Monsters to Sex Symbols: the Evolution of Vampires in Fiction
November 10, 2019 § 3 Comments
Asia’s blog posted last week entitled “What’s So Human About Monsters?” discusses why we fear vampires, and how their near humanness reveals an ugliness that is already present in humanity. In this post, I want to examine the opposite spectrum: what is so alluring about vampires, and why are we so obsessed with them? And why has popular culture evolved them from terrifying creatures to romantic interests? While one of the most obvious and commonly cited example of this weakening is the Twilight franchise, there are hundreds of examples of the romanticisation of vampires in popular media. But even more simply, why are vampires so popular, seeming to appear more in media than any other type of monster?
From their first popularized depiction in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, vampires have always held some form of sexual allure. When Jonathan Harker’s room is invaded by the three vampire women, he describes feeling repulsed by their unnaturalness while still being attracted to them. Does this desire stem from some supernatural power that the vampires exert over their victims, which they use to seduce their prey into submission, or is it from some innate reaction that humans have to the creatures? Vampires are strong, immortal beings. Their power in and of itself holds some kind of lure. However, one of the most enticing things about vampires is the fact that they are able to turn other humans into vampires. A being that is able to convert a normal human into a powerful, immortal creature will always hold some level of enticement. After all, what is humanity’s most basic, universal fear if not death?
While Dracula definitely sexualizes vampires, it does so in a way that more of a critique of sexuality and promiscuousness, and less of a romanticization of the monsters themselves. Many modern depictions of vampires, however, flip this, and use the sexuality of the monsters as part of their allure, leading to the teen heartthrob vampires stereotypes today. Although Stoker does not describe the Count as particularly attractive, though not completely hideous, modern vampire lore has switched this underlying sexuality to become an outward, supernatural beauty, which is used as part of their seduction. This outward beauty is now part of the reason vampires are now so popular as romantic interests.
Many depictions also treat vampirism as more of an addiction than a true monstrous transformation. Although all vampires need blood to sustain themselves, a common storyline in vampire fiction is them resisting the temptation to lose control and murder innocent humans. They are constantly in battle over their lust for blood, which some choose to repress in order to retain some of their humanity. This depiction serves to humanize the creatures, as well as make them more sympathetic by comparing vampirism to a disorder that humans are able to understand and sympathize with. For example, in Twilight, the Cullens choose to be what they refer to as “vegetarian” vampires, which means that they only consume animal blood. However, animal blood never completely satisfies their desire for human blood. In this way, Edward is turned into a suffering, romantic figure, as he chooses to be with Bella despite constantly struggling with bloodlust as he restrains himself from consuming her blood.
But still the question remains: out of all of the different supernatural monsters, why are vampires so popular? I think part of the reason stems back to the human obsession with immortality. But also, I think we like vampires for the same reasons we fear them: it’s the humanity we can see inside of them. The fact that we could one day become one (in a fictionalized world) both fascinates and terrifies us.
(the second link is imbedded in the image)