Modern vampires are losing their bite
Where once vampires were likelier to stop a girl's heart, rather than set it aflutter, marketing trends are seeing the menacing immortals reinvented as kinder, gentler souls that are as misunderstood as the young consumers under their spell.
A rebel without the claws, the modern-day bloodsucker has been so transformed that even Barbie is taking a bite, with Mattel having just unveiled a doll version of Twilight's "vegetarian vampire" Edward Cullen. Add to that, the forthcoming teen TV series The Vampire Diaries, and the killing-averse undead in youth novels such as Vampire Academy, and it's clear Nosferatu is losing his teeth.
"Our post-9/11 world no longer looks favourably on people or beings that hide in plain sight yet have the ability to kill us," says Mary Findley, a vampire scholar at Vermont Technical College. "Therefore, it isn't surprising that our vampires have recently become less monstrous . . . even living amongst us in relative peace in the True Blood (TV) series."
That Barbie is on the bandwagon is proof of this. The girlhood brand's preppier-than-thou Twilight dolls, which hit stores Nov. 1, look more apt to drink Beaujolais than blood, and are said to be appropriate playthings for kids aged six and up.
Horror expert Dave Alexander admits he loves the "unintentional soulless-fake person-parasite metaphor" of the bloodsucker Barbies, and believes vampire folklore lends itself well to such non-traditional interpretations.
"The vamp genre has given us everything from Bram Stoker's Dracula to Count Chocula, so why not Transylvania 90210?" says Alexander, managing editor of Toronto-based Rue Morgue magazine.
He hastens to add, however, that the trend toward neutered vampires is not for the classic fan.
"It's as far away as you can get from the vampire mythos, where they're evil boogeymen out to eat the living," says Alexander. "There's nothing horrific about it, other than its popularity."
Pop-culture scholar Aaron Taylor says that cross-pollinating genres isn't necessarily akin to "aesthetic heresy" and in fact can bear rich fruit, as was the case with the horror-comedy Shaun of the Dead. But he isn't crazy about the extent to which the once-unholy terrors have been "defanged" and transformed into "so much empty product."
"The vampire as just another 'misunderstood' pin-up boy," says Taylor, an assistant professor at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta.
Patrick McAleer, who co-chairs the vampire section of the Popular Culture Association, believes such innocuous portrayals hold a mirror to a society that doesn't like confronting that which scares them.
"Toothless vampires, vegetarian vampires, and compassionate vampires take us further and further away from the origins and initial visions of the vampire as a purposefully frightening figure," says McAleer.
"Perhaps, the vampire is simply the first in an eventual long line of monsters . . . which will be recontextualized and recreated for modern audiences . . . who find difficulty facing fear."