thinking big: feminism, media, and pop culture

Cults of Mortality: Selfies and Vampire Diaries’ investment in Aging

In Memories, teen soaps, Television on August 1, 2014 at 7:14 am

Screenshot 2014-07-31 16.48.16

Phoebe B.

**Spoiler alert (only for season 4)

For a show populated almost entirely by young, firm-bodied, and beautiful characters, The Vampire Diaries (TVD) is obsessed with mortality. Nobody in Mystic Falls appears to live past the age of 50, either killed off or sentenced to a premature afterlife as a vampire or ghost. As a result, nobody ever truly leaves Mystic Falls, even in death. Vampires stick around, drawn to this magical epicenter, and ghosts continue to haunt characters, appearing every so often to provide advice and wax philosophical.

Despite the predominance of immortality in TVD, many of its characters remain (at least during season 4) committed to ditching eternal youth in favor of a fixed life span. While one might live forever as a vigorous (not to mention gorgeous) vampire, vampirism also means no kids and no growing up. Season four of the TV show is dedicated entirely to this obsession with aging, as the troop of supernatural characters go in search of a cure for immortality.

Rather than feel nostalgia for days of yore and youth, many TVD characters actively long for their lost mortality and the potential of aging. Their fixation with living out a “natural” life seems strangely at odds with a culture that regularly champions youth and beauty above all else. To them, living forever in a youthful body is a curse rather than a gift. Even so, the show glorifies its young and beautiful vampires: by the end of season four, almost everyone remains forever young.

Early in Season 4, after Elena transitions from a human to a vampire, the show’s three girlfriends—Elena, Bonnie (witch) and Caroline (vampire)—get together for a good old-fashioned girls’ night. There’s alcohol, blood bags, loud music, dancing, and lots of selfies. The girls even agree, in a seeming nod to the Bechdel test, that on this girl-centric night they will stay away from discussions about men. Instead, they focus on being happy in these moments together and escaping the violence that has heretofore overtaken their young lives.

In the midst of champagne/blood-drinking, the girls begin to snap a series of selfies on their cell phones. They showcase each other happy and enjoying life. But their happiness, like the moments they capture, feels fleeting. After all, any photograph captures a moment that has already passed and can never be returned to. In this way, photographs are artifacts of a lost moment or a small death, as the wonderful theorist Roland Barthes suggested in Camera Obscura. Barring time travel, we can never return to the moment captured.

But what is striking about the TVD selfie scene is its static nature. Given that two of the three girls are stuck in youthful, immortal bodies, these moments might be relived over and over again. Vampires can die with a stake to the heart, but they can never age or grow old, shed the self they appear to be at that moment. Even Bonnie will be enshrined in her late teens by season’s end, dying and becoming the anchor to the supernatural other side.

Later in the season, the vampire friend group attends their senior prom, wandering into the dance through a series of pictures documenting their years in high school. For Caroline, this is a glorious moment and the culmination of her high school experience. Despite her fate as forever youthful, she remains invested in human rituals. After all, her vampire age still matches her actual age. This is her first prom, her first high school graduation.

For other immortal characters, the endless expanse of time starves such moments of importance. Rebecca, one of the original vampires, desperately wants her mortality back. She desires love, life, and to go to a high school dance, and to have her life marked by these events in ways that immortality seemingly makes impossible. Her agelessness flattens her experience of time.

TVD suggests that we value high school parties, proms, and girls’ nights because we can never go back to them: they mark moments in the trajectory of our lives. Our histories are linear, rather than cyclical, moving towards an end moment. We can count and recount our past punctuated by these rituals.

But TVD’s vampires can’t derive meaning from such fleeting moments. The highs and the lows of decades are not marked on the bodies of vampires who live through them. They do not make any literal impressions: there are no lines of laughter, no scars, no bruises. After all, they can always attend another prom or girls’ night, or join another cheerleading team.

Where mortals are left thumbing through high school yearbooks recalling what was, the vampires of TVD might just go back to high school again and again. Only a few vampires are uninterested in becoming human. Klaus, another one of the original vampires, expresses a clear and coherent desire to stay immortal, all-powerful and virtually indestructible. Damon can’t think of anything more miserable than being human once again. And Caroline appreciates the person she has become as a vampire (the greatest!). They all want to stay, in the language of TVD, unnatural.

This is the crux of TVD and of its quest for mortality: to return the world to a seemingly natural state, a world free of the violence of vampires and the supernatural and where everyone can grow old and die. In some ways, it is a noble message in the age of overpopulation that we can’t sustainably all live for forever, I suppose. That said, I’m quite certain that’s not TVD’s underlying message.

Ultimately, there is only one cure that can provide vampires with their longed-after humanity, and nobody who wants it gets it. Elena forces the cure on her doppleganger and nemesis Katherine, turning her—against her will—human once again. Even Rebecca realizes that her humanity need not be tied to mortality, as she offers Matt help that will allow him to graduate high school and see the world. Meanwhile, Elena and Catherine move forward, becoming newly minted college students. Maybe aging and nostalgia aren’t all they are cracked up to be, season four concludes: everlasting beauty, youthfulness and power are a lot more fun.


Related Posts:

Re-Plotting History: Omission, Race, and The Vampire Diaires

Hollywood Rape and the Foreclosure of Empathic Activism; or Musings on the Limits of “Body Genres

Bare Your Fangs: Torture, Women, and The Vampire Diaries

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