Vampires and Themes

So vampires. I hates them. But if vampires were just an oldschool monster that no longer seems quite so intimidating in the light of a modern understanding of biology and contagion then they wouldn’t bother me nearly as much as they do. In fact, they wouldn’t bother me at all because frankly mining old ideas of their themes and adapting them to the modern era is all writers really do. There’s no new stories, just new takes on them. It took a long time for me to work it all out but I knew from about the time I first watched Hellsing (the original anime adaptation not the more recent Hellsing Ultimate which I will most likely never watch) what exactly about vampires that no matter the context or the way they were presented, I would never like vampires and always find myself cringing when they were introduced as characters.

Let’s just start at the top and run down the bothersome baggage vampires have one point at a time. The first is parasitism. Vampires are parasites, pure and simple. We almost never see them building things or influencing people for the good, or if they do it’s handwaved off screen. Central vampiric characters are literal leeches. They tend to only contribute through their manipulative powers (more on this in a sec) but their abilities are fueled by stealing blood from people, usually involuntarily. Sympathetic vampires either justify their parasitism by turning it on their adversaries or feed it some way that they consider harmless like taking blood from the blood bank.

UNRELATED: The best introduction to the “vampires run blood banks to find useful food sources” idea I’ve ever seen is when Dr. McNinja tells the Clone of Benjamin Franklin, “Vampires run the Red Cross you know.”

And Clone of Ben Franklin answers, “Oh, my!”

This happens while they’re riding an elevator in the local Red Cross branch.

BACK TO THE MAIN TOPIC

While at first glance only taking blood from murderers or blood banks doesn’t seem so bad the fact is the vampire is still a parasite and unable to do avoid destructive actions. Murderers aren’t the only ones who need justice, so do the families of victims. They need closure and a sense of finality, things they’ll never get that if a vampire just randomly offs the murderer before it happens. (And let’s face it – encounters with hunger vampires are pretty much always fatal with one exception – which we’ll talk about in a second.) The fact that our existing legal system is bad at providing closure and finality for victims does not justify a vampire robbing victims of those things as well.

Likewise, blood banks exist for people who need blood transfusions and they are often dangerously low on reserves and that’s without vampires chowing down on huge amounts of blood and making the reserves even lower. Regardless of what they do, vampires are taking from the world around them and giving nothing in return.

Well talk some more about parasitism in a second but I’m going to talk about points one and two together and point two is that vampires are irredeemable. They are never cured. EVER.

On an intellectual level, I get that. Vampires are creatures that are already dead but, for whatever reason, keep having an impact on the living. You can’t just undo their death – in fact they’re often undead because someone tried just that – and so there’s no way to fix their condition unless resurrecting people is a part of your story’s schtick and that’s generally a bad idea because it’s hard to maintain verisimilitude when your actions have no consequences. So cheating death = bad plots as well as bad other things.

But on a thematic level it effectively removes free will from the equation. And that makes your characters puppets of FATE (or the author but, you know, that’s one of the things your audience isn’t supposed to think about while immersed in your story). Yeah, I know, the vampires have this hunger and they can’t continue to survive without it blah, blah, blah.

You know what I have to say to that? Human beings have starved themselves to death to protest things. Or set themselves on fire. Or just willingly walked OFF OF CLIFFS just because they chose to obey the orders of their general over preserving their own lives.

According to legend Alexander the Great actually intimidated a city into surrendering to him that way, by the by.

So the themes of parasitism and irredeemability come together to create a truly horrific message behind vampires, whether they be antagonistic or sympathetic. Basically, every time you put a vampire into a story, you say that people with problems cannot be fixed. Kleptomaniac? He’ll never get over it, you’ll just have to pay for the stuff he stole. Video game addict? Better just make sure he stays fed while he’s lost in his fantasy worlds. Drug addict? Make sure he doesn’t overdose! Violent? Better just slap him in jail.

Stop and think about this for a second. Vampires can only be dealt with in two ways. They can be allowed to exist as a burden on society, with the people around them trying to somehow keep them out of trouble regardless of the cost, or they can be destroyed if they can’t or don’t want to be controlled. You can be an enabler or an annihilator. People with problems have no way out.

It’s the exact opposite of the idea that a problem, no matter how hideous it may seem at first glance, can be overcome. It may take sacrifice and hard work and painful amounts of compassion, it may take a realistic attitude and acceptance of the fact that you can and sometimes (frequently) will fail, but it can be overcome. The two ideas are polar opposites, and of the two I will take the second immediately and always.

But there’s one more implication of vampires that makes their popularity in this day and age both surprising and disgusting. Unlike the previous two points, this is something that’s come into the vampire mythos only with their updating to the modern age. And in particular, with the vampire’s use as a “romantic” protagonist.

Let’s stop and think about this for a moment. Vampires are naturally horrific creatures. They drink blood and ruthlessly destroy people who come after them in an attempt to hold them accountable for their crimes. They manipulate people through telepathy or the use of their blood as some kind of a brainwashing drug. And, once again, they drain blood from their victims in order to gain power.

How is it possible, in the age of feminism and it’s many mixed blessings, advanced psychology and widespread literary criticism, that no one has realized vampires are directly analogous to AN ABUSIVE RELATIONSHIP?!

How can we look at vampires, their physical appearance, their manipulative sexual maneuvering and their chemical and emotional manipulation of of their victims and only see an abstract symbol of “the forbidden” or “the other” or “the unknown” and not admit to ourselves that vampires are horrific abusive monsters? When we say it’s just the way they are or the romantic interest will change them or that the way the vampire cares for their romantic interest makes them different we are giving the exact same excuses battered spouses give for not leaving their abusive partner! It’s like culture as a whole has been sucked into an abusive relationship with vampires and we can’t admit to what we’ve stumbled into! Thousands and thousands of young people are reading stories that present abusive partners as not only acceptable but desirable! Where is the outcry?

It would almost be acceptable if the vampire in the story were an abusive partner who the romantic protagonist eventually broke up with. Except then we’re slipping into the first two thematic problems, the flaws of which I’ve already discussed. Yes, I believe even abusive spouses can be redeemed and healed. But doing it from in a romantic relationship is very, very dangerous and not behavior that should be encouraged.

But encourage it is exactly what every vampire love story I’ve heard of does. They show the POWER OF LUV changing the vampire protagonist, magically giving the vampire to control their urges and treat the other half of the couple in a way totally different from the way they treat everyone else. That’s great for creating romantic feelings in the readership but the message is that if you just stand by your partner, no matter how abusive, eventually your love will change them. Which, in real life, almost never actually works and is frequently traumatic and sometimes fatal for the people trying it.

It’s unhealthy, and I hate what it says about us as a society that we haven’t challenged this idea at all. When you take it as a whole, between the unfortunate message about personal problems being unsolvable, enabling being encouraged and abusive behavior being glorified I find vampires to be a pretty despicable addition to works of fiction. So this Halloween, consider taking your fake fangs and tossing them in the trash and forswear vampires and their horrible themes for good. There are plenty of better things to do with your time.

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One response to “Vampires and Themes

  1. I am amazed that I have never read any other expression of these ideas. Very well thought-out and well-articulated, Nate. Every fan of Anne Rice or the “Twilight” books should be required to read this!

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