Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Dracula and Racism: Some Reflections on the Contemporary Fascination with Vampires



When Irish author Bram Stoker wrote Dracula in 1897, little did he know that his blood-sucking protagonist would become the most popular monster in European literature. I believe this undead monster along with the Creature created by Mary Shelley’s Dr. Frankenstein and the werewolves of Eastern Europe, constitute a collective European worldview whenever they rise in popularity. They are “social barometers” of the angst Europeans feel when threatened.


Frankenstein, published in 1818 at the dawn of the machine age (coming right after the Luddite Riots of 1811-1815) showed how human creations can get “out of control”. Thus, the monster created by Victor Frankenstein ultimately destroyed its creator, a notion reflecting early 19th century social thought when machines were thought to be potentially destructive to humans. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger repeated this Frankensteinian theme in modern sci-fi epics like the popular Terminator series.

The publication of Dracula in 1897 marked the height of European colonialism throughout the world which literally sucked the lifeblood out of the indigenous people and their resources in Africa, Asia, South America, Australia, Canada, the United States and the Caribbean. Once again, the popularity of the monster reflected the actual behavior of Europeans.

Lon Chaney’s 1941 role as the Wolf Man was very popular at the beginning of World War II, and showed the dual personality of the European as the half man – half wolf monster. Wolves have long been the stuff lacing European children fairy tales be they the Big Bad Wolf imitating Red Riding Hood’s grandma, or the Three Little Pigs’ blowhard neighbor. Whereas Shelley’s Creature and Stoker’s Dracula remained who they were both day and night, the Wolf Man changed from human to monster depending on the phases of the moon. The Wolf Man simultaneously portrayed the “civilized” and “monstrosity” of the European personality reflected at that time with the rise of Adolph Hitler in Germany --- the central nation in the werewolf legends.

Lesser monsters reflecting the social anxiety of Europeans are zombies who were popular during and after the Eisenhower administration culminating in George Romero’s 1968 classic film, Night of the Living Dead. The McCarthy Era was replete with flying saucer “invasions” which again illustrated the angst of Americans over the “Red Menace” of communism.

If you rank the three monsters in order of their popularity it would be Dracula, the Creature and The Wolf Man. More literature has been devoted to vampires than any of the three favorite European monsters, and so it is today.

It’s been interesting to watch the resurgence (or should I say continued interest) in vampires.

They’re everywhere.

True Blood’s
gothic southern style vampires on HBO, the adolescent Twilight series; Laurell Hamilton’s vampire hunter, Anita Blake; Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles and the list goes on. TV shows, books, favorite Halloween costumes, reenactments and films are full of creatures sucking blood, fangs piercing the necks of helpless women and men, and yellow, black and red eyes staring emptily at frightened audiences.

If past is prologue, (and it is) the omnipresence of vampires in today’s media reflect the European reality that banks and corporations are sucking the economic life out of their customers. They reflect the rapacious nature of the white world’s demand for “more blood” from those already existing as half-dead victims of white supremacy. Indeed, the very “lifeblood” of the planet --- air and water --- is oozing down the throats of insatiable blood-sucking companies indifferent to ideas for sustainable growth and who pay millions of dollars to lobbyists and scientists to “prove” that Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth is a convenient lie.

Dracula’s nemesis of course, was the laconic Dutch professor, Abraham Van Helsing. He had a vast array of weapons against the blood-sucking living dead, used them and was incredibly cool under pressure. He rescued accomplices of the half dead who unwittingly succumbed to the seductive nature of the Count.

Enter Barack Obama as Van Helsing.

As a Van Helsing symbol, supporters of Obama should not be surprised that the vampires of small town and corporate America resist the light of day regarding the reality of the failing American economy. It’s like driving a stake through the heart of the highly vaunted, but oh so vague notion of “the American Dream” which began crumbling two years ago when the mortgage bankers and Wall Street vampires initiated the housing crisis.

Lamias hate garlic because it thins the blood and makes their victims less “tasteful”. In the health care debate the “public option” has been lampooned by the health insurance industry because it makes the victims of the health care insurance industry more powerful and immune to the blood drinking tactics of these corporations.

I expect the love of vampirism to grow as we see the European world decline in economic significance to China, Japan, South America and Africa. Its citizens, like their ancient cousin Count Dracula will writhe in anguish as the light of truth, garlic of reality and cross of color finally put a stake in the heart of white supremacy once and for all.