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Brian McGreevy on Vulture [for New York magazine] vomits forth a puerile lump of garbage with his opinion on popular portrayals of vampires in True Blood and the Twilight saga:

"Much has been made of the damage inflicted by the 'male gaze' in film, but what of the female gaze? It's taken the Romantic vampire and cut off his balls, leaving a pallid emo pansy with the gaseous pretentiousness of a perfume commercial. We are now left with the Castrati vampire: This is pornography for tweens, as well as a worrying reflection of our time."
 
Reading this screed, one can't help but think that McGreevy is just pissed that a vampire series written by a woman has become so popular. He seems to think that the Twilight saga is wretched just because it represents a young female character's point of view. I mean, God forbid that someone address a pillowy fantasy novel to the vast hordes of ravenous teenaged girls and young women who form the Twilight saga's primary audience! No no, books should be written by manly men only about manly male subjects, such as Romantic vampires with really big schlongs.

I never thought I'd be defending the virtues of the Twilight saga, a series that I find insidiously sexist and intensely problematic, but there it is. No, Mr. McGreevy, the sex of an author is not a legitimate subject for one of your irrelevant tangents about how biliously poxed with prejudice your brain happens to be. How the sex of an author informs his or her writing is indeed pertinent, but criticizing an author for being a certain sex just proves the source of the criticism [that's you, sir] to be a bloviating bigot.
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So I was browsing around Aeclectic Tarot, idly looking through decks by theme, and of course I checked out the Vampire grouping. Among these I found not strictly a vampiric deck, but a dark and moody one in general, the Bohemian Gothic from Magic Realist Press. The deep, cool blues and jewel-like brights, the profusion of skulls and the disturbingly staring eyes, all in the style of Victorian lithographs, are heavily influenced by Gothic and Romantic tropes. Admire many of the cards at the deck's own Web site. Then weep because it's out of print and commanding nearly $400.00 on Amazon.com. Dammit...and I really liked that deck!
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I didn't say it. Stephen Marche says it in Esquire. He thinks that the recent spate of popular vampires represents not, oh, say, dangerous sensuality or suave seductiveness or something, but the desire of straight women to get into bed with gay men. He provides no actual evidence for his claim, other than noting that True Blood's anti-vamp crowd ["God hates fangs!"] sounds a lot like the anti-gay crowd. In fact, not till the end of his blithering ramble does Marche reveal what may be his thesis:

And so vampires have appeared to help America process its newfound acceptance of what so many once thought strange or abnormal. Adam and Steve who live on your corner with their adorable little son and run a bakery? The transgendered man who gave birth to a healthy baby? The teenage girl who wishes that all boys could be vampires? All part of the luscious and terrifying magic of today's sexual revolution.

So a gay couple with a son and a business, as well as a transgendered pregnant man, are both grouped in the same "luscious and terrifying" category as vampires. The gay guys and the trans guy are, according to Marche, categorically similar to cold, dead killers. I think that says more about the author's misogyny, homophobia and transphobia than it does about the attraction that many young straight white teenaged girls feel toward recent vampiric characters. Ugh, what a bigot.
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In an interview with Nylon, Stephen Moyer, currently playing dead cheeseface vampire Bill in True Blood, expounds upon the appeal of vampire characters to a female audience:
The thing about vampirism is that it taps into a female point of view – you have an old-fashioned gentleman with manners who is a fucking killer… it’s an interesting duality, because in our present society it would be an odd thing for a woman to say, ‘I want my man to be physical with me.’ How, as a modern man, can you fucking work that? It’s one thing to be polite and gentle… But when do you know it’s OK to crawl out of the mud and rape her [as Bill does in one scene]?… It’s difficult stuff for a bloke, but a vampire gets away with it…. I think that’s the attraction of the show – it’s looking back at a romantic time when men were men, but they were still charming.
Let's look at his claims, shall we? First, Moyer thinks that he knows "a female point of view." He, as a man, now speaks for what women want. He, a white heterosexual male, has authority on what women want! We need no input from actual women to determine what those strange feminine creatures desire. Let the authoritative man tell us. He's an expert because he's not a vampire, but he plays one on TV.

Moyer believes that women desire "an old-fashioned gentleman...who is a fucking killer." Yes yes, polite murderers! They're really sexy! They hearken back, claims Moyer, to a "romantic time when men were men, but they were still charming." Yet what were men doing during this time? Crawling "out of the mud and [raping] their partners," as his character Bill does to Sookie in one scene apparently.

Have you got that? There was a time, in Moyer's dim, ahistorical, misogynist view of things, when men raped women, and women liked it. It was a "romantic" time, so lovey-dovey. Women didn't have to do anything so difficult as saying what they wanted. They could just count on men to screw them against their will...politely, though, and with manners.

