Thursday, April 18, 2013

Vampire Fates

When I took my matriculation exam, one of the subjects for the Finnish essay was Why Do Vampires Fascinate People? I wrote about vampires as a metaphor for sexuality and used Tanz der Vampire as an example – and got the best grade. I'll recap some of those thoughts here. Everyone's free to both agree and disagree.

I think it's a pretty valid interpretation that, in Tanz der Vampire (as in many other vampire stories), becoming a vampire is a symbol of one's sexual awakening. Early in the show, it seems like Sarah has a choice to make: the vampire count symbolises sexuality while Alfred symbolises romantic love. What makes Tanz different from many stories with similar symbolism, like The Phantom of the Opera, is that in the end, Sarah chooses both – by turning Alfred into a vampire.

However, in Tanz der Vampire, becoming a vampire could also symbolise freedom. That's how Sarah sees it: she dreams of attending the vampire ball and uses the Count as a means to escape her boring, restrictive life. She later finds out that the reality of being a part of the vampire world isn't quite like her dreams. Alfred, then, first seems afraid of the vampire world. As the events advance, he gains more understanding about vampires and secretly dreams about being one of them.

The story ends well for both Sarah and Alfred. The both walk to their own, separate directions (at least in the Finnish production). They're free from their old lives, free from the people who used to control them, ready to decide their own fate.

All in all, becoming a vampire can be seen a symbol of all sorts of positive things – if we erase one of Tanz der Vampire's characters from our minds. How does Magda, the servant girl harassed by the inkeeper Chagal and then turned into a vampire by him, fit all of this?

I'd say she doesn't.

Magda, unlike Sarah, doesn't become a vampire willingly. Chagal, the innkeeper who has been harassing her, drains her blood while she's kicking and screaming. Before Magda turns into a vampire, she talks about her hate towards Chagal – but after growing some fangs, we see her getting close with him.

Becoming a vampire is definitely a sexual awakening for Magda too. Her newfound feelings are, however, directed towards a man who didn't care about her consent while making his advances previously. Instead of getting a revenge or gaining some benefit for herself, Magda's role as a vampire seems to be fulfilling Chagal's dream. All the others gain something in the transformation. Even Chagal, who is easily the most despicable of the musical's characters, gets the freedom to chase skirts all he wants. Magda is the only one who gets nothing. Her so-called happy ending is that she learns to accept her situation.

Sure, Tanz is a parody of vampire stories, so you need to have a stereotypical sexy vampire lady in there. But still, I think the implications of Magda's fate are horrifying. She stands up to Chagal in Tot zu sein ist komisch, but in the end, Chagal gets completely off the hook. There are very, very unfortunate undertones in there: if a man continues to harass a woman long enough, she will finally give in... Unlike Sarah, Magda doesn't get the chance to become the independent hero of her own story.

I can't but hope Magda's appearance in the Finale – walking center stage on her own to start the last song, then sharing the spotlight with Herbert – is a hint about her future. Maybe she dumps Chagal after the vampire ball, becomes best friends with Herbert, takes over the world? 

Magda deserves way better than the musical gives her, so that's what I'm going to believe.

Photos by Ari Ijäs.

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