Friday, November 12, 2010

Vampire Interpretations Through Media (Assignment)

Sarah Michelle GellarSarah Michelle Gellar
This is an assignment that I have been working on for my portfolio -

Through the many forms of media, vampires have shown incredible adaptability and represent an intriguing pop culture. The vampire has risen from the uneasy sleep of the earlier part of the century and experienced his own dark renaissance (Benefiel, 2004, p 261 – 271). Their presence has manifested to become the perfect metaphor of our insecurities and play an influential role.

As a signifier, Vampires are mythological or folkloric beings who subsist by feeding on the life essence (generally in the form of blood) of living creatures, regardless of whether they are undead or a living person (Wikipedia, 2010, [Internet]).

As a signified element; Vampires symbolise sensuality and fear; exercise caution when charmed by an unsuitable person and ‘the omnipresent reality of male violence against women’ (Early, 2001, p 11 – 27). Zombies have sustained one role through popular culture, whereas the vampire paradigm has evolved dramatically; marketing machines have tapped into their mystique and created new incarnations. This keeps the public interest high, especially through younger generations perceived as the most vulnerable, often duped through peer pressure, ideology and acceptance which guarantee a high profit return. We’re exposed to vampires everywhere, cinema, television, magazines and even the Arctic Monkeys, an English rock band, identified with vampires in their track ‘Perhaps Vampires Is a Bit Strong But...’ The usage is open to interpretation, are we to believe the vampires are the record label, the fans; either way the outcome is the inevitable failure. This vulnerability is what encapsulates the masses; it generates widespread interest and goes for the jugular.

‘Cause all you people are vampires and all your stories are stale. And though you pretend to stand by us, I know you're certain we'll fail (Turner, 2005, Wikipedia [Internet]).

The portrayal of the vampire through the media has shown incredible diversity, being able to incorporate many different themes, forms and identities. The character Bram Stoker created in 1897 is a being without a conscious, a monster that is human only in physical appearance. Critics have examined many themes in the novel, such as the role of women in Victorian culture, conventional and conservative sexuality, immigration, colonialism, post colonialism and folklore (Wikipedia, 2010, [Internet]). Interview with the Vampire: the Vampire Chronicles (1994) tells the life story of a vampire, portraying struggles through love, betrayal, loneliness and hunger. The movie depicts the character as being vulnerable and struggling to find a place within class and society. Blade (1998) is the story of an outcast semi-human African-American who resists his vampire urges, to protect humans. Blood could easily be used as a metaphor for family and race, especially as ‘Blade is one of the few movies with African-American characters who succeed because of their difference’ (cinemademerde, 2005 [Internet]), rather than through similarity and identity (Hall, 1996, p. 436). This is a far cry from the positioning of blacks as ‘the unspoken and invisible “other” of the dominant (white) aesthetic and cultural discourse (Mulhern, 2000, p. 120). Buffy the Vampire Slayer emerged as an alternative, although “Buffy” presents a world where people excitedly search books for passages that will literally save the world (Hendershot, 2005, p 67). “Nerd-dom” is the term used which I don’t feel is very empowering, I also agree that the female figure, Sarah Michelle Gellar, is constructed as spectacle in classic Hollywood, coded in terms of ‘to-be-looked-at-ness’, typically halting narrative action to facilitate the spectator’s visually based erotic gratification (Tudor, 1999, p. 142).

The current incarnation of the vampire mythos, presents them as romantic heroes, most notably through the Twilight Saga which has completely changed the perception from one-dimensional savages to a complicated, 'vegetarian', brooding pretty boy. Daybreakers, another hybrid form presented a further adaptation in which a plague transformed much of the world's population into vampires. Gender relations and roles are evident in both and have prevailed through the many incarnations, and can be interpreted as a reflection of the entire culture. When television women are involved in violence, unlike males, they are more likely to be victims than aggressors (Strinati, 1995, p. 182). Film analysts and the blogosphere have been particularly critical about the underlying message from the Twilight franchise. Carmen Siering, assistant professor of English and women's studies at Ball State University views New Moon as an anti-feminist film that reinforces gender stereotypes to a "scary" extent –

"With just a moment of critical analysis, feminists can't be too happy about how the latest episode in the Twilight series, adapted from Stephenie Meyer's popular books, represents a young woman and her place in the modern world. In fact, the New film is really just more of the same, only worse." (Singh, 2009, Telegraph [Internet]).

Reading many blogs that reviewed New Moon at the time of release, I encountered the following from Skepchick, a blog founded by Rebecca Watson, which shared the same views and highlighted my concerns –

The messages behind Twilight? Be weak, let your man protect you. Be careful, don’t get him angry. If he hurts you, it’s your fault. Abuse is part of life. Accept it. If he really loves you, he’ll try not to hurt you but don’t be surprised if he does. You probably deserve it. You are nobody without your man, so don’t bother trying. (Skeptic, 2009, [Internet]).

Does the underlying message accept domestic violence or what is now commonly referred to as “intimate partner violence” (Dutton, 2007, p. 432). I don’t believe that’s the message the Twilight Saga attempts to produce but it’s difficult to associate with Bella who although misguided is an intelligent person. I mentioned that Hollywood constructed the Buffy character to facilitate the spectator’s visually based erotic gratification. Edward Cullen and Jacob Black are constructed in the very same manner. Much like the character Alice, who has visions based on decisions and events, the vampire persona is subjective and open to multiple interpretations which is why mainstream media is fascinated with the role vampires have within popular culture.
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