Disaggregated thoughts about computing, culture and society.
Friday, 22 June 2012
Escapism or Immortality?
friend recently commented that the heightened interest in supernatural
fiction is a result of a fascination with overcoming death simultaneous
with a lack of belief in the possibility of achieving this via the
progression of human technology and society. Vampiric immortality, then,
is of interest because it offers a convenient deus ex machina,
resolving the desire without confronting the obstacle. I’m not quite
sure about this, but I can’t really offer a strong argument for why this
is not the case. Instead, I have a suggestion about how supernatural
immortality figures in a larger cluster of desires that vampire fiction
embodies. Immortality is a mechanism rather than an end-goal.
contemporary vampire novels such as Twilight and the Sookie Stackhouse
series basically offer escapist fantasy. The protagonist is a normal
everyday girl, with normal everyday concerns, until the romantic
interest of a vampire lifts them out of their relative banality and into
a world of intense drama and danger. They are inducted into a hidden
world, where their struggles and challenges are important to the fate of
the world, revealing the mundanity of their everyday vicissitudes.
are a few different elements to this. For one, the fantasy involves
inversion of the character’s place in the social hierarchy. Sookie
Stackhouse is a lowly bar waitress, socially ostracised due to her
telepathic gift. Bella is a bit of a social reject, isolated and bullied
at school. But their new lives allow them to transcend their social
environment, so that those who remain mired in such can be identified as
the petty fools that they really are. The characters have a new
strength and, occasionally, social cachet due to their involvement in
the hidden supernatural terrain. In other words, who cares if I don’t
have the nicest shoes, I’m going out with a centuries-old hunk!
lives of vampires are high-stakes affairs, where conflicts will
determine the lives of many. Funnily enough, the vampires of the Sookie
novels do have serious struggles, but they’ve been highly keyed up for
the transition to TV. Instead of the witches being engaged in a petty
fight over money, Fiona Shaw wants to destroy vampire-kind in general.
While Russell Edgington is an undead gay Hugh Hefner in the novels, in
the show he’s a genocidal maniac, intent on destroying/enslaving
humanity with his army of trashy nazi-werewolves.
interesting to note the differences here with previous vampire fiction,
such as that by Anne Rice. Her stories do not involve the vampires in
world-shaping conflicts, except in the dire Queen of the Damned.
Instead, she focuses on the sociopathic hedonism and anomie that result
from their detachment from human society. Her vampires are tragic
figures, who tend to regret their isolation.
might indicate a deeper point: the fear of meaninglessness is a fear of
the inconsequentiality of our life’s work. Immortality might offer an
escape route, but evading death produces its own ennui. How can we
engage in meaningful work when we are detached from society? Does
meaning exist only in the context of mortality? For Rice, the answer is
No, However, True Blood makes being undead really cool, giving vampires their own highly developed social systems and institutions, over which they can have plenty of power squabbles.
escapism seems to be the dominant impulse in the contemporary
vamp-dramas that I’ve read. They serve to soothe the nagging sensation
of inconsequentiality and mundanity that afflicts us in our everyday
lives. People live their lives to benefit others and, denied a share in
the wealth of society or the shaping of its direction, they are
oppressed by banalities: the need to pay the bills, the boredom and
indignity of low-paid work and the petty gossip of peers. With such
concerns, who wouldn’t want to roleplay as a normal girl, whisked into a
life of drama, iintrigue and danger (not to mention gorgeous men)?