Saturday, September 10, 2005

Vampire Appeal

I actually started thinking about this question over at the Vampire Vixen's blog, but no one there seems as interested in it as I am. So, I thought I'd talk to myself. Out loud. Which is what I've decided blogging is. Anyway, the question is this one: why are vampires still so popular? I'm going to go out on a limb here, but I'm going to suggest that, beyond the obvious answers (power = sexy and la petite mort and all that jazz), there is an element of class. By class I don't mean a sassy attitude and Prada handbags (ie being "classy"-- although in some of the chick-lit books like Davidson's Undead series that seems to be part of the appeal), but like, hard-core social, economic class. Like upper, middle, and lower. I suggest this based on a personal experience I had. I used to, in the late 80s, belong to a listserve that focused on vampires. A group of us also posted what was called "fluff," aka fiction. Anyway, I wrote about a vampire who had, as a human, been a heroin-addicted male prositute. He was identifably ethnic -- although well within the traditions of vampirism, as he was Ukrainian. I didn't get a lot of feedback about the story as I posted it, but I didn't really think about that much (after all, why write, if not for yourself?) Until I posted a story that featured a much more traditional vampire -- that is to say, he identified as being way-way back of Eastern European stock (though "lightly" eastern, being as he was from Vienna, Austria), but he was currently living in London and was landed, British gentry. The people on my list loved the story. That got me thinking about vampires and class. Why are so many vampires in literary tradition rich? I mean, I get the appeal on basic levels. Rich people have more toys. More toys = more fun. Generally, rich people -- even those allergic to sunlight -- have more mobility. That's more interesting than a vamp stuck in the projects because he doesn't own a car (or as in a story I tried to write, a vampire stuck in a gold mine in the 1800s because he needs a job he can do in the dark so he can afford a place to live and clothes for his back). Plus, for most of us being rich is a completely foreign experience, which we assume we'd enjoy immensely given the opportunity. If I had a million dollars, etc. So, that's fun. I get that. But, I think there's more to it. I think it has to do with the roots of the literary vampire. I've read exactly one book that traces the literary tradition of the vampire. It's by Clive Leatherdale and is called Dracula: The Novel and the Legend. It was probably his English literature dissertation on Bram Stoker's Dracula, becuase the bulk of the book is fairly detailed literary criticism -- but, one of the reason I read and re-read the book for the sections about the history of the vampire as a folk tradition and the rise of the literary vampire in Europe. One of the things that Leatherdale suggests is that, while the folklore vampire has existed probably since about the time that humans realized blood kept people alive, the literary vampire never really took off in popular culture until the Romantic period (as he puts it, "the second quarter of the 18th century"). Shelley, Keats, and Byron all wrote poems about the vampire. The Romantics really used the undead the way we modern writers do. That is to say, they took the folklore vampire, who was an ugly, smelly, stupid, scary corpse, and made him youth and beauty undying. Their themes were all about vampire love -- the young, murdered lover returning from death to persue his unrequited passions. These were upperclass dead guys, who had a lot of tragic angst about their lust for blood. The vampire is kind of uber-human in terms of his intellectual naval-gazing about the state of his humanity. He's the gentleman scholar who is burdened by his immortality. As opposed to the stock horror mosters of Bloodsuckers who relish the sucking and eating, this is a "hero"/antihero who feels really bad about draining the life out of his victims. Oh, woe is me, I am so horrible... yet I'm compelled to continue to be horrible. This is not to say that I believe that the lower class vampires aren't as equally interested in the intellectual naval-gazing. I just think that the popular mindset is such that we're more willing to allow that the idle rich may have more time for such persuits, and we perceive the lower class already engaged in a fight for survival that doesn't seem to lend itself to the same sort of angst. The idea/prejudice is -- if you've killed someone for bread to eat, killing them for their blood isn't going to keep you awake at night bemoaning your lost humanity, you know? I'm woefully off track here, I think. But, there may be something more worth persuing on this. I've talked enough to myself for today, though.