[I want to thank Professor David Graeber, whose anthropological dissection of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (and accompanying lectures) very much forms the basis of this post.]
Let’s begin with two observations. First: the Vampires that inhabit our most recent pop cultural works differ so dramatically from the classic archetype of Golden-Age Hollywood that they are are almost unrecognizable. Second: Werewolves are lame.
Or at least, compared with their undead, blood-sucking, vaguely-Carpathian cohort, werewolves of late have occupied a far less enviable position in the collective pop cultural landscape. These are not the subtle, nuanced, infinitely malleable characters vampires are–the sort capable of carrying their own novels, TV-shows, Movies and crappy Movie-Tie-In Video Games. Rather, lycanthropes end up as the stock types passively added to spice up a Vampire vehicle. Sure, some immortal genius might figure out a way to breathe new life into the old dogs, but for now, Buffy’s Oz remains a werewolf’s best case scenario. In the worst cases it’s… well… I’d rather not say.
However, there is something to be said about the sheer frequency with which werewolves pop up in Vampire works. Is your horror-story turned teen-abstinence-parable getting a bit too stale to survive a sequel? Throw in some werewolves! Is having a psychic heroine dating a vampire proving an insufficient allegory for southern race relations? Make her boss a werewolf! At least…sorta’. The point is, as the length of a Vampire epic approaches infinity, the probability that the spinning “let’s throw in a different kind of monster” wheel will stop on “Werewolf” approaches 1. And it does so far earlier than all of the other forms. As the old aphorism goes: no ghosts, witches, reanimated corpses, mer-people, vengeful pagan gods or giant, radioactive slugs before werewolves. And for heaven’s sake, NO MUMMIES.
Yet–and this is important–despite the number of appearances Werewolves (or the equivalent) make in predominantly Vampire (or equivalent) works, the converse is never true, because Werewolves remain lame.
But why? What is it about our culture that causes us to perpetually dwell on one classic occult figure, while paupering the other of such attention?
The answer, of course, lies in the failure of Marxism.
This was rad as hell.
that Buffy article was written by a Yale professor? That is baffling, truly. That is probably the worst article/disseration I’ve ever read on Buffy, and I once wrote a 10 page analysis of the third wave feminist politics of Buffy so I’ve read more than my share of articles on the topic…they tend to have sources
Thanks, Stokes! It was a lot of fun to write.
@testington – well, he’s a *former* Yale professor. Though I believe his tenure renewal issues were less a result of his poor annotation, and more the result of his being an anarchist. Still, the dude gives *fantastic* lectures.
Odd, very odd. Can’t believe this was written by a Yale Professor.
Hey, Texas. This, was written by me, but inspired by a lecture given by a Yale professor in 1999. I’m merely an MIT grad biochemistry student. Though, if Yale’s hiring…
YOUR piece is a great read though! Really fascinating and quite funny to boot!
@testington Aww.. shucks. Thanks!
Thumpin’ good read!
I couldn’t help but notice how Legosi was in the trailer for _The Wolf Man_, too.
There’s a lot of good stuff packed in here. The idea that middle class Americans in the 1990’s were “tourists in the upper class” is a phrase that’s useful outside of vampire articles.
You definitely made me think about how the depiction of vampires has changed pretty radically over time. On the most basic level, vampires aren’t bad guys anymore. In a lot of cases (Angel, Twilight, Underworld, Blade, True Blood) the primary vampires DON’T EVEN KILL PEOPLE. They have chosen to live via blood banks, animal blood, or synthetic blood. And even in the movies where the vampire does kill people, they’re often depicted sympathetically (Interview With the Vampire, Let the Right One In).
In fact, I’m trying to think of a vampire movie which fits the mold of “group of people band together to kill an evil vampire,” and all I can think of is Van Helsing (shudder) and Dracula 2000 (which I remember liking a tiny bit, but only a tiny bit).
