Icons, Idols and Stereotypes ~ Evolutions

Date: 18 October 2011

Author: Tim

The other evening I was thinking about philosophy, the development of philosophical thought in particular, going back to its earliest traceable remnants from around 2880BC and that got me thinking about the development of “thought” and in particular the concepts of the development of stereotypes and, as so often happens, my mind went off on a tangent.

Everybody loves vampires, book readers love them, movie goers love them, real living vampires love them and why not? What’s not to love? Bold, sexy, mysterious, never having to say you’re sorry and so forth… a handsome and attractive stereotype if ever there was one.

 

From the earliest days when Stoker, Byron and Polidori unleashed their literary creations and entranced Victorian society by overstepping the surface boundaries of the moral constraints up to the “twinkle in the sun” romantic vampires of the latest movies there has been something for everyone in the telling and re-telling of the stories.

The shift in perception and the re-evaluation of the stereotype over almost 200 years has been quite profound in terms of its growth and public appeal; probably more so than any other single idea in its own right.

 

For almost 6800 years the stereotype of the vampire as a “blood sucking undead revenant or spirit” endured unchanged in the realms of superstition and folklore, it was carried over into the new century by the most popular bards of the time and played a great part in ensuring their livelihood and commercialism. During this period the first subtle distinctions began to creep into awareness about vampires. The work and theories of Frenchman, Z.J. Piérart, and the writings of Montague Summers and Dion Fortune in the late 1800’s proposed alternatives to the long cherished stereotype that had held the public imagination.

There was suddenly a discussion, a serious philosophical discourse, about the matter of vampirism and we saw the first split between the traditional stereotype and the “new” idea of psychic vampirism. A branching of beliefs started to divide the aficionados, a division that was to branch yet again before too much longer.

 

The twentieth century saw a return to, and reinforcement of the old beliefs as the magic of the movies took over the storytelling. The public flocked to see the new wonder and lapped up the thrills and spills. In the landmark Nosferatu (1922) German director by F. W. Murnau introduced Max Schreck as the hideous Count Orlok. The next classic treatment of the vampire legend was in Universal’s Dracula (1931) starring Béla Lugosi as Count Dracula. Five years after the release of the film, Universal released Dracula’s Daughter (1936), a direct sequel that starts immediately after the end of the first film and a second sequel, Son of Dracula, starring Lon Chaney, Jr. followed in 1943. [1]

 

In 1957, a Mexican film, El Vampiro was the first feature that showed the vampire’s fangs – the Universal predecessors did not. It was this film that marked the transitional stage between the Universal Studios pictures and those of the celebrated Hammer Films series. Since then, despite a small number of comedic spin-off’s the stereotypical vampire stayed pretty much true to form; an evil, undead, predatory blood-sucking fiend.

 

In 1994 something changed, we were presented with what was probably the first “sympathetic” vampire. The film adaptation of Anne Rice’s novel Interview with the Vampire brought us the character of Louis (Brad Pitt) as a vampire of some conscience and morality; a vampire that maintained some vestige of humanity despite being what he was. Of course, the box office was helped along when Oprah Winfrey formed a prayer circle outside the movie’s premiere to protest at the “dark forces” that the movie was about to bring down.

 

Arguably, it was the character of Louis that paved the way for the most modern of the vampire saga’s; such as “Twilight” , where the vampires are not unholy, ravening, revenant corpses bent on draining innocent victims of their blood. It would seem that in a short space of time, driven by popular entertainment, the stereotypical vampire has turned a corner; the image has evolved, certainly in the influential entertainment industry if nowhere else.

 

Beneath the surface of the popular myths and stories, the box-office renditions and the massive amount of vampire fiction available, since 1970, there have been academics in the field of vampirology, or the study of vampires. In 1970 Dr. Stephen Kaplan (September 19, 1940 – June 9, 1995) noted paranormal investigator and vampirologist, founded and directed the Vampire Research Center and the Parapsychology Institute of America, both of which were initially located in Suffolk County, New York. The establishment of research into matters vampiric was bolstered in 1977 with the founding, by Martin V. Riccardo of the Vampire Studies Society and further in 1978 when Eric Held and Dorothy Nixon co-founded the Vampire Information Exchange.

The primary aim of these organisations was in collating and sharing the wealth of information about the vampire, the vampire’s ways and the folklore. Up until 1989 vampires were still the realm of folklore and superstition but then, in 1989, the secretive, international, Temple of The Vampire was founded, founded by people who claimed to be “real” vampires. The stereotype was about to evolve again. What had hitherto been an “underground” scene was about to come out into the daylight, so to speak.

By 1997 one extremely popular event was the “Long Black Veil & the Vampyre Lounge” on the second Wednesday of each month at the Mother nightclub on 14th and Washington Streets in New York City. From these events, heavily patronised by members of the real life “vampire scene”, came the publication entitled The Black Veil. The publication represented a code of vampire “ethics” and common sense which became widely accepted by the vampire subculture. Originally authored in 1997, by Father Sebastian of House Sahjaza, it was written as a code of conduct for patrons of the vampyre haven, Long Black Veil, in New York City and the original ‘Black Veil’, now referred to as version 1, was derived from Renaissance Fair etiquette and from existing codes of conduct in the BDSM / fetish scene.

A new stereotype had entered the arena, the real, living, vampire. Yet even from the earliest days in this new “out of the coffin” movement there were divisions between the sanguinarians, or blood drinkers, and the psi-vampires, those who consumed energy. The fables, legends and myths were being left behind and the apparent “reality” of the condition known as modern vampirism was beginning to take hold in a major way and the blending of the myth with the realities, or perceptions, was blurring the lines that were hitherto clearly defined by the word ‘vampire’. The concept of real living vampires became even more accessible to a whole new audience with the appearance of the first webpage of Sanguinarius.org also in 1997. Further popularity, or notoriety depending on your point of view, followed in 1998 when Katherine Ramsland , a clinical psychologist; journalist and bestselling biographer, made contact with Father Sebastian Todd and asked him to serve as a consultant for a book she was writing entitled “Piercing the Darkness: Undercover with Vampires in America Today .

Vampires were not so much the stuff of myth and folklore any longer. It was around this time, I would suggest, that the stereotypical vampire, as a modern, living, entity, was bound by a square of thinking that was strongly forged by the news media, popular entertainment, literature and the internet. All our ideas and perceptions were being constructed and maintained by these four corner-posts and one of the greatest struggles for anyone within this square is to think outside of it, beyond it. The vampire community, and by association the online vampire community, is bound by cliques and by conditioning of thought and perception which begs the question, naturally, where to from here?

William Ralph Inge wrote:There is no law of progress. Our future is in our own hands, to make or to mar. It will be an uphill fight to the end, and would we have it otherwise? Let no one suppose that evolution will ever exempt us from struggles.”

Does the word ‘vampire’ even bear relevance to the modern living model of today? How do we progress from two dimensional thinking to three dimensional concepts and considerations and, most importantly, are real living vampires an evolutionary offshoot, such as the cave dwelling Mexican tetra fish or a natural development such as the shark?  If we consider the rest of nature’s kingdom we can clearly see, amongst its myriad forms of life, how each is perfectly and completely developed to suit its environment and to ensure its survival as a species; barring the depredations of man of course. Then think about real living vampires in a similar context, are they the most perfectly adapted and evolved to suit their purpose? Are they the pinnacle of what they can be or is there further evolution of the species to come? Are they an evolutionary dead-end, a specific and inflexible branch of the species? Finally, the most important question that comes to my mind is what are real living vampires to evolve into, if anything?

1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vampire_film

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