We all privately crave the darkness and the dangers that are lurking within. We want to feel our blood rushing through our veins as our heart pounds in our chests; we love to be scared, to feel slightly out of control. Fear, if done correctly, can be intoxicating, daring you to remember how alive you really are- and how quickly that can change.
Many of us stopped fearing the things that go bump in the night when we grew out of our dinosaur pajamas. Instead, those fears began to morph, to change to more practical terrors: burglars, natural disasters, the math teacher, taxes. And yet there is still a part of us that might ensure that the closet door is actually closed before going to sleep, because you never know when the boogeyman will decide to reanimate beside your hanging sweatshirts and wreak havoc on the living- for old time’s sake.
Vampires have inundated popular culture in recent years; books, movies, TV shows- we see them everywhere. However, when you look through history, this is not a solitary incident. The popularity of the fanged creatures ebbs and flows, standing out as a beacon, peppered periodically throughout the ages. They embody the fears of the time periods that created them, allowing us to analyze our very real fears through the lens of fiction. Lets take Dracula, as an example- the epitome of the vampire novel. Bram Stoker wrote this book in 1897. At the time, England had the largest ports in the world- which led to a general widespread fear of incoming diseases, foreigners and immigrants. Stoker brought to life the fears of his contemporaries by bringing a foreign monster onto European soil. He wasn’t the only one, this same rule seems to apply to every time period that has reawakened that love of the paranormal. For example in the 80’s- vampires were written as parasites, a disease to be spread from one unsuspecting human to another. This also happened to coincide with the AIDS epidemic, a fear which raced like wildfire through unsuspecting communities.
Fast forward a few decades- what about now? Surely I can’t honestly tell you that the inner workings of the brooding Stephan Salvator or his opposing badass brother, Damen (thank you, Vampire Diaries), could really be telling us something about the psyche of our current society? In fact, I thinks that’s exactly what I’m about to do. If you look through virtually any modern vampire story- The Vampire Diaries, True Blood (or the Sookie Stackhouse series if you prefer the books), The Vampire Chronicles, even Twilight- you will notice a very common thread tying them all together. They concern themselves with the battle of morality vs self acceptance. What is the line between man and monster? Every human being carries within themselves a darkness, as much as we would like to ignore our genetics, it is there. The question is how far do we allow ourselves to delve into this darkness? It is about balancing our desires. When we read about vampires, we are given a venue to explore our darkest desires from a safe vantage point. Whatever that darkness entails: a thirst for power, for vengeance, sexual gratification- it doesn’t matter.
We live in a world filled with fear and a strong sense of the social norm. Our world is unstable, filled with greed, corruption, war, constant fear of job loss, a tumultuous housing market- is it really any wonder that we gravitate towards fiction that circles around a being that is powerful enough to transcend our current problems? They embody the cold control that we do not have in our own lives.
They are all of the things that we wish we could be. They are powerful, but not in an obvious way. They are strong- without the bulging biceps that would give their strength away. They don’t need any gizmos or gadgets, they can be completely autonomous in their actions. They are the loners who are never lonely- thriving in a solitary existence where we flounder, hoping and praying to find someone to befriend. We want to be self-reliant and independent, but we are not.
The fears that encumber us mean nothing to them. Imagine- living in perpetual youth without the constant fear of equalizing death hanging over your head. What would you do, what would you try- if you knew that you had all of the time that the world had to offer you? We can imagine the context of our own mortality, as well as the things that are truly important to us- when we envision a life without the limitations of time. They survive and endure.
Vampires embody all that is desirable to us, they are the bad boys we mistakenly thought we could reform in high school. They provide us with a sense of danger, they are selfish without apology. There is a certain hazardous rush that comes with the concept of knowing that another carries full control over you- they could protect you with every fiber of their being, or destroy you in a single heartbeat. If they want something, they have no qualms about pursuing it, taking it, and enjoying every last moment of it.
There is also that interesting concept that pops up in many versions of these stories- it is the element of the discovery. It’s exciting to think that others are not, in fact, what you would expect them to be. Much as you are aware that you have aspects to your own being that those closest to you would be shocked to find out. We live our lives behind masks, always forgetting that we are not the only one.
Vampires exist as metaphors for our deepest desires, the ones that we hide from the rest of the world. When we read about them or watch them, we get to delve into that piece of us that rarely sees daylight. Our entertainment is a reflection of our lives. It embodies the pieces of ourselves that we are not comfortable openly discussing, so we mask them in the shades of our fiction, wrapping them up in make-believe until we feel we are at a safe enough distance.