Vampirism Gone Viral
Vampires embody superstition and fear; they are carriers for specific and contemporary anxieties of the cultures that created them. The modern vampire can be traced to the 1980s, a decade defined in no small part by HIV/AIDS, when society as a whole developed a heightened preoccupation with blood as the medium of a monster. This lecture will consider the ways that post-AIDS crisis vampires in film and television, from Blade (1998) to the cusp of COVID-19, have engaged with broad-ranging misunderstandings to demonstrate how people think about and fear infection, contagion, and containment.
One cannot demand absolute scientific accuracy from narratives predicated on blood-drinking undead aristocrats, but one might expect more from actual humans; however, as the general public’s willful disregard of scientific evidence in favor of fear mongering with relation to, for example, vaccines for preventable childhood illness–or, more recently, the various means to prevent the spread of the coronavirus–has shown, many will abandon logic, knowledge, and reason in favor of panic when they feel threatened.
Vampirism has, over the last 25 years, mutated to become many things, sparkly or Southern being just two examples, but my focus is vampirism as a condition of interest to doctors and scientists in television’s American Horror Story: Hotel and The Strain, the tv movie Dracula (2006), and the movies Blade, Thirst, and I Am Legend. While the role of science ranges from minor subplot or tying of a loose end to overarching plot device, in their simplest form, these narratives utilize a layperson’s version of science to identify vampirism as a disease, usually viral and always blood-borne, that causes immortality and blood thirst with side effects like light sensitivity or an allergy to garlic or silver. That is, it’s a natural condition that doctors, pathologists, geneticists, and the occasional hematologist can mutter about in their laboratories, even as the virus (or gene, or bacteria, or some combination of the three) behaves in ways that no virus ever has. These fantastic contagions are analogous to our real-world monsters of weaponized misinformation, scientific denialism, and vaccine hesitancy.
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