The monsters we choose to embrace tells us a lot about ourselves. They are a reflection of our frustrations, desire and fear. So what do vampires, zombies and witches tell us about ourselves?
Women have been swooning for vampires starting around the time of Anne Rice’s The Vampire Chronicles and hitting mass market hysteria with Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series and HBO’s True Blood. The fascination with vampires has seemed to grow in parallel with women’s increasing workforce and social equality with men (and arguably, the feminization of men). As they find themselves on par with men and responsible for making their own cash, women increasingly turn to the vampire gothic romance genre where submissive women find “old-fashioned romance in the arms of an alpha male.” The women are chosen by this man, literally swept off their feet and ardently desired by a man who has been holding out for the perfect woman for hundreds if not thousands of years. It’s an opportunity enjoy an 18th- or 19th-century courtship while remaining a 21st-century woman.” To put it bluntly, women want a real man and today’s men just aren’t cutting it.
Vampires are dangerous, bold, hyper masculine. But they operate in our world with our rules. Women want to have their cake and eat it too. We want a man who is strong, dominant and rich enough to transport us to an elite world of the super wealthy….but is so in love with us that we still have a certain power over him. And he’s in our world bitch, so don’t be slapping us or nothing. (laughing) But seriously.
Meanwhile, America’s men have been excitedly prepping for the zombie apocalypse for a decade. Zombies are shuffling hordes of undead, masses all moving as a single, consuming entity – kind of like us. Globalization and society’s focus on consumerism (Buy! Buy! Buy! Then work in a job you hate to get more money to buy stuff to make you happy!) makes us feel like insignificant, consumerist slaves. By surviving a real zombie apocalypse and being one of the last humans, we reclaim our individuality. Zombies represent a physical way to battle an abstract concept, to take a stand against mindless consumerism and get out of our grinding 9 to 5 cycle lives. We feel like zombies, so we’re literally fighting our fear of mediocrity.
Another aspect of zombie fascination is that zombies are an easily identifiable enemy. They are easily spotted, tracked and killed. There is no moral ambiguity to killing zombies. They are a simple, perfect enemy. This is in stark difference to the type of threat we faced in both Iraq and Afghanistan – an enemy that blended with the population, attacked us through IEDs where a physical response was not possible, and required huge cognitive effort to understand their language, culture, and society. Whereas with a zombie, you just need a baseball bat and stamina. It’s something anyone can prepare for, a monster anyone can kill. Is it any wonder we saw the rise in zombie apocalypse fascination around the same time that Iraq and Afghanistan took a turn for the worse?
Now we’re seeing the emergence of witches. The TV lineup for this season has witches edging out vampires as our new favorite monster. The “Witches of East End”, “the Originals”, “Sleepy Hollow” and “American Horror Story: Coven” join the already popular shows “Once Upon a Time”, “Grimm”, and “True Blood”. And that’s just on TV. What does it all mean (besides probably popular exhaustion with zombies and vampires)?
The fascination with witches is still early and therefore there is way less research on this than the other two monster pop culture phenomena. My guess is that women are frustrated. Witchcraft seems like great escapism from the drudgery of our 9 to 5 lives. It empowers us. Being rescued by a handsome, rich vampire didn’t pan out. Witchcraft provides a way for us to satisfy our desires using our own power – not that of a vampire. We want to snap our fingers, wave a wand, and get everything we want.
As for men, witches may be a manifestation of out-of-control women; women who have complete power over men. Pop culture has long been a venue where we can explore collective fears from the safety of a movie seat. Jurassic Park was technology out of control, The Day the Earth Stood Still was our fear of communism manifested. Now witches are a way for men to explore and/or come to terms with women assuming increasingly dominant positions in the home, workforce, politics, and society in general.
Plus, witches provide a collective distraction from our sexual frustration seeing as how no super hot vampires showed up to ravish us on the front doorstep – despite what the vampire dating websites promised.