Vampires, YA Fiction and Horror

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With the upcoming release of Breaking Dawn, Twilight has been dragged back into the cultural consciousness.  Although whether it went away is something else; to many it can seem like vampires are a perpetual presence in the media. There is a constant stream of interpretations and re-interpretations that give the feeling that the vampire is now a permanent fixture of today’s media. In recent years, supernatural fads have come thick and fast and some of the biggest films and series have focused on other-worldly elements. Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter arguably opened the door for the rest of the supernatural creatures to filter back in. Our disbelief firmly suspended, we once again learnt the pleasures of immersing ourselves in a world that was anything but ours. Whether or not this has anything to do with the political and economical backdrop of the last ten years is another matter. Realism just doesn’t do it for us anymore. We may be consuming reality TV like there’s no tomorrow, but our fiction and film choices are anything but real. A decade of Western pessimism has silenced us; our escape route being through the figures of wizards or vampires. Perhaps what has facilitated it is the way these supernatural protagonists are portrayed. Once they were dangerous, edgy, a bit too unfamiliar. Now, they have assimilated themselves so much that actors playing them require little to no costume effects, one such example is Being Human, where the only effects happen when both vampire and werewolf ‘transform’. In day-to-day life, these vampires, werewolves and wizards look like us, behave like us and have the same underlying fears as us. How can we belong? What makes me human? What is different is the way their behavioural and emotional problems manifest themselves.

 Another thing prompted by the upcoming release of Twilight was the way the vampire has been used and abused by the YA genre. I believe the main factor for the linguistic change in which the vampire is described is down to the way it has been marketed. Teenagers, in their undefined state, need role models, aspirations, and something to lust after. As such, the vampire descriptors have been modified to create a vampire of impossible standards, stripped of its folkloric origins and to quote Hermione Granger, the ‘emotional range of a teaspoon’.  The vampire, having fallen victim to the YA genre, has been ungraciously spat out in favour of new supernatural creatures. Angels and zombies appear to be the current thing: with an evident trawling through monstrous metaphors in order to sell stories (and ideals) to children, one has to wonder what it is about monsters that is so appealing and viable in the YA market, or indeed, the fiction market as a whole. When we were young, we were told that there were monsters under the bed to keep us in line. Now we seek these monsters out, but they are not the same as old. Our increasing propensity for horror led to a resurgence of frightfully gory horror films such as Saw, the elements of shock increasing incrementally as we became desensitised. The supernatural was left trailing behind. What is far more disturbing is no longer the monsters under the bed, but the monsters we have become. As such, the vampire, the once standard feature of the horror cannon, has been lost to the world of romance fiction. Occasionally, there are moments when we are reminded of the vampire’s strength (such as Russell Edgington’s brilliantly gory speech in season 3 of True Blood which saw him rip the spine out of a newscaster) but the interference of YA fiction has given critics ample ammunition for the dissection of the (often poorly written) metaphor. Whether or not we like it, the vampire will always be present in some form or other. It just so happens that the current penchant for dreamy, emotionally unavailable men isn’t quite fulfilling the needs of all the audience. As to whether the vampire will be re-instated to it’s former horror-based status, that remains as yet unclear.

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