Dr. Jeffrey Weinstock Explains Vampire Suicide

by Troi Watts

 

Were you excited for Dr. Jeffrey Weinstock’s talk on Vampire Suicide but just couldn’t make it to the lecture? Did you attend but wish you knew even more? No need to be disappointed anymore as you can read all about it right here! Dr. Weinstock came all the way from Central Michigan University to enlighten Ball State students on why vampires commit suicide. This lecture was actually a sort of rehearsal for Dr. Weinstock as he explained that it will be the keynote address at the International Vampire Film and Arts Festival in Romania. Anyone who was in attendance can tell you that his rehearsal was so well-done that it’s sure to be successful at the festival.

Dr. Jeffrey Weinstock has been an English professor at Central Michigan University since 2001, teaching a variety of courses that cover American literature and pop culture topics. A native to Washington, D.C. and Maryland, Dr. Weinstock completed his undergraduate education in English at the University of Pennsylvania, his graduate education in American Literature at George Washington University, and stayed on at George Washington University to complete his PhD. He has published numerous books and essays and has received various awards for his work. For example, his latest publication, The Age of Lovecraft, was the co-winner of the 2016 Ray & Pat Browne Award for Best Edited Collection in Popular Culture and American Culture. Needless to say, Dr. Weinstock has worked long and hard to become an expert in all things gothic.

But where did Dr. Weinstock’s interest in monsters begin? I took the time to ask him this and other questions in an email after the lecture. In his own words, he has always had an interest in “the dark side.” Even as a kid, he loved spooky stories, which presumably introduced him to his favorite monster (“if you can call them that”): ghosts! His interest in ghosts drove him to write his doctoral dissertation on the “issue of spectrality” and his first book on how American women in the nineteenth and early twentieth century wrote ghost stories as a form of social commentary.

When asked why he decided to give a lecture on vampire suicide, Dr. Weinstock explained that he was asked to be a part of a collaboration for an upcoming book, Suicide and the Gothic, edited by Andrew Smith and Bill Hughes. When he was considering what particular subject he could discuss, vampires popped into his head. He wasn’t entirely sure why, but he couldn’t stop thinking about them and the fact that vampires in films commit or contemplate suicide frequently. This is in line with the usual process he goes through to pick a topic. He typically starts with a question or problem of some sort and uses strong primary sources to research that question or problem. For example, when coming up with the topic of vampire suicide, Dr. Weinstock asked himself, “[W]hy do vampires commit suicide with such regularity?” and researched from there. Of course, a key component to this process is whether or not the topic interests him (I mean, who wants to research something that bores them?). Vampires absolutely fall under the “interesting” category.

Dr. Weinstock’s lecture started with a general breakdown of the main reasons that vampires contemplate, attempt, or commit suicide in films and literature: out of remorse, ennui (a French term for “boredom”), or heroism. From there on Dr. Weinstock discussed each point in-depth, providing examples from pop culture to demonstrate his points.

Regarding remorse, he said that sometimes vampires cannot come to terms with the monster that they have become, finding the fact that they must drink blood in order to survive to be evil or immoral. Varney the vampire, from the series by James Malcolm Rymer and Thomas Peckett Prest, displays this aspect; Varney throws himself into Mount Vesuvius in an act of suicide because he could no longer tolerate what he had become and wanted to end his existence.

Ennui is centered around the idea that vampires feel as if they can do basically anything they want and, being immortal, have plenty of time on their hands. But what happens when they get tired of partying and living? They turn to suicide. The example of Adam from Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive was used in this section of the lecture. Adam, being several centuries old, has become bored with and can no longer tolerate life. He has lost interest in going into the outside world due to the fact that he dislikes what humans have done to it. He contemplates suicide (going so far as to have a wooden bullet made so that he may shoot himself) for these reasons.

Heroism was the final motivation for vampire suicide discussed by Dr. Weinstock. In certain situations, vampires may take it upon themselves to give their lives in order to save the people they care about (usually humans). To better demonstrate this aspect, Dr. Weinstock brought up the movie, 30 Days of Night by David Slade. In this film, a town in Alaska is invaded by vampires, leading Eben Oleson to become a vampire in order to protect his wife, Stella. Once the battle is over and the vampires have fled, Eben stands in the sunlight in order to kill himself as he does not want to become the monster that the other vampires were.

Despite the fact that they are monsters, vampires have a wide range of emotions and motivations that could eventually lead them to contemplate, attempt, or commit suicide. Not all vampires have evil intentions. Some are remorseful at the knowledge of what they have become, while others become heroes and protect humans. As Dr. Weinstock has shown, even the ones who are just trying to enjoy their immortality have it rough.

Works Cited

Weinstock, Jeffrey. Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock, PhD.                                                                              https://www.jeffreyandrewweinstock.com/   Accessed 19 April 2017.

Weinstock, Jeffrey. “Re: Questions for the DLR Blog Post.” Received by Troi Watts, 8 April         2017.

Weinstock, Jeffrey. “Vampire Suicide.” DLR Presents, The Digital Literature Review, 31            March 2017, Ball State University, Muncie, IN.

