Blood, Sex and Vampires

It all began with Vlad the Impaler and Stoker – Bram Stoker that is. Vlad came first. He was also known as Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia or, more simply, as Dracula – Drakyula in Romanian. According to folklore, tyrannical Vlad was sadistically cruel. His victims numbered between 40,000 and 100,000 (depending on who is telling the story) and favoured methods of punishment, other than the infamous impalement, included torturing; burning; skinning (skinning the feet of thieves, thereafter placing salt on the wounds and allowing goats to lick off the salt was a favourite); roasting and boiling people; feeding people the flesh of their friends or relatives; cutting off limbs; and drowning. Edward Cullen clearly missed out on Vamp101.

Most researchers agree that there is a connection between Transylvanian Vlad and Stoker’s Count Dracula; the extent of the association between the factual man and the fictional character is, however, a point of debate. More important than what inspired Stoker’s prolific character is how influential that character has been. The vampire trend has dipped in and out of consciousness since Dracula was published in 1897. In 2010, not only has vampire lore staked a large claim to popular culture but has also called into question the moral fibre of the community and thus raised a hullabaloo similar to the one elicited by Stoker in 1897. Gone is the attraction of long-haired Fabios waggling their penises around the lusty loins of hot blondes in Mills and Boon escapades. Vampire sex is IN; it’s dangerous, possessive and most importantly animalistic. And no tale exposes vampire magnetism better than Charlaine Harris’s Southern Vampire Mystery novels – recently translated into hit show True Blood. Harris has built on Stoker’s legacy; she has written a social satire that uses a seemingly innocent gal from Louisiana as a agent for astute commentary and shrewd observation.

Stoker’s Dracula was not the first vampire story ever told or written but it is by far the most imperative, and the most insightful. Motifs and symbols run amuck in Dracula but the most poignant are those relating to the theme of suppressed sexuality that, arguably, lies at the heart of Stoker’s novel. Dracula is a reaction to the purist morality of Victorian society. Vampirism provides a metaphor for the unbridled sexuality that women were forced to restrain in a society that frowned upon the mere mention of sex. In the novel, Lucy is corrupted by the evil Count Dracula and turns from a subdued, sweet natured and somewhat naïve, woman to a vampish sex fiend. Lucy is finally staked through the heart by Arthur Holmwood. Lucy’s dire end serves as a warning; the threat of unbridled sexuality is real and those who engage therein will meet a bitter end. The novel suggests that the innocent (symbolised by Lucy) are in danger of falling prey to the debauchery of sexual enlightenment and need to be protected from the more liberal-minded members of society. Count Dracula threatens to destroy civilized society, the core values of which are embodied in the character of Mina; the Victorian ideal – intelligent, feminine and moral. Mina almost succumbs to vampirism after she is bitten by Dracula and it is only ‘cured’ once the Count is destroyed. The metaphor is obvious; anything that threatens the moral decorum and virtue of society should be eradicated. But was Stoker merely moralising? Or was he playing devil’s advocate? A fantasy novel certainly serves as a fantastic vehicle for social commentary.

Michel Foucault in The History of Sexuality says

Toward the beginning of the eighteenth century, there emerged a political, economic, and technical incitement to talk about sex. ….. This need to take sex ‘into account’, to pronounce a discourse on sex that would not derive from morality alone but from rationality as well, was sufficiently new that at first it wondered at itself and sought apologies for its own existence. How could a discourse based on reason speak like that?

What emerged in the early nineteenth century is what Jane Austen so aptly speaks of in her novels – the public versus the private. So by the time Dracula makes its appearance, any attempt at sexual liberation within the strict rules of social conduct that defined Victorian society is kept private, hence the severe dichotomy between the inner and the outer, the public and the private. In an essay entitled Sexuality and Modernity, it is proposed that

The Victorian bourgeois may have covered their piano legs out of modesty, but as an emergent social and political force they chose sexuality as the basis for delineating their identity from the aristocracy, peasants and emergent working classes… The polarisation of public and private spheres becomes the foundation upon which the ascendant bourgeoisie constructed the family and its sexuality. The passionless reproductive wife confined to private domesticity, along with her publicly and competitively orientated husband becomes the central reference point for discussions concerning sexuality.

