Chapter 3. Vampires and HIV/AIDS in the Popular Imagination
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The film Near Dark (Feldman, Nabatoff & Bigelow, 1987) tells a story of an all-American young man named Caleb who, along with his father, runs a ranch somewhere in the American heartland. One day he meets a beautiful woman named Mae in a local bar. He gives her a ride in his truck, and, during a kiss, she bites his neck and leaves behind puncture wounds. Mae runs away and Caleb chases her. But as the sun rises, he starts having trouble walking. He becomes sweaty, pale, and sick. He tries to stumble home, but a white van appears on the road and he is dragged inside. He is now a part of Mae’s family: a gang of violent thugs who enjoy picking fights and killing people. They are, of course, vampires. The word “vampire”, however, is never mentioned and, because it does not directly reference the supernatural, the film functions predominantly as a Western outlaw tale. The gang likes to drink their victims’ blood, but they cut their throats with knives, and blood consumption can be seen as a psychotic, but human, ritual. There are no historical expositions, no lamenting the fate of the undead, no swooping, no capes, and no bats. Watching the film, one has to wonder how “vampire,” as a reliable stand-in for a number of societal ills, becomes such a powerful metaphor, which can be deployed to signify themes as disparate as violent gangs or infectious diseases. Caleb’s father, after he finds his son, administers...
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