Our heroes have always been flawed. Heathcliff was a vengeful misanthrope with necrophiliac tendencies. Mr Knightley was an annoying elitist who belittled his heroine. Mr Darcy was essentially a bad tempered snob. And let’s not get into Mr Rochester and his poor mad wife in the attic. Yet despite their vices, at least in the past we could count on our heroes to at least be human. Today it seems that every protagonist of note has fangs and a healthy appetite for human blood.
Apparently the incredible success of Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series has had a snowball effect on the publishing and movie industries. Bookstores are now able to offer a whole section on vampire fiction. Fictional romps like Evernight, Suck It Up and High School Bites are on offer, along with whole series of novels with titles like Vamps and Blood Coven Vampire. The movie industry is exhibiting similar predilections. The list of movies premiering in 2010 includes Daybreakers, Dead Sucks, Stake Land and another remake of Dracula. Meyer certainly has changed the way we think about our ideal heroes.
While it is now a cliché to call the ubiquitous Twilight a phenomenon, no other word really expresses the success of the novels and spin off movies adequately. If you thought J.K. Rowling’s books were successful, Meyer’s novels sold a million copies faster than the Harry Potter creator did in her native Britain. Rowling’s records are not the only ones that the Twilight series has smashed. New Moon, the second Twilight movie, broke the box office opening day record in the US, taking US$72.7 million in that first day. Our appetite for vampires and Stephanie Meyer’s vampires in particular, is showing no sign of diminishing.
While there is a bumper sticker that exists which reads “Twilight, it’s not just for teenage girls dammit”, it is undeniable that teenage girls form the large majority of the Twilight fan base. These “Twihards”, as they have named themselves, take pride in how quickly they devoured the books or in their excessive viewings of the films.
It is not unusual for teenage fans to have a viewing tally that involves double digits. These teens are the ones buying the branded G-strings, the beer steins and the Twilight action figures. Perhaps that’s the secret. Perhaps the secret lies in the incredible marketability of the series. The red and black book covers are instantly recognisable and thus easily transferred to schoolbags and movie posters. The merchandise which these teens are readily consuming increases with each installment of the movie series.
The clever casting of the movies has led to a division between fans who argue about which character is more attractive, Edward or Jacob. Fans declare their preference for either character in the term Team Jacob or Team Edward. Merchandisers have now started branding their products with the slogans for each team thus spawning a whole new line of consumables. With earning potential like this, is it any wonder that other authors and studios are keen to jump on the bandwagon?
As a Generation Xer, I would of course argue that our generation at least knew how to create vampires that were both dangerous and cool. Forget these mainstreaming monsters or “vegetarian” vamps; we were raised on the intoxicating image of The Lost Boys who were as scary as they were attractive. We were used to Tarantino’s seedy bar brawling blood suckers, or Anne Rice’s controlling but chic Lestat. These were images of powerful but vain creatures, almost invariably men. What these composers were presenting essentially was a more potent and dangerous version of the bad boy at school. It is no surprise that these sexy and mysterious entities were attractive to many women. But the vampires who have slunk out of their coffins in this decade are substantially different.
Current composers can no longer be relied upon to present their vampires as dangerous. Everyone from the director of the series Moonlight, to Charlaine Harris, writer of the Sookie Stackhouse novels, has been presenting vampires who are the model of the perfect mate. Meyer’s hero, Edward Cullen, is supposed to be a straight A-grade student and is hardly the bad boy. Obviously the argument that vampires are symbolic of the bad boys that women lust after just cannot explain our current obsession with vamps. The minute that Buffy the Vampire Slayer stopped destroying bloodsuckers and started dating them, she inspired a revolution in vampire literature. Today’s leading vampires are less likely to be chasing you to drink your blood and more likely to be presenting you with a romantic candlelit dinner. So what has prompted this change? And why is the notion of a vampire beau suddenly so appealing to such a wide audience?
To answer these questions it is helpful to examine the motives of Bram Stoker, who wrote the novel Dracula, which appeared in 1897. The Count was not the first vampire to appear in print. However, he is probably the most famous vampire of the last 200 years. Count Dracula’s appeal was enmeshed in his connection to sex. He was a character who lived in a castle with three beautiful vampire concubines, a salient reminder of his sexual potency and prowess. To Stoker’s repressed Victorian audience, Dracula was a symbol of deviant sexual practices that presented a clear link between sex and evil. In contrast, Jonathan Harker, the guest who nearly succumbs to the charms of the gorgeous concubines, is a reminder of the advantages of restraint.
Stoker also had a moral tale for his female readers. The overtly sexual Lucy, who has three suitors competing for her, jokes that she wants all three men. She is easy prey for Dracula and is later beheaded and staked. Her friend Mina, whose sexual conservatism is stifling, is saved from Dracula and goes on to live a normal life. Clearly the message in the text was that sex is dangerous and should be repressed. Even more importantly, Stoker made the link between sex and vampires.
Dracula may not have been an attractive sexual symbol, but we don’t live in the repressive Victorian Era anymore. Sex aids are advertised on every second billboard in this new world and magazines boost sales by putting phrases like “longer, stronger orgasms” on their covers. If vampires now look like the smouldering Robert Pattinson or are as muscle bound as Taylor Lautner, is it any wonder that we are lusting after these creatures of the night?
Dr Catherine Strong, lecturer in Sociology at Charles Sturt University, is currently researching vampire culture and has noted the link between vampires and sex. “Vampires are a constant source of fascination because of their ability to represent so many forbidden parts of human nature, and the way they do it so sexily” she states. “The drinking of the blood of another is at once intimate, suggestive of the consumption of other bodily fluids, and a monstrous, unthinkable taboo.” Strong also recognises that vampires have certain advantages over typical men with their “immortality, superhuman strength and more often than not superhuman beauty”.