Typography
 

Myths and legends have transcended cultures and eras but none have done so quite like VAMPIRES.

Imagine if popular culture were the politics of the 21st century. There would be no question as to who would be leading the polls. Twilight became the highest grossing vampire film of all time. True Blood is one of HBO’s most watched series since The Soprano’s and even a new Buffy The Vampire Slayer film has been announced. Vampires are biting back.

This renaissance is hardly surprising. The allure of vampires has been apparent since the 19th century and, despite what you might suspect, the longevity of their appeal is not a result of the vampires’ glamouring skills but most likely our own conflicting desire for, and fear of, immortality. Vampires are apt vehicles for our cultural anxieties, thus serving to represent the collective unconsciousness of society. As Ron Moger, a vampire enthusiast explains: “The Vampire as a cultural figure has managed to remain relevant largely because its form has changed through the ages to adapt for the people who were imagining it.”

Being culturally adaptive allows the traditional vampire myth to be continually reworked. For instance, the church seems to pose no threat to modern vampires, which is perhaps a nod towards society today being more secular. This ability to evolve allows the vampire myth to further become an inextricable part of cultures worldwide.

Certain themes remain constant within vampire stories, and the essential differences in the representation of vampires lay between folklore and literature. For example: Folklore vampires are not sophisticated or refined, nor are they in the slightest bit scrupulous. They are gruesome beasts rather than humans with fangs.

Moger believes that the current “domestication” of vampires has contributed to the profusion of vampires in popular culture: “Whereas I might have found other horror characters unfamiliar as a child (who can relate to the creatures in Alien?), there was always something about the vampire that struck a chord.”

Adapting their barbaric nature to fit the values of modern society, transforming from terrifying outlaws into embodiments of lust, vampires appeal to basic human instincts and desires. This has led to a shift in focus to their social relationships with humans.

 Love at first bite

 Modern writers tend to pick and choose their vampires’ strengths and weaknesses, customising the extent to which disbelief can be suspended and helping to maintain the enduring fascination. This flexibility has provided opportunities for the myth to exemplify its thematic diversity by successfully transcending a range of genres.

The fusion of vampires and romance is a particularly popular union. The Twilight characters, Edward and Bella, have captured the hearts of today’s teens just as Buffy and Angel did in the late 1990s. It is the emotional participation in their entanglement that ultimately sustains the interest of the readers. The fact that Edward is a vampire seems almost incidental.

Anne Rice and her Vampire Chronicles novels that spanned from 1976 to 2003 undoubtedly played a key role in the revitalisation of the genre. Twisting the established definitions of vampire lore and mirroring social ostracism in the modern world, the convergence of “old” and “new” world vampires in novels such as Interview with a Vampire has strongly influenced modern gothic identity and neogothic subculture. Gone is the pervasive perception of a cape-clad attacker who sleeps in a coffin and has an aversion to garlic.

“Nowadays the vampire takes on many forms, though mainly that of a carefree, all powerful individual with no responsibilities, the ability to get anything he wants and with no fear of death – powers which I’m sure that one or two people would love to be able to have themselves!” says Moger.

Goth ‘N’ Roll

Modern vampires are idols. In The Lost Boys, the 1987 cult film, the vampires don Ray Bans and drive fast cars. Vampire Bill Compton in True Blood even owns a Nintendo Wii!

Goth Tio Knight explains: “Vampires are always associated with rebellious, leatherwearing baddies who love rock n roll! For me personally, the allure can be defined by The Lost Boys slogan: ‘Sleep all day, party all night, never grow old and never die’. They always seem to embrace that whole ethos, regardless of where they stand in history or pop culture – from the Anne Rice novels or modern movies like Twilight, but it is especially true in the character of Spike from Buffy!”

Defining humans and vampires as binary pairs such as good/bad or dark/light only serves to reinforce the vampire’s role in representing the darker side of humanity – an identification that evokes empathy towards the vampires. They are not just creatures of the night; they are victims of the night. It is a powerful social and political allegory which makes their alienation and their sophisticated loneliness an attractive and appealing concept for teens.

“What teenager can’t understand a character who is isolated, rejected, apparently hated by the masses? The Vampire sleeps all day, does what he wants at night, lives to his own schedule, gets any woman he wants and, let’s face it, he nearly always lives in the biggest, baddest, house in town. Sounds to me like the perfect life!” explains Moger.

A stake in the business

 It would be difficult to find a commercial enterprise that isn’t taking advantage of the vampire cash cow. American clothing brand Wildfox Couture is introducing their latest campaign with the biting statement “Boys come and go, but vampires are forever,” and selling a range of T-shirts baring slogans such as “Fangs are Fantastic” and “My boyfriend is a vampire”.

Charlotte Cheyney, a buyer’s assistant for the online clothing retailer ASOS.com, comments: “Wildfox is a bestseller for ASOS. Styles sell out within days and we expect the vampire-inspired tee to be no exception. After all, who wouldn’t want to imagine having the god-like Edward Cullen as a boyfriend!”

As our hunger for vampires shows no sign of being satisfied, more reinventions are inevitable. These range from Facebook applications such as Vampire Wars to a blatant exploitation of human intrigue and curiosity in the title of the British film Lesbian Vampire Killers (one guess as to what that film is about!).

Swedish novelist John Ajvide Lindqvist’s Let the Right One In (Låt den rätte komma in) and its subsequent 2008 film adaptation provide a darker alternative to the saccharine romance of the Twilight franchise. Profoundly exploring the basic nature of good and evil, the refreshing reworking of the classic vampire story received such international acclaim that the rights for an English-language remake were sold even before its theatrical release.

It is impossible to quench the unquenchable and for as long as danger, darkness and the unknown continue to fascinate, our thirst for bloodsuckers will undoubtedly last, perhaps like vampires themselves, for eternity.

Daisey Cheyney
Sami Makkonen

Centuries of sucking

 

The origin of the vampire myth is a huge subject in itself, and superstitions about bloodsuckers and the myths that pertain to the vampire legend have been present in most world cultures for millennia: From bats and leeches to the South American Chupacabra (“goat sucker”) and the Ghanaian Asasabonsam-monster with iron teeth.

Many of the folktales originated in medieval times, based on contemporary spiritual beliefs and views on life after death. Theories such as miasma – the notion that diseases are caused by a noxious form of “bad air” – were little understood in the time of great pandemics like the bubonic plague. The dead were the perfect scapegoat for the continual inexplicable “attacks” on the population.

Historical events also played a key role in shaping folklore. In the 15th century, Vlad the Impaler of Wallachia became famous for his cruelty as a ruler. Hungarian Countess Elisabeth Bathory, a 16th century serial killer, allegedly bathed in the blood of her victims. In the 17th century Jure Grando, the “Vampire from Kringa,” terrorised the Croatian town’s inhabitants.

An influx of vampire superstition entered Western Europe during the 18th century as a result of the mass hysteria following an epidemic of vampire sightings in Eastern Europe. But it was in 1897 that the undying popularity of vampire fiction really began to take off with the publication of Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula, inspired by the story of Vlad the Impaler.

The abundance of vampires in the realm of fiction continued, from Edgar Allen Poe to Tolstoy. The original folklore image was already showing signs of transforming, but Stoker, progenitor of modern vampire stories’ Dracula character, really created the archetypical vampire in fiction. Introducing many of the common conventions