Saturday, May 2, 2009

Review: The Dead Travel Fast by Eric Nuzum

Growing up, I watched horror movies with my family all the time. "The Blob" is possibly my mother's favorite movie of all time (we're talking the old school one with Steve McQueen, none of that re-make crap) and for several years running at Halloween we'd rent all of the classic monster movies for a monster movie marathon. Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Mummy (the original with Boris Karloff, of course, though we also enjoyed the Brendan Frasier version), The Wolfman, Frankenstein and, of course, Dracula.

So in college when I picked up role playing with Vampire: The Masquerade, I already had a bit of horror/vampire background, and had a blast spending Thursday nights with my friends pretending to be among the undead (it didn't hurt that the man who was to become my husband was playing with us!). While it's been ages since I've stayed up till dawn pretending to be a blood sucking fiend, I still love a good horror story, and vampires are some of the most horrific of all (along with zombies). So when I came across The Dead Travel Fast, billed as a "far-reaching look at vampires across pop culture," I was excited. I love academic, or even semi-academic, looks at pop culture, so I figured this book would be right up my alley.

Alas, it wasn't to be.

While Nuzum certainly explores a wide variety of experiences in order to try to "understand" our cultural obsession with vampires, it's pretty clear that he actually has little but contempt for most of the people who find vampires fascinating. People who attend conventions dedicated to Dark Shadows are overweight, disabled losers who have nothing to look forward to but watching old episodes of a sub-par soap opera in dark hotel ballrooms, and people who play the afore-mentioned "Vampire" have a habit of going off the deep end and murdering people (two examples of Vampire: The Masquerade-related deaths are then conflated with half a dozen other instances of people who believed they really were vampires actually murdering people).

Nuzum's choice of what aspects of popular vampire culture to study were also bizarrely chosen. He wanted to watch every vampire movie ever made, yet tried to go throughout his entire quest without reading a single Anne Rice book. I think Anne Rice may be a few fries short of a happy meal, and aside from a brief stint in high school I never thought her novels were all that great, but there is no way you can study our current perceptions of vampires and ignore Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles. It's like saying you're going to study our obsession with magic without reading Harry Potter, or pirates and not watching "Pirates of the Caribbean."

Essentially the verdict seemed to come down to that the only acceptable vampire obsession was Nuzum's own - and his obsession was more with ridiculing those who find vampires interesting and intriguing than actually understanding where this interest comes from.
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