Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Weekend Assignment #341: Overexposed - The Vampire Vexation

For Weekend Assignment #341: Overexposed, I fully expected that people would mention being sick to death of politics right now, what with the midterm election imminent across the U.S. but that's not the thing I'm tired of. Back up, though; let's start with the question:

Weekend Assignment # 341: Overexposed
Some things (or people) explode into the culture, are really big for a while and then overstay their welcome. Who or what are you really tired of seeing, hearing or reading about these days?

Extra Credit: What discarded bit of pop culture do you remember fondly?
It's nothing in the real world I'm particular sick of, neither problematic politicians nor pubescent pop stars, nor even drug-addled divas. No, I need to rant for a bit about that fictional subculture of life-deprived men and women whose idea of a nice meal out is a large quantity of A-pos: the vampires.

I've never been a vampire fan, although I probably dressed as one once in some long-ago Halloween. I'm never read Bram Stoker's work. I found Bela Lugosi's most famous film (excluding Plan 9 From Outer Space) mildly diverting and briefly thought-provoking, but it's nothing I'd watch again. I think. I tried to watch Roman Polanski's The Fearless Vampire Killera once at Halloween, and suffered through about half an hour before turning it off. And I've never seen Nosforantu. There's a 1979 version of Dracula for which I've basically only seen the ten minutes Sylvester McCoy was on screen, saying his three lines. So no, not much of a vampire fan.

Buffy with Spike, the most entertaining of vampires.

When Buffy the Vampire Slayer came to theaters, it certainly didn't sound like something I'd enjoy, so I initially ignored it. Even when it came to television, I wrongly assumed that the goofy sensibility of that title announced a lowbrow character blundering her way through a send-up of a genre I didn't like in the first place. It wasn't until Season 6 of Buffy that I found out how wrong I was. After checking out a few Season Five episodes in rerun, John and I started seriously watching the show. We bought the DVDs and enjoyed the heck out of them, and Angel as well, although the spinoff about hunky vampire Angel and friends ended very badly. On the day the cancellation of Angel was announced, actor Danny Strong, who played Jonathan on Buffy, inadvertently reenacted on of his scenes with me, asking if I was "Karen with a K" when giving me his autograph.

Not all about the vampires: ex-demon Anya in the terrifying bunny suit, 
and Giles (Tony Head) with his chain saw. "Fear Itself,"  
Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Buffy was a great, great tv series, and Angel was mostly a very good one. But it wasn't because the two shows contained vampires. Joss Whedon built up a whole culture and cosmology around his version of the creatures, from their place in the demonic pecking order to the handy way they turn into dust when staked. But that wasn't ultimately what the show was about. It was about the difficulties of growing up, life and death and doing homework, alienation and friendship and the power to make a difference. More often than not, the vampires and other monsters were metaphors for some real-world problem. But none of that would have mattered had the show not been populated with a large ensemble of great characters, humans, vampires and none of the above, interacting with a modern sensibility and sharp, witty dialogue. Great stuff.

But the lightning that was Buffy could not be captured in a bottle. To take one of the least interesting aspects of that show, the vampire legend, and retell it in movies, several different tv shows and innumerable books is to dilute and cheapen the concept, making it even less appealing to the non-fan. On the big screen even before Twilight, we had Van Helsing and that vampires-vs.-werewolves movie Underworld and sequel(s). On the small screen there's True Blood in the U.S., full of mildly interesting characters continually ruining their lives; in the U.K. there is Being Human, with mostly the likable vampire, werewolf and ghost trying to have semi-normal lives and ultimately failing, plus a show called Demons featuring a young, alienated scion of the Van Helsing legacy. In books there are several mashups of Jane Austen with various monsters, a demon-hunting Queen Victoria, and lots of beautiful young detectives (or waitresses, or whatever) who either love vampires or are vampires themselves, with a few Slayer wannabes thrown in. And if these new books on the fantasy and YA shelves don't have vampires, they make do with zombies or werewolves.

Frankly, by the time Twilight became ubiquitous as bestselling books and movies, I was so sick of the whole thing that I never gave the franchise the chance. What I've read or heard about Edward and Whatshername does nothing to entice me.

So to tv producers and book publishers, here's my plea: don't you think this vampire glut, and by extension the zombie glut, has reached the point of diminishing returns? Can we have something else now please? For example, I have this series of books about a tengrem and his friends....

And discarded pop culture? Well, I was a Star Trek fan before Star Trek came back the first time, and a Doctor Who fan before Doctor Who came back for the second the third times. These days, with Doctor Who going strong and Star Trek having wrung every drop pf Trekkie goodness from itself before drying up, only to releaunch as a rather good film with a new cast, I'm really rather satisfied at the moment!


1 comment:

Florinda said...

Buffy is the exception to all anti-vampire sentiment - because you're right, it's not so much about the vampires.

But since Twilight was on my list for this Assignment, I'm in agreement about getting rid of the rest of those bloodsuckers!