are seemingly most prevalent in YA books (not to mention books aimed at young girls, but that’s a different discussion). We thought for awhile that maybe werewolves would replace them (you’ve got your Teen Wolf, you’ve got your Liar), then it was—for a cultural blink, if you will—ghosts, with the advent of Being Human. Then it was zombies (with your The Walking Dead) and those terrifying—in a way that zombies really shouldn’t be—attempts to make the undead romantic and sexy somehow (with your Warm Bodies, and I can’t recall the name but there was that series of books about dead kids coming back to life in high school that was popular for, like, a heartbeat). But nothing really comes close to the popularity of vampires
I can’t say that I particularly care about vampires, personally. I went through that phase. I’ve done my time. But what I’ve been thinking about is our fascination with them as a society. Why do we care? What is so consistently interesting about vampires that media keeps looping back to them again and again? Why have they become such a stereotypical inclusion in our culture?
Well, I’ve got a theory about that:
Vampires are social short cuts. Vampires are ways to discuss intense human desires in an unfettered context. I’m thinking Lolita levels of desire and intensity, here.
Let me explain.
The central dogma of the vampire myth is that they drink blood. Further, by far the most popular thing in current cultural recreations of vampires is, you know, that one broody dude vampire who is so tortured and doesn’t want to drink human blood because “it’s wrong” and he’s so conflicted and his nature so disgusts him, god, isn’t he tortured.
That guy is what, potentially, makes vampires interesting.
Because you’ve got this undeniable desire for something (in this case, blood). No one can deny that you’ve got that desire when you’re a vampire. That’s your food. It’s what you survive on. But vampires don’t crave blood the way we crave, say, Oreos. I wouldn’t kill a guy for my Oreos (at the very least it’s unlikely). With vampires, this thing they live on, the thing they crave, comes with this stipulation that, probably, you’re going to have to kill someone. And inevitably that desire isn’t just a normal desire; in our media, it manifests as this undeniable need. Vampire blood cravings in most cultural interpretations surpass simple cravings: they go straight into the areas of lust and greed. And you watch every vampire-character struggle with that. Depending on the character, it has differing effects. Depending on the author/creater, it’s more or less relevant to the plot.
Further, vampires skip over these laborious discussions of, “Well, why do you want that thing?” and creaters can go straight into what effect this want has on their individual. I could have the most powerful craving in the world for Oreos. To me, this craving could be life or death, this thing that I want. But people would always ask why I wanted that thing, and question whether I particularly needed that thing. This is where Lolita comes in; you watch a desire twist and morph a character (characters, some would argue). Vampires skip right over the process of having their desires justified. This question isn’t even on the board for vampires. But their desires are automatically vilified. Many forms of vampire literature attempt to find ways to soften this vilification (Twilight with its vegetarian vampires, for example; True Blood with its… Trueblood).
In a way, making a character a vampire is kind of like making a character an orphan; it’s a prevalent social trend and it’s an automatic internal struggle that constantly has the potential to become an external struggle, pre-loaded in your character. It’s a stuggle-in-a-box, an automatic Tragic Past TM.
So many characters that are vampires go through this struggle with their own nature, and it’s handled by different artists in a variety of ways. But one thing you always return to is this moral struggle: I want this thing, but I shouldn’t be able to have it. That’s the central plot of every vampire-based piece of media I can think of at the moment. That’s the drama.
I think this is an area of human psyche rarely accessed. Part of us that know we can have things we desire but won’t take because of a certain moral standard. I desire Oreos, and I could probably develop an elaborate plan to obtain my Oreos sans a monetary transaction. But the guilt I would feel for this would be too overwhelming for me personally to handle, plus I like to try to make the world around me operate under laws of fairness, so I don’t steal my Oreos. Vampire-characters are this struggle blown up, with increased desire added for drama.
What I’m saying is creating a character that’s a vampire but has an issue with being a vampire is potentially a way to study to severe conflict in the human soul.
And this is sexy somehow?
I’m not sure. I’m still figuring it out.
Until next time…