Fangs for the memories– How the concept of the vampire has shifted in the media

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After the sad passing of Christopher Lee I wanted to think of a way to commemorate his life and what better way than talking about a role he played for almost 20 years; Dracula. Its late posting after the sad news was due to wanting to make the article as informative and structured as possible to give Lee the respect he deserves.

So I would like to dedicate this article to Christopher Lee; the man whose performance of the bloodsucker remains as a cultural icon of the vampire to this day.

It is no coincidence that vampires are called the living dead; the legend of the bloodsuckers never seems to die down.  However, where the legend begins is not easy to pinpoint; most cultures appear to have had their own versions of vampiric entities long before Polidori’s The Vampyre in 1819 or Stoker’s Dracula in 1897. Vampires have permeated out of myth and into popular culture making them real in some sense but with each portrayal of the vampire, what they are used to represent becomes something completely different.

Perhaps thought to be the key text when discussing vampires, Bram Stoker’s Dracula was used to revive the Gothic genre. Count Dracula was the epitome of everything the Victorian Britain wasn’t. The vampire was used to take advantage of contemporary issues of the day, one such issue was the fear surrounding the foreign Other, the vampire myth itself added to this fear as Britain was unaware of the Eastern European legends until then. By doing so, xenophobia was interlinked with the fear of the unknown.  However, it is sexuality that sums up Broker’s vampires fully by depicting and interpreting human instinct that the sexually repressed British male ignored. Vampires were used as the physical portrayal of a sexual liberation thought to be highly dangerous at that time. However, the female vampire; Lucy is not viewed as threatening as Dracula. She remains passive in her hunt for blood by feeding on children without killing them, something that the 1960’s and 1970’s soon changed. The Hammer House of Horror Studios added to Stoker’s portrayal of the vampire by making female bloodsuckers an even bigger sexual threat than Dracula was. They were regularly presented as being busty female seductresses who would ultimately ensnare men with their bodies and looks. With a predominately male audience, it was a means to reinforce the heterosexual ideology of the time by sexualising women but also to suggest that sexually active women were dangerous.

During the 1980’s, a new form of vampire manifested itself through Anne Rice’s  Interview with a Vampire, heterosexuality was replaced with homosexuality, with male vampires feeding on men instead of the traditional female in distress. Additionally, discussing homosexuality in correlation with death ran parallel with the AIDs epidemic making vampirism the epitomising example of the HIV carrier in the 1980’s. Moreover, Rice writes Louis de Pointe du Lac as a sympathetic character rather than the monstrosities that were portrayed before it allowing readers to empathise with the man who had been ‘infected’ with this curse. In doing so, HIV carriers were perhaps viewed a little more sympathetically. On the other hand, they may have been viewed as something less than human. In the 1990’s Joss Whedon attempted to also change how a certain minority was viewed; women. Buffy the Vampire Slayer challenged gender norms with a female lead that fought off the bloodsucking undead while fighting every day high school issues at the same time. Not only did this mean that everything vampire was now not completely focussed towards a male audience but it also started to mean people began to discuss gender stereotypes rather than reinforcing them within the horror genre. Nonetheless, it can be argued that despite Buffy challenging gender norms unlike other vampire platforms did before, women were still viewed as threatening (something that Whedon challenged later on within Buffy with her boyfriend Riley who felt emasculated by her ability to protect herself).

In 2005 Stephanie Meyer brought to the world another form of the vampire, similar to Rice’s portrayal, the main vampire presented was one that audiences could feel sorry for. Edward Cullen was a pessimistic vampire who was troubled by the fact that he has fallen in love with a human but does not want to condemn her to a life of vampirism to be with her. This is the same form of vampire that Harris used in her True Blood series with Bill Compton. These vampires represent a form of forbidden love that ultimately is a form of sexual fantasy where although humans shouldn’t be with vampires, can’t help but do so. Although, the vampire still follows the theme of sexuality, this form seems to struggle with the sexual liberation of Stoker’s and removes vampires as being a sexual threat all together.  In fact, True Blood reverses the roles of man and monster by portraying vampires as those sought out by humans for sex instead. Additionally, it ironically twists which are the sexual threat when people are found killed by other humans for fornicating with vampires.

Most recently, the vampire has once more transformed itself, however unlike the others it seems to be paying homage to one of its original roots, Le Fanu’s Carmilla. Characters such as Adventure Time’s Marceline the Vampire Queen as well as the Canadian web series’ Carmilla (based on the Le Fanu’s original text) both present female vampires in a lesbian manner as Le Fanu did. However, both programmes have altered its reasoning to do so, unlike the 1871 Gothic novella, both contemporary series attempt to normalise lesbianism although the latter does so more explicitly than the former. This ultimately shows the changing societal opinions as lesbianism has come to be seen as an accepted sexual orientation whereas before it was seen as a monstrous act.

