Students discuss the growth of the glorified vampire genre and the factors that have made it a worldwide phenomenon
By Victoria Slater
The blazing red lights cascade from the classic AMC movie theater sign, illuminating the packed Lennox parking lot and the crowd of hundreds that swarm below like a cluster of wasps buzzing defensively about their hive. Despite gathering in the midst of a brisk, late-November night, most in the crowd sport black, short-sleeve tee shirts, their chests pushed out defiantly to flash the sewn-on cliché sayings that have recently been seen and heard across televisions, radios, and clothing stores worldwide: Team Jacob or Team Edward.
As the clock strikes 11:30 p.m., the theatre doors at last swing open, summoning those in the horde to rumble in and take their seats before the highly-anticipated feature presentation. The lights dim, the crowd is hushed, and inscribed on the giant screen is the film’s title, New Moon.
It’s not just the Twilight saga that is throwing millions into a frenzied state. With hundreds of books, movies, and television shows sprouting from one, common root, the mythical idea of vampirism has generated its own genre–– the vampire genre.
Although Stephenie Meyer’s phenomenal series seems to capture the largest audience in the media, current works based upon vampirism are becoming just as as desirable in both literature and entertainment.
Such modern works include True Blood, a television series based on best selling books by Charlaine Harris, in which a psychic falls for the peculiar vampire that mysteriously appears at the diner where she works.
Similarly, in the Vampire Diaries, a book series by L. J. Smith that also became a television show this year, a teenage girl finds herself torn between two vampire brothers.
And on MTV’s Valemont, a teen girl’s brother is murdered at Valemont, an elite college on the east coast, by a vampire.
There are many other works available in this genre; however, all focus on one main point: vampires. So, what are the fundamentals that make vampires portrayed in literature and entertainment so mouthwatering?
Sophomore Zoe Ribar suggests that answer comes from the dynamic change vampires have made in their role in literature when they were first introduced in the 19th century.
“[The vampire genre] has become [so] popular because of [the] idea that vampires are like us, and have the same quirks in personality,” sophomore Zoe Ribar said, “It’s similar to realistic fiction, like [it] could actually happen, but when it was originally introduced it was much more fantasy and magical–– a different world of people who wore capes and had visible fangs and coffins…”
It is all these elements: an even blend of sci-fi, fantasy, and realistic fiction, the dash of romance and broken hearts, mixed in with the constant battle of good versus evil, that prove so tantalizing to those who love the idea of vampires; thus producing the worldwide phenomenon of the vampire genre.
Vampires in the Current Day
When one hears the word vampire what comes to mind? For sophomore Alex Kessis, a mental image of blood, fangs, onions, and long black capes surfaces. Junior Amber Daminai’s thoughts are similar.
“Original vampires were scary bad guys and all the girls were rooting for Prince Charming to save them, like in the old Dracula movies,” she said.
Although in this century it seems authors and screen play writers have recrafted the notion of vampires to appeal to larger audiences, the traditional views of the fictitious beast, ones that depict a red-eyed, humanistic monster bearing pointed teeth and pungent taste for blood, continue to survive in our culture today.
Despite the fact that traditional blood-sucking villains remain in the stories and TV shows that current vampire lovers enjoy today, the vampires that take leading roles in modern works have changed in order to appeal to the views in modern society, especially for much younger individuals.
For example, American Literature teacher Ms. Volksen suggests that the sudden spark of vampire popularity was a result of strong admiration with the fantasy genre that grew tremendously with the Harry Potter series.
“[Stephenie Meyer] is writing to a target audience that grew up in the magical world of J.K. Rowling, and who were probably craving a new world to enter,” she said.
However, it’s not just the elements of fantasy that are portrayed in the vampire genre that are proving irresistible to avid readers–– it’s the characters as well.
Readers know what truly lures them to Edward Cullen–– and it’s not just his glowing, golden eyes and bejeweled skin that glitters as it hits the sunlight like the inside of a Tiffany store. Readers love Edward for his ability to mask the monster that lurks within him, to overpower the stereotypically evil being that he has become to focus on his love he feels for mortal Bella Swan and her well-being.
Zoe Ribar praises the way current vampire genre authors portray their customarily malicious characters as innocent, inspiring, and worthy of human love and attention.
“They come off as intelligent, beautiful, graceful, people, which I think is really appealing,” she said.
Ribar added that when vampires illustrate humanistic attributes, such as a conscience and the ability to love, they become much more relatable and consequentially add more elements of interest to a reader.
“[Vampires] are these mystical creatures, so when you think, ‘Wow, this could be real,’ it makes the story so much more interesting,” Ribar said.
Likewise, Ms. Volksen agrees that the Twilight series invites readers to tumble into a delicate world in which they can be anything they wish to be, regardless of reality and possibility.
“Human soften wish there was a way to be powerful, beautiful, immortal AND good,” she said. “Edward’s and Jacob’s clans offer the fulfillment of that fantasy–with risks, but [make it] possible.”
With all these attractive factors playing such immense roles within it, it’s no wonder that the vampire genre has grown into a phenomenon. However, clinical psychologist Raksha Perekh suggests that the swelling popularity with the Twilight series may have less to do with the story line and more to do with the vampire trend it is a part of. In her opinion, many read the Twilight series as a way to be accepted into the “in” crowd.
