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August 7th, 2008

Vampires, again. Really? That’s what Rolling Stone wants us to think.

A new pop-culture vampire trend heads their latest top 10 list of new products and things the editors like.

Ugh.

I breathed a sigh of relief when Jack Sparrow (sorry, Captain Jack Sparrow) captured America’s imagination when he sailed in from the horizon. Vampires were done, we could all move onto pirates as our new dumb national obsession.

Except… the third “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie was awful. Beyond singing Ewoks awful. I’m talking a jump-the-shark, nuclear-refrigerator, midi-chlorians, nipples-on-the-Batsuit, techno-rave-in-Zion, Godfather III steaming pile of turds. In other words, nice to know you, pirate craze of the aughts.

Almost 15 years later I’m still trying to get the image of Tom Cruise as Lestat out of my mind and apparently we’re right where we were when I was in eighth grade.

Thankfully, Rolling Stone’s evidence is a bit scarce. They list a nonfiction book “The Dead Travel Fast: Stalking Vampires from Nosferatu to Count Chocula,” a rumor that Tim Burton is adapting the old “Dark Shadows” television show with—you guessed it, Captain Jack himself, Johnny Depp—and the massively successful “Twilight” novels (and upcoming movie). (Potomac News executive editor Susan Svihlik also mentions the recently-failed vampire television shows that someone in Hollywood is noticing a rise of interest in vam-pires). Do these examples make a trend? Maybe—but it’s also ignorant to ignore the “Twilight” books.

They’re being touted (or marketed) as the next Harry Potter. What publisher wouldn’t want that description in front of one of their books? That might have to do more with author Ste-phenie Meyer’s rise from obscurity, much like J.K. Rowling. The “Twilight Books” have sold over 10 million copies; the fourth and final volume just came out.

Author biographies is where the Potter comparisons need to end. (Full disclosure: I’ve only read the first book, “Twilight,” and have no intention of continuing). The first Potter was whimsical with unique, memorable characters, some great action sequences and a Roald Dahl sense of humor.

“Twilight” is nearly 500 pages of chaste high school romance without any interesting characters or situations. The major action sequences (sorry, sequence) takes place OFF SCREEN.

Anne Rice already suckered me into thinking vampire books should be action-packed bloodbaths. I read “The Vampire Lestat” in eighth grade, thinking I’d get a blood-soaked adventure. Instead, I got a sexually in-denial protagonist who, after losing his best friend (male) spent the rest of the book trying to bed his mother.

In fairness, “Lestat” is “Die Hard” compared to “Twilight.”

Genre fiction—vampires, pirates, zombies, sci-fi or whatever is in vogue for a period of time—lives and dies by its metaphors.

Pirates and vampires really aren’t that much different. They come and go in waves, the appeal for both stems from the attraction of being bad. I’ll take the pirate.

The pirate is typically a metaphor for freedom, danger and the lack of personal responsibility. Who wouldn’t want to quit their job, hop on a boat and drink some rum? The vampire is usually a metaphor for unrestrained sexuality—something Anne Rice feels the need to hit her readers over the head with every third paragraph. With “Twilight” it’s about being attracted to the bad boy in school. Even “The Breakfast Club” had more subtlety—and less melodrama.

Maybe I’m being a bit hard on vampires. I passed on the whole Buffy craze, probably due to a bad Anne Rice aftertaste.

“But Josh, it’s so good,” my friends would tell me. I caught a couple Buffy episodes in college and thought the long-running story was a bit difficult to jump in midstream. (The musical episode was a stroke of genius though.)

Then Buffy creator Joss Whedon took over the X-Men. He understood the characters better than any writer in the last 20 years. Besides, he supposedly based the Buffy character on X-Man Kitty Pryde. But none of my friends had the first Buffy season on DVD, where I wanted to start, they only had the second or third, which they said was better.

Last week one of my friends finally picked up the first season and I got started. My impression after four episodes? Spider-Man, with monsters and a female lead. Spider-Man has his Amazing Friends, Buffy has the Scooby Gang. Spider-Man has Flash Thompson, Buffy has Cordelia. Both are tasked with a great responsibility (and power), both can’t get a date or make it to class on time. Both, at their core, are really metaphors for navigating high school and the teenage years.

So that’s my task to you, new vampire craze of the aughts. Take a cue from Buffy. It doesn’t have to be about sexuality and seduction. Try a different metaphor. War on terror? Immigration? Economics? Take your pick.

At least until pirates come back.

Staff writer Josh Eiserike can be reached at 703-878-8072 or jeiserike@potomacnew.com.

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