It is about that time of year again. The air is crisp, the leaves are falling, and I have an insatiable urge to listen to ‘Fall Children’ off AFI’s All Hallows EP. I also have an urge to begin my annual re-play of Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines. It is tradition. And, given the law of the internet, because I mentioned it you probably want to go re-play it too. It’s okay. Go play. I’ll still be here when you forget you haven’t installed any of the fan-created patches and run into one of the game’s many glitches.
Anyway, as the title of this post suggests, we’re here to talk about how gross vampires are. I mean, take the banner image above. The silhouette of the titular character from F. W. Murnau‘s Nosferatu (1922) looks like Mr. Burns having a quiet evening at home. So how do we go from that image to the one on the left? How do we go from gross monstrosity to erotic companion? Well, this post wasn’t meant to be about how I apply my makeup in the morning, but hey oooo! Okay, I’ll stop with the jokes. This is a blog post. This is serious! (It really isn’t).
There is a temptation here to blame contemporary portrayals of vampires in the media. As tempting as it is to climb aboard the “I hate Twilight” bandwagon, there’s little merit in doing so. Vampires have been sexy for quite some time, but it is usually a dangerous or forbidden type of sexy. I think the main reason people take issue with the sexiness of Twilight, aside from the creepy-stalker love story, is the lack of danger. Edward Cullen is to vampires as Judd Nelson circa The Breakfast Club is to the bad boy archetype. It just doesn’t strike the same erotic chords as the truly forbidden.
Vampires touch on two forbidden types of sexuality- and by forbidden I mean they have made guest appearances in the DSM from time-to-time. Let’s start with the obvious: necrophilia. Because their biological functions have ceased, any sexual interaction with a vampire is by default an act of necrophilia- right? Maybe you could argue that because they can consent, it doesn’t count… but, whatever. They lack a pulse. Which, coincidentally raises other questions about how sex with a vampire might function. How does their blood pump to the areas it needs to facilitate intercourse? And surely all their orifices are like dried shoe leather? In World of Darkness games they can spend blood points, which makes sense, but in other mythos…
Okay, I won’t pursue that line of logic any further. Instead, let’s move onto the big one: homosexuality. Harry Benshoff (2004) notes how in cinema the homoeroticism of interviewed vampires Lestat and Louis are no accident, nor is the strained relationship between the Frog Brother’s macho heterosexuality and the queer-punk aesthetic of the titular Lost Boys. In both instances, the queerness of the on-screen vampires is seen as intrinsic to their nature. They are thirsty and, as contemporary slang use of the term helpfully points out, only blood (or any other bodily fluid) will satisfy them. The behaviour of vampires… prowling the night for victims, exchanging fluids, leaving some with an incurable and fatal disease… sounds like an all-too-familiar rhetoric from the Christian right which warns of the dangers of predatory homosexuals, no?
The allegory of vampirism and homosexuality is taken to an almost literal level by Charlaine Harris in her Sookie Stackhouse novels (which were the inspiration for the HBO programme True Blood). As Lisa A King (2012) writes, the symbolism of vampires and other supernaturals announcing their true natures and then being shunned, attacked, even murdered is unfortunately not a terribly different narrative from many LGBTQ coming out stories. Hell, its not a terribly different narrative from many women I know who dare to have sex for purposes other than reproduction. Women’s sexuality is something which should be regulated and controlled by doctors, priests, husbands, fathers, and even brothers or all hell will break loose, right? I mean, surely this is why access to birth control is still a struggle in the USA, right? Ahem, *gets off soapbox and stores it away for winter*.
So far I have prattled on mostly about how vampires are erotic, which isn’t actually what I had set out to do. In fact, it is the opposite, but seemingly in the process of trying to work out my argument I might’ve convinced myself. Vampires can be erotic, but only if we are willing to accept that death is beautiful.
I think, and I think goth culture can attest to this, that some people find something about death to be romantic. Or perhaps it is that we want to find something beautiful in death to lessen the pain of loss. In fact, one of my favourite film quotes of all time comes from a vampire and makes this point beautifully. In the 1994 film adaptation of Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire, Brad Pitt’s character Louis de Pointe du Lac opens the film with a narrative about his loss of wife and child. In a cold, reflective and monotone voice he recounts his coping strategies of over indulgence and intoxication before coming to the conclusion that, “Most of all, I longed for death. I know that now. I invited it. A release from the pain of living.”
In the vampire mythos, the loss of life brings with it a loss of life’s inhibitions. This combines with eternal youth and an eternal hunger which makes for a potent and alluring cocktail for some of us who can see the beauty in loss. Even if it might actually be necrophilia.
Until next time,