UPDATE (10/14): New web series from High School Musical alums called I Kissed a Vampire.
UPDATE (10/5): On the newest episode of Gossip Girl, Hilary Duff plays a teen star of a series of films about medieval vampires!
UPDATE (10/5): IFC.com is launching a new web series, Dead and Lonely, about the mundane life of an immortal vampire later this month.
ORIGINAL: I consider myself relatively skilled at devising various about why certain shows and movies catch on. Who knows how often I’m right. There’s no science to these things.
I wish there were a science, because for the life of me, I cannot understand why vampires are popular right now. The typical media examples include True Blood, whose DVD sales continue to be on fire and whose ratings have increased fourfold since its mediocre premiere last year, and Twilight, which is so popular fans go crazy every time the film releases a new trailer. Yes, even Twilight‘s advertisements are popular. And there are many movies coming out; the most recent trailer is Paul Weitz’s (American Dreamz, In Good Company, About a Boy, and American Pie) vampire comedy Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant — which actually looks kind of impressive, if it’s campy enough — set for release around Halloween season. With a cast including John C. Reilly and Jane Krakowski, it has some cred behind it, but still…
CW, home of scrumptiously derivative television, rapidly entered the fray a couple weeks ago with Vampire Diaries. After seeing the promo, I swore it would flop. Even I, an admirer but not a fan of Twilight, noticed the trailer blatantly ripped off a scene from the film’s first installment (when Kristen Stewart cuts her leg and Robert Pattinson goes crazy with lust). The tweens would spot the shamelessness of such marketing ploys, right?
Wrong. Turns out, the Vampire Diaries ranked as the CW’s highest rated premiere ever. Okay, so the network is, like, two years old. But still. Post-Gossip Girl and America’s Next Top Model that’s a pretty amazing outcome, despite the fact that nothing was on TV at the time. The network’s other derivative teen programming has not always been successful. Melrose Place flopped harder and faster than the show’s ice queen villain in its series premiere; 90210 is on the brink. (UPDATE: Melrose Place canceled).
Let’s not be too negative. I love True Blood, whose second season ended triumphantly last month, and Twilight. Vampire Diaries, like True Blood, might start out hokey and cheap and end up using this cheapness to achieve a degree of campy brilliance. But ratings for series premieres are based on marketing and word-of-mouth, meaning there must be something about vampires, not the show’s writing, narrative or quality, that lead to its success.
How do we understand our vampire-obsessed moment? Start with the facts. Vampires are most popular among women. The audiences for Twilight and the Vampire Diaries — not to mention the Tom Cruise/Brad Pitt hit Interview with the Vampire, and just about every vampire novel ever written — attest to that. What we also know is that the vampire shows coming out right now put an emphasis on sexual repression — the bite of the vampire is a either a liberation of, or a sensual reminder of, the fact that American sexuality is typically restricted and regulated. The appeal of Twilight is the waiting: the hours-long foreplay of watching hot young people in their sexual prime decide not to do it. True Blood, on the other hand, openly exploits the pleasure of watching shocked, upstanding Christians rendered completely powerless against the sexual freedom that comes with interacting with supernaturals. The vampire Bill makes impure our virginal Sookie, and we love every minute of it. Twilight is about repression; True Blood about liberation. But the point is clear: in America, when it comes to sex, we’d rather tell ourselves no, than yes.
So what does this mean? I don’t know. Maybe America is trying to come to grips with the waning power of Christian conservatism. Maybe teens, and young women in particular, are trying to deal with the mixed messages they receive today from their parents, Sex and the City and responsible and irresponsible sex educators alike: should I or should I not be bad and do the dirty?
Well, I’m not going to write an academic article about it. But I am going to put out a request to anyone thinking about feasting on this recent trend — and I know, for a fact, there will be more: think before you bite.