Saturday, December 05, 2009

Things that seem normal but aren't, part 3

Continuing my occasional series, Things That Seem Normal But Aren't, I've got two more for you today.

6. The sheer volume of vampire stories in film, TV, and books. Look, I could understand if a new vampire movie came out every 15 to 20 years. But it seems that a new vampire-themed media product comes out every other week these days. Conservatives love vampires (ahem, Ayn Rand), progressives love vampires, men love vampires, women TOTALLY love vampires, old people like vampires, young people like vampires, Americans like vampires, people around the world like vampires. As a media brand, vampire rule. Which is all very odd when you think about it. What makes a sickly pale white guy who sucks people's blood compelling let alone sexy?

I gotta figure that the enduring power of vampires in our collective consciousness stems from the fact that vampires are really serving as a sort of metaphor for something else. My hunch is that vampires serve as a metaphor for the ways that men mess up women's lives and the ways in which women sacrifice their own lives for desire. As Carol Gilligan points out, for much of human history (really up until about the late 1960s) desire (eros) and death (thanatos) often went hand in hand (desire led to sexual union which led to childbirth where a high percentage of women lost their lives). Even since the advent of the pill and even with improved maternal and infant mortality in childbirth, men still seem to find ways to make women's lives messy (as Rene Russo's character Catherine said so well in The Thomas Crown Affair).

7. Car chases in movies. Even though we've mercifully escaped the era of the Cannonball Run series there are still an awful lot of car chases in movies. Which is surprising given that there really aren't that many car chases in real life. Of course there is the occasional O.J. Slow Speed Chase or various police pursuits on the freeway covered by local news traffic helicopters. But those are usually covered on the local evening news. It's unclear why someone would also pay money to see such things in a theater. But I think the role of the car chase in modern movies is not to simulate reality. Rather, the movie car chase recreates the primitive animal sensation of pursuit -- both predator and prey -- that is hardwired into our limbic system through millions of years of evolution. I think the movie car chase, even though unrealistic and foreign to our daily lives, gives us the dopamine rush and subsequent sense of relief when the danger passes that makes us feel satisfied -- like we went on an intense journey -- as we leave the theater (or as is usually the case these days -- as we hit the "open" button on the DVD remote and walk to the fridge).

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