Sellers: Reality Bites
By Emily Sellers, Staff Columnist
Published on Tuesday, January 15, 2013
In the crisp, new 21st century, many teens are welcomed into the world of young adult fiction by a sensually beckoning — albeit cold and sometimes sparkly — hand. For this generation, vampires are exciting, mysterious and sexy. The popularity of Stephanie Meyer’s “Twilight” franchise is a testament to the vampire’s appeal, as are the subsequent iterations of modern-day vampire lore. From HBO’s drama “True Blood” to CW’s teen soap “The Vampire Diaries,” a pervasive taste for all things vampire has gushed into popular culture.
Popular interest in vampires can be traced to 16th century Europe. Even before its emergence into an almost entirely Christian world, the vampire myth reflected deep-held anxieties of a frightened and superstitious populace. For example, pre-Christian Slavic people feared vampires for the same reason early Christians did — vampires threatened eternal life, one separated from this world. Because of this, the vampire, despite his clear, blemish-free skin, was seen as repulsive, demonic and not at all appealing. Until recently, the vampire was an enigmatic villain, antithetical to salvation, who threatened to drain a victim not only of one’s blood but of one’s hope of eternal life as well. The immortality a vampire bestows on his victim is filthy, cursed and hellish compared to Christian views of the afterlife.
The Victorian age experienced similar fears. However, in Bram Stoker’s classic novel, “Dracula,” vampires endangered purity, as well as the afterlife. Thus, the vampire myth continued to be a looking glass into the particular fears of the time. Whereas pre-Victorian fears stemmed from a danger to the immortal soul, in the Victorian era vampires soiled sexuality before condemning their victims to a life without salvation. The Victorians, as it is widely known, very much felt that sexuality, particularly when unconstrained, was as immoral as it was dangerous. Venereal disease was rampant, and vampires became even more frightening when they preyed upon traditional sexual norms. To Victorians and the people before them, vampires were not dreamy, and a dream involving a vampire was definitely not the basis of a romantic best seller. Instead, they were nightmares — a hidden terror lurking in the shadows, a demon stalking you as his next prey, a reason not to go out at night.
Those attitudes, compared to today’s, contrast more sharply than Edward Cullen next to Snooki. The intense and popular fear that vampires engendered before modern times proved that people believed the threat to be legitimate because it denied people an afterlife they ardently believed in. Without this threat, vampires would have been little more than a scare tactic to keep children off the streets at nightfall. Instead, people of all ages and education subscribed to the myth, and all were subsequently afraid of it. This shows that people legitimately believed in the promise of salvation, Christian or otherwise. The immortality a vampire pawned was nothing compared to the grand visions people held of life after death. Victorians added sexuality to the mix, peppering the already-substantial fear with the values of the day.
Fast forward to today, where, even on the intellectually-enlightened Dartmouth campus, vampires have transformed from a blood-sucking, parasitical demon to a sexy anti-hero of popular entertainment. The Russian course “Slavic Folklore: Vampires, Witches, and Firebirds” brings this conversation directly to Hanover, pumping the curriculum with a renewed interest in vampiric lore, just as it flows through the world as a whole. Far from fearing them, society embraces vampires, sometimes quite literally, forgetting the danger they so aggressively posed just decades before. The former fear of becoming immortal through an undead vampiric existence has been transformed into the bulk of the vampire’s appeal. Sloughing off the old superstitious fears carries with it implications greater than a lustier populace. While early fear of vampirism was grounded in ardent belief in an afterlife, today’s reaction to and glamorization of vampirism seems to suggest the opposite. If vampires are a reflection of what we fear, today’s society seems to fear death instead of losing a particular afterlife. Although “Twilight” was written by a Mormon author, vampires suggest a deterioration of Christian thought, or at least substantial doubt. Hidden beneath the glittering exterior, vampires reveal a perhaps unsavory new fear: post-mortem oblivion.