Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Vampires and the Narrative of TV Shows

Despite the proliferation of vampire/zombie/werewolf media figures in recent years, I find myself drawn into the various iterations and rule changes that simultaneously govern the characters and direct the plot in some popular shows and movies. How these rules change within the same mythology determine the flow of action and restrict plot twists complicate "lore" for the sake of an engaging narrative.

Dean and Sam on "Supernatural" encounter various ghosts, mythical creatures, and curses that each can be undone through their unique combination of research/brains and violence/brawn. There is a repetitive scene where Sam discusses the multitude of "lore" and history surrounding the supernatural occurrence and the two brothers discuss which solution or cure is the accurate one. Despite the various myths and folklore surrounding the situation, the brothers eventually find the solution, whether it be by manipulating the history or using a tried and true method.
Jessica on True Blood

Vampire on Supernatural
Caroline on Vampire Diaries

For example, the vampires on Supernatural are different from the ones on Vampire Diaries or True Blood. On Supernatural, vampires grow an extra row of teeth that emerge from the top gums. On Vampire Diaries, the creatures' teeth only emerge when they see blood or are about to feed and it is only the canines that grow to be longer and pointed. True Blood also only has one set of teeth grow, but it is the lateral incisors instead of the canines. Supernatural vampires create more vampires by bleeding into an open wound on a human's body. Those on Vampire Diaries become vampires when they die with vampire blood inside of them (and complete the transition once they consume human blood). True Blood vampires turn when they are drained of their vampire blood and replace it by drinking (and thus replacing) their blood with vampire blood (and complete the transition once they are buried in the ground). These various methods of transformation drastically change the plot of each show. Unique to Vampire Diaries, someone could be at risk for becoming a vampire without their knowledge (accidentally or unknowingly consuming vampire blood), while the other shows involve some type of direct contact with a vampire.

Perhaps the most interesting adaptation to the vampire myth is the sun. In True Blood, the vampires almost exclusively interact in the evening. They are vulnerable during the day when they are resting in their coffins and burn to death once entering the sun. This allows for interesting plot devices where vampires must fight through the pain of sun to help humans, the creation of vampire-friendly hotels with blacked out windows, and the constant threat of attack during the daylight hours. The setting and rising sun becomes a countdown clock for action in the show where tasks cannot be or have to be completed before a certain time. Fairy blood thus becomes a powerful and all-consuming commodity because it allows the vampires to walk unharmed in the sun, driving much of the action and focus around Sookie Stackhouse.

Eric and Russell burning in the sunlight
Vampire Diaries gets around this biopower by relieving the vampires of their reliance on the sun. By using the power of witches, they have magical rings that allow them to walk in the daytime. This creates another interesting set of restrictions that makes vampires more difficult to identify. Danger is thus more prominent and surprising as people who cannot come out during the day are easily identified in True Blood as vampires. In both series, vampires are restricted in their consumption of human blood. True Blood vampires use a synthetic blood (the namesake of the show) to curb their thirst for human blood, though there emerges a strong divide between vampires who consume True Blood (mainstreamers) and those who still feed on humans. An analogy can be made to this distinction and the Chick Fil-A argument that constructs consumption with identity politics. Vampire Diaries vampires do not have a synthetic blood option, but many choose to rob blood banks or feed from animals in order to avoid harming humans. Again, the stigma involved in the consumption of humans is both honored and vilified as competing groups determine their own consumption rules. Interestingly, Vampire Diaries vampires can consume "human" food, while True Blood vampires cannot (instead they "flavor" their food by changing the diet of the human).

Vampires and supernatural creatures are similarly constructed with different rules and restrictions in the media to allow for and direct certain plot points and devices. The key to the differences is keeping them believable, probable, and consistent. Fisher used the terms narrative fidelity (internal consistency) and narrative probability (external consistency). The interesting twist in shows such as Supernatural, Vampire, Diaries, and True Blood is that the existence of these creatures in and of themselves problematic to "reality". Given their existence, however, the shows can construct their own rules based on different mythologies. As long as they make sense within their own narrative reality, the audience can watch multiple shows and still engage with the vampire narrative.