Allow me to elaborate on a statement I made yesterday about modern vampires being “a bunch of emo pussies.” Now, though I have no doubt my comments made the Jacobites cheer, before those Edwardians get up in arms—which they should—let me fill in a little vampire history.
In the pre- and early-modern world, the vampire was a monster from folklore. Vampires were a reanimated corpse who would rise from the grave, drink its victim’s blood, and, upon their death, that victim would become a vampire. For the most part, they were little more than animals preying on the living to quench their thirst for blood. Though we are most familiar with the Easter European variant, cultures around the world have their own version of an evil undead killer.
Then came the Nineteenth Century, wherein the vampire moved from monster to bad guy. What’s the difference? The vampire was still an evil killer, but now he had a motive. He didn’t just want to kill, he lusted after the heroine. He wanted to infect London and create a modern empire as great as that of his Magyar ancestors. In works of fiction—from penny dreadfuls like Varney the Vampire to novels like Dracula—the vampire became not a creature from folklore, but a character.
Next was the Twentieth Century and cinema. The vampire was still the bad guy, but now, he was sexy. Bella Lugosi and Christopher Lee both played Dracula not as a crusty old count, but as a suave sophisticate. Because girls love their bad boys, the biting=sex metaphor was played up as much as standards of the day would allow.
And then, the 1970s, people were being all post-modern and questioning cultural assumptions. Was the vampire really evil? Did we maybe just misunderstand him? Stuff like Dark Shadows and, most importantly, Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire showed the vampire as not evil, not a monster, and not even always a bad guy. The vampire had become an anti-hero.
The alleged turning point: 1997. Buffy the Vampire Slayer hits the airways. We have two male vampires who (sometimes) aren’t the bad guys, both in love with a teenage girl—who incidentally in the beginning of the series is an outsider with divorced parents starting at a new school. (Sound familiar, Stephanie Meyers?) Some people have claimed that the likes of Edward Cullen are the direct descendants of Angel and Spike (mpreg slash shippers rejoice), but I disagree. Spike isn’t always a bad guy, but he’s always a badass. And the one time he was acting like a whiny emo pussy was because something powerfully evil was making him do it. Angel, admittedly, is a bit of a wuss (although at times he can be a bit of a deadpan [pun intended] snarker), but with a pretty good reason. As Angelus, he’s so unimaginably awful that, with a soul, Angel has to be kinda wimpy.
Enter the Twenty-First Century, with its vampires who love, and don’t kill, and are just filled with wonderful sparkly goodness. Ok, I exaggerate based on one text, but the point remains that vampires are now the heroes. How is that different from before? Throughout the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, the vampire was gradually humanized. However, as the new millennium began, vampires were bowdlerized. Lestat, Angel, Spike, and all the other anti-hero vampires had moral conflict. They struggled because being good guys conflicted with their evil natures and the bad things they did. In modern vampires, though, this struggle is lacking. We automatically accept that the vampire protagonist is a creature of good. Yes, there are still bad vampires around, but only to make the good vampire seem more heroic. In short, whereas the anti-hero vampire had an inner monster to fight, the in the modern vampire, there is nothing to fear.