Why do vampires attract so many readers and viewers?

by on November 13, 2009 at 7:30 am in Books, Film, Television | Permalink

Here is a WaPo piece which suggests it has to do with the transition from adolescence.  I recall another piece suggesting it had to do with the female fascination with gay men (is there one?).

Vampires are hardly "my thing," but I do like early Anne Rice, The Night Stalker, Herzog's Nosferatu, and I thought Coppola's Dracula movie was better than its reviews.  On the other hand, I couldn't get five pages into Twilight.  (Should I try True Blood?)

I believe vampire books and movies offer a few attractions:

1. You know from the beginning that the plot twists will have to be extreme.  Few movie makers offer up vampires who think pensively, talk inordinately, and live out ambiguous endings, sitting around in coffee shops.  A real vampire story is going to deal with death.

2. We are fascinated with the idea that people may be something other than what they appear to be.  You will notice that discovery and detection of vampires often plays a key role in the plot lines, sometimes commanding an inordinate amount of attention.

3. Vampire stories offer a platform for exploring the theme of pure, limitless, and eternal desire, yet without encountering the absurdities that might result from planting that theme in a realistic, real world setting, such as a man who loves cheese studded with raisins above all else.

4. Vampires play "hard to get" with women and they (for a while) embody Old World ideals of chivalry, in a plausible [sic] fashion.  Yet since they are fundamentally different beings, we can enjoy watching their strategies while simultaneously distancing ourselves from them.

5. Men may like vampire movies for date movies, for uh…priming reasons.  The movies prompt dramatic, emotional reactions in their companions.  Women may feel that such movies "test" how their men respond to highly fraught stories, with a potential for demonstrating protectiveness.  Or vice versa.  

6. Vampires do not seem to mind social disapproval, and in this sense many teens look to them as role models.

7. Some of the popularity is arbitrary with respect to the vampire theme itself.  There is a clustering of production in any successful cultural meme, once that meme gets underway.  You might as well ask why there is so much heavy metal music today.

8. Viewers and readers, who know vampire lore and thus vampire vulnerabilities, feel better informed than the high-status people who, in the drama, are fighting the vampires.

9. There are few successful songs or paintings about vampires, so the story-based aspects of the topic appear to be important in setting their popularity.

Here is an unorthodox answer to the question.

1 Eli November 13, 2009 at 8:17 am

I do not recommend True Blood. I watched 3 episodes and felt no need to go further.

2 Ted November 13, 2009 at 8:21 am

Artsy fartsy snob type people will hate true blood. Not saying you are one Tyler (I know you are artsy fartsy but not sure if your a snob about it).

3 Mikko November 13, 2009 at 8:21 am

Danger (sexual one that is) turns on a whole lot of people. Vampires are the ultimate sexual and dangerous dream. You could call it a female variant of pornography (except that it also attracts men since it has the violence).

4 Ted Craig November 13, 2009 at 8:26 am

The bigger question for me is what’s the deal with zombies?

5 Sol November 13, 2009 at 8:39 am

I’m amused by the number of comments here and on the linked site that seem to assume vampires have to be male.

Besides the whole sex and danger thing, it seems to me the other big interesting question of vampire fiction is, what would you give up for eternal youth, beauty, and vitality? Your soul? Your ability to walk about in daylight? Would you become a horrible monster that preys on others? (Or is the last part of the appeal?)

6 Sonic Charmer November 13, 2009 at 8:51 am

Sol,

I’m in turn amused that vampires are assumed by so many to have “eternal youth, beauty, and vitality”. This is a fairly recent addition to the vampire myth. Naively, one wouldn’t expect people who live in the dark, prey on people, and subsist on their blood to be in any way beautiful or vital. For some twisted reason, though, this is indeed the modern assumption.

7 bob November 13, 2009 at 9:01 am

True Blood the tv show is just a really bad Murder She Wrote episode with lots of supernatural sex and violence. My wife enjoyed the books though.

8 Andrew Berman November 13, 2009 at 10:04 am

Men and women are interested in different types of vampires. Women’s vampires are super-powerful and have few restrictions placed on them. They are– as Laslerlight wrote — the ultimate Bad Boy.

Men don’t want to date vampires, they view them as evil competition. Men want to prove that they are superior to them by killing them. Joss Whedon’s vampires were– with few exceptions– totally evil. As were Bram Stoker’s vampires. Both were much more killable than Meyer’s or Rice’s vampires.

For a extremely trashy vampire book that truly brings out the masculine view of vampires, get a copy of John Steakley’s Vampires. It was the one that John Carpenter made a movie out of.

