Vampires in popular culture is hardly new. Since the 1897 classic novel of 'Dracula' by Bram Stoker, the bloodsucking undead has been a dominant figure in the field of horror fiction. However, as times change, so does the image and presentation of vampires, which does not make Giovanni Scognamillo happy at all. ‘Vampires cannot have sex’ the fantasy fiction writer and researcher objects
‘Ours is a civilization of vampires’
While legendary throughout history, recently re-vamped versions of the formally scary vampire have taken the world by storm, but according to one sci-fi researcher, vampires should be portrayed as monsters and not sex symbols.
The “Twilight” saga movie series adopted from the novels of American author Stephanie Meyer, and the hit TV series titled “True Blood” are the latest additions to the vampire phenomena. But, when Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review spoke to Giovanni Scognamillo, fantasy fiction writer and researcher among many other things, about his opinion of the extending dominion of the undead among the younger generations, he clearly stated that they are not his cup of tea.
“I watched ‘Twilight.’ I did not like it at all,” said Scognamillo. And when the person who is arguably the most qualified name in the country to speak on matters of fantasy fiction, one has to wonder why. “Vampires as a trend is something backed by Hollywood and the American publishing industry,” said Scognamillo, who is of Levantine decent. The Levantines are a community of French and Italians who migrated to Turkey during the Ottoman Empire. “Horror movies used to target adults but now they are being made for high schoolers, even for sixth graders. Therefore, they get softened; becoming more handsome and romantic. These are qualities that do not correspond with the vampire tradition.”
He finds it positive that it increases the popularity of horror novels though. “I am a man devoted to the classics and prefer them not to be corrupted. A sexually attractive vampire … What is a vampire actually? A dead body. He can be handsome or ugly but he cannot have any sexual activity,” he said laughing, “It is not possible.”
Vampires used to be portrayed as hideously as imaginable. When asked when the sexy side was introduced, Scognamillo pointed to a 1979 adaptation of “Dracula,” with Frank Langella, a nice-looking, middle-aged man, playing the evil count. The tradition continued and came to the TV series of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel,” in which “The vampires almost did not want to drink blood,” said Scognamillo.
This, of course brought the series “True Blood” to mind, in which Japanese scientists discovered artificial blood for vampires and put it on the market in bottles. Scognamillo has not watched the series yet, but he smiled when the theme was mentioned alongside the blood orange carbonated drink that was actually put on the market in real life in line with the series. “Of course they would, that would sell too,” he said. “They are identifying vampires more and more with us but actually it is us that are becoming like vampires” he said, keeping the smile on his face.
A world of vampires
Scognamillo mentioned the movie “Daybreak,” in which the whole population of the world turns into vampires: “What do vampires symbolize? Exploitation. We are living in an exploiting civilization. I think Hollywood reflects that.” When asked where the vampire myth roots from, Scognamillo pointed to the importance of blood in primitive religions and old western beliefs. “Of course, it is a very old myth, maybe dating back to the Stone Age," he said and it is a global myth that was reflected in every century. “I receive mail from 13- or 14-year-old girls asking whether vampires actually exist, and they get upset when I say that they do not,” said Scognamillo as an example of how the idea of the immortal undead keeps its charm throughout the generations.
Like vampires, dragons are present in nearly all mythologies known to mankind. While they may be related to dinosaur fossils sighted here and there, the idea of vampires are probably related to the belief of ghosts.
Historical characters were also identified with vampirism, such as Vlad III the Impaler and Countess Bathory. “'Vlad the Impaler was not a vampire; he was a typical cruel nobleman of his time. Ivan the terrible was not much different to him. We do not know if Countess Bathory had drunk blood or not but it is known that she had slaughtered at least 400 young women and bathed in their blood.”
Scognamillo said there are vampire tales even in the myths of the Eskimos, but not Turks: “I have never encountered it up to now.” When asked whether there are any Istanbul-based vampire stories or events, he said: “A Cihangir vampire appeared once, and the Kasımpaşa vampire, but of course they are either mentally ill people or frauds.” Scognamillo continued saying there were events from the 16th and the 17th centuries that were accepted as proof of vampires’ existence, such as bodies not rotting long after being buried or hair or nails growing after death, but today we know there are scientific explanations for that.
Dracula was not the first
Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” from 1897 is known to be the first vampire tale in novel form but “Varney the Vampire or the Feast of Blood” by James Malcolm Rymer (though sometimes attributed to Thomas Preskett Prest), predates it by nearly 60 years. When asked why this serialized novel is not known as the first of its kind, Scognamillo said it is both too long and today’s reader would have a hard time dealing with its language. “It definitely influenced Stoker but there are many stories [written] before the time of ‘Varney.’ There are not novels but there are stories. The vampire mythos is in the literature of the ancient Greeks and Rome too.”
Scognamillo is currently working on a new book with the title of “Vampir Manifestosu” (The Vampire Manifesto) with two of his friends. “We are about to finish it. It is very widely based: vampire myths, vampire literature, vampire movies, vampires in theater, music, comic books … It is a detailed work like that.”