In the past decade, America has been consumed (haha) by an obsession with vampires. Guilty. I love True Blood. My husband and I wait avidly for the Netflix discs to come, and for our daughter to go to bed, and then, like college kids just out of our folks’ homes, pull late nights staring incredulously at the television screen until our eyes are about to fall out and we know we’ll have sleep-deprivation hang-overs the next morning. Then, after the episodes are done, we grab the disc, shove it in the envelope barely before it has stopped spinning, and almost nail it to the front door to make absolutely sure the mailman doesn’t miss it, God Forbid, so we can get our next installment as quickly as possible, like True Blood’s own V-junkies.
Vampires have always commanded attention alternately as objects of dread and loathing as in ancient folk-tales and in some movies like Nosferatu. And at other times they have been romanticized as mysterious and alluring creatures of the night, or sometimes dreaded and desired at the same time, as in the classic Dracula, the more modern Dracula, Twilight, True Blood. Pick a rock and throw it and hit another mention or conception of vampires. In the past couple decades, we have explored vampires up, down, and sideways, from dissertations on HIV and the nature of addiction, from ideas of parasitism and predation, to simple entertainment. From alternate explanations of historical figures such as Dracula, to adolescent love stories and wish fulfillment in Twilight, to re-invention of raw power and sexuality in True Blood, we have poked into every corner of these demonic figures (by demonic I do not mean ‘Satanic’. ‘Demonic’ refers to the older meaning ‘daemon’ or spirit).
So what is at the core of this fascination, especially recently, when this fascination has now gone mainstream, re-invented even by conservative populations, such as the portrayal in Twilight?
I started looking at this obsession as part of a larger picture. At first, I was surprised by what I saw, then when I started thinking about it, wasn’t so surprised. We are an adolescent nation. In every way. I don’t say this to judge, adolescence is part of life. It’s exciting, passionate, dramatic, brave…and not always logical, wise, or steady.
Think about the following things:
Our media predominantly portrays standards of female beauty as lanky, pouty-lipped, and coltish, eschewing the more full-bodied images that are often associated with later life as a wife and mother, with only occasional deviations such as Marilyn Monroe and Kate Winslet.
Standards of male beauty and desire are often associated with playfulness and wildness, in our choice of advertisement for sporty cars and trucks, in our obsession with sports in which the most typical expectation of male behavior is ‘proving oneself on the field’ like a young warrior or conqueror, whereas older male figures and family scenes are not as prominent.
We actually are adolescent, historically speaking, having separated and declared ourselves a nation only about four-hundred years ago by symbolically dumping boxes of tea into Boston Harbor. While all Americans, including myself, agree with those choices, it was still the historical equivalent of yelling, ‘I’m not going to live under your roof, or follow your rules!’ storming out, and slamming the door behind us. I don’t think it’s an accident that by our law, teenagers can be freed from their parents by a legal process called ‘emancipation’.
Look at our politics: Extremely bi-partisan in almost every arena. Independent voters or candidates and moderate proponents of anything are viewed largely, as weak, ineffective, and likely unable to survive. ‘You’re either with us, or against us.’ You’re either Liberal or Conservative, Democratic or Republican, Pro-choice or Pro-life, the list goes on. I’m not so old that I don’t remember my teenage years, full of fire and passion and a determination to change the world, make a mark, and lacking in any sense of middle ground whatsoever. And when I watch our politics, it sounds exactly like that.
Not that we don’t ‘focus on family’ too. Indeed, the ‘conservative’ and certainly fundamentalist elements among us holler and trumpet their perception of what a proper family should look like at every chance. It’s the way such proclamations are made that points to our adolescence, insisting that the world is as black and white as our national mood.
Add to that a now mainstream obsession with dark figures who are immortal, who do not have children and who embody the wildness and carefree nature of eternal bachelor-hood. Vampires are the perfect symbol of someone unfettered by the normal, boring, mundane human life of settling down with someone/anyone, having normal boring kids, and growing old and dying with that person.
Despite our twin obsession with defining what constitutes a family, the furor going on about who we should be allowed to settle down with, the fact is, we cling to and revel in, and mourn for that image of freedom, mystery and sexual allure represented by the vampire that is associated with an earlier period of life after the loss of childhood dependence, initiation into sexuality, but before responsibility. I’m guilty. I love vampires. They are a secret pleasure my husband and I share after our wonderful responsibility goes to bed. But I recognize that. I acknowledge and suck it up with delight. The fear that I have for us as an adolescent nation is that we will become arrested, that we will not mellow in our politics, in our views, or gain any balance in our way of viewing the rest of the world or ourselves because, like our Puritanical forbears, we can’t admit our own needs and passions.