So while vampires are huge in our culture right now, the vampire HORROR movie is close to extinct.
@Belinkie: True that, about the horror aspect leaving vampire lore as of late. I *am* highly intrigued about this upcoming Ethan Hawke movie, “Daybreakers.” Humans being the minority adds an interesting horror twist. The main vampy looks like he wants to convert, though, so maybe that still goes along with the turn vampires have taken lately.
That book/movie _Blood and Chocolate_ has been brought up on other threads before, and I’d argue it’s a very good werewolves ONLY book; and as its own entity, the movie was entertaining enough (but if compared to the book, total bollocks, completely different and more like a “suggested by” than a “based on”).
I’d also like to point out the observation that while vampires don’t play much of a role in it, the Harry Potter universe has a werewolf as one of the main protagonists.
The second Wolfman trailer (the most recent one) looks amazing.
Lycans won’t remain as the werewolf’s worst case scenario for long… you mention it in the next sentence. In Twilight: New Moon not only do you have to fight vampires for a vain human girl’s affections, you be shirtless the whole movie (something to do with body heat, apparently).
It also incorporates your True Blood point, if I’m not mistaken, in that they’re Native Americans.
Yeah, I know too much about Twilight.
Let me amend my own point. I didn’t see it, but I believe 30 Days of Night is about regular people fighting evil vampires. So that’s a recent movie in which vampires are straight-up evil. HOWEVER… that movie was a box office disappointment, not even breaking 40 mil domestic. So that proves my (and Shechner’s) point. Nowadays people IDENTIFY with vampires. We don’t want to wipe them out.
(Although of course, 30 Days of Night might have underperformed for a variety of reasons. Correlation does not equal causation.)
30 Days of Night played out a lot like a modern zombie movie in a few aspects: survivors holing up and hiding out, and the vampire state spread the same way, i.e. through biting/ infection. And they were by no means sexy, these vamps- they may have been fully clothed, but they were definitely intended to look grotesque like zombies. But they also kept a few of the more “classic” vampire characteristics, like using mortals as slaves, sunlight=death, uber strength, and using their intelligence to lure in victims. There was also an established rule system and hierarchy among them. I could say and debate (with myself)(read: ramble) a lot more, but it would get spoilerific.
Harry Potter does in some ways have a vampire–Voldemort. He has to use Harry’s blood to sustain his physical form. (As far as we know, he doesn’t ever need to eat anything else again.) He has incredible powers and has at least split his soul into teeny-tiny pieces. He’s more into darkness than sunlight, and he definitely has a lot of willing minions.
It’s not American, but isn’t Night Watch a vampire horror movie? though I guess you could read that one as being about eth rise of the oligarchs in the aftermath of the collapse of the USSR.
This is a cool theory, and I think it holds true for a lot of the monster genre, but I wonder how some of the recent urban fantasy series fit into it. Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, for instance, portray vampires as literally inhuman monsters, while the werewolves are actually pretty cool – a group of college kids who learn to shift into werewolves and do retain their intelligence in wolf form. Maybe that just shows the way society’s sympathies are shifting, or that we view our future hopes in a new, up-and-coming form of power and not in the old worn out system.
A super-clever thesis and fantastic read. I’m getting high off all your cultural references! It’s potent stuff, and hilarious.
By chance my vacation this summer spanned Twillight country, Port Angeles to Forks, WA on the upper western peninsula of WA. Everyone was bonkers for it up there. Businesses proudly displayed banners declaring they sold “Twillight” this and that (t-shirts, postcards, hamburgers, etc.). Twillight tourists came in all ages and socioeconomic statuses. I was just glad to see the boon for businesses in some of these economically very depressed areas.
You’re an MIT grad biochem student, eh? For my science blog I’m looking for someone to review a new paper coming out soon, D.S. et al. I’ve also been looking for someone to profile their transformation from the world of structure to non-coding something or other, and you know, make it funny. You recommend anyone?