Part of my PhD research is looking at a certain time period; in this case it’s the last decade. But I also need to look at material prior to this to understand the change, if there is one. Lately I’ve been watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer (season 4) which was made in 1999. Firstly, the fact that it was 13 years ago yet I remember seeing bits of it on TV makes me feel old. But that’s not really the point.
I’m wondering just how much vampires and monsters have changed in the last 13 years – the whole point in my research at the moment is that they have and this change explains shifts in attitudes and beliefs. With Buffy, it appears that the primary change is the aesthetics of vampires. Whedon’s vampires like to distinguish themselves by having a weird, uber-monstrous look about them that just screams ‘I’m dangerous’. Quite like the vampires in The Lost Boys (1987). For a lot of the vampires, they adopt this face when in full-on killer mode and return to their normal, broody selves the rest of the time. Undoubtedly this was probably because of the appeal of Angel and Spike to female fan-bases (though Spike’s accent really is awful at some points…but who I am to criticise? I couldn’t pull off an American accent).
Buffy pre-millennium was an interesting thing. The CGI and effects alone are worth watching just to see how far we’ve come. But, I digress. These monsters (another thing – there aren’t that many vampires, considering the title of the show…) are firmly divided from the humans, unlike today’s crop of the evil undead who are desperate to mingle and assimilate with the rest of us mere mortals. Their appearance for starters clearly sets them apart – although they may look normal at some points (see previous paragraph for ‘why’..), they cannot hide their true nature when they get all blood-thirsty. Added to that is the fact that they can only come out at night (unlike the vampires in The Vampire Diaries and Twilight). This reinforces the old divide of daylight=good/nighttime=evil. These demons and vampires are also backed up by religious-type myth and folklore, rather than some clever explanation of why they exist, unlike the various films that offer a ‘scientific’ explanation for the existence of the figure. The whole concept of the ‘slayer’ is one that is mystical and treated as a myth (as we see in season 4) and when confronted by men of science, mythical ends up overpowering science, even going as far to show the evils of it.
That’s another big thing – whilst vampires historically have been the ultimate evil, and even though they still are (mostly) in Buffy, the humans are also shown to be equally as monstrous, which is a trend currently at play in contemporary shows such as True Blood and Being Human. The Big Bad in season 4 is a monster created by megalomaniac scientists – showing the evils of power and corrupt authority (in one form, anyhow). Here, humans are the evil ones – the source of evil itself. It’s almost as if Whedon was trying to show our tendency for self-destruction, and that the real demons were within us. It was surprising to see that really, not much has changed in terms of the main themes and issues. Yes, we may have vampires in schools, walking around in daylight, and more preoccupied with a romantic interest than the blood of others. But they’re just out of the coffin. They define us by their differences to humanity. It’s our desire to understand just what ‘humanity’ entails that remains the same.