Over recent years American television has become obsessed with shows featuring vampires, zombies, the supernatural, and other themes of horror. Popular shows like True Blood and The Walking Dead feature vampire romance and zombies in an apocalyptic world. Other programs such as American Horror Story and 666 Park Avenue deal with issues of personal failings, identity, and temptation, with tenants haunted and antagonized by paranormal activity in their own homes. Our taste has definitely become darker in recent times.
All of this leads me to question… Is there is an explanation for our increased preference for this genre? Why is it that we have to include a thing as dark as satanic symbolism in a show’s title to attract viewers? It used to be much easier to find shows featuring classic, positive American ideals such as “helping your neighbor” and “pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps”. This shift in our taste toward darker themes of the afterlife and personal insecurities must be saying something about all of us on an individual level. More importantly, is our fascination with themes of morbidity and the supernatural reflective of deeper issues pervading our society as a whole?
Historically, people turn to genres of fantasy and escapism in times of economic instability and struggle. In a down economy, entertainment is often used as a way to escape our realities and troubles. In fact, Anne Rice's The Vampire Lestate reached the bestseller list when the economy crashed in the 1980s under Reagan. Looking at the themes seen in the above TV shows, we can see that under the shows’ entertainment and escapist values, symbolism alludes to our recent social, political, and economic downfalls on an individual level and as a society. Blood thirsty vampires, essentially dead and alive at once, can symbolize our decline from success and prosperity, as well as highlight our anxieties of an unknown future. This is essentially the challenge we face as individuals and a nation today. As many Americans deal with the financial consequences of recent years and struggle to reclaim their lives they may often feel anxious about the future. Much of these problems have been a result of our lack of accountability. In recent times, our reliance on bailouts and unsustainable spending easily mimic the resource draining qualities of a vampire themselves. Our eager shopping habits and consumer driven lifestyles have gotten out of hand for many as well, and fit right into the picture. While at times we might prefer escaping from our problems to a fantasy world, it’s important that we look for new methods in our habits and confront our own role in our economic decline.
We need to cultivate an attitude of responsibility in all that we do as citizens and a nation in order to become our best selves once again. As our formula of success in capitalism, politics, and democracy has lost strength, America has struggled with accountability. In recent times we have become a society of takers, becoming too reliant on assistance from others both individually and as a nation. Instead of emphatically helping our neighbors, more commonly the attitude is "What's in it for me?" We have blamed others for our own shortcomings and expected financial assistance in return. These types of bad habits need to be replaced with self reliance, compassion, and new ways of thinking. When we depend on others, lack accountability, and fail to realize that we’re the ones to best enact change, our behavior takes on a vampire-like quality itself that can never be mutually beneficial. This type of behavior needs to come to an end for America to affect positive change, and we need to begin demanding more responsibility from every citizen.
Our nation needs to shift its mindset from a sense of self disgust to self acceptance and compassion for its people so that we can continue inspiring positive progress. Though we’re no longer the only nation in the game, it doesn’t mean that we can’t still be a winner. Our present world and work has changed, and thus our way of thinking and vision of ourselves needs to change as well to become more forward looking. We need to stop pointing fingers and cultivate responsibility in ourselves and our people first. We need to once again prioritize innovative problem solving and the necessary development of our social, political, and economic institutions. A culture of accountability needs to be demanded in Washington, on Wall Street, and in our educational system. Throughout all of this, each goal needs to be met with consistent attention and evolution, so that we don’t fall back to our old ways of thinking or habits. Our past understandings of democracy and economics can no longer be our sole guide if we want cutting edge solutions. Instead we need to look forward, not backward, and take an innovative approach to redefining capitalism and democracy in America.