Perhaps most interestingly, vampires have also become used in order to define some people’s identity. With the option to be vampires in videogames such as The Sims series and Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls series, players can ultimately live the life of a bloodsucker.  Additionally it was only a little less than a decade ago that everyone had a Facebook app that allowed you to ‘convert’ your friends into your own vampire coven online. However, some have taken vampirism as an identity outside of the virtual world and into reality itself. Fan clubs as well as communities for “real vampires” have been set up for those that relate to the creatures of the night.

It is evident to believe then that, throughout history, vampires have been appropriated for multiple reasons other than its original purpose; to explain the unknown. It is perhaps due to vampires being uncanny in the full sense of the word; a mixture of the familiar and unfamiliar that is experienced as being peculiar. Since people can ultimately relate to the vampire as something similarly human, they are perfect characters to imprint with; allowing subtle critiquing or reinforcement of societal norms of the time such as sexuality or gender. However, no matter when or where vampires are portrayed, one thing remains certain – through becoming part of not only Britain but the world’s cultural capital, the vampire myth, similar to the notorious monster itself, shall live on.

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The Beauty in Goodbyes – When TV Shows Just Won’t Let Go

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We have all been in that situation where you make a dramatic farewell to someone only for them to carry on walking the same way as you are for a few more kilometres. The walk changes from a pleasant catch up to the most awkward time as you attempt to start conversation again. Television series are no different to that; they can turn from a series you avidly watch when they air to one you reluctantly watch because it hasn’t ended yet and you’re adamant to finish it.

Unsure what sort of series I mean? Think programmes like Heroes which gained phenomenal views in its 1st season only to have the figures slowly dissipate as the seasons went on. Television directors and broadcasting companies know a good thing when they see it and ratings is the epitome of “good things”. So when a successful television programme takes off it is only a matter of time before the broadcaster pays the show creators to produce another season until, like vultures on a carcass, it is picked clean of any individuality or flare that made the show such a success. Viewers begin to lose interest in the series and find other shows to watch, when this happens the television companies will do the same; dropping the show with no conclusion and preying on another show to take its place, creating as many seasons as possible before interest is lost. In this sense, broadcasters are constantly chasing after the viewers; scavenging any interest in a show they may have had.

However, is it fair for the broadcasters to do this? How many series have been ruined by constant seasons being made? Heroes, Lost, Smallville & Primeval have all been victims to the scavenging media vultures. These shows all started with great plots and all had something unique until popularity forced them into creating more stories than their premises could hold. Like the majority of the media, their narratives became weaker and in doing so their uniqueness was lost. Surely it would have been greater if these shows knew their limits. “Save the cheerleader, save the world” would not have become a redundant saying in Heroes, Smallville would remain set in the small farm town rather than Metropolis and dinosaurs would have remained as the creatures coming through the anomalies rather than mythical beasts in Primeval.

Due to being completely hollowed out by major television corporations these shows will never get their chance to become big cult television classics that those that were ended, perhaps before there time, have. Shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the original Star Trek and Farscape all have a cult following because the shows were either cancelled or ended on their own accord and perhaps ironically have permeated into other successful media platforms such as graphic novels. In doing so, these shows still made money after their end without completely destroying the reasons behind what made them a success in the first place. Perhaps contemporary television broadcasters should take a note and finally leave our favourite television programmes to take their course and end naturally.

First submitted to Brighton Elephant

Why Watch… ‘iZombie’

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Olivia ‘Liv’ Moore was living the dream; she had the perfect job, the perfect fiancé and the greatest friends. She worked as an upcoming medical resident with a promising career in becoming a great cardiac surgeon until one fateful boat party changed her life forever. The boat was attacked by brain-eating zombies and the entire incident was thought to have happened due to the influence of drugs and alcohol. Unfortunately, Liv did not escape unscathed; getting scratched by the drug dealer turned zombie Blaine. Having distanced herself from her friends and family to avoid ‘infecting’ them, she is thought to be suffering from post-traumatic stress. With the hunger for brains (and the need to cover anything she eats in hot sauce just to taste it), Liv Moore (the irony would kill her if she could die) now earns an ‘unliving’ as a coroner’s assistant where she can eat the cerebral tissue of the already deceased. However, every time she eats a brain the victim’s personality and memories permeate into her own for better or for worse.

