Thursday, 7 March 2013

Using the Vampire to Mirror Societies Fears Part 3: Everything Comes to an End Sometime?

Using the film Blade (Norrington, USA, 1998) and to a lesser extent the Japanese Anime Cyber City Oedo 808: The Vampire Case (Kawajiri, Japan, 1990) I will show how the vampire has changed from being the idea of a transgressive gang, as seen in The Lost Boys (Schumacher, US, 1987) and also how Blade acts to almost dismiss the notion of the vampire as a tragic romantic figure as shown in Bram Stokers Dracula (Ford Coppola, US, 1992). Furthermore, the films show the idea of vampirism now being viewed as a disease while also setting up juxtapositions between the areas of both science and vampire mythology and also addressing issues surrounding fears around technology.

John J. Jordan argues that in Blade we are presented with the idea of the evil vampires representing everything that is based in mythology and superstition. (Vampire Cyborgs and Scientific Imperialism pages 4-15) My argument - surrounding Blade in regards to technology, is similar to Jordan’s. However, while Jordan sets the character of Blade up as a form of cyborg vampire, my argument does not take the idea of technology so far. Rather than suggesting that the character of Blade has become a scientific weapon, my viewpoint looks at Blade in representing the use of new technology in the fight against the vampires and what they represent, not the character of Blade becoming technology itself.

The mythological stand point of the vampires sets up a contrast with the good characters in the film who represent the idea of progress and technology, embodying the idea that the human race must keep evolving and moving forward in order to survive. For instance, all the weapons used in Bram Stoker's Dracula that are based in superstition are no longer effective against the vampire enemy within Blade. We are told that crosses and holy water are useless - weapons clearly based in the idea of religion and superstition rather than any realms of science.

Weapons that do work are presented to us in scientific terms, for instance the vampires’ intolerance to sunlight is explained as a reaction to ultra violet rays, while garlic is presented through its scientific name, “ allium setivum” and said to cause the vampires to go into shock. These things all help to position the viewer to see technology as the ‘good’ force and mythology as either ineffective or ‘evil’.

Throughout the narrative of Blade we are given constant positive enforcements of the idea of progressing technology. The most prominent example of this unsurprisingly comes at the very end of the film where we have the final showdown with Deacon Frost and Blade. As John J. Jordan’s piece highlights we have the ultimate weapon of the un-scientific force in the Blood God La Magra that comes up against Blade’s high-tech weaponry. However, all of Blade’s weapons are ineffective, arguably because they are all linked in some way to the superstitions of the vampire myth of the past. The fact that it is the new weapon developed by Doctor Karen Jenson which defeats the Blood God is the biggest enforcement in the film that science and technological advancement is nothing to be feared.  It is needed for the survival of the human race, and thus we must destroy fears in our minds that rely on superstition and myth, in this case represented by the vampires.

Apart from Blade’s high-tech vampire killing weaponry there is also the serum that he must take in order to keep his vampire instincts suppressed. The idea of being able to keep these instincts at bay by using science shows two things to us. First of all we have an enforcement of science as being ‘good’ as without it Blade would be just like the other vampires. Secondly we are being shown that the idea of the vampire as something mystical and unexplainable is being overthrown. Instead, with the evolution of science we are now presented with the vampire, or more specifically vampirism at this point in the text, as nothing more than an incurable disease.

Blade acts to completely marginalize any ideas of mystery or notions of seeing the vampire as an exciting alternative to the normality of society as is presented within  The Lost Boys. The ‘attraction’ of the vampire is completely taken away by the way science is used to sterilise and categorise everything within the text. For instance, in looking at Bram Stoker’s Dracula we see a text that shows the vampire as something ‘other’ and unexplainable, whereas in Blade the vampires are represented to us as nothing more than as described by Karen Jenson, a  ‘Genetic defect’. This line clearly situates the representation of the vampire in the area of disease. This idea of the vampire being shown so blatantly as representing disease sets Blade apart from both Bram Stoker’s Dracula and The Lost Boy, where the links between the vampire and disease are both subtle and certainly questionable.

The vampire being used to represent disease also acts to enforce the underlying message of the film that science is necessary for the progression and survival of the human race. We are presented first with a ‘disease’ in the vampires, which is being spread by those contaminated with it. Furthermore, at the start of the film there is no apparent cure to this spreading disease. Even the character of Blade who the audience may see as a possible cure is shown to be fighting a losing battle; (a point again highlighted by John J. Jordan). This is enforced in the final sequence of the film where his weapons and his level of scientific development are not enough to defeat La Magra.

The enforcement of science as a positive force in terms of where the vampire as disease is concerned, comes in the form of Doctor Karen Jensen and the vaccine she develops to eliminate the ‘disease’ from the bloodstream. I would argue that this vaccine represents to the audience the notion of science bringing hope in the future. It suggests that though a disease may be incurable at the present time, a virus such as AIDS for instance, will be cured in the future if you look to the advancement of technology instead of superstitious beliefs not based in science.

