Hayashi's Theory on
Why Teenage Girls Love Vampires

  

Essay by
Stuart K. Hayashi
November 2010

  
Why monsters become popular

My mother has always hated books and movies about vampires. She cannot fathom why any young female would find these creatures so appealing. This essay is based on what I tried to explain to my mom (to no avail, of course).
  

When a monster becomes well-remembered in popular culture, it is usually because the monster symbolizes something in real life that people often worry about. The Alien that chases Sigourney Weaver is a symbol of rape. Movies about humans becoming grotesquely mutated resonate to the extent that they tap into real-life fears about disease and the deterioration of the human body.

When an artist creates a monster as a symbol, however, sometimes the artist's audience comes to see the monster as symbolic of something very different from what the artist originally intended.

Since I was a very little boy, I was unpopular in school. I felt like an outcast. I resented the arbitrary rules that teachers, relatives, and other children tried to shove down my throat. They said I had to behave in a certain way, but they didn't bother giving any good reasons why I should. It was then very easy for me to empathize with the monsters in movies who found themselves at odds with the human race. I saw myself as being an innocent creature like the Frankenstein monster, and I saw the angry villagers chasing him as the conventional social standards that had no tolerance for my deviance.
  

Nietzschean Ubermensch

A good example of a monster symbolizing something to me that is different from the author's intention, is that of Godzilla. Godzilla was originally conceived as a conventional environmentalist Frankenstein story, of (American) humans arrogantly "playing God" with their technology and trying to master nature, only for this technology to create something to punish humanity for its hubris. Note, however, that by the 1970s, Godzilla had a change of heart and ultimately came to be seen as a superhero. I do not think this is accidental.

I think that, to a large extent, the change in how Godzilla has been portrayed in movies is largely a reflection of Japan's changing attitude about the United States. Godzilla was created by U.S. technology, and he was portrayed as a menace at the same time that Japan harbored resentment against the USA. Much like the USA, Godzilla was a powerful force. And, throughout the 1960s and 1970s, as Japan increasingly came to see the USA as an ally it could rely on to save the day from greater threats, so too was Godzilla reliable in dispatching far worse threats to Japan's security. As the 1980s and the 1990s went on, though, the Japanese increasingly came to regard the USA as occasionally misguided and somewhat capable of unintentionally causing great global strife. In that same period, Godzilla was then portrayed as a neutral force of nature that "did his own thing", whether it endangered Japan or not.

Anyhow, my love for Godzilla never had anything to do with my sharing in the environmentalist / Mary Shelleyan mindset. As a little boy, I saw myself as great. I was not physically powerful, but I did think that I had powerful talents. Sometimes I felt resented for this by those who were petty and envious. At the time, I saw Godzilla as representing a similarly Nietzschean ubermensch, and the humans shooting at him — with their ineffectual little tanks — were like the rest of petty conventional society being at war against the talented ubermensch. I felt that conventional society had rejected me, but the feeling was mutual — I had no use for arbitrary social standards. I couldn't put it into these words when I was ten, but what I appreciated about Godzilla was that, even when he saved the Earth, he was always a loner and was always unapologetically selfish. As you can guess, this was the attitude I had before I had heard about an ethical system of rational egoism.
  

Bloodsucking Cinderella

"Hell is a teenage girl."

— Diablo Cody

Many teenage girls have something in common with me as a little boy — they feel like awkward outcasts who have largely been spurned by normal society. Unlike me, however, they do not reject conventional society's standards — they want to live up to them. Hence, they can have some sympathy for some famous monster outcasts, but have reservations in rooting for them.

They can feel sympathy for the Frankenstein monster — he, too, feels misunderstood by everyone around him . . . even his own father! However, you certainly wouldn't want to marry him; he can never fit in. The Phantom of the Opera is a much more romantic figure; he wants to dote on the woman he loves. But because of his deformity and his explicit rejection of society's standards, he too is ultimately unacceptable.

Now we come to vampires. Like many teenage girls, vampires feel that they cannot be fully accepted by mainstream society; they have some noticeable quirks that set them apart. Their quest to "fit in" can never reach full fruition.

But observe that despite these drawbacks, Count Dracula and other vampires can fit in with conventional society to some extent — far better than less human-looking monsters. Unlike the Creature from the Black Lagoon, Count Dracula can walk into any soiree or charity ball, and charm everyone present. People will notice Dracula's pale skin and archaic wardrobe tastes, but this will be dismissed as harmless eccentricity; no one will question Dracula's humanity or even his sanity. He can blend in, become the life of the party, and even become ... popular. Vampires can even seduce humans of the opposite sex ... and even the same sex.

The differences that most monsters have with human beings are obvious. But the vampires' deviance from social norms and society's standards are kept secret. When Dracula goes around drinking women's blood, he manages to conceal his actions from most. This is not unlike many vices that adolescents partake in and intend to keep hidden from their parents.

Some adolescents have a Cinderella fantasy wherein they start off as unpopular outcasts, but then find a way to summon enough self-confidence to venture into social gatherings and become the most popular person there. Vampires like Dracula, in their own way, are able to achieve the Cinderella fantasy on their own. Just as a "Horatio Alger hero" can rise from rags to riches, a vampire can — by her own self-determination — pull herself up from unpopularity to popularity.
  

Superficial Charm?

This is a superficial popularity, of course — a popularity that probably cannot be sustained or be made into something more meaningful. As they have traditionally been portrayed until around the 1990s, vampires have largely been unable to achieve true emotional intimacy with humans. They can live among humans, but cannot fully relate with them; it's as if they have undiagnosed Antisocial- or Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Ever since the 1990s, as vampires came to be portrayed more sympathetically, they also have been portrayed as finding "love" with humans ... but those portrayals have a certain level of dysfunctionality in them.

But this is why it's easy for lots of people to relate with vampires. They are like vampires in that, in their default stage, they believe they do not fit in with conventional society. But they do admire the vampires' more successful efforts to blend in and engage in social intercourse. Even when the vampires are able to somewhat blend in with conventional society, though, they know they will never be fully embraced by it; they will never even be able to fully relate to it or understand it.

There are lots of people who are like vampires in that way — they seem, at first, to be like everyone else or well-put-together. But when you get to know them, you find that there is something about their psychology that will always separate them from a world that they want a part in.

  

© 2010 Stuart K. Hayashi


  
Originally appeared as a Facebook Note.

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