True Human Nature Revealed by Blood-Sucking Immortals

Born to be Bad: The Autobiography of Eric Northman
This photo is from the back jacket of my new autobiograph: "Born to Be Bad: The Story of Eric Northman"

Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s vampire anti-hero, Angel, drinks animal blood he picks up at the butcher and, by some devilish magicks, acquires a soul. This soul grants him the ability to reject the blood lust of his brethren. Also, if you hadn’t noticed, his name is Angel, and not Lucifer or Satan T. Spawn or even Spike. (Although everyone knows Spike is way better, but I’ll get to that later.) True Blood’s southern gentleman-vampire, Bill, drinks the recently invented synthetic blood, ironically called True Blood, and also rejects the cruder vampire ways by leading a moral, non-murderous existence.

The Cullens, including EDWARD, are the central vampire family of the Twilight books, and they too are weirdly moral for their race, choosing to drink animal blood (albeit not from a bottle or plastic container, but straight from the throbbing neck of a big stag) instead of hunting humans.

The point is, every vampire tale features an unvampirely hero who adheres to human codes of ethics. This and many other examples from True Blood, Buffy and the Twilight saga reveal a troubling self hatred among vampires. JK. These things really reveal that most vampire stories are celebrations of human life; we don’t have to make the choice to kill or not to kill whenever we go to eat! Evil is a choice for humanity; evil is written in the genetic code for vamps. Folks like Bill and Angel would trade their good looks, deadly speed, and immortality for a frail human body any day of the week!

But why would anyone try to celebrate humanity through the conduit of the unhuman, the supernatural? Well, it’s all about the deep structures, methinks. No better way to examine the deep structures of what makes humanity human than looking at how inhuman non-humans can be. These tales give us a taste of the sexy power of what it is to be a werewolf/vampire/shape-shifter, but ultimately we don’t end up thinking, “Gee, I wish I were a werewolf!” We end up being glad we are humanz.

EXCEPT FOR IN TWILIGHT! In what is either a brilliant shift in the genre, or an ill-thought-out accident by a terrible writer, the Twilight books exult most of what is vampirely. And I am troubled by this.

SPOILER ALERT regarding Breaking Dawn! Don’t read on if you want to be surprised in the books. Once Bella becomes a vampire, she discovers that it was always her destiny to become one of these pale-fleshed immortals. She smugly recalls human life as a time of dim colors, weak twinges of emotion, and perilous physical incapacity. As a vampire, she is more graceful, more powerful, more at home with herself, and, most importantly, more fully able to love Edward forever and ever!!!

Moreover, there is apparently no down-side to being a vampire. In Meyer’s books, vampires don’t even need to sleep, much less be limited to sleeping during the day, so they lead a restless, ceaseless existence. Does that sound like a special ring of hell to anyone else? And yet, there is no reflection by any Twilight character that it might very well be awful to be alive and AWAKE forever. This is just one of many reasons I do not want to be a vampire.

Why does Twilight‘s human-shunning ways suck? Well, for a number of inter- and extra-textual reasons. Firstly, Bella became a vampire for her boyfriend–she literally dies for Ed, just like she always wanted! Family? Friends? College? Future? Whatevs! Bella’s true self is actually achieved through abandoning this self, for a DUDE. Secondly, Bella’s self-love as a vampire just flat out degrades life as a human. It doesn’t illuminate any aspect of what it is to be human, as Angel’s and Bill’s struggles do, it only shits all over the human condition, claiming that our sense perception and emotional life is but a glimmer of what could be, were we superior creatures.

But maybe Meyer is just taking the vampire genre the logical step further. It is important to note that even though Angel and Bill are the good boys of their respective fictional universes, and they win the hearts of the golden blondies/heroines of the tales, the heroines always eventually fall for the bad guy. The dark side can only be resisted for so long. In Buffy, Ms. Buffy eventually falls for Spike, and he doesn’t even have a soul! Though he makes pains to become good, Spike’s goodness is always in doubt, and he can only fight his nature so long. Yet I know not a Buffy fan who doesn’t root for Spike. I seriously didn’t care if Buffy crossed over to evildom, her devotion to Angel and all things of the light gets a little old. Likewise, in True Blood, clearly Sookie and Eric are about to have an affair. All I can say is, SOOKIE, DO IT!!!! Eric is way hotter than Bill. Eric is a delightfully immoral being of Swedish descent. He is also blond, has an accent, and is the arch-nemesis of the series’ hero, kind of like Spike.

