Saturday, 2 July 2011

The Reluctant Geek - Preserving the blood-lines

So I love steak. Mandatorily rare. Preferably still twitching a little tiny bit as I shovel the meaty deliciousness (stop sniggering at the back) into my mouth. And much as unanchored in context, it’s kind of disgusting, it’s the moist, pink texture that you only get from still-bleeding cow that really does it for me. I mean, it’s nature own sauce isn’t it? No need for faffing around with jus or coulis or reduction or whatever. (I realise all the vegetarians in the room are fleeing, appalled at this stage but if you bear with me, there really is a point). The irony is, when it comes to blood in other situations, I’m the wuss at the back of the room who has stolen the attention by fainting while their friend has their leg chopped off. Something about the sheer sensual intensity of its redness, combined with the fact that in general blood is something we aren’t supposed to see gives it a contradictory, queasy fascination.
Of course, the symbolic significance of blood is such that we play out this simultaneous attraction and revulsion in a whole host of cultural myths. If the zombie renaissance is very much a 21st Century thing, (‘perchance sir, could you lend me your quill? I wish to pen an ode to brains…’) it is overlaid by a more long standing if less flashy obsession. Vampires never go away really, particularly not as fodder for the fantasy geek, and as they lurk at the edges of our consciousness, equally they haunt the pages and frames of the stories we choose to tell ourselves.

Most recently this blood lust has manifested itself in the True Blood TV show, entering into its fourth romping, boundry- pushing series. If every generation gets the vampires they deserve then this is one side of ours. Based on a series of novels set in Deep South, small town America, True Blood oozes languorous, claustrophobic atmosphere, linking vampirism to a whole host of modern obsessions, from addiction to abuse to religious fundamentalism. The vampires here are gorgeous, but usually deadly and often sadistic, and their glamour is juxtaposed with a messy, visceral approach to blood drinking. Don’t look for two neat little bite marks artfully arranged on some virgin’s lily white neck here (although True Blood does have its own version of a white gowned virgin for a little while.) Look for blood smeared across faces, flakes drying on kitchen floors in the sun, and graphically unforgiving murder scenes. The message of the series seems to be that despite the right-on, out and proud PR of a world where vampires have quite literally come out of their coffins, (and they play with this parallel to great effect… graffitied billboards with messages such as "God hates fangs" appear in the background of shots) none of us, vampire or human alike, can really resist the calling of the animalistic side of our nature.

Lots of people though would rather confront this rather unforgiving version of vampirism than its equally modern non-identical twin. If I ask you to imagine some sun-dappled, flower-bedecked meadow then you might be thinking we’re straying outside of traditional vampire territory. But wait! Who is this pale and beautiful creature striding through it? He appears to be… Surely he can’t be… Oh god, is he… sparkling? Well, yes, he is actually. He’s a Twilight vampire and that’s what they do. Despite the fact that the Twilight novels are something of a guilty pleasure for me I’ve got some serious issues with this updating of the vampire myth. And the shiny, shimmery sunshine thing is the least of them. For starters, although True Blood is dark, although it portrays misogyny and racism and a form of sexualized gore, it knows it is doing this. The thing that makes the Twilight world so dangerous (to an uncritical audience rather than the characters themselves) is that it has its own elements of abuse and misogyny and unthinking fetishisation of violence, all dressed up in some fluffy, sparkly treatise on purity and abstinence and the idea that True Love™ will wait forever. Poor mopey Bella and masterful protective Edward are obviously designed to appeal to the legions of teenage girls ( and should-know-better, only-just-thirty somethings) that buy the novels and see the movies. But this bloodless, simpering fairy tale has far nastier elements than anything True Blood can dream up.

And who knows what the next evolution will be for vampires? It sort of depends on what the next evolution is for humanity really. All of these mythical beings, zombies and vampires and werewolves and ghosts, are ways for us to explore the darker sides of ourselves whilst simultaneously retaining a sense of separateness from them. And at the edge of society it’s no wonder that they are a natural subject for fantasy and science fiction which themselves teeter on the very edge of the mainstream. One of the key functions of story though, is to provide a mirror for us to hold up to our faces. By their very nature, Vampires make it pretty damn tricky to see what is looking back.

This week Kate is fervently wishing for another opportunity to wear the Sookie Stackhouse costume.

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