The popularity of vampires in popular culture like movies and TV shows (for example, HBO’s True Blood, the blockbuster film series Twilight, and CW’s Vampire Diaries) immediately came to mind when I was reading about Michel Foucault’s “The History of Sexuality” and Sigmund Freud’s “Civilization and its Discontents.” Human-machine and human-computer hybrids are yet another example of projecting our fears and desires onto an “other” that are close enough to humans that we can relate to them, but different enough that they fulfill our fantasies.
Although vampires aren’t machines or computers, I’d like to take them as an example of this same process of projection. Freud explains that technological tools and advances have lead us to become “a kind of prosthetic God;” “with every tool man is perfecting his own organs, whether motor or sensory, or is removing the limits of their functioning.” Spectacles, cameras, and telephones are examples of this, according to Freud. In spite of these advances and increasing likeness to God, Freud explains that we are still unhappy. This is where projections of our fantasies and fears onto an “other,” come in. Whether a cultural or racial other, or a monster or human-machine/computer other, these others serve the same purpose.
Freud explains that living within civilization, man has had to curb his desire to kill and his impulses for sexual gratification. Man’s desire to be free is in tension with the repression imposed by being a member of society, restricted and controlled by laws. In their popular representation on TV and in film, vampires typically look like humans most of the time, and change when aroused sexually or violently. They are also typically uninhibited when it comes to killing and sex. They are immortal for the most part, and can transport themselves quickly and without the help of cars and planes. In these ways, vampires represent a freedom and power that people desire, fear, and cannot attain. The interplay between humans and vampires in the popular TV shows and films ensures that vampires remain of the human realm to a certain extent, and remain physically relatable.
Stuart Hall explains that “fetishism takes us into the realm where fantasy intervenes in representation; to the level where what is shown or seen, in representation, can only be understood in relation to what cannot be seen, what cannot be shown”(266). Here Hall is talking about racializing the “other” in popular culture. An example of this is violent, sexualized representations of the “Orient,” described in detail by Edward Said in Orientalism. The popularity of human-machine/computers and monsters like vampires in our popular culture also may be an example of such fetishism. It feels easier to project our desires for the freedom to act out our aggression and unbounded sexual needs on creatures that are different from humans.
Freud, Sigmund. Civilization and Its Discontents,1930.
Hall, Stuart. Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices. London: Sage in Association with the Open University, 1997. Print.
Novak, Jennifer. “The History of Sexuality: An Introduction.” : Communication Studies : University of Minnesota. N.p., 3 Dec. 2003. Web. 11 Apr. 2014. <http://www.comm.umn.edu/Foucault/hos.html>.
Said, Edward W. Orientalism. New York: Vintage, 1979. Print.