Popular culture seems to be satisfying a substantial public demand for violent, bloodthirsty immortals with large fangs seeking human victims. Strangely, it’s not like real life isn’t providing us with enough demons: the daily paper recounts shootings, stabbings, photos of suicide bombings, missile strikes and drone attacks and yet we still crave more images of bloody guts and gore. Vampires and flesh-eating zombies are filling that need.
Notably, the producers of violent, blood-soaked movies and television shows are almost entirely men, as are virtually all of the mass-murderers of real life; this is no coincidence. There is something about the male of our species that cannot seem to escape the need for violence, both real and imaginary. Male identity seems irreparably bound to violent expression, an irresistible urge towards autonomy that demands the physical destruction of others. Call it testosterone poisoning, alpha-male syndrome, macho madness, bad-ass compulsion or whatever — it’s high time we admit men have got a big problem.
In a patriarchal society thoroughly dominated by men, it often feels unlikely that admitting our problem will lead to any meaningful solutions. When a gun-toting male kills innocent victims were are told the solution to gun violence is more guns. If gore-filled, violent video games appealing to adolescent boys are criticized, defenders cite freedom of artistic expression. Defense spending to develop ever more effective weaponry is promoted as positive economic activity that creates jobs. Increasingly violent movies and television are labeled profitable “popular entertainment.” High contact sports that cause brain injury make millionaires of athletes fated for Parkinson’s disease.
In short, little in male-created society is subject to honest critical thinking, and society as a whole pays the price.
Psychologically, men seem at battle with their shadow selves, the fearful, aggressively primitive self that once was required for survival. It’s no surprise that we’ve grown attached to vampires; our “eye” or “canine” teeth are evidence enough of a genetic heritage of male aggression. Canine teeth are the longest, sharpest and strongest teeth we’ve got, and in primates play an important role in sexual display. It is their association with our primal nature that draws us to fanged vampires, the imaginary embodiment of pure sexual and predatory power. The fulfillment of male self-image fantasy — powerfully irresistible, lethal, sexually magnetic — vampires fit perfectly into subconscious desires. If such desires could be fulfilled by fantasy alone, we might survive, but unfortunately these fantasies are playing themselves out in ordinary life.
Self-discipline is not our strong suit. The satisfaction of desire as quickly and as efficiently as possible fuels fast food, 400 cable channels, smart phones and automobiles. Yet for men, the discipline of what to accept and what to reject is necessary now more than ever. If we are to stem male violence and the suffering that it causes, some big decisions need to be made quickly. The decisions will only happen if men honestly and openly understand and confront their emotional attachment to violence, and this process requires women.
There are reasons why women are not mass-murderers, and we men, the vampires among us, need to find out why and learn from them. This means an honest surrender to the terrible reality of our penchant for violence, giving up male autonomy and sharing power with women, and being prepared to accept fear of change as an acceptable price to pay for peace. It’s either that, or more blood.