My fellow Whedonites, I have been pondering the idea of a “hero” lately. I think the Watchmen movie is partly to blame for this. I’ve been asking myself what defines a hero. More interestingly, I began to wonder about specific examples and comparing them. For example, if such a thing could be judged, who is more heroic: Buffy or Angel? Or is Angel an anti-hero? What about Spike?
There has definitely been a trend lately to fashion vampires into heroes. Vampire stories originally served as cautionary tales. Live your life the right way and have a good death, or else you could come back from the dead to torment and feed off of the living. In Victorian times, the vampire became the bad-boy of the day. He was an apparent gentleman on the outside, but that was merely a charade that masked a vicious, bloodthirsty killer deep inside. This dark menace however became seductive in the twentieth century and now they are sex symbols. Ultimately, they embody everything that humans wish they could be and can never be without severe circumstances… and consequences.
There is much discussion by some learned people about the state of our society today. They would have us believe that these are darker times. It seems to me, however, that these times are no darker than any other period in history. Everything works in cycles, and the course of mankind is no different. We have good times and bad. War, famine, pestilence, and death are our ever-vigilant curses. But the beauty of mankind is seen in our attempts to try to make things better.
These same doomsayers would also have us believe our modern life is susceptible to darker influences. We have become a nation not under one god, but tolerant of things our ancestors gladly burned at the stake. They would chastise our romanticizing of the vampire myth, especially the recent conversion of vampires into tortured heroes.
To them I have only this to say: we need all the heroes we can get! Our society values a hero, someone who goes beyond their nature, human or otherwise, and fights to champion a greater cause than themselves. Heroes are also usually given powers that separate them from the very thing they try to protect and defend. When they fail, they are chastised and persecuted. When they succeed, they are promoted as the pinnacle of hope and glory.
Why then is the vampire not allowed to fit this same model? It seems to me that it fits it perfectly. Our society has not “turned a blind-eye” to evil — it has opened its eyes to the truth. Watch any movie, read any comic book, and you will find that the hero is becoming a tortured soul just as the vampire seems to be. The sins of the past are heavy, as are the hopes of a demanding fragile humanity that needs a hero.
Furthermore, there is no new, modern fascination with all things vampiric; this is a natural impulse, and one that has been a part of the human condition for a very long time. This is not a fad nor a fashion, or even a lifestyle. It simply is, and no irrational human fear will make it disappear. The vampires are out of the coffin for good.