Sunday, September 14, 2008

"Vampires were people, too!"

Finally, something has displaced our vicarious attention from the young wizard, Harry Potter. What is the new hawtness? you ask. Apparently, it's Casper (actually, Edward) the Friendly Vampire. Sales of one of the books in the Twilight series uprooted the current Harry Potter sequel, and the latest release sold 1.3 million copies in its first day. The soon-to-be-released movie (caution: scary movie at link) is supposedly based very closely on the source material from the book.

Apparently, also, HBO is airing a new series on vampires as ordinary folks (leading to this entry's eponymous title), that is also based very closely on the books by the author.

Both these efforts are serious undertakings: top-of-the-line actors and directors and high production values, with a media blitz to garner as much mind-share as possible.

So, it's the good news/bad news situation — the good: people are reading again, so much so that it affects how the TV/movie medium decides to portray these stories; the bad: ...

The bad news is this, not that evil is alluring, because evil has been glamorous, and always will be so (it's called temptation for a reason).

First of all, what is evil? The romantic view is that evil has some kind of reality to it, that it has a draw of its own. And the success of the romantic era is that it has given evil this: it's cool to be bad. But this, in the history of history, is only a very recent development, which has more recently been overturned by a newer judgment-free position: "it's all good", which isn't far from the mark, but first let's pause for a moment to review the development of morality to see why I'm alarmed at the thought of there being friendly vampires — at why something so unreal as mythical creatures should be a cause for alarm.

History can be roughly divided into four stages: primitive, classic, romantic, and post-modern (Milan Kundera used the stages of a football ('merkan "soccor") game: pep rally, 1st half, 2nd half, and overtime). In the primitive stage, there isn't a concept or a distinction between good and evil: the gods reflect or explain natural or human behavior and have their own motives, people are left to their own devices to survive, and any interaction with the gods is arbitrary. During the classic stage, good and evil come into sharp focus: God is good and on the side of people, the enemy (Satan, or whomever is that personification) is bad and seeks to follow his own way, and people who are good are rewarded, people who aren't good are punished. The romantic stage is firmly entrenched in this duality, but, whereas before in the classic stage, where evil was simply a lack — a bad act is simply an imperfectly good one — evil now takes on its own reality, and particularly in this stage, its own persona. Whereas in the classic stage, God and His angels are the ones interacting with people (the serpent makes a cameo, but only once or twice), in the romantic stage, it's Nick, faeries, vampires, werewolves, what-have-you, making their presence known to mankind.

But take note, in the romantic stage, these creatures are not pretentious: their aim is evil, and relations with them are uniformly bad ("... and Tom's death shows us the moral of the story: don't mess with the undead!").

Why is it, then, in this post-modern era (after a very brief and self-absorbed modern stage) that these creatures come to represent good? The conflicted vampire, refusing to feed on people, in fact, protecting them, are what these tales tell nowadays is that it's thrilling and exciting and romantic to become involved in the supernatural.


Oh, vampires are romantic enough in and of themselves, I suppose, but this era has taken the vampire one step further: the vampire is now no longer a supernatural creature, created by an unknowable angel of darkness. No, vampires now-a-days are human creations, and the media reflects this. All the features of the vampire — brilliance, charm, cunning, ruthlessness — are now fully realized in the cylon skin-jobs, Dr. Hannibal Lecter, Dexter, or the ballerina terminator. All excellently produced shows; all have resonated with (popular) culture.


I'll put forward my thesis: we, as a people, have abandoned all hope. We still need rescuing, but, since, as it is now believed, there is no God, the only good we can get is from the crumbs from the table offered by the bad. The vampires of today have something we don't have, they have their immortality and their cool lifestyles. The tagline from the movie Lost Boys sums it up pithily: "Sleep all day. Party all night. Never grow old. Never die. It's fun to be a vampire." That was the romantic view, which still holds forth, given the rabid devotion of the fans around the world for the vampire genre (Why would Goth ever be in? Really! But it is). But, on our trip down D'spayre lane, having evil, incarnate, around at all is still too much to bear, to hope for, because having evil implies that there is hope for Good after all. Therefore, evil, personified, must go. The post-modern era has rid us of the hope of super-human evil, entirely supplanting it with purely human-created evils — with damnation out of the way, and with no hope of salvation, we've neatly slid into relativism, still clinging to the vague hope of resurrecting primitivistic simplicity and happiness.

But we cannot, and we do not, blind ourselves with false hopes: we cannot go back. Kundera shows us the exiled never truly return home (Testaments Betrayed: an Essay in Nine Parts), and Gaiman shows us the education of history will forever stain our attempts to return to simplicity (American Gods). Once tasted, the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge cannot be unbitten.

How, then, shall we live? If we can't go back, and if we can't live with the promises from false (or no) gods, what are we to do?

I answer that, the greatest of these is Hope. Love is freely, and always, given; Faith is something you have now or can choose now, but Hope ... Hope is the courage to soldier on in the face of all this that the world throws our way. Hope is the strength to believe (through Faith) in Love and then to accept it.

Yes, Hope takes courage and Hope requires strength: in short, Hope is hard work. But, for someone willing to open their eyes, Hope is the only way. You can't go back, you mustn't give in to despair, so there's only one direction left to us so that we may live: onward, and upward.

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