The Media Zone

How the media make sense and nonsense of the world.

Is There an Epidemic of Vampire-Imitating Love Biters?

Blood bites: hazardous to your health, but oh, so sexy.

 

 

Vampires are just another super-natural role model. I have always dug them, in one form or another.  Sometimes they bit me in the behind--role models, that is.

One afternoon, when I was around, oh, six years old, my mother was walking past my bedroom and in the corner of her eye she caught a horrifying glimpse of me standing on the sill of my window, red cape safety-pinned around my neck, standing with my arms outstretched, about to leap off this third floor launching pad into suburban Bronx history. The large red S pinned to some yellow paper on the back of the cape told my mother all she needed to know.

Faster than a speeding bullet she was at the window, smiling, calmly doling out dulcet mother-tones, cooing me in to "give you a nice surprise before your trip into space, honey."

Sounded good to me. Mom gave great surprises. I flashed on my most recent gift, my cherished General McArthur doll as my mother, oh so smiley, oh so gently, raised the open window a little higher "so you can turn around and I can hand you the surprise," she purred.

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Then in one incredibly complicated but deft maneuver she pulled me in with one hand, slammed the window shut with the other and, I swear it, whacked me in the behind with that mysterious mother's third hand, the one you never see coming.

I saw the next five coming in lightening succession as I heard my mother wailing, "This isn't for you, this is for me because you scared me half to death and I need to do something." Then she whirled me around and hugged me so tight I couldn't breathe...hardly. I knew one thing at that moment when I saw the tears streaming down her cheeks, heard the sobs of relief: I was never going to try flying off my bedroom window again. I couldn't stand to see my mother cry.

Obviously I wasn't the only kid to think that if Superman can fly, as witnessed in comic books, comic strips, Saturday afternoon serials at the movies, on records (yes, there were such things--I had some. Yellow vinyls, the size of 78s ... or 45s, I can't recall which. Then later, TV with George Reeves, and then full-length feature films, with Christopher Reeve and the several TV incarnations.

Capt. Marvel, also caped, could fly as well, but I and most of my friends couldn't have cared less; what was with the Shazam stuff and what kind of self-respecting caped crusader would wear an orange costume? Also, Superman's alter, Clark Kent, was newspaper reporter and Capt. Marvel's alter, Billy Batson, sold newspapers. What's with that?

 But I digress. And you get the point: comic book heroes could be powerful role models, across all entertainment media. And they can lead kids to say [and do] the darndest things. A Disney movie released in the 80s, The Program, showed HS football heroes lying down on the roadway dividing lines at night, playing a kind of "chicken" with oncoming cars. Dangerous and kinda stupid, right? But apparently not stupid enough because teenagers all over America imitated the move. Some died. Disney had to delete the scene from the film to prevent the dumb and dumber fad from spreading.

Which brings us to vampires and teenage neck biting--another gift of the media to teens, our nation's so-called most valuable natural resource.

No need to retell here the tsunamic popularity of vampires today with storylines well beyond Bram Stoker's Dracula and all its incarnations and offspring, from Dark Shadows' Barnabus Collins through Ann Rice's Vampire Lestat to True Blood on HBO, the Vampire Diaries on the CW Network, to the juggernaut film franchise The Twilight Saga. The biting idea allegedly stems from the popular vampire movies based on a series of books from best-selling author Stephenie Meyer.

  Believe it or not, young readers, up until the last decade, probably the definitive romantic vampire would have to have been Frank Langella's Broadway and filmic portrayal of the granddaddy of vampires, Count Dracula, originated for the screen in 1931 - Directed by Tod Browning and starring Bela Lugosi as the count.

 

 

 With the rampant popularity of Anne Rice's rendition of the vampire legend, there commenced an age shift in the heart throb/romance meter. It broke the Lugosi mold of mature vampires living "in the now" but ruled by their centuries earlier "formative years," and moved audiences to embrace more fully, ideas like contemporary vampires becoming even rock stars, vampire killers or street punky lost boys and girls.

Teenage-looking vampires emerged and images and storylines completely shed old Transylvanian Euro-manners and age groups and become fully directed toward youth, the niche market of money, money, money.

With the media awash in vampirism, the youth naturally put their imprimatur on the phenomenon and embraced this tormented, romanticized, lionized ubermonster as their own. Step aside zombies, werewolves, mummies and slasher monsters. Ain't nothing really sexy about you. Really, how do you love a werewolf (even one who inhabits the soul of Benecio del Toro)

when they're in wolf's clothing? (very carefully). What was that a New Jersey telephone operator said to me centuries ago, about Werewolves: "you can't live with 'em and you can't kill 'em?"