Life as a secret zombie couldn’t get any worse; that is until her boss Dr Ravi Chakrabarti discovers her ‘mid-dinner’ and wants to study her ‘disease’. Moreover, she is thought to be psychic by detective Clive Babineaux because of the information she can accumulate from the victim’s memories. Nonetheless, zombie life does have its perks, as she helps detective Babineux solve murders, Liv comes to realise that although her living life has ended, that does not mean she has to stop living altogether. Now with her boss actively looking for a cure Liv comes to realise that being a zombie may not be permanent.

Although only vaguely based on DC’s Vertigo comic book series, iZombie does pay homage to its original medium through the use of pop art-like chapter sequences and comic strip opening credits. It also follows a typical comic book strategy in that it has a stream of consciousness narrative by Liv Moore. The series mainly focuses on how the murder victim’s personality helps solve murders all the while affecting Liv in her already lacking social life; making her as cold-hearted as her hit-man victim to as nurturing as her pregnant victim. However, the programme also attempts to show how being untrue to the ones she loves can have terrible consequences with her confused ex-fiancé slowly losing his grip on reality by uncovering Blaine’s underground brain harvesting business without any idea what they are or why they are doing it.

If you like Warm Bodies, Dead Like Me and Pushing Daisies then you will love iZombie. With its black humour, character development and dramatic subplots, iZombie is a must-see television programme that you would have to be dead not to give it a go.

Why Watch… ‘Farscape’

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Farscape follows a group of escaped prisoners that band together to outrun their captors; the Peacekeepers (a militant and policing species of alien that to some extent share a similar genetic code to humans). With the addition of a human John Crichton (Ben Browder) having being sucked through a ‘wormhole’ into the middle of the prisoner’s escape and ultimately befriending the aliens on board the escaping living prison ship; Moya, he finds himself as much a fugitive as they are in a galaxy he knows nothing about. The different species of alien on board Moya adds to the character development between them all and the characteristics of their races are cleverly thought out. With a Luxan which are famous for their anger and a Delvian which are known for their meditative and religious beliefs, each species attributes are in direct opposition of another’s. Nonetheless, with such a small crew they all rely on one another for their survival and become some form of surrogate family. This family concept makes the audience care for each character despite how selfish or headstrong the characters may be.

Crichton’s constant references to television, jingles and songs throughout each season reminds the viewer just how far from home he is as well as adds to the ways Crichton attempts to keep the thought of Earth with him at all times. With every other character lost as to what he is talking about and some thinking him insane these moments add a comic factor that many other sci-fi space programmes lack. Additionally, Farscape uses Jim Henson’s puppetry studio to portray many of the alien species including two members of Moya’s crew; Rygel and Pilot, the puppets are nowhere near similar to Henson’s other projects such as the Muppets. Although not completely realistic, the puppetry adds another dimension to the series which makes the series a unique mix between special effects, puppetry and make-up.

All lost in uncharted space looking for a way back home; the series creates a fantastical universe filled with a plethora of alien threats such as the Scarrans, Nebari and the Sheyangs which keeps the viewer wondering just how big the universe really is. A cult television show which ended in its prime due to production costs; Farscape is a cult television series which continues to captivate the audience several years after the final episode aired and entered into graphic novel territory. If you like Firefly but wished it contained more alien species and were not so keen on the mix between sci-fi and westerns then Farscape is the show for you.

Why Watch… ‘Arrow’

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Set as playboy millionaire Oliver Queen is rescued from an island he had been shipwrecked on for 5 years, the series centres around his return to Starling City. Oliver is intent on fulfilling a promise he made to his father before his death when he gets home and, using the survival skills he gained while on the island, dresses as a hooded archer who targets those that have corrupted his city. Due to his unlawful exploits he becomes known as the Vigilante and must lie to all those around him including his mother, sister, best friend and love interest causing a rift between them all for being dishonest with them. Nonetheless, Queen does gain help from his bodyguard John Diggle and an IT expert Felicity Smoak who both see the importance of what he does and not only helps with Queen’s mission to right the wrongs of his father but also help Oliver escape the isolation he became accustomed to on the island.

The series constantly moves between the past and present with the events that occurred during those 5 years on the island and Oliver’s vigilante activities in Starling City. During the scenes set on the island it becomes evident that Oliver’s account as to what happened there is not as true as he wants people to believe and as the series progresses more of the truth is revealed to the audience. Additionally, the programme also introduces other characters from the DC universe such as Deathstroke, Deadshot and Black Canary. Not to mention introduces Barry Allen in season two, creating the new The Flash series thus sharing the same television universe.

