Welcome back, folks. I’m honored to be joining in with the Vampire Bite Blog Hop for 2013. It might be cynical to regard this as strictly a marketing ploy, but I joined in because I actually thought I might have something to say about vampires, romance, and valentine’s day. Bear with me here, it’s going to be an interesting journey.
This story begins in 1897, with Bram Stoker birthing Dracula. Sure, the legends had existed previous to that, but Dracula is the moment that vampires truly exploded into the cultural zeitgeist. This was, not coincidentally, right around the time that Bayer began selling heroin over the counter as a cough suppressant.
Opium dens had become a huge problem for society (attendant with an implicit racism toward “the orient” – this is important), with raids occurring on a regular basis. Good, upstanding English citizens feared the encroaching reach of The East’s drugs and corruption, providing a menacing counterpoint to the tight-laced Victorian era. The common Englishman (and woman) began to talk about something that had, to that point, seemed a uniquely Eastern phenomenon: addiction.
That’s not to say that addiction hadn’t existed within English society to that point. Alcoholism has likely been around as long as we’ve been brewing and distilling, but that was the polite addiction, easier to hide and sweep under the rug. It’s distinctly more difficult to hide a heroin addict in the family and with the fact that the drugs came from “over there”, well, it just incited a lot of fear in straight-laced society.
Enter Bram Stoker and his Eastern villain. I think you can see where this is going.
Dracula spoke of the mysterious “Orient”: an Englishman stumbles upon a world that he didn’t suspect could possibly exist, along with a man with a profane hunger that drives him to unspeakable acts. Think of how that applies to heroin or cocaine or meth. Stoker even built in the concept of the “seduction of the innocent”, in which a previously pure character is seduced to this dark world against her will. She finds herself a slave to her hunger, only saved by an external force that has to kill her to save her.
And so the modern vampire as a metaphor for addiction was born.
Anne Rice seemed to really get this with Interview with the Vampire. True, there is a metaphor for homosexuality buried in there as well, but Rice paints a quite convincing picture of the glamorous junkie (Lestat) who draws others into his underworld. He even seduces an innocent and later becomes a rock star. What’s more cliche than a junkie rock star?
So we come to the romance aspect of the modern vampire. The “sparkly” vampire. I set out to write this thinking that Twilight showed a profound misunderstanding of what a vampire truly represents, but I think I might be the one who had a profound misunderstanding of things. For the record, I haven’t read the Twilight books, but I have seen the first movie and read enough excerpts to have a grasp of the important point here: the abusive nature of the romance between Edward and Bella. I hear a lot of people talk about how this is a poor role model for young adults, and it definitely is, but when I think about the metaphor of the vampire as an addict, could a vampire really have any other type of relationship?
I’ve been in a relationship with an addict, and it’s actually fairly similar to the one that I saw portrayed onscreen in Twilight, right down to Bella’s alternately tragic and oh-too-cool veneer. I could relate to her behavior and some of the wish fulfillment inherent in the story. I mean I absolutely detested the story itself and have no idea if Meyer went into the story with this idea in mind – I suspect not, but the metaphor works just fine. Edward is the creepy type, alternately hot and cold, who thinks nothing of watching someone sleep when they’re not in a committed relationship (and come on, that’s creepy either way). Believe me, been there, done that.
So to sum up, people complain about how vampires are depicted today, but I’m not sure that there’s a huge difference. Sure, they’re depicted as a little more human, but I’d argued that that reflects a better understanding of addiction – it doesn’t completely turn a human being into a monster, but it does transform them. I never thought I’d reach this conclusion, but I think that a lot of these vampire stories are true to the metaphor that underlies vampires – even if I still prefer my vampires feral and evil.