He’s tall, dark and handsome. Incredibly strong. Older, but still overflowing with sexual energy. And when you look into his dreamy eyes, you see… burning hunks of coal.
Did I mention the best part? He wants to drink your blood.
Personally, I find that last bit a turn-off. I like my lovers non-homicidal. But clearly, not everyone agrees. Pointy teeth are in, and have been for a while, as evidenced by a long line of hit films, from Tom Cruise’s “Interview With a Vampire” to the ridiculously popular “Twilight” series.
Why can bloodthirsty demons kill it (in more ways than one) with the ladies? Personally, I didn’t understand it, so I decided to investigate the matter by reading Bram Stoker’s 1897 classic, “Dracula.” From this Gothic thriller I gleaned several insights, which I here put forward for the edification of vamp groupies.
Vampires Take the Bad Boy Too Far
Some girls love their bad boys. Vampires definitely qualify. Romance is more exciting when it comes with a whiff of danger, and a vampire will give you a noseful (as he consumes your body and rapes your soul). Let’s be clear, though. Vampires do not have layers. If you like your Byronic heroes for their dark, moody depths, dump the vamp. He’s bad, but in a more straightforward, wants-to-gloat-over-your-lifeless-corpse sort of way.
This has been understood from antiquity, but modern film, television and “literature” have not always honored the tradition. From Buffy’s Angel to “Twilight” to the recently released (and awful) “Dracula Untold,” modern storytellers can’t resist the urge to redeem a monster. Tragic, broody vampires make better heartthrobs than homicidal demons. Also, writers and filmmakers think they’re being deep when they turn the tables on us and make the bad guys good.
I have to ask, though: Is anyone else getting bored of the endless iterations of “shades of grey” storylines? Tearing down heroes and lionizing villains is just too obvious to be interesting anymore. “Dracula” is way more exciting for the fact that Count Dracula is evil incarnate, not just some taciturn guy whose parents didn’t hug him enough.
In any case, Stoker has tradition on his side. A vampire is a creature that consumes life to fuel his own preternatural strength. This is not a nice thing. If you have a date with a vamp, you need garlic and holy water, not a sizzling hot dress.
Vampires Cannot Love You
A vampire is a sexual predator. You can’t make him love you. He has no soul. Perhaps this is the true explanation of the vampire’s modern appeal? In a world that showers its “sex positivity” on every kind of depraved sexual encounter (conditional only on “consent”), it may not be surprising that women dream of offering themselves to bloodthirsty monsters who just want to consume their bodies.
In a way, this is oddly consistent with tradition, or at least with Stoker’s tradition. “Dracula,” of course, is filled with sexual metaphor. It is a tale about the struggle to preserve feminine purity against the darker forces of unchecked lust. The evil Count Dracula battles a cadre of upstanding English gentlemen, and tries to drain the lives of two chaste women as the men desperately work to save them. We all understand what is truly at stake.
Dracula is a nighttime visitor who climbs through windows for encounters of illicit intimacy. His first victim, Lucy, is guarded by multiple chivalrous protectors (most of whom want to be her husband), who try to restore her with an almost ludicrous number of blood transfusions. This clearly represents the more-honorable relations they would like to enjoy with her, in contrast to Dracula’s more predatory trysts. The general point is clear. Vampires take. Gentlemen give. Which kind of suitor do we want to encourage?
Sadly, that question might be seriously debated in today’s romantic wasteland. In a commitment-shy world, there are undoubtedly women who would choose a fanged hottie over a chivalrous suitor who wants her to bear his children. In a million ways we celebrate casual, uncommitted sex (which is by its nature selfish and predatory) while spurning the sober obligations of committed conjugal marriage. The roots of the vampire craze become clearer.
But wait! say the Twilight fans. What about Edward? Isn’t he the sweetest thing to have been invented since the Twinkie? Doesn’t he have the soul of a gentleman and the heart of a Disney prince? How can you maintain such vampire bigotry in the face of such a magnificent lover?
Here’s the thing. Vampires have been understood from antiquity to be bloodsucking monsters. It’s the essence of their allure, and also the reason why you should not want one for a boyfriend. A character like Edward is something of a cheat, offering girls a chance to have their cake and eat it too. Wrapping your big, swoony sweetie in an alluring lust-and-danger package is a good way to push the buttons of adolescent girls, but it makes no sense whatsoever and does a great disservice to actual gentlemen who are (predictably and necessarily) lacking in monster cred.
It would really be better if we could keep our categories straight. Monsters are bad. Gentlemen are good. At some point you have to choose between demon and man.
Vampirism Is Unhealthy and Unnatural
When Lucy ultimately assumes her vampiric form, her maiden innocence is traded for a voluptuous seductiveness. Like Dracula, she now seeks to entice others in a cheap imitation of real human relationships (romantic and, in her case, maternal) by consuming those she ought to cherish. Stoker apparently agrees that women, too, can use sex as a weapon. But vampiric intimacy is always a perversion of real love. If we can’t tell the difference we’re more vulnerable to predatory advances.
One of the major themes of “Dracula” is the extent to which the enlightened, scientific English were unprepared for the vampire assault, because they failed to grasp the dimensions of the threat. Jonathan Harkness receives ample warnings that Castle Dracula is a dangerous place he should not isit, but he ignores this sound advice because the warnings seem too incredible. Later on, the upstanding Dr. John Seward wants desperately to diagnose the vampire Renfield and heal the imperiled Lucy (whom he loves), but his relentlessly clinical focus leaves him helpless before the supernatural threat of the vampire. Only with the help of a Dutch philosopher (who is a capable physician, but also versed in deeper metaphysical realities) are the men able to stage an effective counter-offensive.
Might we too be walking past the graveyard when we dismiss modern vampire-lust as trivial or even healthy? I find it disturbing that we allow our teenagers to fantasize about vampires, but I seem to be in the minority. Consider this explanation of the vampire crush, courtesy of Psychology Today:
Women are programmed to respond to males who have the best chances of successfully fathering and rearing children. Vampires are often depicted as tall and handsome, a combination that signals good genes and high testosterone, and thus, analytical skill, directness and decisiveness. Vampires are also frequently portrayed as wealthy and powerful, which further appeals to women because it indicates access to the resources that help ensure the survival of their young.
Please kill me now. No, wait! I meant that rhetorically!
This theory is ludicrous. The vampire is a violent, predatory loner. Absolutely nothing about him says “call me daddy.” If he had children, he would eat them, not set them up in private schools. He is nobody’s idea of a good role model. But nobody wants to conclude that young women today may simply be in the thrall of predatory, pernicious, and deeply unnatural sexual fantasies, that the battle for healthy and natural love, as described in Stoker’s classic, may already have been lost on a large scale. No one wants to consider that we may have rejected healthy romance to such a great extent that lusting after demons seems natural to us.
Early in the novel, Count Dracula boasts to his fellow vampires that if his power goes unchecked, even the souls of good men will eventually “belong to him.” Is there anyone in our oversexualized world who has not been injured, directly or indirectly, by the evils of unchecked lust? Do we all now belong to the vampire?