A city owned by the wealthy and a devious plan that connects the Queen family right in the centre of it. Packed with lies and family secrets, Arrow constantly refreshes its narrative by adding more to Oliver Queen’s past. This is cleverly made possible through the use of his decision to keep his past a secret; perhaps due to a sense of trauma he suffered there. However, with his past refusing to remain just that, Arrow will leave you wanting to know more.

Why Watch… ‘Gotham’

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Similar to the short-lived Gotham Central comic book series which focussed on the Gotham City Police Department rather than Batman, Gotham centres on Jim Gordon’s first year attempting to fix the corrupt Gotham City before Batman existed. As one of Gotham’s few ‘clean’ cops, Gordon gets tasked with the murder of a young Bruce Wayne’s parents which leads him to the mob; most specifically Carmine Falconi. Since Falconi owns the police force and there cannot be “organized crime without law and order” Gordon is tasked to prove he is ‘part of the programme’ by killing a whistle-blower lackey named Oswald Cobblepot (The Penguin). Keeping to his moral code, Gordon pretends to kill him and orders him never to return to Gotham. Unbeknownst to anyone, this action is the beginning of a big change in Gotham. With mobsters such as Fish Mooney and the Moronis attempting to overthrow Falconi, Cobblepot returning to create his own mob and Bruce Wayne beginning to train with Alfred, the only thing clear is that Gotham will never be the same again.

The programme mixes the gangster genre with comic book elements in order to create a gritty portrayal of a city in need of a saviour, allowing for people uninterested in comic books to enjoy a police drama. That is not to say that Batman fans will be disappointed as the show is filled with characters from the Batman mythos such as Jim Gordon, Harvey Bullock, Renee Montoya and Edward Nygma. Some characters are obvious but there are many hidden allusions to the DC world such as the introduction of Thomas Elliot (Hush) and even Harley Quinn’s costume (seen on dancers within Fish Mooney’s night club). These ‘easter eggs’ add to the programme’s appeal for die-hard Batman fans while those who are not familiar with the comic books will not truly feel excluded from following the plot.

A gritty police drama filled with plenty of plot twists and betrayal Gotham will leave the audience unsure who to trust in a city where the police are just as corrupt as the criminals. The show bypasses the expectations of a simple series to set up a world before Batman by making sure that each case Gordon and Bullock do tackle are just as difficult to solve as any other crime drama. The viewer won’t be disappointed by the judiciary narrative or the connections with one of DC’s most recognisable superheroes.

Why Watch… ‘House of Cards’

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A remake of an original British series, the US political drama House of Cards revolves around Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) exacting his revenge against his political peers (including the President) for breaking a promise to make him Secretary of State. He subtly uses, abuses, lies and manipulates those around him in order to gain more power for himself. What makes the series so likeable is that the viewers do not need to be familiar with the American political system in order to understand what is happening unlike many political dramas. Additionally what makes the series unique is that Underwood constantly talks to the viewer directly. It is Spacey’s breaking of the fourth wall that truly makes House of Cards such a series worthy of winning 3 Primetime Emmy Awards for its 1st season.

House of Cards ultimately feels Shakespearean in nature, reminiscent of Macbeth and Hamlet. However, as Shakespearean tragedies always suggest, the more powerful they are, the harder they fall. It is this fact that intrigues the viewer to continue watching Underwood’s subtle machinations in the curiosity as to when or if indeed he will fall. Additionally, the viewer also feels like an accessory to Underwood’s plan to topple the political order as they are the only ones aware of his motives. That is not to say that the viewer knows everything though, being caught up in the web of lies and deceit formed by the Underwoods, blurs the boundaries between the truth and all the lies. The viewer must delve deeper into Frank’s malicious plan in order to find out more.

House of Cards not only focuses on Frank Underwood however. His wife Claire (Robin Wright) also plays a vital role in the series. Owning a charity named ‘The Clean Water Initiative’ she appears to be the opposite of Frank, yet, as the viewer learns quickly with Willimon’s drama, appearances can be deceiving. The series itself proves this; it is ultimately more than a political drama. It focuses on people and the lengths they are willing to go to in order to gain and retain power. Reporters, politicians, families and lovers are all doing anything they can to get what they want.  The series cleverly portrays what the corporate world epitomises; a dog eat dog attitude and those who refuse to play the game are easy targets. Additionally, House of Cards also calls attention to how powerful the media is over politics as well as how fragile the political system can be; so brittle that one man can ultimately manipulate it to his will.

A political thriller for the masses, House of Cards keeps the viewer on the edge of their seats in trepidation. With Season 3 being released on Netflix on 27th February, 2015, there is no better time to watch the two previous seasons portray the dark side of American politics in all its glory.