The Unending Presence of the Undead (and all that sparkling)

Being at the Vampires: Myths of the Past and Future conference in London and researching into genre has sparked off several thoughts in my head. Actually, many. But to list them all would be more of a comment on what has been presented than any original idea.

It seems that it terms of form, the vampire has made a clean sweep across the board. We now have comics, films, books, tv series, online sites, advertising and even anime and manga that features vampires. Far from being merely the vampire that the age needs (to paraphrase Auerbach), it is now the vampire the form requires. It has become carefully moulded in each case to fit the requirements of the genre, to express and transgress the boundaries and codifications of genre (but in some cases, merely fit neatly within it *coughMeyercough*).

Somebody pointed out that the vampire (in terms of monstrosity) has only been around in literature for a relatively short time. But to move from biblical to folklore to mainstream, its path to being forever enshrined within the monster canon is pretty much complete. It seems doubtful that the figure will fade into obscurity, in the same way studios know what genre constructions to use in order to ensnare their audience.

What is aggrevating is the recent perception of the vampire as being something “less”. I think I mentioned in my last post that Meyer’s vampires and the whole Young Adult genre had had a significant impact on the perception wider audiences had on the figure. It goes further than having an impact. It seems that the cult of Twilight has turned some fans away from the vampire. What is being repeated again is that ‘vampires don’t sparkle’, as if every vampire were the same. The mythology of the vampire varies in some way in every text. For those who get irritated that the Cullens can venture outdoors, well here’s news: so could many other vampires, including those in horror writer Poppy Z Brite’s Lost Souls. Why fans and critics have become outraged at the mythological change in the vampire seems like a manifestation of a bigger problem. The vampire has been arguably overtly feminised, and this is probably what sticks in the throat of critics and vocal fans.

The attributes of the vampire are most often defined by the popular portrayals by Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee’s Hammer Horror version. But that is rarely adhered to in popular culture. The vampire has been black, white, adult, child, fanged, defanged, and in some cases, not even human (I am Legend and Priest, for example). Why such a fuss has been caused merely because the vampires sparkle appears to be something else. With the force of the Twilight obsession, the vampire was thrust into the teenage-girl film market, and marketed in a different way. The figured has always been commodified, but this time, it is just aimed at a different audience. Regardless of the fact that the Volturi in the Twilight saga perform gory murders and lure tourists into their trap to feed seems irrelevant to the critics. It is all because of Edward that the vampire has been villified. He isn’t scary; whilst he may be the stereotypical moody teenager (speaking in a low, broody voice and staring into space *thoughtfully* for long periods of time) he does not exude any of the potent danger that other vampires do. Yes, the vampire has been defanged, tamed and toned down for the teenage-girl market. But like I previously stated: every vampire is modified according to the genre it inhabits. This genre requires a romanticised version of the figure. So why all the venom? The teenage market is one of the most viable, and in the grand scheme of things, Twilight will be a blip on the radar. Teenage girls deserve something to entertain them too: there is a slew of films out there aimed at teenage boys. And even in the adult market, there are countless genres that can appeal to men – action and horror being two of the biggest (please note, I’m not saying women don’t also enjoy these genres, merely that the marketing is predominantly aimed at men). But feminised films and texts are seen as being ‘lesser’, and often as trite. I would argue against this: whilst I understand that Meyer’s saga is badly written, and contains some strange and uncomfortable ideas (gender roles being one of them), the complex interplay of relationships and hierarchical structures present within the text are interesting, and create a world the readers have clearly thrown themselves into. Monsters have been feminised before, it’s nothing new. Why the vampire has to be markered as ‘gay’ and ‘girly’ merely because of one text is incomprehensible and insane. Every character (mythological or not) has to adapt to suit its needs in the interpretation it inhabits. The vampire is just another.

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