Moyer may be talking about vampires as vectors of rape fantasies, which have nothing to do with real non-consensual sex and everything to do with the fantasizer forcing herself to let go and experience pleasure, something she may have a hard time doing outside of her head. I acknowledge that these fantasies of masterful, sweep-you-off-your feet sex partners exist. I acknowledge that these fantasies may be framed as non-consensual. I acknowledge that part of the allure of vampires as portrayed in True Blood and other modern media is their masterful, sweeping-off-feet tendencies. I do not dispute the existence of these things.

I do object, however, to Moyer's characterization of feminine desires. Whether he's referring to sweep-you-off-your-feet fantasies or not, he's doing so inaccurately and misogynistically. By calling rape "romantic" and claiming that "men were men," he's confusing an observation about vampire as sexual fantasy with some stupid essentialist drivel about masculine aggression, not to mention the misogynist bullshit idea about women secretly yearning to be raped. Therefore, instead of providing an insight into the popularity of the vampire figure [as other actors who have played vampires have demonstrated that they can do with intelligence and humor and WITHOUT misogyny], Moyer ends up providing insight into how much he loathes both men and women. I've just lost all respect for him. D:

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I've always thought that, if there were any more than, say, 10 vampires in the world, that they would form some sort of para-society, parasitic to, but somewhat independent of, human society. Vamp society, in my mind, would include an organization of power and some set of rules. Let's look at some vamp societies in recent TV shows: Read more... )
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Available online as an E-book. Looks like published conference proceedings covering Carmilla to BTVS. Super-chouette!

EDIT: This collection of rather short essays is at its best when covering modern vampires, although Hyun-Jung Lee's analysis of LeFanu's Carmilla as a threat to the very foundation of subjectivity is particularly good. In the section on vampires of today, one especially interesting essay by Elizabeth McCarthy addresses the importance of bodily mutilation inflicted by people on vampires to modern conceptions of the vampire legend. In another unusual essay, Pete Remington takes a look at Anne Rice's vampires and their relation to the experience of the depressive self. Five essays treat BTVS and Angel, mostly the sexually problematic characters of Angel and Spike, who both embody and undermine tropes of magnetic, violent, brooding, Byronic heroism. This is a varied collection with essays of uniformly high quality, although I do wish most of the pieces were longer, with more in-depth analysis.

Also possibly of interest: Monsters: Myths and Metaphors of Enduring Evil, edited by Paul Yoder and Peter Kreuter, in the same series.

Also possibly of interest: The Monstrous Identity of Humanity, edited by Marlin Bates, by the same press.

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On the eve of the movie debut of Twilight, much pissing and swooning occurs on the subject of vampires as depicted in this film. Lots of articles wonder about the attraction that the Twilight vampires have to their audience.

Rosemary Black, New York Daily News: 1) Women are drawn to Byronic heroes. 2) We desire them because the intense fear provides orgasmic arousal. 3) They're the ultimate symbol of a chaste sensuality. 4) They're perpetually young, sexy and intensely devoted to their mortal lovers.

Kate Harding, Broadsheet [Salon]: 1) New York Daily News is full of shit. All the article's arguments represent tired stereotypes about female sexuality. 2) Women are attracted to the recent crop of vampires because they are written by women and /or because there's a focused on well-rounded female characters.

Henly 424, Salon commenter: The current iteration of the vampire, an intensely devoted, magical, eternally loving being with awesome superpowers, recapitulates the old fantasy that a supernatural creature can somehow rescue an ordinary kid from a life of boring normalcy and transform him/her into something powerful and stupendous, merely by association with the undead.

There's not anything particularly attractive to women as a whole about vampires as a whole. For women as a whole to be attracted to vampires as a whole, both women as a whole and vampires as a whole would require definition as monadic entities. However, women are diverse in their attractions; vampires are diverse in their manifestations. The idea that "vampires" can reveal something "essential" about "feminine sexuality" can just go to hell.

Even if we're talking about the type of vampires shown in the Twilight saga [which we probably are, even though it's never explicitly stated], the question is still not "Why do women love vampires?" The question is "Why are these particular characters extremely popular among a huge subset of U.S. readers who are mostly teenaged and female?" There's no ahistorical answer. I can't stand it when people can't frame their inquiries with appropriate exactness.

As to why the Twilight vampires are so popular with their audience, I think Laura Miller's analysis of Bella as Mary Sue is an insightful start.