9 Andy November 13, 2009 at 10:13 am

I believe the unorthodox answer is more mainstream than that. A rather obvious reading of Twilight’s theme is the virtue in having the lustful male vampire remain chaste and overcome his desire to penetrate his female interest.

But you’re right the novel is terrible. Puerile, romantic novel trash, that beats its message of chastity and purity every other page. I only made it 50 pages.

10 Robert S. Porter November 13, 2009 at 10:19 am

Don’t listen to the people. True Blood is one of the best shows on television today. I’ve never read the books and have no intention of doing so.

11 Gopi November 13, 2009 at 10:25 am

There is indeed an article that compares vampires to gay men.

12 Will November 13, 2009 at 10:51 am

I think the unorthodox answer is the simplest and most convincing one. Also the idea of dangerous or forbidden sex. It’s popular for the same reason that a lot of women fantasize about being raped.

13 Tracy W November 13, 2009 at 11:05 am

Or alternatively, the problem with all romantic stories is that the heroine and hero must be kept apart until the end. Vampirism provides a motive for this separation, allowing the author to exploit Unresolved Sexual Tension for an audience which lives in the world where many of the traditional romantic comedy reasons are inapplicable (eg modern-day parents in the West don’t generally try to marry their daughters off to the villains, nor are they likely to forbid their daughters from marrying someone from the wrong class, nor do we have family feuds as per Romeo and Juliet or Campbells versus McGregors, nor is the hero likely to be kept away from the heroine by a false rumour that she once was found alone with a man). And on top of that, people can try to kill the vampire, for understandable motives, and the vampire is unable to call on the police, offering violence and fear and opportunities for dramatic last minute rescues.

Which is not to say that there are no great successful romantic stories without vampires, just that there are fewer plotting options to achieve the same effects than there were in the past.

14 dan November 13, 2009 at 11:27 am

“It’s essentially a twisted, indulgent continuation of the childhood fascination with Disney-style ‘princess’ themes/movies.”

Sonic Charmer, you said what I wanted to say, only better. Who wouldn’t want to be a vampire? Totally free from contraints, both physical and moral. Not only are you expected to do evil, you are compelled to do evil (kill for food), and this compulsion at least partially gives you moral authority to do evil.

What teenager wouldn’t want to be one? Many adults would want to be one. I don’t read any vampire fiction anymore, but when I did the genre was headed into the direction that the vampire hunters were the bad guys, and I wouldn’t be suprised if that kind of view permiates today.

15 Bryan Appleyard November 13, 2009 at 11:53 am

Tyler, it is grave folly to be ahead of one’s time.

http://www.bryanappleyard.com/article.php?page=12&article_id=112

16 andrew November 13, 2009 at 12:23 pm

i don’t mean to be sexist, but it seems to me (and other males) that vampire flicks appeal mostly to the female demographic. to be even more specific, it’s the teeny-bopper female demographic. vampire flicks are always about a tall, mysterious, pale, beautiful male vampire who is not evil like the other vampires but lives for love, and is willing to forego his need for blood in order to be with that One Special Lady. he must be very careful with the One Special Lady or else he might hurt her. a part of him “wants” to hurt her since he lusts for blood.

the way that my friends and i interpret this is that the teenage girls who are “Twilight” fans are nymphomaniacs of sorts. Something about the fact that the vampire in “Twilight” WANTS to hurt the Special Lady but also desires not to hurt her because he “cares” for her is appealing. i predict that much of the “Twilight” demographic will go on to marry physically abusive spouses and will yet stay with them, taking any physical restraint on the part of their spouses as a sign of love.

“He WANTS to hit me, but at the same time because he loves me he stops himself!”

AWWW

17 Andrew November 13, 2009 at 12:45 pm

People who watch politicians don’t need vampire fiction.

For us, there is fiction about vampire politicians. I’m looking forward to it.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0433362/

18 Libby November 13, 2009 at 1:29 pm

As a former pre-sexual girl, I’m going to have to go with the “unorthodox” answer, and follow it up with a “well, duh!”

19 Joshua Allen November 13, 2009 at 2:47 pm

Same reason that young ladies like stories about wild horses. Women love any story about a primal visceral force that is untamed but by the charms of a woman.

20 Ryan Vann November 13, 2009 at 3:10 pm

I’m of the opinion that Vampire’s suck.

21 Justin Martyr November 13, 2009 at 4:01 pm

Andrew has an interesting comment. Women see vampires as the ultimate bad boys. Men see vampires as evil villains that have to be killed. We could run this through a sociobiology/Roissy filter. Vampire movies are about beta males teaming up to take down the alpha male competition. There is also the nice guy/beta male envy of the more sexually alluring alpha male mingled in.

