Every so often, those scary undead creatures of the night arise from their coffins and suck more cash out of the public, whose appetite for vampires and other paranormal creatures never dies.
We are hot and heavy into another wave of vampire culture, sparked by the immense popularity of the Twilight young adult romance novels and movie. There is the HBO series True Blood, other films or TV shows about witches or those with unusual abilities (Eastwick, X-Men, Heroes), and yet more vampire movies, such as 30 Days of Night.
Vampire camp is nothing new. During the 1970s, the undead novels of author Anne Rice were major bestsellers, and in 1979 two vampire films also made a pop culture splash. One was a comedy, Love at First Bite, and the other a remake of the 1897 vampire novel, Dracula, by Irish author Abraham “Bram” Stoker. Stoker’s novel came to the big screen again in the 1990s remake, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, while that decade also witnessed the long-running TV series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
So what’s behind this current fascination with things that go bump in the night? Part of the explanation, perhaps, is our utter disgust with last year’s Wall Street bailout. We the taxpayers know we are being bled dry by corporations that are “too big to fail” and their enablers and abettors in Washington, D.C. On top of that mess, state and local governments are only too willing to give huge tax cuts to businesses that face zero consequences for not living up to their part of the bargain. So we might as well enjoy some horror while we struggle with lost jobs, endless unemployment, sinking salaries, mounds of bills, and zip bailout from anywhere for ordinary working stiffs.
Beyond that, our mounting anxiety over Dec. 21, 2012, is also a factor in this latest wave of vampire/paranormal chic. The date, which is approximate, represents the end of a 26,000-year cycle on the Mayan calendar. Not that many of us really understand the actual significance of this date or what the Mayans intended when they ended their calendar on it. We’ve just heard about it from somewhere and presuppose that it means disaster. Call it Y2K glitch/millennium jitters, Part 2.
Enter Hollywood stage right; there are always megabucks to be made in exploiting fear. The film 2012, to debut on Friday, Nov. 13, appears from the previews to gob up destruction with all the outsize special effects that Tinseltown can throw on the big screen. Last fall it was another film called Knowing. Same theme: worldwide destruction depicted by high-tech wizardry, just a different big-name star.
The more pertinent question becomes, why do we invariably expect the worst? What’s in our psyche that leads us to assume that some date or deadline always spells disaster? As just one example, almost every human culture has a variation on a global flood myth.
Despite our so-called modern mindset, the religious meme of judgment day is just like those vampires: it never really dies and cannot be killed off readily. While only a minority still professes to believe in an actual Day of Judgment, the concept of doomsday still haunts most of us, even if we do not acknowledge it. That gnawing, deep-seated unease sets us up to fear the worst in the form apocalypses now framed in lay terms, such as human-made global warming destroying the planet. In this secular scenario, an outraged planet instead of vengeful deity assumes the triple role of judge, jury, and executioner.
Even when times are relatively prosperous, our deep-seated apocalyptic terrors still shake us to the core. The Y2K glitch was supposed to cause havoc with worldwide computer time-keeping when the year 2000 rolled around. Half a decade of media hype and millions upon millions of dollars in programming fixes later, Y2K was a bust. And all the related jitters and handwringing took place during the 1990s dot.com boom.
The apocalypse mindset may well be hard-wired into human genes. Perhaps we all walk around harboring distant, cellular-based memories of an era when our lives consisted of minute-by-minute struggles with the elements, large carnivorous animals, and hostile neighboring tribes.
A different slant: We have lived through such mass destruction before, and the possibility haunts our soul memories. These diverse explanations are not mutually exclusive even while appealing to very different views of human existence.
Most likely we will carry on, dreading our demise right up until our sun in the very distant future shrinks to a dwarf star incapable of supporting life on our planet or anywhere else in our solar system. By then our restless, curious selves will have built space arks that have taken us far beyond the confines of this solar system to new suns and new worlds.
We will still bring our fears and limitations with us, however, unless we learn to grow beyond them. Ultimately, Dec. 21, 2012 may have far more impact on inner change and growth than anything else. And that will be something to celebrate, not dread.