Sex and sexuality may have infiltrated the minds of the nineteenth century individual as a tool with which to moralise and distinguish but sexual liberation was certainly not acceptable, and those who favoured ‘deviant’ practices would have done so in private – a ‘second private’ behind the privacy of domesticity and family values. Whether we choose to view Stoker as moralist or liberator (or perhaps a bit of both), by drawing attention to sexuality and the passion, fantasy and lust associated therewith, he stoked a fire that turned into a blazing torrent of flames.

Now, jump ahead 100 years. In front of our faces is Rolling Stone’s September 2010 edition that has True Blood stars Anna Paquin, Stephen Moyer and Alexander Skarsgård naked, covered in blood and as sexy as hell, featured on the cover. Softcore porn? Hardcore porn? It’s all relative. Either way, Rolling Stone, known for their cutting edge writing and photo journalism, has drawn attention to the vampire as pop-culture icon and sex symbol. ‘Shock value’ always draws the moralists out of the woodwork and my favourite response to the cover comes from davidsabb

I like True Blood and it’s one of my favorite shows, but the covers to your magazine are getting ridiculous, I normally [have] to rip off the cover[s] and throw them away the second my magazine [arrives] in the mail so no one sees it lying around and asks what the hell it is. And if I don’t see a shift from these idiotically pornographic magazine covers I don’t think I’ll continue getting a Rolling Stone subscription.

Dude! Like the show itself is not a tad pornographic? WTF? So watch the show but cancel your subscription? I repeat: What The Fuck! In Rolling Stone’s article The Joy of Vampire Sex: ‘True Blood’ readers are reminded that in True Blood

…every available orifice is used for intercourse: gay, straight, between humans and supernatural beings, and supernatural being on supernatural being, whether he be werewolf, dog or an enormous Minotaur-looking being called a maenad. None of the sex is quite as good as vampire sex, though, which can happen at the astonishing rhythm of 120 bpm while simultaneously devouring one’s neck and making your eyes roll back into your head.

The show’s creator Alan Ball says

To me, vampires are sex… I don’t get a vampire story about abstinence. I’m 53. I don’t care about high school students. I find them irritating and uninformed.

Ball has disdainfully rejected the mushy-gushy gagerific romance of Twilight, in favour of Charlaine Harris’s real, raw and riveting characters. The vamps’ hunger for sex and blood is carnal. The show is as erotic as Harris’s novels and resultantly the fantasy of vampire sex has impregnated the minds of millions. The operative word in the preceding sentence is “fantasy” – the orgasmic euphoria of the sex described in Harris’s books and in the True Blood show seems to be as achievable as marrying a prince and living happy ever after in a castle next to a lake. The ‘twentieth century film’ has done a great deal to fuck up the reality and beauty of living in a monogamous relationship, and True Blood seems to blaspheme on the very church of monogamy. But is that the point? Not entirely.

The million dollar question is why is vampire sex so attractive – even in an age when pretty much anything goes and the word “taboo” is being pushed out of the dictionary? I think that Sigmund Feud and Angela Carter hit the nail on the head. Before Freud is booed out of the argument, irrespective of opinion and like it or not, the man left a significant legacy regarding the modern conceptualisation of sexuality and its physiological, psycho-sexual and social dimensions. Freud’s psychoanalytic theory challenged the notion of sex as merely natural – as a means of reproducing, and pointed out the

dark inaccessible part of our personality… a chaos, a cauldron of seething excitations.

In terms of Freudian psychology, aggression represents the death instinct and sex (libido) the life instinct. These two instincts are in constant conflict – they are opposing drives. Freud believed that the aggression (death) instinct needs to be controlled. If it is not controlled, psychosis will result. Hence the model of the Id, Ego and Superego. The Id is our pleasure drive, the Superego is our internal voice of authority and morality and the Ego, which is governed by the reality principle, mediates between the two opposing forces. Not only are the sex and aggression drives battling for domination within the Id, the Id is battling for domination against the Superego. Poor us, what a stressful time our minds have – fighting for some fun. The point: if we agree with Freud, poor little Id is trying really hard to exercise some pleasure but in order to harness the chaos of our carnal desires, bossy Ego and very bossy Superego are required to mediate. Civilisation is only possible at the expense of repressing and regulating our natural sexual instincts. The sexual animalism that we hold in check so aptly is released through the metaphor of the vampire in True Blood. The vampire is void of Ego and Superego – the creature is purely Id. Books & TV: it’s called vicarious living.

