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Journal of American Folklore 117.464 (2004) 215-216
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Several years ago, when I was teaching at a small university in the mid-Atlantic, I was warned about some students who were said to be members of a vampire cult. When members met, so it was said, they slashed themselves with special razor rings they had bought and offered one another their blood to drink. These stories about young vampires in Goth garb, dependent on the technology of their rings to make up for their lack of fangs, intrigued me. I approached Rob Latham's Consuming Youth: Vampires, Cyborgs, and the Culture of Consumption with great interest, hoping it would give me some clues to understanding these tales.
Latham begins with the right question: why have vampires and cyborgs become ubiquitous images in contemporary popular fiction? His answer is, I think, on the right track: because they are key metaphors in and for the consumption-oriented world of late capitalism. "The vampire is literally an insatiable consumer driven by a hunger for perpetual youth, while the cyborg has incorporated the machineries of consumption into its juvenescent flesh" (p. 1).
Beginning with Marx—in whose work he finds not only the metaphor of the vampire but also the cyborg (where Marx speaks of workers incorporated into the factory as automatons)—Latham builds a critical account of the culture [End Page 215] of late capitalism, synthesizing Bourdieu, Baudrillard, Gramsci, Harvey, Lash and Urry, and others.
The remainder of the book, however, is curiously disappointing. Far from being a "near-encyclopedic work," as the jacket promises, Consuming Youth offers readings of a fairly limited body of texts, while its theoretical exegesis never reaches the intensity of the introduction. Only seven vampire texts are looked at in any detail. Chapter 1 looks at S. P. Somtow's novel Vampire Junction (Walsworth, 1984) and the film The Lost Boys (1987) for models of youth-consumer vampires; chapter 2 examines the division of vampire-consumers in post-Fordist society into yuppies and slackers, exemplified, respectively, by Anne Rice's novel Interview with the Vampire (Ballantine, 1976) and George Romero's film Martin (1978). Chapter 3 examines the ways these class issues are inflected by gender, focusing on homoerotic imagery in the film The Hunger (1983) and in novels by Rice and Poppy Z. Brite.
Latham's accounts are interesting, highly readable, and even useful, but they hardly begin to cover the range of vampires in contemporary pop culture. Where are the vampire role-playing games, the urban legends, the software games, the television shows? Where the heck is Buffy?
The next two chapters, focusing on cyborgs, are even more disappointing. Latham locates a post-Fordist youth-labor dystopia in the venture capitalism of Silicon Valley through a detailed reading of Douglas Coupland's novel Microserfs. Chapter 5 weaves a half-dozen texts together into a complex intertextual narrative about Generation X and how it is defined in part by reference to the Internet.
Things pick up considerably in the final chapter, which attempts to bring all these various strands together through readings of six books and a movie. But one waits in vain for Latham to shift his argument from trendy science fiction novels and fifteen-year-old movies to the cultural icons youths consume en masse. Where is the Terminator (movies, comics, or novels)? Where is Robocop?
And, again, where is Buffy? Mall culture, generation X, homoeroticism, the Internet, slackers, and yuppies (living and undead), can all be found in this extraordinarily popular television series. In an episode from the third season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer entitled "The Wish," a big-time vampire called The Master erects a blood-sucking factory in which a live human is zapped with a stun gun, then strapped to a conveyor belt which pulls her past a series of syringe/vacuums that drain her of blood. The Master proclaims: "Vampires! Undeniably...