Sexual repression isn’t exactly a hallmark of the Late Empire, an era in which conservative moms who advocate abstinence-only sex education sit smiling in studio audiences and applaud their daughters’ sexualized performances. This aging ethnologist purposely skipped Bristol’s Palin’s much ballyhooed tango with whomever on Dancing with the Stars a few years back*; however, I trust conservative Palin-hater Andrew Sullivan wasn’t far off the mark when he described the couple’s gyrations as “dry humping.”
*There’s a limit to the suffering I’m willing to endure for the sake of science.
Given that so much is so out in the open nowadays (and so instantaneously available), it seems counterintuitive that vampires are all the rage. After all, adolescents (not to mention their tween siblings) can with a white lie and a click of a mouse peep through any number of prurient holes and so forego the tiresome teasing cliche-ridden tropes of genre.
I won’t hazard to guess how many billions of dollars these virulent bat-morphed blood sucking late sleepers (I’m talking about vampires, not teenagers) have generated in the last few decades. The catalogue of works is Homeric – The Vampire Diaries, Buffy, Twilight, HBO’s True Blood, Crucible of the Vampire, – just to name a few – in addition to collateral consumer products like comic books, Halloween costumes, retractable fangs, etc.
Supposedly, Lord Byron, the most successful club-footed sexual swashbuckler on record,** served as the model for English prose’s first vampire, Lord Ruthven, a suave, insatiable, stalker. Another early bloodsucker was Carmillia, a lesbian predator who appeared in Sheridan Le Fanu’s novel of the same name. Le Fanu’s rendering heavily influenced fellow Irishman’s Bram Stroker’s Dracula, the so called “master work” of the genre. (I’ll let some Dublin based anthropologist unravel the political/social implications of two Irishmen creating the English-speaking world’s most beloved monsters).***
** Okay, the only club-footed sexual swashbuckler on record.
*** There is also something vampiric about Irishman Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Grey.
These Victorian vampires – essentially sublimated sex fiends – glide into the bedrooms of virgins, go all Freudian with their fangs, infect the innocent with their insatiable lust (for blood) – a repressed-friendly form of eroticism for puritans.
Less obvious sublimations lurk. Not only is Count Dracula undead, but he’s also a foreigner, which makes his deflowering all the more menacing with its dark undertones of alien infiltration and conversion. After all, vampires’ victims assume the (non)lifestyles of their seducers, those “outside agitators” who introduce them to alternative lifestyles.
Mike Pence would not approve.
However, if you can detach yourself from what has become so familiar via Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee, Tom Cruise, etc. the concept of vampires is creepy in a way that out-creeps even that peculiar-bachelor-uncle kind of creepiness.
No one is particularly found of mosquitoes or bats, but here’s a preposterously popular sub genre that features undead human beings transforming into flying rodents, flitting through windows (and no doubt shitting blood all over those priceless Persian floor coverings), then transforming back into fang-sporting bipeds who slip into the boudoir of a Prudence or Victoria, supine on her bed and radiant in gorgeous, semi-diaphanous lingerie. Baring these beauties’ necks, the bloodsucker drains the victims of their blood, perhaps copping a feel as he produces the hickey that is forever and forever and forever.
2008 was a particularly potent year for the genre with Twilight and True Blood both making their debuts. Once again, I can’t give you first hand knowledge, but both seemed to be more about romance than blood-thirst.
In True Blood, from what I can gather, 1) the the sex wasn’t sublimated and 2) the series confronted the alien aspect of vampirism by having these bayou vampires seeking equal rights [a pharmaceutical company has engineered some sort of methadone-like substitute for human blood so that vampires can lead somewhat normal lives (if you consider living a deathless existence even approaching “normal”)].
At any rate, producers are still cranking them out. The website TheCinemaholic (sic) ranks the ten best vampire movies of 2018, the best being, according to them is Vamp, a Russian film set in the 18th century; however, the one that caught my eye was With a Kiss I Die, the title an allusion to Romeo’s last words.
Here’s TheCinemaholic’s synopsis:
The tragic story of William Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ ended when both the protagonists died in a romantically heart-breaking way. That was the end for Romeo, but not for Juliet. After she stabs herself with Romeo’s dagger and dies right by his side, she wakes up as a vampire. Dejected by the fact that the love of her life has been lost to her and is never coming back, she spends her days waiting for death to come to get her for good. She is a unique vampire, though. Because she has never killed anyone, because she hasn’t tasted blood yet, the limitation of the sun has not been placed upon her. Unlike others of her kind, she is free to walk about during the day with as much ease as she walks during the night. And it is on a day that she meets a woman who makes her re-evaluate her thought that true love is once in a lifetime thing. Juliet falls in love with this woman but secretly fears that like her first love, this might as well end in a tragedy. And she is not being paranoid. The other vampires are trying to bring Juliet to the dark side and they will not hesitate from using her new love to their advantage.
Alas, I must leave you without solving the mystery of vampirism’s popularity among sexually liberated late capitalists. Certainly, forbidden sex has always had its allure, and the genre still features plenty of that, though openly now, and the modern bias against body hair essentially rules out werewolves as desirable partners. Then there’s the idea of vampire as crazy mixed-up exotic outsider, a rebel if you will, but let’s face it, mass conformity is really the hallmark of the Late Empire with its manufactured ripped jeans, the ubiquity of tattooing, the umbilical connection of the cellphone.
Before I go, thought I’d share with you the full version of Richard Wilbur’s “The Undead,” no doubt the best poem ever written about vampires:
Even as children they were late sleepers,
Preferring their dreams, even when quick with monsters,
To the world with all its breakable toys,
Its compacts with the dying;
From the stretched arms of withered trees
They turned, fearing contagion of the mortal,
And even under the plums of summer
Drifted like winter moons.
Secret, unfriendly, pale, possessed
Of the one wish, the thirst for mere survival,
They came, as all extremists do
In time, to a sort of grandeur:
Now, to their Balkan battlements
Above the vulgar town of their first lives,
They rise at the moon’s rising. Strange
That their utter self-concern
Should, in the end, have left them selfless:
Mirrors fail to perceive them as they float
Through the great hall and up the staircase;
Nor are the cobwebs broken.
Into the pallid night emerging,
Wrapped in their flapping capes, routinely maddened
By a wolf’s cry, they stand for a moment
Stoking the mind’s eye
With lewd thoughts of the pressed flowers
And bric-a-brac of rooms with something to lose,–
Of love-dismembered dolls, and children
Buried in quilted sleep.
Then they are off in a negative frenzy,
Their black shapes cropped into sudden bats
That swarm, burst, and are gone. Thinking
Of a thrush cold in the leaves
Who has sung his few summers truly,
Or an old scholar resting his eyes at last,
We cannot be much impressed with vampires,
Colorful though they are;
Nevertheless, their pain is real,
And requires our pity. Think how sad it must be
To thirst always for a scorned elixir,
The salt quotidian blood
Which, if mistrusted, has no savor;
To prey on life forever and not possess it,
As rock-hollows, tide after tide,
Glassily strand the sea.