It is the constant marginalizing of the vampires through science that sets the film apart from both The Lost Boys and Bram Stokers Dracula. In both Ford Coppola’s and Schumacher’s film the vampires are presented in a totally different way to in Blade. First of all the fact that we have the character of Blade being a vampire and also the clear cut hero, positions the audience firmly behind him and what he is representing within the text, and alienating us from any points which may make the lifestyle of Frost and his gang attractive. This is not true in the other two films. For instance, with the character of Dracula it is possible to view him as the ‘hero’ of the film and thus it can be argued that the audience can identify with his character.

The same notions can be argued in The Lost Boys with the vampire gang. Though we may not be able to identify with any individual in the gang, the gang does represent the notion of teenage rebellion and puts forward a number of attractions or positive aspects of the vampire lifestyle. This simply is not present with any of the vampire characters in Blade, even the character of Blade is shown as a mostly cold and inhuman character, simple concerned with destroying the threat of the ‘evil’ vampires with his array of scientific weapons. With Blade being shown as such a cold character and the arrival of Doctor Jensen into the text, Frost’s group of vampires are marginalized away from being anything more than a problem that science has to solve. Any individuality is removed from the vampire group just as all emotion is removed from the hero Blade. What this leads to is the enforcement of the idea that the text is showing us the concept of pure, cold science being developed and used to eliminate a faceless, characterless threat to the human race, whether that be disease or the belief in superstition over science. As the vampires are not believable in the realms of science they are merely removed from the human race’s field of vision.  Science deems them either to be ridiculous or old fashioned to be able to exist in a technologically progressive society.

Another major thing that Blade does through its clinical approach to the vampire myth is to change completely and separate the modern vampire from the Romantic image of the tragic figure portrayed in Bram Stoker's Dracula. Though The Lost Boys lessens the idea of the vampire and his search for love and to be at peace, Blade fails to even acknowledge any notion of this aspect of vampire mythology. I would argue that a possible reason for this is the idea that a tragic figure would represent something also unexplainable in the realms of science, that being the idea of true love. The film is so heavy with the ideas of science and everything being created to have a function that any themes of love just have no place in the text.

However, I would suggests this creates an uneasy situation within the film. What this suggests within the context of Blade is that love not only does not exist, but furthermore could possibly be read to be something evil. I say this because ‘good’ is wholly represented in the film by Blade and his allies, who in turn enforce science as the only thing that is truly righteous. Therefore, if these characters do not represent any form of the concepts of true love during the text, then not only does this marginalize love along with the vampires, I would argue it also suggests that love can be seen as dangerous as it transgresses the ideas of science so vigorously put forward to us.

Cyber City Oedo 808: The Vampire Case also deals with the same themes as Blade. However, what is put across is an almost completely different message. While Blade is putting forward ideas of technology and science as being the force of good needed to eliminate any threat to humanity, Cyber City turns this idea around and shows technology and science as the creators of the threats to humanity, rather than being humanity’s saviour. For instance, vampirism in both Blade and Cyber City is presented as a disease. However, while Blade shows technology as being needed to ‘cure’ the vampire disease, Cyber City presents the notion that it is technology that has created the disease of vampirism through experimentation with the aim to find a way of creating everlasting life.

Furthermore, whereas in Blade we see the absence of the Dracula-like tragic vampire figure, we have one very prominent example in Cyber city in the form of the girl Remi Masuda. At the start of the film we see a flash back of her first encounter with cyber police officer Ben-Ten started with a hand full of rose petals that float away on the wind. This sets the scene for a conversation where they talk about the alignment and beauty of stars and the star light. The scene ends when Remi states how ‘terrible it would be, to go on forever’ and then disappears after Ben-Ten responds ‘no, nothing goes on forever, everything has to end, even the light’. This conversation immediately raises the same sort of themes apparent in Bram Stoker’s Dracula around ideas of Romanticism and the idea of a tragic lone figure. However, the difference is, while Dracula becomes tragic by renouncing God, Remi is turned into a tragic figure by the same ideas of advancing technology that Blade sites as the saviour of mankind, which have been forced upon her.

What Cyber City uses the vampire characters within it to do is to portray a warning about taking technology too far without stopping to think about the consequences, a message that is not touched upon in Blade. What the two films show is that the vampire can be easily manipulated to represent whichever fear is most dominant at the time of the films’ creation. Thereby we can acquire two different texts both using vampires to represent different sides to the same argument. However, certain things must be removed from the vampire legend in order for this to occur. I would argue that if all the vampires in Blade where seen as tragic figures, then possibly the audience would turn against the technological side of the film. Instead the vampires must be made to seem even more inhuman than science itself in order that we find no grounds with which to identify with Frost’s gang.

To conclude I would say that what both Cyber City and Blade show is that in order to represent certain fears in society or put certain messages across, the vampire and the vampire legend must be made to evolve and change in order for it to still be effective. I would argue that the reason Blade removes all the ideas of tragedy from its text is because at the present time, and the time the film was released, the idea of the vampire being tragic and misunderstood rather than evil would be more prominent in the audience’s mind, due to the films which had preceded it. Therefore, the myth of the vampire has to be changed in order to get a response from the audience and give justification to Blade’s actions. But what the two films show most of all is that though vampires can be made to represent both the notions, disease and fears surrounding technology, they are so complex that it is not easy to see which side is the right side to be on, the vampires or those who set out to destroy them.

No comments:

Post a Comment