Vampires in Suburbia
We all remember the goths from high school, the kids in trench coats with coal-lined eyes that sat under the stairs or in the parking lot listening to dark and dreary alternative rock bands. They always warranted a second glance, whether being looked at with positive or negative eyes. But when graduation rolled around, and all was said and done, what happened to these lost souls? Did they finally see too much sun and crumble into ash? Disappear into watery mist? Or, did they don gray suits to become our accountants, lawyers and even our TAs?
The answers to these questions vary. But one thing is clear: people often mistake goth culture and its vampire-like elements for what it is not. It is flexible enough to grow with the people that adopt it as a lifestyle and bring its influence onto campuses like UCI, where its presence is not often noted by the student body but is gradually becoming a topic of interest for many.
VAMPIRES IN LITERATURE
In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, when such vampire classics as Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’ and J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s ‘Carmilla’ was published, there was widespread anxiety concerning issues of the cultural ‘other,’ mixing of races and transgression of gender lines.
This manifests itself in the written word as Dracula, the despised foreigner who enters the London scene and wreaks havoc upon its civilized citizens, mixing his unclean blood with their pure blood.
Latent social anxiety over the issue of gender also emerges as well when Sheridan Le Fanu’s vampiress Carmilla is a lesbian, and engages in many thinly-veiled scenes of homoeroticism with a virginal character in the book.
The overwhelming popularity and critical acclaim of these two works, as well as the vampire narrative in general, show the realization that there are deeper social issues present, as well as the ability to relate and project these issues upon the figure of the vampire.
The elements of goth, like the vampire, are shape-shifting and moving along with the times, sometimes appearing in a work of classic fiction or in 80s films like ‘The Hunger’ with David Bowie.
Patricia Pierson, a graduate student of comparative literature at UCI recalls that vampires and the vampire culture meant much more to her than what people saw on primetime television.
‘When I was in the 1980s with pink hair, seeing films like ‘The Hunger’ and listening to glam rock, the vampire came to mean something much different to me than say someone who grew up watching ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” Pierson said.
He also believes that the flexibility and adaptability for vampire and goth issues to pertain to real life is what keeps the popularity of the vampire alive.
‘Because of its capacity for projection and because of its ability to metamorphose, the vampire and goth spans all time,’ Pierson said.
VAMPIRES IN SUBURBIA
But the question remains, can goth, in the figure of the vampire, infiltrate the sterile, suburban landscape of the UCI campus? Many would say yes.
Dragan Kujundzic, professor of English and comparative literature and founder of the vampire stories class on campus speaks of the rapid growth of the class.
‘Since I created the class last year there has been an incredible amount of interest. Last year the class was capped at 75. We had people sitting in the aisles, standing in the back, breaking all sorts of fire codes.’ Kujundzic said.
The popularity grew to be so big that last year the fire marshal eventually kicked 20 students out of the class.
‘This year the class is capped at 150. Still, it is over-filled,’ Kujudzic said. ‘It seems I have tapped into a very rich vein.’
The class addresses the topic of vampires around many present day issues such as politics, cloning, gender normality and auto-immune diseases.
Students of UCI also have another chance to be exposed to the figures of vampires and goths at the annual vampire lecture, held this year on Oct. 31. It usually features speakers from other universities who share a passion for ‘alternative’ beliefs.
Michael DuPlessis, a visiting professor from USC, author of extensive essays on the occult and self-proclaimed goth gave this year’s lecture and addressed issues about vampires. Issues like the ‘ennui,’ or boredom that a vampire must face when given the curse of eternal life.
The issues that are addressed both in the lecture and in the class can greatly relate to UCI students and their lives.
One issue that surfaced was the correlation between the boredom of vampires doomed to eternal life and the boredom of young adults living in the suburbs.
Kimberly Ball, an English and comparative literature graduate student said young adults in suburbia are attracted to figures like the vampire because it provides them with something different than what they are normally exposed to.
In a city like Irvine, people are rarely subject to anything that could be considered paranormal.
‘Irvine is a town founded by a corporation with little or no history or roots. I think that it is a general trend that young people not just in Irvine, but in places like Irvine throughout America want to feel a deeper connection with something,’ Ball said. ‘That is what the vampire is. He is such a figure of depth, a timeless connection that goes beyond the shallowness of our day.’