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Kaja Kurczewska

Kurczeshian Translations

11

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Project Vampire 2.0

In the midst of HBO’s “True Blood”’s sixth season, so far the best since the show’s beginning, comes the question - why do we still take such interest in vampires? Haven’t we had enough of the blood-sucking fun? What makes audiences so drawn to the genre, both in TV and movies, that since ABC’s “Dark Shadows” in the sixties to “True Blood” we just can’t seem to get enough?

As a fan of the genre, sometimes regardless of ratings and IMDb scores, I must say for me it must have been love at first.. well, at first bite. Neil Jordan’s “Interview with a Vampire” must have been the first of a very select few films I have ever seen more than once in a cinema. I fell in love with Tom Cruise’s evil aura of the fin-de-siecle vampire with no conscience, and I secretly rooted for him. After that, I was hooked and for the next nearly twenty years, I have never been able to kick that addiction. The bloodthirsty creatures can represent anything and everything the screenwriter and director want them to. Of course, there have been many instances over the years where vampires were merely that - un-dead children of the night, seeking warm bodies to feed on, scaring the life out of the audiences, satisfying our primal need for controlled fear. That is an important service that the vampires provide us with. Being scared, but also weirdly turned on by the notion of a stranger sneaking into our bedrooms, hiding behind a curtain, watching us closely as we sleep, just to seduce us and finally suck our blood comes from a deeply rooted fantasy not many of us would ever dare admit to, and even less recreate in real life.

A phenomenon of the vampire genre is how versatile the topic is. One look at the huge success of the Twilight saga or The Vampire Diaries shows that if you dress up the vampire in nice clothes, give it shiny, glowy skin and piercing hazel eyes, it can become the icon of teenagers all over the globe. Even though what the creature represents is still darkness, danger and bloodthirst, it is cut and shaped to attract junior high girls who are just starting to “dig” that bad boy in the corner. The vampire in the Twilight saga is presented as the one kid at the back of the class who is an outcast - misunderstood, alone, intriguing. In that portrayal, Edward the vampire is no different than any other misfit, and therefore easy to identify with. That would not be possible if he were, say, count Dracula. Identifying with the creepy old man in that scary house at the end of the street does not come as easily as thinking of yourself as the blond Edward Cullen. The feeling of rejection may come as not as much a blow if you consider that the now handsome and successful Stephan Salvatore (The Vampire Diaries) had to go through the exact same thing. And not belonging to the cool clique at your local high school can be easier to swallow knowing that Jessica (True Blood) has felt that too. We still find vampire stories palatable because even if we ourselves are no teenagers any more, we do remember what growing up was like. Seeing another teen vampire series or movie simply reminds us that we too used to be young, rebellious, misunderstood or unpopular.

How easily the vampire can be (and very often is) a metaphor for a whole set of bigger, more important matters was what drew me in with this genre. The sense of alienation, being different, misunderstood, not belonging anywhere - these are universal issues of misfits in any category, be it gender, race, religion, sexual orientation or age. Looking into the vampire as providing a cover for bigger social issues, it is impossible not to think of True Blood - HBO’s record breaking series. There, in the wake of the Japanese discovering synthetic blood in a drink form, it was possible for vampires to come out (sic!), joining society on equal footing with their human counterparts. This brings to mind issues like the Civil Rights Movement, Women’s Liberation Movement and - very recently - the battle of the LGBT society for the legalisation of gay marriage. The vampires of True Blood also have their organizations, their political representation and all they really want is to be regarded as, and treated equally with the rest of the world’s population. In its alternative view of history, True Blood has shown the Spanish Inquisition as being targeted not only at enemies of the Catholic Church but also, and maybe specifically, at people-friendly vampire outcasts. The series reaches in its parallels to the times of WW2, when (just like in the show’s sixth instalment) the unaccepted social group is persecuted, and the aim is its total annihilation. Previews of the later episodes show some of the series’ most favorite characters in white outfits gathered in camp-like facilities. These places, equipped with laboratories where tests are performed on vampires in order to create better weapons against them, give out a very strong Third Reich vibe, including elements such as chambers where light is used to kill vampires, closely echoing the gassing of Jews during the Holocaust. This parallel seems a bit strong presented on a summer lineup TV show about supernatural creatures. However, HBO has never shied away from controversy, and a vampire show with a social and political edge seems right up their alley. The series’ author and showrunner Alan Ball, famous for another highly regarded series - Six Feet Under - took a mediocre set of novels written by a Southern vampire loving housewife and turned it into a show which with almost every season rewrites TV history. All of this is possible solely on the premise that since it is crowded with the supernatural, the series can in fact boldly (and bloodily) go where no show has gone before.

As creatures of a mostly evil nature, vampires eventually meet their true death during the course of the TV show or film, presumably as punishment for their unnatural existence. The process itself is indeed another important allegory. In different mythologies (as every author of the vampire genre tries to create their own) death can be brought about to the children of the night in many various ways. In Dracula, the Prince of Darkness can be destroyed through the use of holy water, garlic and a crucifix. In Interview with a Vampire, fire and drinking dead blood can be the vampire’s doom. In True Blood, humans use synthetic silver in bullets (in other mythologies reserved for killing werewolves) or UV light to aid the battle with these supernatural creatures. There are a solid few which never change, though. A wooden stake through the heart, decapitation and, of course, sunlight are deadly weapons against the vampire folk. There is something cathartic about the way the true death takes the vampire, something deeply poetic and moving. When exposed to sunlight or staked through the heart, the vampire disintegrates, falls apart, all its hundreds of years of existence fading away before the onlookers’ very eyes. It is as though nature (in the form of sun or wood) finally managed to restore balance by destroying the unnatural, pulverizing it, turning its remains into a pile of dust. When we think about the average lifespan of a human being, and then do the same calculations for an average movie or TV show vampire, it will be clear that the latter have achieved what the former have been dreaming about for ages - longevity, if not immortality. Perhaps by giving the vampire this quality, we don’t really award it - we seem to punish it again. Because, despite the craving for eternal life, somewhere deep inside we know what a burden it must be to live forever. This might be why bringing the true death to a vampire feels just, righteous. The average vampire has been alive for over two hundred years. It has seen its loved ones live their lives and die. It has witnessed the time go by and history happen, and yet it remained the same. In Interview with a Vampire, the oldest vampire in the world Armand says in a manner of explanation: “Times change. We do not. Here lies the irony that finally kills us”.  So perhaps the poetic, beautiful way in which the vampires die is not only a reflection of our jealousy of their eternal life and the will to take it away, if we ourselves are not able to possess it. Maybe the true death is a sort of liberation of a heavy burden, the gift of freedom at last, the final proof that receiving such a immortality by the means of taking away the humanity in oneself is a price too high to pay.

Vampires have become a big part of the popular culture and, whether we like it or not, they seem to be here to stay. The creatures of the night have taken over our TV’s, our computer screens and our movie theaters. They have settled permanently in our common consciousness, taking on many roles, serving various purposes. Providing a cover for issues too uncomfortable or important to be talked about directly, or helping us realize our deeply rooted fantasies. They are a kind of a funfair distorting mirror, showing us who we are, who we were or who we wish to be in ways we never would suspect. For there is one common idea in all the vampire mythologies throughout the history of the genre. A vampire cannot enter our house at its own will - it must be invited in. So it seems we have invited the vampire in, and we have no intention of withdrawing the invitation any time soon.

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