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Lectures from the Allen Room and the Wertheim Study: Why Our Society Likes Vampires: their Moral Struggle – and Ours

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December 20, 2012

Program Locations:

Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, South Court Auditorium
General Research Division
For ages 13 to 18 years

Starting as a meditation on mortality after the illness and death of her late husband, Margot Adler, correspondent at NPR and author, began to obsessively read vampire novels. She has now read more than 230 vampire novels - from teen to adult, from detective, to romance, from gothic to modern. Although it started as a look at issues of mortality, none of that explained the seven billion dollars Hollywood spent on vampire movies in the last two years.  "Every society creates the vampire it needs," wrote the feminist scholar Nina Auerbach. England in the 19th century had the largest ports in the world, so Stoker created his version of Dracula in part, because of England’s own fear of outsiders, disease, and immigration. In the last fifteen years, but possibly going back to Dark Shadows, in 1967, and the vampire Barnabus, our society has created the a very different kind of vampire from what went before. Take Spike and Angel from Buffy, or Bill Compton, Eric Northman and Jessica from True Blood, or Edward, Alice and all the Cullens from Twilight, or Damon and Stefan from The Vampire Diaries, Mick St. John from Moonlight and the vampires in the British and American versions of Being Human. Here’s what they have in common: they are all struggling desperately to be moral despite being predators. And they often fail, as do we. Our blood is oil; our prey is the planet. This change in our vampires most likely came about around 1968, when, for the first time, from that incredible view from space, we saw our own planet as fragile and vulnerable. We saw our own role as morally compromised. It is issues of power, choice and identity, the fate of the earth and the sense of teens as outsiders that give vampires their current traction much more so than sex, or even repressed sex.

Margot Adler, a writer in residence in the Library's Wertheim Study, is a writer and correspondent for National Public Radio and author of Drawing down the moon : witches, Druids, goddess-worshippers, and other pagans in America and Heretic's heart : a journey through spirit and revolution.  She is currently writing a book looking at why vampires have such popularity in our culture now.

For more lectures from the Wertheim Study, click here