Monday, February 14, 2011

Vampire Sun, Werewolf Moon (pt. 2)

It's VD day, which has come a long way since Lupercalia's formalized whipping ceremonies to make certain the women would be fertile for fall deliveries. Now VD means Valentine's Day, Venereal Disease, and Vampire Diaries, apparently concurrently if the commercials I saw during station breaks on Supernatural are any indication. Irreducible forms of sexual archetypal anxieties been with us forever - literally to pre-literate times and (as if as in a full eclipse) it has been overlayed by VD in the CW's programming. Here's the concise description given in wikipedia of the Lupercalia:
"...the Luperci cut thongs from the skins of the victims, which were called februa, dressed themselves in the skins of the sacrificed goats, in imitation of Lupercus, and ran round the walls of the old Palatine city, the line of which was marked with stones, with the thongs in their hands in two bands, striking the people who crowded near. Girls and young women would line up on their route to receive lashes from these whips. This was supposed to ensure fertility, prevent sterility in women and ease the pains of childbirth."
Who knows how long this had been going on; certainly as far back as the founding of Rome. This kept going until the vampire pope completely lost his shit and deliberately forced it to be enfolded into the purification of the Virgin aka Candlemas. Still, a good deal of the naked flogging is alive and well on V-Day if you go to the right shows. That aside, in part one of this post I labeled vampires and werewolves as lunar and solar inversions of the hero. Of course, labeling vampire solar and werewolf lunar then implies there are other planetary attributes which could manifest archetypes. One can find that the whole planetary array of these forms occurs in Buffy, Supernatural, and True Blood: fairies as Uranian, elves/aliens as Venusian, angelic or dragon forms as Mercurial, demonic or sadistic archetypes from Saturn, etc. - and while these other planetary presences are not always explicit, they are discursive gaps awaiting narration. However, barring the inner planets which perform slow, intricate dances across the night sky (if/when you can see the sky) the planets themselves are not nearly as visible as the sun and the moon - and likewise the impact of vampire and werewolf archetypes economically trumps all other mythic forms.

Secondly, at least as far as the werewolf is concerned, the linkage to the lunar cycle is a very modern invention. Frank Hamel's book Human Animals, published in 1915, relates a good number of 'wer-wolf' tales from the past four hundred or so years and the moon is incidental. The first (and now lost) filmic portrayal of The Werewolf (1913) was more firmly rooted in colonialist fears of vengeance by witchcraft. It wasn't until Werewolf of London (1935) that lunar light and werewolf bite came together to create the first filmic 'bipedal werewolf' - all of the modern tropes of the werewolf were present. And this 'bipedal werewolf' runs naked through the streets looking more like a man wearing goatskins than the traditional origins would have us believe. I'm making the case that Lupercalia is part of the essential mythic strand that generated the werewolf, even more-so than the lunar connection - that the full werewolf form of Twilight's wolves comes from a different folklore than the bipedal werewolf descended from ancient shepherds who were imitating Pan. The werewolf Lon Chaney portrays is almost identical to the Teen Wolf (1985) Michael J. Fox portrayed, a satyr more than a wolf, pure sexual Id run rampant upon transformation.

Now, just as the first filmic appearance of a werewolf's transformation is lost, so too is the first filmic appearance of Count Dracula in Dracula's Death (1923). I can't presume to know the elements in place in a lost film made in a language I don't speak, but in both Nosferatu (1922) and again explicitly with Dracula (1931) the vampire is clearly shown to be destroyed by sunlight - the vampire's position as an inversion of the solar hero seems always to be clear, it was for the 'children of the night' to be entrained into signifying the lunar, a position that didn't fully coalesce until Lon Chaney materialized them in The Wolf Man (1941) and its sequels. The first meeting of the werewolf and the vampire is in House of Dracula (1931) and it is on this tenuous strand that countless reoccurring forms continue to overlap.

But perhaps there's something more going on underneath - this solar, lunar inversion is a clue - the vampire and the werewolf come from the same space, a shadowy understanding of superstitions and an overlay on demonized and outmoded beliefs. It is a long way from House of Dracula to True Blood, both in terms of geographic setting and temporal space, but also in terms of how the idea of the world these entities require to exist has evolved. In True Blood, the vampire elite rule through an elaborate global empire, a regime based on bloodlines, secret allegiances, and brutal violence carried out by vampire assassins and the occasional pack of nazi werewolf henchmen. Unpacking all the new mythographic materials layered into the last few seasons of True Blood will keep some lucky television studies scholar occupied for the next decade.

Where there is an empire, there are the voiceless and often faceless victims of power. Especially in True Blood both vampire and werewolf elite are able to murder with impunity, protected by the invisible empire. In Blade II the vampire elite control the world in ways that go far beyond that, where farming blood is true industrial production. This is a far cry from the fate of the Werewolf of London, as a sole victim murdered was enough to unwind the sole villain into an act of suicidal self-sabotage.

Now the normalized narratives are strewn through with the unacknowledged/unacknowledgable, there only to be consumed in service to the true rulers of the regime. Constantly the theme in these inversionary archetypal tropes is one of social acknowledgment - either as a lover or acknowledgment of hunger - here vampire treads close to zombie perhaps, the starved vampire, strung-out and scrambling through sewers like del Toro's vision in Blade II, contrast the vampire Illuminati bloodlines that orchestrate a vast world government behind the scenes. These archetypal signifiers now carry so much cultural currency that they appeal to the weakest, the unacknowledged, who see themselves as that nameless, voiceless victim and long to be the empowered. Then there are those local news organizations who are willing to exploit those caught up in the glamour of their own fetish and report on it as spectacle:

(more to come)

Pre-order a copy of The Immanence of Myth, published by Weaponized in July 2011.

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