(Oh, no, that was just men she was talking about.)

But these are fictions, for the delectation of the teen, 'tween, high schooler, young adult, the metrosexual set and gothic romance-deprived middle-aged women. Vampiric love bites may be playful, may be theatrical, may be seemingly minor ventures into the realm of forbidden fruit. You know, fun. Who doesn't like to wear fangs now and then?

The news is currently bloodied with the sensational reports ( is there any other kind when it comes to vampires?) of teens actually biting each other in vampiric-like blood rituals of romance or friendship. The former might be said to gothically transmute serious hickey production, the latter a revisionist take on children becoming blood brothers by picking scabs on their arms and co-mingling dabs of blood or, more serious, cutting a small wound and commingling the red stuff.

Fads spread like wildfire among humans -- actually primates more generally, thought to be related in part to our brain's mirror neurons, neurons so vital to social animals who must rely heavily on imitative behavior to maintain cohesive groups and cultures.

But some genotypic traits things that are evolutionarily important don't always produce phenotypic behavior bathed in common sense. This is one of those instances.
"Cool" and "with it" can actually be "real dumb" and, in some instances, potentially rather hazardous to the health. Humans biting humans, for whatever reason, can always be a bit dicey.

According to an article on AOLHealth, up to 15 percent of bites from humans can become infected. And, if the biting should draw blood, diseases such as hepatitis, syphilis and HIV can be spread.

There are germs in some human mouths that can cause hard to treat infections, according to the National Institutes of Health. An infected human bite, especially on the hand, may require hospitalization to receive antibiotics intravenously. In some cases, surgery may be needed, according to the NIH's MedlinePlus.

This biting epidemic is a trend, however, which may be causally linked to the earlier trends we've seen around the world of young people first sliding into the infinite and eternal and endless world of tattoos, followed by the somewhat more visually defiant and unsettling array of body piercings society is witness to from those who want to shock, get off on and otherwise be different from the larger outgroup but comfortably in simpatico with the ingroup, Goth or otherwise.

All this points to the industrialized world deeming the body a playground for all sorts of statements, sensations and affording publicly identifiable clues to attitudes, values and potential kinky behaviors.

Aside from the dominance of these trends among, predictably, the youth of modern societies, any and all of these body-as-playground trends generally cut across race, class, SES groups and, as was the parallel case in the 60s and 70s with the Beats, the Hippies, the acid generation, the common thread is youth pushing envelopes, and being different in order to find a home in similarity.

But vampires are iconic inkblots. They can be whatever we want them to be. straight-gay, male-female, old-young- younger, good (with a struggle) - evil (with ease), even Jewish (see Roman Polanski's 1967 Fearless Vampire Killers). Today they are the sexiest things going. You just have to be careful and a non-neurotic thrill-seeker

 Most likely the biting fad will pass and be replaced by some other way to torment the body, at once so primitive and sensuous but eventually headed for more benign commodification in a capitalist system which never misses an opportunity to kill something by embracing it, refining it and thereby making it acceptable, usually the death knell to any youth- or out-group-inspired fad.

The mind reels when considering what other fads will call upon the human body to be both a playground and a message board.

People are already renting their faces for advertising.

  But, in this, our culture's biting phase, there will be injuries, accidents, small epidemics of infections to be chronicled before biting and perhaps more intense, invasive and injurious thematic variations of the romanticism of playing at vampirism within cult group settings, have run their course. And plenty of time for regrets.

Some of you might wish to rent a rather amusing, engaging film entitled Vampire's Kiss. It stars Nicholas Cage in one of his better performances as a young literary agent who thinks he may have been turned into a vampire by an ambiguous, chimerical, hallucinatory(?) Jennifer Beal, she of Flashdance fame. Cage's character seeks out answers from his therapist as he struggles with his demons, hallucinations and renderings of how "real vampires" behave. It's an authentic hoot and foretold the now popular demi-monde of vampire wannabes. One can even find instructions on how to make your own set of fangs...to do with them what you will.

No doubt we will be in for a rash of such illusions, delusions and obsessions for a bit of time and many vampire clubs and raves will flourish. And maybe Lestat will be just another face in the crowd, looking for blood in all the wrong places.

 

Stuart Fischoff, Ph.D., is Senior Editor of the Journal of Media Psychology and Emeritus Professor of Media Psychology at Cal State, Los Angeles.

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