. . . It's interesting that vampires have become so desirable/sympathetic in modern literature, and zombies have become so disgusting and killable, since as far as I can tell, in the original folk traditions vampires were victimizers and zombies were largely just victims. A cynical part of me wonders whether there's any racist component to why vampires became all sexy and zombies didn't, since the popular version of vampire lore originated in Eastern Europe, whereas zombi-ism is originally an African and later a West Indian idea (zombis were originally living people reduced to a state of half-death, bewitched to do a sorcerer's bidding - which became a metaphor for the slavery in the Americas). Maybe the western psyche find the idea of being preyed upon by the white aristocracy strangely seductive, but the idea of a rebellion of the non-Caucasian slave class is just threatening?She actually brought up a couple of points I had intended to address but ended up leaving out. So I thought I'd discuss them here.
Desirability and Aristocracy
When I initially read that comment, I thought the word in the first sentence was "synthetic." Which is funny because vampires nowadays really are very synthetic!
The modern vampire (dating back to the nineteenth century) has always been inherently desirable. Of course, since they're the reanimated dead who want to feast on you, this is also highly disturbing, as exhibited in Dracula. The problem right now is that this desirability is so . . . synthetic. In Twilight Bella actually compares the female vampires' figures to the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition. That type of beauty simply does not exist in real life – those models are always posed under specific lighting, heavily made up, and airbrushed afterwards.
And since they're often rich as well, today's vampire is really all about living the ultimate fantasy. They're like the supernatural SS: a perfected, superior master race that wants to kill you. Anne Rice's vampires lamented their eternal damnation as the bloodthirsty undead, but that component is all but gone now.
(Zombies and Nazis: greatest villains ever. In fiction, that is.)
Dracula was never depicted as a paragon of male beauty. He was more of a Rochester or Heathcliffe – very strong, dramatic features with a charismatic personality. Lucy and the Brides were technically beautiful, but marred by their inhuman bloodlust.
Vampires and Race
There is definitely a racial component to this discussion. I honestly cannot name one single non-white vampire. In the Twilight movie Laurent is played by a black guy with dreads, who actually looks way too badass to be in that teenybopper sparkle-fest. But in the books (I've only been able to stomach the first one, so this is coming from the Twilight wiki) he's described as "olive-skinned," which makes me think of a Greek or Italian or other European Mediterranean look. Anne Rice had some ancient Egyptian vampires, one of whom was played by Aaliyah, an African-American, in the Queen of the Damned film. Again, however, this is another vampire actually described as more "Mediterranean"-looking – like a dark-skinned white person.
I believe Rice actually addressed this issue of non-representation at one point, saying that she wouldn't know how to get inside a non-white character's head or what they would think about or something to that effect. And yet she wrote The Feast of All Saints, a very race-centered novel about the free colored people of New Orleans in the antebellum era. I get the impression that she's simply very interested in European art, literature, and history (particularly ancient Rome, the Renaissance, and the eighteenth century), and that's something she enjoys incorporating into her stories. She really is very knowledgeable. I wonder if she's actually worried that a depiction of another part of the world would seem shallow in comparison to her very rich portrayals of Western culture.
But yes, it is very odd and very glaring. I noticed it a long time ago, even as a white person. I guess you could link it back to the vampire's current association with wealth and power. Even when a vampire doesn't actually have money or influence, they still possess the physical indicators of status: taste, sophistication, good looks, fashionable clothing, extensive knowledge (education), an appreciation of "high" culture, and are often well-traveled. They are also frequently of aristocratic origin (i.e. Dracula, Lestat). And, quite frankly, most of those things have been historically denied to people of color in the West. "Whiteness" has, unfortunately, long been a major social privilege. If someone were to write a vampire story in the current popular style (sexiness, sophistication) but featuring black or Hispanic characters – would it succeed?
(A note: even "smart" zombies, such as Bub in Romero's Day of the Dead, as still bestial and childlike.)
Actually, race seems to be an issue with genre fiction in general. Back in December 2008, an author known as Lilith Saintcrow wrote a really whiny, bitchy essay about how the reason urban fantasy is seen as low-brow is because it's female-dominated. (Um, honey? You call yourself LILITH SAINTCROW and write a series about a katana-welding, airboard-riding "necromance" named Dante Valentine whose boyfriend is half-demon. No, that's not cheesy at all. . .) But not a word from her about how this genre also perpetuates whitewashed beauty stereotypes that have done great harm to women, especially women of color.
But seriously, that video's also a great overview of the current vampire craze.