So if all ladies in the vampire-verse are unable to resist the darkness, mayhaps Bella’s full-on conversion to the darkness is an alright conclusion. Why fuck em when you can join em? Eh?

But no, not really. I have advocated and continue to advocate stories of the supernatural where humans come out the winners. SO THERE.

Black leather is always in style for blond vampires, be it 1998 or 2009.
Black leather is always in style for bad vampires, be it 1998 or 2009.

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5 thoughts on “True Human Nature Revealed by Blood-Sucking Immortals

  1. Anna, I love wondering down this strange and foreign vampire rabbit hole, so please excuse the following:
    I blame the whole altruistic, celibate (lames-ass) vampire phenomenon on the admirable shift in the ways our culture handles transgressive behavior. If the vampire myth is all about the dark and seductive sides of human nature, (that from which you recoil but which still makes your eyes moist, thank you Mr. Reed) then our good boy vampire is an attempt at rectifying and assimilating something that was once anathema to civilized humanity, an impulse most clearly defined in the synthetic blood conceit, we’ll medicate the problem away.
    Now this is interesting and all, says good things about how far we’ve progressed, but old fashioned vampires would never consider dropping their evil ways for humanity, vampire life is too fucking fun. But for our sensitive manchild vampires with emo eyes and 80’s British skin complexions and haircuts, they want salvation, to fight against their base impulses and become human. I’ll admit it’s an interesting turn, humanizing the object of fear, giving them a path to humanity and therefore salvation. But that denies us what a lot of us really want out of our vampires, which is fear and seduction.
    The P4k write up for the Shangri-Las’ “Out In the Streets” has something interesting to say about this:

    Surrounded by siren-like howls and orchestral plinks, the girls rue their own appeal and repent for sanitizing their bad-boy beaus. As a premise, this apology has the benefits of uniting pride and pathos: “He used to act bad/ He used to, but he quit it/ It makes me so sad/ ‘Cause I know that he did it for me.” The underlying message is that we should hate ourselves as penitence for our beauty, and this song is therefore the finest distillation of the teenage dream ever recorded

    Although not exactly the same, I wonder if there’s an element of this in our recent attempt to sanitize vamps, and why the evil ones remain so much more bad ass. AND THEN, there’s Bella flipping the trend by satisfying the dark urges by crossing over to the dark side. Except that (and I haven’t read the books) she’s doing it for LOVE, not for the thrill of it, not for the dark desire and bloodlust. She get’s all the powers and sheds her mortal inadequacies, and that’s thrilling for her and all but I’m sorry, this breaks all the rules in my book. She doesn’t lose anything! She get’s the superpowers, ever-lasting devotion and hot sex with the guy! WTF? Maybe later in the series Bella will get some cold hard comeuppance for her choice, because if she doesn’t, this vampire story is allegorically vapid. And wouldn’t that be a sin for a vampire story, to turn it into a hollow fairy tale?

    Also, one more complaint and I’m out. There is a serious lack of Vampire ass kicking in these current incarnations. I realize this is a male complaint and these vamp stories aren’t going for my demographic. But from what I’ve seen, the mortal men in these stories are ineffectual, childish, fumbling, boring, etc. Except for maybe Giles from Buffy, but only your mom thinks Giles is sexy. Here’s where I check out. If some limp-wristed britpop looking motherfucker came into my town and started stealing/killing all the women, I’d be up for some serious vampire ass-kicking (or at least the fictional me and my fictional possie). And I wonder if this is why writers have dumped White Knight style heroics onto the would be villains of the story, because real life men are frequently such a disappointment in both the seducer and the hero departments. And maybe this why modern man has such a problem stomaching the modern vampire, he’s another impossible creation of female desire, some sort of hellish revenge for the centuries of impossible creations of male desire. Which is why I chuckle a little at the Spike vs Angel debate, that when it comes to women, even the good guy vampires can’t catch a fucking break.
    But I’m with you, I want the humans to win, I just don’t want it to be too easy.

