Tuesday 15 December 2009
I Would Rather be Bitten by a Vampire!
I love vampire movies, I always have, anything from Twilight right back to Nosferatu, F. W. Mornau’s silent expressionist classic. Zombie movies, in contrast leave me cold, even comedy spoofs like Shaun of the Dead. I assumed that it was just a question of personal preference, but now I know better. For, you see, vampires are aristocrats and zombies are proles, a revelation that I owe to Sam Leith writing in the latest issue of Prospect.
In an amusing reflection inspired by Zombieland, the latest in the genre that gave us I Am Legend and Dawn of the Dead, he argues that vampire and zombie movies are not just there for mindless entertainment, oh no, they reflect certain cultural anxieties, the anxieties of the middle-classes, under attack from above and below. Vampires and zombies, you see, are the Scylla and Charybidis of the bourgeoisie: either exploitation by the aristocrats or overthrow by the masses!
The vampires, dear things, are the monsters of the right, zombies of the left. Vampires are individuals; zombies are a mindless mass. The vampires are all about lineage, breeding and ancient traditions. They live in castles, dress well and have impeccable manners. Deep down every decent girl wants to be seduced by the bite of the knights of the night; I know I do. The generality both fears the vampire as the lord of the manor and is slightly titillated in their prurient way by what he might get up to in his castle with those hot dead chicks. :-)
So, yes, vampires are sexy; zombies most assuredly are not. The bite of the vampire is voluptuous; the zombie just chomps into whatever he can get, be it leg, or arm, or even baser parts of the anatomy. They want to eat one’s brains, Leith says, not to make themselves brainier but to make one stupider! The intention is to bring you down to their level.
Vampires, lacking in democratic legitimacy, use guile to conceal themselves. Zombies are everywhere, day and night; kill one of the nameless mass and a dozen more come in their place. Vampires, conscious of etiquette, only ever enter one’s home if invited; zombies just batter the door down. Once the vampire is in he bleeds one dry, the echo of the Ancien Régime. The zombies are the sans-culottes; once they are in it’s over; the new order rises along with the blade of the guillotine. The vampire raises up, a degree of social climbing, as a select few are chosen to join his company in eternity. The zombie just levels down, forcing one to join the mass in the rampage through the streets.
Interestingly zombies and vampires never appear in the same movie, which Leith puts down to the fact that they represent the two opposites in an incompatible social crisis. It’s a sign of how anxious the culture is at present, he concludes, that we are fixated on both.
Great stuff! Yes, in answer to your question, Sam, I would far rather be bitten by a vampire than munched by a zombie. That is indeed why the great socialist experiment failed; for the best would always want to be blood-sucking kulaks!