Sunday, 10 January 2010

Vampires: an anti-nature fantasy?

This weekend, still malingering indoors because of the Europe-wide freeze, I finally watched creepy and excellent Swedish vampire movie Let the Right One In. In an effort to exorcise that film’s ugly under-the-skin nastiness I’m taking a good look at vampires today, from an ecological perspective, naturally. Vampires are absurdly popular just now, mostly because of the extraordinary success of the multi-million best-selling Twilight franchise. According to some complex alogarithms ‘vampire’ was the 5th most popular word of 2009. And ‘climate change’ is the top phrase of the decade. Which surely raises the question, is there a link?

In their first wave of Victorian popularity vampires represented some aspects of nature that humans feared. Vampires were animalistic dwellers in darkness. They could transform into bats and dogs. Having given up their souls they were free to take survival of the fittest to new levels of selfish brutality, which Victorians worried might be a consequence of the collapse of religion (possibly). But most of the evidence suggests that vampires are anti-nature:

  • They are undead, not living or dead; this is quite unnatural.
  • They don’t breathe (no signs of various other normal bodily functions either, except for eating and sex).
  • They’re cold, hard and generally unmammalian despite their mammal origins.
  • Their natural enemies are werewolves (see Underworld and New Moon), who embody the wild, animalistic side of human nature.

Stephanie Myers’ bestseller list domination made me curious enough to find my inner teenage girl (admittedly, this is not difficult) and read Twilight, so I also know that modern vampires like fast cars, are very consumerist and have no conscience about taking long haul flights.

Twilight: Don't be fooled: this vampire is not a tree-hugger.

Why are vampires so popular now? Mostly, it’s about sex. But might their status as the anti-nature monster also have something to do with it? In the nineteenth century vampire stories spoke to cultural fears about female sexuality but also about colonialism. The vampire is a classic parasite so it was logical for Dracula to set up camp in London, heart of the British Empire, in his efforts to expand his blood-draining super-race. Today’s vampire stories might just be speaking to our fears that we are parasitically draining the world of its natural resources, transforming ourselves into an unnatural simulacrum of humanity in the process.

Let the Right One In: Also not about tree huggers

Even though vampires are decidedly unnatural beings, the current wave of novels, films and TV series like True Blood find them irresistibly attractive. Twilight and co are romances and they provoke bewildering passion in some readers. Vampires are multi-layered, and most of their appeal is in their strong appetites and freedom from social rules, but I wonder if we also see ourselves in their inversion of natural processes. Part of us does want to be better than nature, and in loving vampires we try to escape natural limitations. Let the Right One In’s deep creepiness seemed to me to come from the way it depicts human attraction to vampires. Vampires see themselves as top of the food chain, but being top of the food chain makes them parasites and a touch of sunlight makes them nothing at all (at least until Meyers started spreading all this sparkling in the sunlight nonsense).


  1. I have a teenage daughter who is deeply into Twilight and I'd say yes, mostly it's about sex; or rather the natural fear of all that sex and blood stuff.

    Twilight is interesting that the vampires in it are trying to find an alternative source of blood - alternate to us humans, that is.

    Neil Young made an early stab at linking vampirism to ecological plunder in the song Vampire Blues: "I'm a vampire baby, sucking blood from the earth..."

  2. Hi William, thanks for the quote. Hmm, alternate blood. I did wonder about making an oil link but couldn't get my head round it.