22 Jenny Davidson November 13, 2009 at 5:15 pm

I am neutral on True Blood, haven’t watched enough to say it with authority but suspect it would not interest you much; the books by Charlaine Harris, though, are delightful.

Second the Steakley _Vampires_ rec; also, you might like M. T. Anderson’s _Thirsty_. A vampire novel I like very much is Robin McKinley’s _Sunshine_, but the one I would recommend to you before that is Octavia Butler’s final novel _Fledgling_. The original Bram Stoker novel is well worth a reread if you have not sampled it in recent memory – interesting book about modern technologies of communication/transmission of information…

23 Dan * November 13, 2009 at 6:39 pm

I watch True Blood for the funny ways Southerns get into trouble. The vampire sub-plots usually bore me. My female room-mate loves them though. They are very clearly written for women. But this version of vampires works in an alternate societal structure. I’m not sure Bram Stroker vampires would work on a large scale, out in the open. Though an excellent action flick could be made of people riding around the country seeking vampires to kill. A Western or Post-Apocalyptic style would work well.

I used to love Vampires especially of the Vampire D kind. They were my idols, everything I wanted to be. Years later I now don’t know any men my age (25) interested in Vampires, but plenty of ladies still are. Vampires seem to have a greater appeal to women of all ages, whereas men “grow out” of it. Of course this is anecdotal, perhaps there are plenty of men out there continuing to idolize vampires. Or they want vampire women. Kate Beckinsale in Underworld was the only appeal of that entire series.

24 Shane M November 13, 2009 at 9:51 pm

I second Tracy W’s comment. My wife is both a reader and writer of paranormal stories and the conflicts inherent in vampire/human relationships provide strong and believable conflict throughout.

25 Brett November 15, 2009 at 2:57 am

Like what Andrew said, I think it’s a kind of wish fulfillment. Not necessarily to become a vampire, but that there’s this Super-Handsome, Mysterious, Dangerous Stranger-Gentlemen who could-have-anyone-in-the-world-but-he-wants-me! aspect.

26 ryan November 15, 2009 at 2:20 pm

meh. I think it’s just that it’s the subject du jour. A few years ago, you could have asked why child wizards were so popular, or why musical high schoolers were so popular. I don’t think anything has changed in the vampire world to make twilight so much more popular than, say, Blade, except that Twilight was well marketed, (presumably) a decent read, and aimed at a huge and largely homogenous (in their tastes) segment of the population. Then twilight made a bunch of money so other projects followed.

27 doctorpat November 15, 2009 at 11:23 pm

It has been mentioned (translation: I forget who said it) that “Horror movies are the nightmares of our collective subconcious.”

Which means that for a horror genre to become popular, it must resonate with something that is within a big slab of the population. If one type of horror story becomes very successful, it must be reminiscent, or a metaphor for something that lurks in the worries, concerns and outright fears of many, many people.

The two most common characters at the moment (as far as I can see) are pirates and vampires.

Pirates are obvious. Every newspaper you pick up has articles about pirates. The archetypal industry of the older generations (the music recording industry) claims to be in the process of being destroyed by pirates. And “pirate” is defined as including just about everyone below the age of 40, at least with an internet connection. Or who listens to music. Or who buys a handbag or jacket that costs less than $500. So a “pirate” is basically just any young person who rebels even slightly against their parents’ generation.

In modern fiction, Vampires are

Slim to thin, if not gaunt
Pale
Extremely dangerous
Highly fashionable
Witty, charming and highly intelligent
Very sexy
A threat to the young, who they will seduce away and then take over
Often homosexual
Associated with blood
From lost, third-world, origins associated with dark blood rites
Contagious

The interpretation is clear: Vampires are AIDS.

Take away the sexuality, and we are left with the Victorian vampire (another peak in their popularity). During which time the threat to the young middle class was TB. Which leaves its fashionable victims pale, thin, and spitting blood.

28 TGGP November 16, 2009 at 12:56 am

Roky Erickson’s “Night of the Vampire” is a good song, and Entombed’s cover is good too. They should do more doom metal and less death metal. On the other hand, Pentagram’s “Sign of the Wolf” is great but their vampire song is lame. For those into over-the-top power-metal there’s also Iced Earth’s “Wolf”. And don’t forget “Werewolves of London”! But werewolves are still less popular.

Matheson’s book is great, though it might also fit in the zombie genre (as have all the film versions of it). Herzog’s movie is good too.

29 bob December 10, 2009 at 7:36 am

Bob says Hi

30 Silver Tiffany July 6, 2010 at 12:12 am

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