James Blasingame in WaPo:
So what is at the heart (OK, that one was not intentional) of this fascination with vampires?
To begin with, there is the gothic romance aspect. For years and years, the romantic tale of a young woman who is drawn to a dark, mysterious stranger has been popular around the world and the thirst (Ha! That one was intentional) for these stories appears unquenchable.
What young woman in her right mind (well, in her daydreams, anyway) would not prefer the impossibly handsome, but possibly dangerous, alleged bad boy who drives through the McDonald’s drive-through on his motorcycle over the definitely nerdy-but-nice, good boy who finishes her shift at said McDonalds with her and asks her to the prom while saturated in vegetable oil?
The fact that this bad boy fits in with other perfectly coiffed and statuesquely built kids at school doesn’t hurt either. People are social climbers by nature, even if their society includes vampires.
And Edward loves her to death (sorry, I just can’t help myself), or more accurately, he refuses to love her to death; in fact, he would commit suicide rather than harm her. OK, how crazy is that for just being a lab partner and having a few weird dates?! But who doesn’t dream, literally, of being loved like that?
Loved beyond limits, and for no good reason; I mean come on—it’s not like they did two years of Peace Corps duty in a far away land and become soul mates over their common devotion to their fellow man! They barely know each other, and he’s what, 100 and something years older than she is? Yikes! Talk about a spring-autumn relationship?! He could be teaching their Civil War class from memory! But, it doesn’t matter. He’s hot beyond compare, or at least he is until Jacob comes along, who is hot and hairy beyond compare.
Edward and the Cullens have power, power over humans, power over society, power over life and death. They just don’t have power over love, and that’s the greatest power of all. If you don’t think so, think back to a time when you were so madly in love with someone it actually kept you awake at night. That’s power.
Young and old readers love stories in which the protagonist, the character with whom they identify, gains power, and this is another aspect of vampire stories that is undeniable. Vampirism means power although it comes with a great and painful change, a change of physical self, a change of emotional self, and a change of place in the world. If this isn’t a powerful metaphor for passing into and out of adolescence, I don’t know what is.
Various authors are taking diverse takes on the vampire story, but the appeal remains.
I believe vampire books and movies offer a few attractions:
1. You know from the beginning that the plot twists will have to be extreme. Few movie makers offer up vampires who think pensively, talk inordinately, and live out ambiguous endings, sitting around in coffee shops. A real vampire story is going to deal with death.
2. We are fascinated with the idea that people may be something other than what they appear to be. You will notice that discovery and detection of vampires often plays a key role in the plot lines, sometimes commanding an inordinate amount of attention.
3. Vampire stories offer a platform for exploring the theme of pure, limitless, and eternal desire, yet without encountering the absurdities that might result from planting that theme in a realistic, real world setting, such as a man who loves cheese studded with raisins above all else.
4. Vampires play “hard to get” with women and they (for a while) embody Old World ideals of chivalry, in a plausible [sic] fashion. Yet since they are fundamentally different beings, we can enjoy watching their strategies while simultaneously distancing ourselves from them.
5. Men may like vampire movies for date movies, for uh…priming reasons. The movies prompt dramatic, emotional reactions in their companions. Women may feel that such movies “test” how their men respond to highly fraught stories, with a potential for demonstrating protectiveness. Or vice versa.
6. Vampires do not seem to mind social disapproval, and in this sense many teens look to them as role models.
7. Some of the popularity is arbitrary with respect to the vampire theme itself. There is a clustering of production in any successful cultural meme, once that meme gets underway. You might as well ask why there is so much heavy metal music today.
8. Viewers and readers, who know vampire lore and thus vampire vulnerabilities, feel better informed than the high-status people who, in the drama, are fighting the vampires.
9. There are few successful songs or paintings about vampires, so the story-based aspects of the topic appear to be important in setting their popularity.
Cowen links to Answerbag for some answers.
He misses the most central ones: blood lust and danger. You’ll note that teenage girls are a big part of the vampire demographic.
A vampire wants you, in the absolute worst possible way. And, once he has you, at best you are transformed forever, at worst you are dead. This is a clear metaphor for the most pressing issue in young teenage minds.
Vampires are also tend be strong, wealthy and of high status. All of that in a package that is conveniently and familiarly, young. They are often literally 400 year-old aristocrats in a 18 year-old body.
We should keep in mind that the vampire has only recently assumed the role of the compelling, gothic, martyred, seductive, gorgeous, off-limits, struggling, sympathetic, romantic outcast in love with a human. The slick hunk in black leather pants, driving a sports car in a metropolis by night, was not the bloodcurdling image that had haunted the graveyards of our ancestors.
Granted, the spooky effect has value. Sexologists believe that scary moments stimulate the libido and therefore couples may bond effectively having watched a horror movie together. However, while this theory is bound to stick in your memory, it does not offer sufficient evidence, either.
Vampires, whether pale and beautiful or ghoulishly foul, have always been identified with death, blood-drinking, and sex, feeding on emotions such as love, guilt, dread, desire, pity, and sadism.
Far be it from me to undertake psychoanalyzing why we are obsessed with death, blood, and sex. In my capacity as a historical novelist, I choose to explore the mysteries of the human psyche through stories in the hopes of understanding why we were put on this earth and how we may improve our lot in life. Ironically, as I study the tapestry of man’s fleeting existence, I see how the fruits of one generation’s labor — art, science, architecture, etc. — are reaped by its successors.
Now, a vampire — omnipotent, never-aging, and immortal — may travel the centuries unscathed, unconstrained by a deadline in his pursuit of enlightenment and happiness. Would he or she be a cheerful voyager or one cursed with loneliness? Then there is the future to consider. What if the world and/or mankind are doomed to a cataclysmic end? Would anyone care to witness that?
There is something very, very American about these blood-slurping freaks:
There are also “sanguinarian vampires” who consume blood, though usually in small amounts. Consenting donors will prick their fingers to release a droplet of blood. And the vampires believe in safety — the donor should be tested beforehand.More:
Today she is considered an “elder” in the South Florida vampire community. By day she takes online business administration courses at Kaplan College. At night she works as a promoter for Area 7, a punk rock bar in Fort Lauderdale, where every Monday night she hosts a karaoke night geared for the vampire community where they belt out rock and goth tunes. Her dream is to one day open a coffee shop in Tampa featuring a gothic coffee line. Flavors include Graveyard Shift, a blend of java and mocha coffee beans, and Mystery Manor, a vanilla and cinnamon blend.
Twelve or 13 years ago, when South Florida native Marilyn Manson was in the news for doing something grotesque and ultra-Goth, a columnist for the Palm Beach Post, whose name I can’t remember, wrote one of the best, most deflating columns I’ve ever read. In it, he addressed Manson with withering, eye-rolling nonchalance, telling him that no matter how hard he tries, he is and always will be “Brian from Boca.”
Sounds like these fangsters are all Brian from Boca.