The Guardian, one of the UK's quality newspapers and all that stands between mankind and tabloid tyranny, has found a new enemy. Yes. The Guardian has taken on TwilightÂ—erÂ—vampires and the undead in general, and is so demented with rage about it they could best be described as "having an episode."
The actual article, much of it genuinely funny, hits a few home-runs, but there are two inexcusable misses, too. Stereotyping of those who like their viewing other-worldly being perhaps the first offence, and indiscriminate judgement of an entire genre, the other. So, seeing as Nick Davies was strangely unavailable for comment, the task to answer the various, maddeningly inaccuracies that thread Stuart Heritage's throw-down tantalized.
Heritage kicks off proceedings by taking aim and firing at all things TwilightÂ—which gets a right kicking, of courseÂ—what with it being hugely successful and everything. But rest assured, no-one's left out. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, True Blood, Being Human, The Walking Dead, Interview with a VampireÂ—to name only a fewÂ—are all tarred with the same broad brush and accused of somehow "mainstreaming" up a once subversive genre. At one point, Heritage asks, "Why this sudden love for all things spooky?"
But the truth is, humanity's fascination with the idea of a sub-culture of beings that walk covertly among us is an ancient one. Same with the undead, although they don't matter quite so much, what with their appalling lack of sentience and sartorial chic. Take a gander through history, and you will find vampire myths in nearly every civilization that ever lived. Mesopotamia, Persia, the Babylonian "Lilitu," that became the Hebrew world's "Lilith," Greek, Roman, the "asanbosam" of Africa, folklore of South-Eastern Europe, Ireland, AsiaÂ—and one can see literally every culture has formulated their own version of the "Cold Ones."
Fast forward to the 18th and 19th century. Lord Byron's The Giaour (1813), Ossenfelder, The Vampire (1748), Goethe's The Bride of Corinth (1797), Robert Southbey's Thalaba the Destroyer (1797), Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897), Poe, and so many moreÂ—and vampire fiction had leaped definitively into the mainstream. Murnau's festering Nosferatu brought the vampire to the screen in 1922. Now vampires were truly out, if not quite proud, yet. Then something remarkable happened; the concept of vampires evolved.
From the late '60s right through to the present, vampires have undergone something of a make-over. Instead of just "pure evil," they became complex, sexy, and infinitely more interesting. In Marilyn Ross's Barnabas Collins series (1966-1971), based on U.S TV show Dark Shadows, its vampire lead constantly sacrificed himself for others. The one-time scourge of virgins was now in transition, moving from monsterhood to the much more sympathetic lost-out-of-time hero torn between moral crisis and the necessity for blood. They were still dangerous, see Richard Matheson's I am LegendÂ—but diversity had arrived.
And that's really the point. There are all sorts, types, and kinds of vampires, with different powers, qualities, and desires. And that says something about the genre. That it can be mined so robustly, so persistently (and yes, with varying degrees of success), and have room to spare for so many versions while still fulfilling the projected imaginings of successive generations suggests one thing: Vampires, and what they represent, fill an insatiable demand and perhaps a need.
Stephen King (Samel's Lot), Anne rice (Vampire Chronicles, Interview with a Vampire), Whitely Strieber (The Hunger et al), Kim Newman, Joss Whedon's Buffy, The Lost Boys, even Terry Pratchett, Sesame Street, (yes, Sesame Street), and the literally hundreds of others that walked the path before Supernatural, Underworld, True Blood, The Vampire Diaries, Being Human, and the Twilight Saga are part of the vampire's bona-fide place in our world. The affection for them is really the affection for the hidden self one cannot allow to be in realityÂ—so indulge only in fantasy.
Taking that idea to its logical conclusion, it's clear then that today's vampire has come of age. Yes, they may kill or have killed, but it's never without an understanding, or in some cases, a profound regret for what they have done. More importantly, modern vamps are now capable of true emotion. Full of the complexity and duality that mortals struggle with, vampires are now closer to humanity's own image than at any point before in their history.
In the Twilight Saga, undeniably the most successful vampire realization in history, Robert Pattinson's Edward Cullen enthralled audiences that, in reality, encompass teens, young and older men and women, the curious, those that just like a darn good love-story, and the die-hards that loved the books and embraced the films with their hearts. Most of these individuals are a million miles away from Heritage's outrageous descriptions of them as a once previously "silent, subculture," that possibly "practised witchcraft," were "easy to spot," and are nowÂ—apparentlyÂ—fairly keen on "dressing cats up as butlers and kissing posters of Robert Pattinson before [they] go to bed."
The truth, as always, is rather different. Talk to the people who love the best rather than the worst the genre has to offer, and you would be surprised. There will always be the super-fan and the love-struck. But the millions more that are the different audiences of Underworld et al, the soon rebooted Dark Shadows, and the Twilight SagaÂ—are definitely not the simpletons The Guardian and many othersÂ—imagine. Heritage makes good points when he laments the market's saturation and the money-men's "Hollywoodification" of an ancient, potent art-form. But the genre can take it. Why? Because, really, only the most creatively written and worthy of it will endure.
Tortured, mischievous Spike, sorrowful Angel, rebellious Lestat, self-sacrificing Barnabas, kick-ass Selene, funny and sexy Mitchell, and the romantic, shining love of Edward Cullen aren't the end of the lineÂ—but a continuation of it. Vampires will always be with us, because they always were. But now instead of showing only our darkest, cracked visions, they show everything.
That's how the light gets in.
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