Season 7 of True Blood premieres Sunday, June 22 at 9 p.m. E.D.T.
We live in the era of the undead. Consider the vampire. It casts no reflection — like most politicians — charms us with a CEO’s charisma and brims beautiful and dangerous, sexual and violent beneath the surface. We have all met them in business, in relationships, in social circles. This species of the undead is the emotional parasite, the needy creature that feeds off of our life-energy. This vampire is the narcissist and passive-aggressive soul-sucker until the light of our good reason exposes them, and we stake a claim for our own psychic survival.
The genealogy of the vampire in cinema and literature is like a fog that never lifts. It is everywhere in the collective unconscious, since almost every culture on the planet has the vampire in its imaginative store. The misdirection, the divergence, is in the blood. Literally. The first generation of vampires, from time immemorial until about the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, had always been almost exclusively female; the intended victims, either children or birthing mothers. This female entity is technically a demon, whether it is the Assyrian and Babylonian Lilitu the Hebrews called Lilith, or the Lamia or Mormo of Greek mythology. Infanticide is the unspeakable crime here. The object, the blood, is symbolic: kinship and dynastic succession are destroyed. The demon becomes the succubae and witches.
When the shift moves from the destruction of mother and child – family blood and heredity denied – to sex, we will see vengeful demon become sexual predator, the succubus who visits men at night; haunts them through erotic dreams; seduces and destroys them. Blood isn’t the only bodily fluid lost. Cast aside the Freudian orgasm-is-death analogy, the kiss of death, or the inherent misogyny in the belief that women are sexually voracious and rapacious, because the crucial element in the evolution of the vampire is not gender or sexuality, but the change in the blood type, so to speak. To the ancients, the vampire is unnatural because it lacks blood, and therefore humanity; it is a spirit, and not undead. The spirit is in torment. Any mention of soul is Christian theology thrown into the mix later. This vampire has physical needs.
The modern vampire, from Irish writer Bram Stoker’s Dracula on, uses blood for nourishment, yes, but also to recruit others into the brood. This is very different in that it is a reversal of the destruction of succession seen in ancient folklore. The vampire of the past merely wanted to feed and survive, whereas the new vampire wishes to reproduce, extend its line; create an occult family. Recent versions of the vampire in contemporary literature and cinema try to de-emphasize the undead aspect of the vampire. The Strain Trilogy from Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan posits that vampires are the result of a viral infection, whereas vampires are genetic mutants in Deborah Harkness’s The All Souls Trilogy. Blood has become a symbol for an epidemic or pandemic, AIDS, Ebola or other viruses notwithstanding.
Supernatural traits have made them comic-book heroes, capable of walking in the daylight (Marvel Comics’ Blade). The town of Bon Temps in True Blood has enough kinky sex and violence that Caligula might blush or feel envious. Vampires are corporate bad guys (Daybreakers) who put their fangs behind the desk and attempt to harvest humans in an orderly, but timely fashion, while getting all entrepreneurial in a rush to manufacture synthetic blood. Modern vamps are confused, conflicted about their birthrights and purpose; they may desire the adolescent coming-of-age (Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy), or struggle with their hybrid nature; some even want a soul (Joss Whedon’s Angel and Spike characters), while others may want to do some good in the world (Ivy in Kim Harrison’s The Hollows series). Bearing a soul is an affliction, a curse, whereas sociopathic tendencies are more about flouting social rules than the eternal questions of Good versus Evil.
The unintentional vampire is an interesting figure. There is little choice here, but is potentially more horrific because aspects of the paranormal and human collide. A perfect example is Anne Rice’s Claudia in Interview with the Vampire. She is a terrifying blend of victim-turned-into-vampire with a sexual appetite, yet is a killer trapped inside a doll’s body. As for the subtext of homosexuality in vampire films: blood-lust is blind. The modern vampire, misunderstood, maligned, sometimes tragic, is thoroughly romantic and melodramatic, although the reader seems to forget that it is a serial killer, a killing machine.
In the Victorian era the vampire experienced a sexual revolution of sorts. Sheridan Le Fanu, another Irishman, wrote a novella, Carmilla, in which the vampires are lesbians. Again, in keeping with the outsider tradition, homosexuality is outside the purview of Nature. Not sure whether this has been commented on, but I find in Stoker a cultural critique. His Dracula is cultured, charming and Eastern European, as if to say that all that is old and European is deceptive, decadent, and deadly. Isn’t it also interesting that Abraham Van Helsing has evolved into an action hero? The vampire slayer is an entirely different genre.
Murnau’s Noseferatu, for example, is closer to the pre-Victorian image of the vampire – this in itself is ironic because Bram Stoker’s widow sued Murnau for copyright infringement. Murnau’s story is less concerned with sexuality, which Broker’s novel is, as it is with Evil. Count Orlock is not handsome or sophisticated as Stoker’s Dracula. Max Schreck’s Orlock is thoroughly hideous, with his freakish claws, bat-like ears and head; in short, he is a monster, which is exactly what the vampire represents, Christian or pagan.
Yes, Virginia, vampires do exist. It could be the relentless boss or your passive-aggressive partner. The way life is lived could be vampiric in that it siphons off precious mortal time for the sake of survival. Check the mirror, Virginia. The vampire could be you.
Next month, Good To Be The Ghoul examines the werewolf.