First the final installment of Stephanie Meyer's Twilight book series, Breaking Dawn was released in August. The unleashing of the long-awaited tome was met with midnight release parties, universal fangirl fervor and 1.3 million copies sold in the first 24 hours. Then came HBO's gritty new series True Blood. Shortly after its first episode the series was renewed for a 12-episode second season and it now is set to become HBO's third most-watched series behind only The Sopranos and Sex and the City. In October, a Swedish film based off of a well-regarded novel was released, entitled Let the Right One In. The movie received several rewards and accolades and is now even being talked about as receiving a possible English-language adaptation. Finally, in November the Vampire phenomenon came in full circle when fledging movie studio Summit Entertainment released the film adaptation of Twilight.
For those keeping score, that is four Vampire related media in under a year. So what made 2008 the Year of the Vampire?
The cop-out answer would be to attribute the plethora of Vampires to society's growing cynicism and hopelessness. The Vampire (or Vampyre if that's how you roll) has been a symbol of evil and all the various immoral activities of Western society since Dracula took young Lucy Westenra under his spell in Bram Stoker's seminal 1800s novel. We Westerners just can't seem to get our fill of these complex and macabre villains. They do not just kill or destroy....they consume, they take what they need for themselves and then go on their way into a cursed existence of eternal emptiness. It is no wonder that their undead likenesses often show up in modern literature as indictments of everything from capitalism to conformity ('Salem's Lot, Lost Boys, etc.)
But such analyses are unfair to our new, 2008-model vampires. These vampires are not the villains and they are not the monsters. These vampires are the heroes. Stephanie Meyers blood-suckers are strong, sensual beings who carry many romantic undertones. These vampires (or at least some of them) are able to suppress their animalistic desire for human blood and one even falls in love with a young woman. Physically and emotionally, these vampires bear little resemblance to our historic image of the monsters and even Anne Rice's mid-90s Romantic re-imagining of them. They have a self-conscious about them and are able to overcome their villainous past.
The same can be said for the Vampires of Let the Right One In as far as their Vampire's attitudes. The Vampires of Let the Right One In are just as horrific and violent as their Uncle Dracula. But these Vampires still possess a certain genteelness to them. A young vampiric girl befriends a local boy who is alienated from his peers and is subject to constant bullying. The Vampire and boy develop a close friendship and help each other conquer their various insecurities and shortcomings.
The Vampires of True Blood are citizens just like everyone else. The scientific development of synthetic blood has allowed them to "come out of the coffin" and live in peace with the rest of humanity. Obviously, many political and religious movements have a problem with inviting such dangerous individuals into their communities and are loath to accept the societal change.
So what can be said about all of these Vampires? They don't live in mansions on the top of the hill, descending upon their victims in the dead of night. They live next door and are a part of our communities. These vampires are dangerous but they are accepted...and some are even loved. 2008 isn't just the Year of the Vampire. 2008 is the Year that the Vampire became our buddy.
In truth, this year's obsession with Vampires does not signify Western society's pessimism or fear, but its new perspective on an old threat and its acceptance of danger. The humans close to the Vampires in this years fear understand the danger of their fanged friends but love them anyway. They are willing to put past prejudices of the monsters aside to accept the particular creature for who he/she/it is.
2008 is the year that we took a step forward in putting past prejudices aside and began to look a little closer at that whole "content of character" thing instead of keeping an eye on the proverbial fangs. The United States is now more ethnically diverse than any other time in its history and is soon to be under the rule of a multi-ethnic president. Now that the demographics and ideas of Western society, America in particular, are changing, we all seem a lot more willing to re-visit those old "monsters" to see that maybe we had them misunderstood after all. Maybe America is ready to start seeing itself and the rest of the world in a new light just like they are willing to see Vampires in a new light. Or maybe I over-thinking why we saw so much Vampire-fiction in 2008.
Maybe Vampires are just cool.