Angela Carter, English novelist and journalist, in her revision of the Little Red Riding Hood tale entitled The Company of Wolves, explores the notion of carnal desire. The girl in Carter’s tale engages with her newly acquired sexual independence and gives in to her carnal desires and through her submission triumphs against her perceived enemy:

The girl burst out laughing; she knew she was nobody’s meat. She laughed at him full in the face, ripped off his shirt for him and flung it into the fire, in the fiery wake of her own discarded clothing. The flames danced like dead souls on Walpurgisnacht and the old bones under the bed set up a terrible clattering, but she did not pay them any heed.

Carnivore incarnate, only immaculate flesh appeases him.

She will lay his fearful head on her lap and she will pick out the lice from his pelt and perhaps she will put the lice into her own mouth and eat them, as he will bid her, as she would do in a savage marriage ceremony.

The blizzard will die down.

The blizzard died down, leaving the mountains as randomly covered with snow as if a blind woman had thrown a sheet over them, the upper branches of the forest pines limed, creaking, swollen with the fall.
Sunlight, moonlight, a confusion of pawprints.

All silent, all still.

Midnight, the clock strikes. It is Christmas Day, the werewolves’ birthday; the door of the solstice stands wide open; let them all sink through.

See! Sweet and sound she sleeps in granny’s bed, between the paws of the tender wolf. (Carter, A (1979) The Bloody Chamber, The Company of Wolves)

Carter empowers the girl and she sleeps with the werewolf – carnivore incarnate, a symbol of a man’s sexual aggressiveness; the girl submits to that aggression and ends up lying sweetly in the arms of the tender wolf. Carter’s distinctly feminist approach rings true for Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse. Sookie satiates her carnal desires by submitting to the aggressive prowess and sexual appetite of on/off boyfriend Bill Compton. The fact that Sookie works as a waitress at a bar wearing a skin tight white T with some skimpy shorts seems the antithesis of the feminist ideal. But Sookie is no victim of circumstance – she works where she chooses and wears what she will; sounds like feminism to me. Although she is often the damsel in distress, Sookie is mostly her own rescuer, and not only does she rescue herself but her vampire friends as well. Who can forget True Blood‘s first season finale? Sookie beating Rene to a near pulp in the graveyard as Bill almost rescues her but is burnt to a crisp in the sunlight before he can lift a finger. In Harris’s book, Bill doesn’t even feature in the scene. Sookie rescues Bill in Club Dead and comes to Eric’s rescue in Dead to the World. Sookie embraces her femininity and her sexuality… and perhaps we are jealous of her.

But feminism isn’t really the point, just a side note. Sookie allows Bill to teach her about sex but he is never master over her – their relationship is one of mutuality: I rescue you, you rescue me; I pleasure you, you pleasure me; I love you, you love me. Sookie and Bill are not perfect and their relationship ebbs and flows – often their symbiosis is an ideal rather than a fact. Just as the vamps struggle to fit into a society that does not accommodate their differences (a metaphor for any minority), so too do Sookie and Bill (and Sookie and Eric for that matter) struggle to fit into their relationship. Although emotions may be unsteady and unsettling, sex is never a problem. Harris’s novels make a point of distinguishing between sex for love and sex for lust, and then the author undermines her theoretical stance with the practical realities of life and love, which is never that unmessy. Blood is life; as a vampire sucks the lifeblood from his victim, so too do we suck the life out of one another – physically, mentally and emotionally… and the result is catastrophic pain. Emotional vampires we are.

Blood, sex and vampires is a metaphor so transient that a mere change in season can obliterate all sentimentality, and yet so incongruously intransient that it has lasted for centuries.

Sources:
Foucault, M, (1976), The History of Sexuality, Vol.1, Penguin Books, London,Pg: 25
Sexuality & Modernity
Vlad III the Impaler

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