Angst, Angst, Angst

So there's this, over on io9 from a couple years back, which points out it's a direct line from Angel and Spike (the vampires in Buffy, not the bunny and dragon who live, respectively, with Fluttershy and Twilight Sparkle) to Edward Cullen. Indeed, yes, there's a case for that—hell, probably four-fifths of the emo wussification of our sissy-britches hairdressing little culture can be laid squarely at Whedon's door. Whedon's heroes make Gundam Wing look like Dragonball.

But I don't know if we can blame Whedon for his take on vampires, though he certainly made it popular beyond a goth/romance-novel niche. His whole vampire mythos was basically a ripoff of Vampire the Masquerade, except not as interesting, because Whedon is a Dawkins-lite Anglo atheist (i.e., an existential illiterate), and the people who wrote V:tM were, at least, dabblers in Gnosticism (i.e., existential people-whose-lips-move-when-they-read). And decades before Whedon or White Wolf ever had a vampire pose moodily in a poet shirt, Anne Rice was publishing softcore porn based on that exact premise (Interview was published in 1976). Hell, Fred Saberhagen published The Dracula Tape in 1975 (and he breaks the rules of that kind of fiction, by holding 19th century medical knowledge against the characters—cheap shot).

And even if Whedon did rip off White Wolf who ripped off Anne Rice, at least none of them committed what I consider the cardinal sin of vampire fiction, something Saberhagen and Coppola both did. Namely: Basarab Vlad III Draculea has nothing to do with vampires apart from some Irish guy naming one after him. There is a boatload of awesome literary ideas for the having, if you study Vlad. Not one of them concerns vampires at all. When Mehmet II, fresh from his brutal sack of Constantinople, says of a person, "You cannot take the country of someone who goes this far," vampires are a needless extravagance. (Much the same may be said of the convention of everything about Oda Nobunaga having to have horror-anime tropes—the man was called "Devil King" because he was an unkillable evil genius; at that point, actual devils become superfluous).

It's actually interesting, to me, how people complain about angsty vampires—but there's no other kind. Dracula, Varney, and Ruthven all angst about being vampires; just because it's more "Magneto talking about the Nazis" than "look what a tortured poet he is" doesn't make it not angst. In folklore, the angst is even older—vampires in eastern Europe are generally tied in to the Orthodox concept of vaskania, which literally means something like "obsession", shares a root with "fascinate", and is usually translated as "Evil Eye". All other cultures' vampire-equivalents are much the same, being powered by what the Koreans call "han"—ritual pollution born of resentment. They're pretas ("hungry ghosts") in Hinduism and Buddhism, you know—Japan's closest equivalent to a vampire is the jikininki, or "man-eating ghost", which feeds on corpses (yes, that's right, ghouls aren't vampires' servants, they're just another kind of vampire).

Also...seriously, the attempts to do without angst in vampire fiction are a never-ending cavalcade of shit. Exhibit A would be Hellsing, which, given its incredibly over-the-top juvenile wish-fulfillment, historical illiteracy (those Anglican clergyman who pretend to be druids have a firmer grasp of history than Hellsing does), and origin as a porn doujinshi, is a shoo-in for the title of "Twilight for boys". (Twilight is often suspected of having begun as some sort of bad fan-fic.) Vampires shouldn't be little pretty-boy sissy-britches, but neither should they be any other kind of Mary Sue. Alucard is basically an Ayn Rand protagonist, or even more, Terry Goodkind. Also, yet again, we get that Vlad Tepes bullshit—despite the fact that, reasonably, a paltry 520-odd years is barely enough time for a vampire to graduate from rookie status. Alucard ought to be regularly getting his ass handed to him by people whose burials involved cave-bear skulls. (That's something I like about Vampire the Masquerade, actually—no vampires don't live in terror of the Antediluvians, who've had multiple millennia to get their shit together. In my own book, the vampires who lived in the classical era consider the post-1000 AD vampires to be young-whippersnapper moderns with a lot of newfangled ideas, and speak in hushed tones of prehistoric monsters the youngest of whom was a Proto-Indo-European of the Kurgan culture.)

As in so many things, I think the problem comes down to the fact that balance is complicated. Since Edward and Lestat suck, we swing the other way, to Alucard...only really, he sucks too. Unfortunately, vampires need angst like werewolves need bestial savagery—it's their essence. Sure, certain trends in the rest of our fiction have tended to make that kind of angst the mark of a protagonist (but that, to quote Alton Brown, is another show), and is dangerously liable to neuter the power of a vampire villain (and vampirism should always be villainous; although an individual vampire may fight against the evil inherent in their condition, the only victory condition involves overcoming their resentments and dying for real). But nobody ever said art was easy, cupcake.


Anonymous said...

Why is everything brightly neon-coloured? My eyes hurt and I haven't even been here a minute! Have mercy!

Will le Fey said...

I can't see the name Alucard without thinking of Castlevania.

Sophia's Favorite said...

It was used in a few old vampire films, I think around the time the Hammer Horror ones stopped being a license to print money, before that.

"Alucard" is, basically, Dracula ripping off Carmilla's gimmick (her real name is Mircalla).