Right around the time of writing my dissertation (which was five years ago to give you an idea of how old I am) vampires were big news. But I’ve noticed recently that they’ve died out as a concept and the only show I ever really watch them in is Shadowhunters on Netflix, although I know The Originals – a spin off from Vampire Diaries – is still running.
The monster has become a bit cliche these days, and I’m going to say it: I think Twilight ruined everything. But I also think it’s because vampires aren’t used to comment on societal issues anymore like they once did.
This probably began to die out in the 90s when the vampires in Buffy were depicted as nothing more than monsters. Sure, there was the forbidden love element with Angel and Spike but ultimately their ugly transformations and plots just put them there for Buffy and the gang to pummel – it was a time when the monster stopped being overtly sexualised, until Stephanie Meyers came along.
Drawing on my dissertation, its main theme was the concept of the vampire as a disease. The monster infected others with its blood and was used to comment on issues such as homosexuality, decadence and a fear of a foreign other.
Carmilla, a novella penned by Sheridan Le Fanu in 1872, involves the possibility of a seduction between two women – with the vampire Carmilla of course doing the seducing. The novel’s protagonist Laura is naive enough not to realise what is happening, but ultimately Carmilla’s lesbian advances end up with her being pursued and killed. I could go into detail about male penetration and rape theory when it comes to the killing of female vampires in early literature but that’s a story for another day.
Carmilla is killed because she is an abnormal force for that time, her acts are sinful and she is depicted as a monster to alienate her from society. The same goes for Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire series, Louis and Lestat while not in an explicit homosexual relationship are still depicted as monsters and Lestat’s fondness for drinking the blood of young boys calls upon another more horrifying act.
In 1954, Richard Matheson released his novel I am Legend which depicted the tale of one man’s fight against vampires that have taken over the world and whose vampirism is spread like a disease (mainly through a sort of viral flu and insect carriers). It is considered to be one of the first fictional concepts of a post apocalyptic setting, in which a disease has consumed the Earth.
However, I am Legend also serves to comment on the issue of the foreign other, which many people were coping with at the time of Matheson’s writing, as the world was changing for the better and black people were beginning to integrate more into white society.
In the end, a ‘hybrid’ version of the human race is created – a vampire that can walk in the sunlight and has the characteristics of a human – and it is this new race that wins as the protagonist, Robert Neville, gives himself up to them to allow this new society to continue. To quote myself: “Matheson’s vampire [in I am Legend] is a representation of this new changing world and its social ‘other’, gaining power and rising up against the original system.”
The vampire once represented societal’s fears and even desires, but now that we are more open to concepts such as homosexuality and a love for sex (and so we should be) they have been shifted out of the spotlight. Look at all the shows that have died out to make way for our new monster: the zombie.
This new monster is here because we are genuinely afraid of a post apocalyptic situation occurring, we are afraid of a disease wiping us out, of war, of a nuclear detonation and this monster represents the aftermath of all these fears. It’s also one of the most terrifying monsters because it acts so close to home.
We regularly watch in TV shows and films people having to kill their family members because they have turned into something that wants to eat them, this fear of an invasion in the family home has always resided in humans.
So, perhaps Twilight did kill the vampire off, with its sickening depiction of the creature and the concept of a girl needing to feel like she has to essentially kill herself to be with it, or perhaps our fears have simply shifted and we needed a new monster.
This post could have been much longer but I thought I’d just share some thoughts today.
What do you think?