“Human mentality is based significantly on acceptance, which is a big reason why the obsession on vampires has grown,” Parekh said. “ [As] more herds are interested in vampires it becomes more popular. Most humans work on being like everyone else so [they] are accepted.”
However, many have no interest in reading vampire stories whatsoever. Sophomore Jeff Tsai, for example, believes that some vampire characteristics that Stephenie Meyer incorporates in her series are downright ridiculous.
“It’s destruction of classic vampire lore,” he said, “Vampires twinkle in the sun? A disgrace to Dracula.”
Sophomore Alex Kessis had similar views of the recent vampire characterizations, but concluded that at the end of the day, vampires are nothing but mythical monsters.
“[Authors] have made [vampires] look very attractive and appealing to little 12-year-old girls, who you would think would be horrified of vampires. But even though they have been given that ‘twist’, they still have that very same objective–– to suck people’s blood,” he said.
Not Just a Glittering Face
There are additional ways to interpret the reasons as to why modern authors have altered the general idea of vampires. As well as complying with what the majority of readers favor in fantasy, the vampire as a leading role could also be a representation of the supernatural (God-like or demonic creatures), lust, cannibalism, the evil present in humans, or the notion of accepting someone for who he or she is, regardless of their appearance from the outside.
Zoe Ribar suggests that Edward Cullen, for example, initially stands as a metaphor for lust and attraction, but as the story between him and Bella unfolds, Stephenie Meyer illustrates Edward as a reminder to look past first judgements to see who someone truly is on the inside.
“[Edward] might be a symbol in what catches our attention, but Stephenie Meyer lets us see what’s underneath his ‘marble’ exterior,” she said. “He has a soft, caring personality which makes us absolutely drawn to his character, and these qualities not everyone sees.”
Thus, Edward is not just the story’s love interest in vampire form. He is a metaphor for unreliable first impressions and that one’s soul that can’t always be seen on the surface. Meyer uses Edward metaphorically to construct a more realistic view of his character. This way, readers can find him more relatable and bring more from the text.
Zoe Ribar adds that the symbols Edward represents offer dynamics to the story, while prompting readers to look someone inside and out before making judgements.
“I would say he’s more of a metaphor to look underneath just the gorgeous face, or push past the aggressiveness and get to know a person, and he might surprise you,” she said.
Lovers Ripped Apart
Almost every memorable love story–– Romeo and Juliet, Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, Cinderella, Twilight, to name few–– apply the cliche archetype of star-crossed lovers. Yet slightly overused, the separation of two lovers by a seemingly unconquerable force is useful way to construct both emotional and physical conflict, as well as demonstrating the perception that love can prevail in any battle.
However many times the archetype is utilized in stories, readers immerse themselves in the desperation and utter heartbreak that star-crossed lovers experience. In the vampire genre, especially, the way unyielding love between a mortal and immortal is played out provides hope to any reader that love is just as strong in reality.
“I think readers find it interesting because they can almost relate that love to real life,” Alex Kessis said, “Love is the same in both fantasy and reality, the emotions of it can’t be changed.”
Readers also find attractive how dynamic that love– or unrequited love– is within vampires stories, because, in many cases, it does not prove to be as fantasy as many would expect. As the Twilight saga love story unfolds, readers note how Bella’s love and desperation for Edward pushes all limits to the point when she elects to give up her human life to that of a vampire.
“I always thought it was kind of shameful to women how Bella fawns over Edward,” Jeff Tsai said, “She’s not a very strong character to rally around, because she just sort of gives up her life to vampirism.”
Indeed, this notion could imply a slight degradation toward women, or emphasize a woman’s strong need to be loved and sheltered. By utilizing this idea in her series, Meyer does away with the cliche Prince Charming who rides on a white horse to save Snow White from her terrible fate; rather she demonstrates an instance in which two lovers sacrifice their lives to save each other.
A Battle for the Good
A final idea captured within the vampire genre is the dynamic theme of good versus evil. This conception provides both action and conflict as well as adding more suspenseful elements to the love story that takes place. Like the the star-crossed lovers archetype, good versus evil demonstrates how far characters will go to achieve what they truly desire.
“It causes the two sides to fight each other for something very valuable, whether it’s blood or human life,” Alex Kessis said.
Additionally, readers love a situation where the decision to pick a side, in this case the good side or the evil side, arises.
“Seeing as the notion of good vs. evil plays out within a love story, I think it definitely attracts more people because you always have the people that root for the bad side and those that root for the good side, just like you have a Team Edward or a Team Jacob,” Amber Damiani said.
And in most modern cases within the vampire genre, good commonly prevails over the evil, which accentuates yet another way of how far vampires have come from their 19th century ancestors.
A Final Look
A mythical, menacing creature wrapped in succulent human skin with undeniable good looks, vampires construct a world where reality meets fantasy, where mortals and immortals coexist. In books, movies, and television shows, lines of symmetry are drawn between vampires and humans, where relativity between the two worlds emerge.
Humans find themselves drawn to the vampires’ familiar traits, and consequentially are thrown down a path where two worlds meet, a path teeming with love, loss, and a constant battle between right and wrong, good and evil. Those who enjoy products of this genre are captivated by the archetypal fundamentals that exist in these works of literature and entertainment. It is the smooth concoction of reality, fantasy, love, life, and conflict that integrate to form the phenomenon of the vampire genre.