The LHF vampires are amused about the amount of critical ink being spilled in an attempt to explain their attractiveness to mortals. :p

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Natalie Angier writes a New York Times article about non-human organisms that subsist wholly or partly on the blood of other organisms. Most illuminating for my purposes is the commentary here:

Moreover, even though we rightly cherish our own blood as the indispensable elixir of our lives, it turns out that, as a foodstuff for others, it is surprisingly thin gruel. Blood is more than 95 percent water, with the rest consisting mostly of proteins, a sprinkling of sugars, minerals and other small molecules, but almost no fat. Tiny creatures can do fine on such light fare, which is why the great majority of exclusive blood eaters are arthropods.... For larger sanguivores, though, it is as much of a challenge to survive on blood as it is to acquire it.

Small wonder that wholehearted exclusive blood feeding is rare among vertebrates, and that two of the three species of vampire bats are found in such low numbers they are at risk of extinction....


The moral of the story is that blood, while rich in symbolism, is impoverished in actual food value. Therefore I suspect that most attempts to make an exclusively sanguivorous vampire biologically convincing are pretty silly insofar as they ignore the basic fact that a human-sized biped that runs solely on blood would have to be drinking it constantly [and pissing out all the watery plasma constantly, HAH!]. Much more believable to create an opportunistic sanguivore that likes blood and drinks it whenever possible, but does not get more than, say, 25% of its diet therefrom. Maybe like the LHF vampires, who are all united by their taste for human blood, but who also eat omnivorously??

P.S. Here's Angier's general paean to human blood, a "marvelous fluid tissue...that not only feeds us and cleans us," but also tastes delicious.

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How Stuff Works provides an overview of zombies, including some interesting info about Clairvius Narcisse, supposedly a verified zombie, and the ingredients of Haitian zombie powder, which may have ingredients scientifically proven to produce feels of paralysis and disorientation.

How Stuff Works also has an overview of vampiric creatures around the world, with an especially interesting segment on ancient Assyrian and Babylonian creatures.

The same site also discusses werewolves and the influence of Hollywood on traditional beliefs about these shapeshifters.

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Got your attention, didn't I? Listen to this story.

In the 1800s, tuberculosis, then commonly known as consumption, was one of the most common, deadly and feared diseases. One of the families it struck was the Brown family of Exeter, Rhode Island. First the mother, Mary Brown, died of consumption in December, 1883. A little over half a year later, the eldest Brown daughter, also named Mary, succumbed. When a son, Edwin, contracted consumption a few years later, he was sent out west in the hopes that the salutary air of Colorado would halt his sickness. It didn't. When Edwin returned to Exeter, his sister Mercy got sick with the "galloping," or fast-acting, version of consumption. She died in 1892.

Edwin's condition worsened. Alarmed at the mortality rate of the Brown family, friends, neighbors and other townspeople began to worry that the Browns suffered from a vampire. What else could be systematically draining the vitality of parents and children except for some hungry relation come back from the grave? Encouraged both by this speculation and by desperation, the remaining Brown men took drastic action.Read more... )
 
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The Dracula Research Centre has a collection of documents about Bram Stoker and the creation of Dracula, a huge bibliography about Dracula [and vampires in general, I think], not to mention the Journal of Dracula Studies online in RTF!!! What an exciting treasure trove! I'm going to hurry home, reading Tananarive Due's The Living Blood [#2 in the African Immortals series, about a small society of seriously disturbed and arrogant immortal dudes who are very vampiric] along the way, working on LHF when I get home and doing more research. [Oh, I just learned that Blood Colony, #3 in the African Immortals series, comes out in June. Exciting!]

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Thinking the of ep of Moonlight in which vampires were pretending to be human [The Mortal Cure] and its inverse, B.C. [summarized here, in which humans take drugs to feel vampiric], I got to wondering... What if there was a synthetic drug for modern American vampires [as opposed to the many other kinds running around in my universe] that simulated the effects of being human: i.e., reduced strength and speed, reduced sensorium, reduced immune system, tolerance for daylight, garlic and major religious symbols? 
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I was reading When The Chenoo Howls by Joseph and James Bruchac, an awesome collection of monster stories from Native American traditions, when I came to the realization that most cultures distinguish between the smart vampiric or cannibalistic creatures and the dumb ones.
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On and off for the past few months, I've been trying to make a digital verson of the penanggal, a Malay vampire with a distinctively monstrous appearance.

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I've been poking around Abenaki mythology recently, looking for the vampire equivalents, of which there are always several in every single culture.

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I like supernatural creatures. Partly I like them because they are a testament to human inventiveness in the face of the unknown and inexplicable. They're beautiful creations of folk logic ["Well, if it looks like the corpse's nails and hair are growing and it's in a pool of blood when we dig it up, that means it must be alive and feeding on blood!"], fear and wonder. That's why I will devour stories about them: because, as human creations, they are clever, rich and powerful, full of meaning... They've got a hold on us.

I also like supernatural creatures because they work as lovely metaphors, which partly explains their continuing fascination, even to people who do not believe in them.

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