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SPOTLIGHT
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It's better to be a vampire than a zombie

Published on -8/3/2012, 10:13 AM

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Spooks like vampires and zombies traditionally were the undead -- poor souls unable to find salvation or rest in the sleep of death.

Doomed, damned and discontent with their lot, they sustained themselves by consuming the human parts they needed -- blood for the former, flesh for the latter. They smelled bad.

We humans were the victims who overcame terror and revulsion to emerge victorious, but only after many others had succumbed.

Bram Stoker's 1897 novel "Dracula" for vampires and George A. Romero's 1968 film "Night of the Living Dead" for zombies mark both the culmination of the tradition in folklore and fiction and the stimulus for its further development.

In 1897, Bram Stoker might have conceived Dracula as representative of the darker side of human nature that had to be repressed in proper Victorian society. Perhaps 1968's "Night of the Living Dead" served as a warning to the American people not to shuffle along like a herd of zombies, but to think and reason for themselves (Nixon got elected that year -- think what you will about the success of the warning).

Seeing the world as it is now, we fear that humankind as we know it will soon be destroyed as the result of forces we have helped put into action, but over which we have no control. We will die from nuclear catastrophe, endless warfare, climate change, acts of violence by terrorists and other crazed individuals, new and lethal diseases, and the murder of unborn children -- our one real hope for a happy future.

Because we fear, we have subverted all traditional values and with them all hope for survival or salvation, we dream of achieving immortality by turning into vampires. Simultaneously, we believe most people, unable to think and reason in this life, will become zombies. Since even a real human can always outsmart and outrun a zombie, all we need to do is avoid them.

As representatives of our desire for immortality, vampires have gained in variety and complexity, merging traditional and innovative types in nearly all cases. Some, like the Smokes in Justin Cronin's 2010 novel "The Passage," are evil, irrational beings, more like zombies. Female vampires, as in Belgian director Harry Kuemel's 1971 cult film "Daughters of Darkness," tend to be evil lesbians. In the "Twilight Saga" the friendly vampires are pretty much like everyone else, just paler because their diet is limited and they have to avoid sun.

Nearly all vampires are incredibly sexy because they have had such a long time to perfect their skills. Almost all are diabolically clever, and a few are witty and urbane, quite willing to help out in a good cause, as in "Abe Lincoln, Vampire Hunter." And many, like Barnaby Collins and his friends in the recent film of the TV series "Dark Shadows," parody the tradition.

Zombies still illustrate what happens to people who do not know how to reason: they are stupid, dirty individuals out to feed on any fresh brains they can get. As in "The Walking Dead" on AMC, they are notorious for downgrading any neighborhood they happen to infest and can be dangerous when they swarm.

Nowadays, most are comic figures, as in the 2004 movie "Shaun of the Dead," where they are kept penned up, but make fairly good slaves under the supervision of their masters.

Ruth Firestone is a supporter of music and theater in Hays. rfiresto@fhsu.edu

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