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Vampire popularity: it’s technology’s fault

I used to love vampires, but that was when they appeared sparingly. The amount of vamp-lore out there today, however, is getting out of hand.

I’ve been developing a bit of a weekly ritual in the months since I struck out on my own, a tradition I’ve taken to calling Terrible Movie Tuesdays. As the name implies, it’s the day I go to the theatre and see terrible movies or, generally speaking, films my fiance has no intention of seeing. Me? I just like going. The lower admission charge on Tuesdays and the fact that theatres are usually deserted during the middle of the day adds up to a bit of fun solo time, even if that time is usually spent having my intelligence insulted by bad cinema.

Yesterday I checked out Priest, a movie that was ultimately as bad as it looked (you know it’s going to suck when there aren’t any advance screenings for critics). The premise, such as it was: humans and vampires have been at war for time immemorial. But, with the help of ninja-like priests, the Church has beaten back the blood-sucking hordes and imprisoned them on reservations. That leaves the holy folks free to run the world. I know – talk about a horror film!

The less said about the movie the better, but it did get me thinking about vampires. I’ve come to bloody well hate them (pun intended) just because they’re so overdone and oversaturated. If it’s not bad vampire TV shows – ahem, True Blood – then it’s bad vampire movies like Priest and bad vampire novels, which in turn get turned into bad vampire movies (yup, the one and only Twilight series).

I used to love vampires – my favourite TV show of all time remains Buffy the Vampire Slayer while one of my fave books is the original Dracula – but that was when they appeared sparingly. The amount of vamp-lore out there today, however, is getting out of hand. Knowing that the entertainment world works in cycles – where a genre is hot one minute and gone the next – I’ve been waiting for the eventual wane of vampires. But it just doesn’t seem to be coming.

So I’m wondering: is there something more to this vampire thing, other than it’s the current craze of the entertainment business?

The answer, I think, may be yes and – as always – it may be because of technology.

Vampires come in many different shapes and sizes – the ones in Priest were similar to the aliens in Aliens, thereby indicating that the “script” (and I shudder to call it that) may have originally starred some other kinds of monsters, but was then rewritten to suit the current flavour. All the different vampires do, however, generally have a couple things in common, most notably the need to continually drink blood and the ability to live forever if they do so.

Here’s where technology comes in. Thanks to science improving food, medicine and general prosperity in the world, people are living longer and longer, particularly in the developed world. Over the past half century, life spans have increased about 10 years to around 80 in such countries. In the nineteenth century, the life expectancy was under 40. Even when those numbers are tempered somewhat by a decline in infant mortality, a typical 21st century human would probably seem nearly immortal to someone living two centuries ago.

Moreover, we’re on the cusp of a significant further expansion in life spans, which are topics I’ll be getting into in book #2. Biotechnology, robotics, nanotechnology, computing and discoveries in neurology are all going to provide the keys to first slowing aging and then reversing it. It sounds like science fiction but some of it is already possible. Where big advancements need to happen is not so much in the science but rather in our attitudes toward it.

I wonder if this trend of longer life is something people are subconsciously aware of, hence the popularity of vampire fiction: we want insight into the effects of immortality – and as much of it as possible. Will it make us better people, like Angel; will it make us sexier, like those Twlight dudes; will it make us annoying, like most of the vampires on True Blood; or will it make us giant douches, like Anne Rice’s Lestat? (Tom Cruise evidently has a head start.) In a nutshell: perhaps we’re curious about what longer life means, so we want to see it dramatized in entertainment from as many different angles as possible.

Then there’s the fact that the whole mythos of the vampire is based on a Faustian trade-off: eternal life in exchange for eternal killing and drinking of blood. Does the popularity of vampires reflect some sort of angst over a similar real-world trade-off, that science’s continual life extension is coming at a cost? Is our headlong pursuit of technology somehow costing us our humanity, which is a theme that’s been explored in countless science-fiction stories from Frankenstein onwards?

I’m not sure, but obviously Terrible Movie Tuesdays have some merit to them. Being bored by what’s happening on screen provides a lot of time to ponder such questions and I surely can’t explain the continual popularity of vampires any other way.

Anyone else have any ideas?