13 pages
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November 14, 2017
The Vampire
Technology and modern media are defining how we look at the vampire’s role in the world
today. History, Religion, and sex are defining factors on the genre and how it’s evolved in the last
couple of generations. What is a vampire? Some might say that a vampire is a blood thirsty
creature of the night. Others might say that a vampire is a suave man that swoops in and steals
away a lady’s virtue after rendering her vulnerable with his powers of persuasion. The full
definition of vampire in the Merriam-Webster dictionary reads like this: the reanimated body of a
dead person believed to come from the grave at night and suck the blood of persons asleep: one
who lives by preying on others: a woman who exploits and ruins her lover
(merriam-webster.com). These lines are from Bram Stoker’s original 1897 Dracula. "There are
such beings as vampires, some of us have evidence that they exist. Even had we not the proof of
our own unhappy experience, the teachings and the records of the past give proof enough for
sane peoples." One thing that all of these definitions have in common is they all have the essence
of describing some version of a monster, and each has played a part in shaping American
lifestyles and beliefs.
The vampire is one of the oldest myths and still one of the most popular themes in modern
media today, from sophisticated American theater goers to Eastern European peasants. Vampires
have existed in a variety of forms in nearly every culture around the world. Historically, vampire
lore has reflected the values and social structures of the culture in which it has existed. In the
twentieth century, the United States became the focal point of the vampire culture. As the
vampire theme became integrated into American culture, modern vampire media changed.
Several cultural elements were responsible for these alterations. The American people's
relationship with religion was an important cause for the changes. Also, the American fascination
with science and technology were other forces that shaped vampire media in the modern era.
Modern concepts of gender and sexuality also contributed to the dramatic change that occurred
in the way vampires are viewed in the last few decades. Today, the myth of vampires is ever
present as one of the major horror themes in arts, literature, and music.
The public's thirst for vampires seems as endless as vampires' thirst for blood. Even though
the belief in real vampires stems from superstition and mistaken assumptions about post-mortem
decay, people centuries ago had little knowledge of anatomy and relied heavily on folklore and
superstition for answers in times of sorrow. When there were no obvious answers to be found
often times the disinterment of the recently dead were ways to try to stop the sick from dying.
The modern concept of the vampire occurs for the first time in European civilization. In both
Roman and Greek mythology, there are found numerous bloodthirsty goddesses, known as
Lamiae, Empusae, and Striges: names which eventually evolved into the general terms for
witches, demons and vampires. But these vampires, though they do drink blood, were only
goddesses...not "living dead,” but spirits capable of taking on human appearances so that they
might seduce their victims. The vampires we know today are nothing else but mutation
determined by fiction and movies.
The most famous story is of course that of “Vlad the Impaler, or Dracula, as he was also
known, a fifteenth-century Romanian prince who has gone down as one of the most bloodthirsty
rulers of all time” (Vampire Devotees 99). Dracula was put on paper by an obscure Irish writer
and theater manager by the name of Bram Stoker. The storyline of Stoker's 1897 novel Dracula,
about a Transylvanian count and his invasion of English virtue, is almost entirely original.
However, some of the characteristics of the vampire itself he drew directly from Slavic folklore,
particularly where there was an overlap with European witchcraft. While Bram Stoker's Dracula
was an elegant and seductive aristocrat, the Slavic vampires were typically rural villagers that
had become possessed. In appearance and mannerism they would have shared more in common
with Max Schreck's bony fingered, rat toothed, performance in the German silent classic
Nosferatu than with Bela Lugosi's theatrical mesmerism of the Hungarian Count. However, the
depiction of the vampire as a savage beast of prey, the infection of new vampires through bites or
contaminated blood, their ability to transform into a specific animal, especially bats, and the
method of dispatching the undead by murdering them in their coffins while they slept, was all
borrowed directly from Slavic folklore.
This is not where the story of vampires and Dracula begins, but merely where it makes a huge
jump into the modern era and into the form people are more familiar with today. Exaggerated
depictions of vampires in the mass media have blurred fact and fiction. The adaptations that we
are more familiar with today such as the Twilight series of books and movies, The Lost Boys, and
even T.V. shows such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, give us a never ending supply of vampires to
fulfill the publics craving. For some, the love of all things vampire isn’t just a form of
entertainment, it’s an addiction.
Dracula left a lasting impression that has been the guide for most of the vampires since, even
surviving countless changes that have taken place during the first half of the twentieth century.

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