  2. Hi Nigel,

    Thanks so much for this comment, it really illuminated some things for me! I already wrote a long response, but then it accidentally got deleted, which made me very mad. I will try to reproduce what I was saying. A while back, in one of my first daftpop posts, I said this:

    “It’s as though vampires draw out all the taboo, all the suppressed, all the Freudian perversities that lurk in the human imagination: when they come around, it signals a death of civilization, or at least a deterioration of Victorian socio-sexual norms in favor of crude physical wants (they drink blood and do each other, essentially).”

    I still think that the good vampires represent this profane sexiness, even the lamest ones like Ed. The plot of the latter two Twilight books, *Eclipse* and *Breaking Dawn*, turns on how bad Bella wants to have sex with him. But they can’t, because Ed might kill her when they do it. That is truly the reason. Fucked up, no?

    So Bella has to become a vampire so she’s not too fragile for vampire sex. And now, having finished the series, I can say with confidence that these stories are, as you succinctly put it, “allegorically vapid.” Bella loses nothing by becoming a vampire; there is no struggle or choice. Turns out it’s easy to be both good and a creature of the darkness.

    So, I disagree that we only really want “fear and seduction” from vampires. I think the best vampire tales hold in tension the salvation/damnation elements by means of the good/evil foils: Angel vs. Spike, Bill vs. Eric, etc. Without the struggle, shit turns into Twilight.

    And maybe I was trying to say this all along, but in this regard, Twilight is just not a fucking vampire story! With only the fear and blood lust, vampire stories wouldn’t really be about humanity, they would just be indulgences of our sick subconscious desires for blood and gore. Escapism, but an empty escapism. Conversely, if being a vampire is apparently so easy that it is just the same as human life, only better, well then, fuck that too. We need the dualism for it to be a good story!

    That is all I’ll say for now.

  3. Alright, you got me there. I really don’t know enough about the plotlines to any of these stories (aside from WAY too much second hand Buffy cliffnotes from scattered friends) to start taking shots.
    I’d agree that repressed gothic tales of blood and gore are empty or at best too arcane for most of us, unless you want to see 6 more Saw sequels.
    And really, sorry for the misguided machismo rant. I’ll have to fess up to my own baggage there, I’ve sat through enough Buffy, been compared to a character in Buffy enough (way back here in the heady days of middle school) that I always feel oddly implicated by that fucking show.
    Um, but I will say I do miss the vampire as evil incarnate, stories where humans have to come to terms with the existence of something like pure evil (our darkest impulses, fears, what have you) without any help from the supernatural (other vamps, warewolves, etc) or something like fake blood suplications. Something I miss about characters having to star down into the darkness alone.
    Well that’s cheery and all. I know, tales of mythic struggle and all consuming fear belong in the horror/thriller genre, not the romance/thriller genre. And you make a good case for these stories being more conceptually rich if not just straight up more enjoyable than what I’m going for. On the other hand, maybe I can write some vampire ass-kicking fantasy dreck all gussied up as hard assed terse literature and make a million overnight be marketing it to your workaday dudebro. Of course, I’d have to turn it into a videogame first.

  4. HAHAHA. No worries about your rant–I think there could be something to the unrealistic projections of female desire pissing off the modern man, but I can’t be too sad about that. Y’all deserve this comeuppance.

    We could talk about this all year–Buffy has like 6 or 7 seasons, and so much happens in them that vampires represent nearly all facets of the roles we have already discussed. They have been the pure evil that humanity is forced to stare down–that is mostly Buffy’s burden. She was *chosen* to fight evil, when previously she had been blissfully unaware that such primordial forces of darkness were around.

    Anyway, I like your idea for a series, you could probably retire after your video game is published. Seriously, Steph Meyer inspired me and all my friends to think, “Hey, if she can do it, I most definitely can!” Whoever takes Steph up on this dare first, wins.

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