I didn’t see it coming, but now that it’s here, it makes perfect sense. I’m talking about the new vampire craze that has invaded popular fiction and movies, especially but not only for teenagers and young adults.
The vampire—that human creature who stays alive by sucking the blood of other humans—is the perfect image for an age when selfishness reigns as the underlying ideology. I call it the Age of Reagan because it was under Ronald Reagan’s leadership that the country began its turn towards selfishness. Reagan expressed it best with his oft-told joke with the punch line, “I don’t have to run faster than the bear, just faster than you.”
The idea of every person for him/herself alone is the basis of current free market economic theory. It also serves as a major ideological underpinning of consumer journalism, advertising and even movies and TV entertainment. Over the last year, I’ve written about how the politics of selfishness has guided advertising campaigns, survey methodologies, political statements, movies and consumer journalism. I’ve been meaning to do some other small studies in this area. For example, it seems that an inordinate number of ads are based on selfishness, for example, all the TV commercials in which cartoonish buffoons or savvy “chicks” hide the cereal, candy bar or pizza bread sticks from loved ones or friends. And doesn’t it seem that situation comedies today teem with completely selfish and self-centered characters. In fact, selfishness seems to be one of the central core themes of comedy today.
Let’s get to the vampires now. As is well documented in hundreds of studies, since about 1980 there has been a net transfer of wealth up the economic ladder from poor and middle class to wealthy. Here are some of the most salient facts, all taken from William Domhoff’s studies:
- The top 1% now owns 34% of all the wealth in the United States (last available recent numbers), compared to only 20.5% in 1979, for a gain of almost 69% in the past 30 years!
- Income of the top 1% was only 12.8% of total income in 1982 and today it’s about 21.3%—a gain of two-thirds!
- The chief executive officers and presidents of companies now make many more times the money than their average full-time worker does. In 1980, CEOs made about 42 times what the average worked was paid; the latest numbers are 344 to 1! By the way, in Europe, it’s only 25 to 1.
I think it’s reasonable to say that all ideology and philosophy aside, the past 30 years that have been dominated by Ronald Reagan’s political and economic ideas have seen the rich taking more of the pie and leaving less for everyone else. The rich have gotten richer to some extent by taking it from others. One of the most profoundly dramatic and startling images of such a transfer of wealth is to call it blood-sucking.
We see and hear examples of symbolic blood-sucking every day: sub-prime mortgage sellers and consumer finance companies getting unsavvy consumers into bad deals; company layoffs followed by announcements of massive salaries to their CEOs; warranties at exorbitant prices for equipment that never goes bad; parents gaming the process for getting into college by essentially using money to hoist their children above others who can’t afford SAT tutors, special summer camps and professional writers to compose admissions essays. Kids and young adults (and everyone else for that matter) see all this selfishness and channel it into what appeals to them in their entertainment.
It’s very hard not to be influenced by the ideology of an age, especially when it is pounded into you by the news media and mass culture on a daily basis. A dominant ideology infects everything, including our entertainment. What could be more natural to a teen raised today than to be fascinated by people who survive and thrive by drinking the blood of others? To my mind, vampirism is the perfect literary symbol of our current selfish society. I expect vampires to be a major and dominant image in mass culture for several more years.