In a humorous article I recently came across, Vlad III, the prince of Wallachia, was declared to be in the top 10 list of royals who would not have been a good contestant for Facebook. Though not intentionally, this article is a reflection of the recent trend involving vampires. Whether loved or hated, one thing that cannot be ignored is the growing infatuation with vampires. One of American culture’s most recent fads has been the romanticization of these blood sucking creatures. Originally they were seen as cruel and vicious, bringing eternal terror to their victims. The actual person around whom the myth was created was Vlad III Dracula, also known as Vlad the Impaler, mentioned in the humurous article. It is thought that he impaled around 100,000 people during his short lifetime. Clearly there is nothing romantic about Vlad the Impaler. So why is it, then, that we have twisted his excessively ugly existence into something seductive and alluring? How did society go from Vlad the Impaler to the Twilight version of a vampire lover?
It seems that there is something in our nature that does not want to accept the existence of such unrelenting cruelty. We have no way to cope with the presence of such a vile and dark infringement upon reality. And so, we have turned the ugly into the enticing, the profane to the esteemed. Rather than hide from the terrifying death that vampires embody, our culture has begun to flirt with the idea- literally. Possibly as a makeshift coping mechanism, we have romanticized the vampire and given him seductive appeal. This has gone so far as to penetrate into movies intended for children. The recent film Hotel Transylvania depicts a teenaged vampire girl who falls in love with a human boy. What was the catalyst for this shift in perspective on vampires? Or has this been a gradual change on a never ending spectrum? If it is a spectrum, what decides the direction in which it travels? Perhaps this vampire fad is the reflection of underlying cultural unrest. Deeper still, maybe there is something deeply flawed within humanity. Taking the embodiment of a cruel death and turning it into an object of sexual appeal could be viewed as the reflection of humanity’s never ending search for a permanent solution to death. We seem to be trying to control that which in uncontrollable. Rituals give us an accepted way to deal with and mourn for the dead, but they do not solve the problem of death. Perhaps society is searching for a solution to something that cannot be fixed.
The older we get, the more we have to face the fact that death is creeping closer and closer. In general, a good death in the United States is one that involves old age, minimal suffering, and at least some expectation. We know that death is inevitable, and the longer a person lives, the more it seems they’ve had a “full” life. This makes the occurrence of death easier to swallow. When death suddenly pounces upon the unsuspecting victim, sinking its teeth into youth, our society is unprepared. We are taken aback, thrown off balance, and left in a state of shock. If this kind of death is mixed with injustice, it makes for a powerful combination of circumstances. My former classmate, 16 year old Christina Lembo, embodies this image of a very “bad death”.
Christina Lembo, a junior this year at Bloomfield High School in Bloomfield, NJ, was tragically seized from life on Saturday, September 29th. Though I did not personally know her, I know several people who did. She is described as an athletic student who was “smart,” “talented,” and “so sweet and loving and kind.” She was young, healthy, and full of life with a promising future. According to our culture, this shocking end to her life was not supposed to happen yet, and not like this. It was too unexpected. What makes matters worse is that it was completely out of her control. A car suspected of drag racing abruptly crashed into the car in which she was a passenger. Someone else’s mindless decision cost a vibrant young woman everything.
In instances like this it is not enough to study grief and death rituals from a purely anthropological academic viewpoint. An anthropological viewpoint, however, helps one understand and recognize how the healing process can begin. Culturally accepted rituals that tell us how to handle a situation like this give us guidance in how to grieve. They tell us what is acceptable to do and/or say, and therefore give us the freedom to begin healing. The biggest example of this can be seen in the vigil held for Christina on Broughton Ave, the street where the accident occurred. The vigil is a ritualistic way for the community to come together and publicly mourn over this beautiful young student. It is a way in which support is created to all who are in need. This vigil is also a way of showing that, though Christina is physically dead, she is not socially dead. I have a feeling that, due to the nature of this tragedy, Christina will remain socially alive for a very long time.
More information about Christina Lembo can be found here.