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Thursday, October 29,2009

Vampires are everywhere -- but why?

By David Accomazzo

For a full interview with with New York Times bestselling author Christine Feehan, author of the Dark Series novels, click here.

It may be Halloween, but bloodsuckers are no longer relegated to the end of October. Like a dark cloud of mosquitoes, vampires have descended on America. They’re everywhere, from the puppet teaching our children to count to the romantic hero stealing the hearts of teenagers nationwide.

What’s strange is not that vampires are popular — for almost 200 years, they’ve had some sort of seat at the pop culture table.

“Vampires are almost never not hot,” says Mark Dawidziak, TV critic for the Cleveland Plains-Dealer whose 11th book, The Bedside, Bathtub, & Armchair Companion to Dracula, explores all things vampire.

“We always have a period of continual interest in the vampire character. So in the 1950s, you can have Christopher Lee becoming a star in Hammer Horror films. In the 1960s you can have Dark Shadows as a pop culture phenomenon... leading into this decade, where we now have the emergence of the ‘chick-lit vampires’ on True Blood and Vampire Diaries and Twilight.”

What’s strange is how vastly different vampires of the 19th century are from the vampires of 2009. What separates vampires from other horror creatures is how they’ve changed over time, showing remarkable adaptability to whatever America requires of them. While zombies have pretty much one role in popular culture, vampires’ role has mutated dramatically and adapted to fit the times; media marketing machines have tapped into their mystique and created new incarnations to keep public interest high and money rolling into the bank.

“[Vampires] are a constant in the culture because they are a perfect metaphor: the vampire casts no reflection in the mirror. So therefore, we look into the mirror and we see what stares back at us, and we constantly reinvent the vampire as a character, generation to generation, era to era, to reflect our fears, reflect our insecurities, reflect our wishes and wants,” Dawidziak says.

So then, from the grotesque Nosferatu to sparkly Edward Cullen, each generation gets the Dracula it deserves. My generation, it seems, deserves a sanitized, PG Dracula. The character Bram Stoker created in 1897 is a being without a conscious, a monster who is human only in physical appearance. He is, in the words of retired academic Elizabeth Miller, author of seven books on vampires, “evil incarnate.” The current version of the vampire mythos, as evidenced by the enormous popularity of the movie Twilight and the HBO series True Blood, presents vampires as ideal romantic heroes — bad-boy outsiders, tough enough to protect the girl from evil, yet sensitive enough to introduce to the parents. The vampire, once one-dimensionally evil, has evolved into a complicated, brooding pretty boy.

In this regard, Twilight and True Blood, the former based on the incredibly popular teen romance novels by Stephenie Meyer, the latter based on the almost-as-popular Sookie Stackhouse novels by Charlaine Harris, have some things in common. Both male vampire heroes, who are much older than the heroines, become awkward and stiff after meeting the loves of their lives — young, naive (and in Twilight, underage) virgin girls. During the courtship, both vampires, children of the 19th century, after all, maintain a sort of rigid Cotillion formality. Even the romantic hook of both plotlines is exactly the same, with roles reversed: In Twilight, leading high school psychic vampire Edward Cullen finds himself madly attracted to new-girl-in-school Bella Swan because he cannot read her mind. True Blood’s Sookie Stackhouse can’t keep her telepathic thoughts off of vampire Bill Compton because his mind, unlike the everyday humans surrounding her, is unreadable.

In the most dramatic departure from traditional vampire lore, Bill and Edward fight their vampirism and cling to their humanity — a case of “vampire guilt,” if you will. Bill subsists on a Japanese synthetic blood substitute, and Edward only drinks animal blood, coyly calling himself a vegetarian.

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