 

 

Advertisements

Human to Beast: Transfiguration in Buffy the Vampire Slayer

by Emma Hartman

The first season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or Buffy for short, contains many stand-alone episodes–mostly featuring metaphorical monsters and demons–which parallel issues that teens may encounter in real life. Each of the twelve episodes in the season feature either a creature who was at one time a person or a person who will become a creature during the course of the episode. The most obvious example of a creature born from a human is a vampire, and these are seen in almost every episode of Buffy. However, the episodes that feature a non-vampire transformation include students who are possessed by hyenas, a man who turns into a ventriloquist dummy, and a girl who turns invisible. Through the manipulation of the human form into an undesirable state, the episodes demonstrate the danger of losing one’s humanity. By tying moral standards to the maintenance of a human form, the episodes warn of divergence from acceptable behavior. In addition, the episodes suggest that one’s humanity is always at risk of becoming warped and defiled because every transformation is caused by an uncontrollable outside force. In turn, the monster transformations in the first season of Buffy serve to elevate the status of humanity and to justify Buffy’s mission to rid the Earth of the monsters’ reign and influence.

In the episode “The Pack,” students sneak into an off-limits hyena exhibit and are possessed by the demonic hyenas when they stumble onto an ancient symbol written on the floor by the zookeeper. When these students return to school, they behave like hyenas, travelling in a pack and laughing at their classmates. This episode first warns of the risks of breaking rules: specifically sneaking into places where one doesn’t belong. Secondly, it reflects a common issue in high school: bullying and teasing. “The Pack” exaggerates this phenomenon by having the bullies not only mock people, but also eat them. By conflating the way that hyenas behave with the way that high school bullies behave, “The Pack” compares poor treatment of others with becoming animalistic or primitive, and thus warns against regression. Jeffrey Jerome Cohen states of the first werewolf in Western literature that “the horribly fascinating loss of Lycaon’s humanity merely reifies his previous moral state” (13). In the same way, the students’ transformation into hyenas solidifies their previous moral state. This transformation serves to define a certain standard of behavior as essentially human by associating it with the human form, while divergent behavior is seen as bestial.

“Out of Mind, Out of Sight” also deals with a form of bullying in high school: ostracization. In the episode, a student named Marcie turns invisible because no one, not even her teacher, pays attention to her. This episode provides social commentary on the effects that seemingly inconsequential acts can have on others. It also creates awareness of what it feels like to be completely alone by making it physically impossible for Marcie to be acknowledged by anyone. Similar to the episode “The Pack,” this episode exaggerates a common high school phenomenon. Her isolation causes Marcie to become homicidal towards those who caused her to lose her body, and thus she becomes a monster in her own right. Marcie inspires fear not only because of her invisibility and her violence but also because she evokes a category crisis. Marcie inhabits the border of existing/not existing and human/other. Both category crisis and border policing are central to the concept of the monster as Jeffrey Cohen outlines it in his essay, “Monster Culture (Seven Theses)” (Cohen 6). Because Buffy still considers Marcie to be partially human, Buffy cannot kill her. However, Buffy must stop the monstrous Marcie from trying to kill fellow students. Marcie’s state creates unease because her transformation argues that to be a human with worth and dignity, one must be acknowledged as such by peers.

In “The Puppet Show,” a demon hunter named Sid is turned into a ventriloquist dummy and will not be released from this curse until he manages to kill the Brotherhood of Seven, demons who harvest organs in order to obtain human bodies for themselves. This episode demonstrates an interesting contrast to previous themes. Not only is a human transformed into something almost human but disturbingly divergent—a wooden doll, but also the demons will stop at nothing to become human themselves. This episode elevates the status of humanity through the coveting of the human body by demons and by the dummy, whose goal is to regain his own human form. It establishes the human form as ideal and divergent states as other and to be avoided. After it is revealed that Sid started with a human body and was forced to become something else, he is portrayed sympathetically. However, because the Brotherhood of Seven start as demons and want to become human through the sacrifice of living people, they are established as monstrous. This episode reinforces the elevated status of the human body, and thus other episodes about transfiguration become more effective in their message. Buffy is able to justify her mission to preserve the human race when she helps Sid recover his coveted human form, although it is too late to save his life, and when she stops the demon from appropriating a human body for himself.

Through various forms of transformation, the first season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer demonstrates a “correct” and “incorrect” way to behave towards others by turning issues that teens often grapple with into metaphorical storylines. The human body and humanistic behavior are linked together visually, and thus moral divergence can easily be illustrated. Through the hyena transformation, it is demonstrated that wrong actions can negatively impact one’s own welfare as well as that of others. The invisible girl serves to show the poor treatment of others and attempts to raise awareness about the effects of ostracization on people. Finally, the Brotherhood of Seven, who murder in order to obtain a human body, illustrate just how dangerous it is to exist on the outskirts of humanity. The demons also demonstrate the dangers of association when they cast a spell on Sid, the demon hunter, which causes him to also lose his human body. Together, these episodes work to promote normative humanity, including morally pure behavior, and by association also promote Buffy’s mission to vanquish all vampires and demons from the Earth in order to restore its peace as well as its morality.

Works Cited

Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome. “Monster Culture (Seven Theses).” Monster Theory: Reading Culture, edited by Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, Regents of the University of Minnesota, 1996, pp. 3-25.

“Out of Mind, Out of Sight.” Buffy the Vampire Slayer, created by Joss Whedon, directed by Bruce Seth Green and Joss Whedon, The WB, 1997.

“The Pack.” Buffy the Vampire Slayer, created by Joss Whedon, directed by Bruce Seth Green and Joss Whedon, The WB, 1997.

“The Puppet Show.” Buffy the Vampire Slayer, created by Joss Whedon, directed by Bruce Seth Green and Joss Whedon, The WB, 1997.