Blade, Oedipus and the 1%

“There is no such thing as monsters.” The truth of this sentence resides within the capacity of the word ‘monster,’ to convey something inscrutable or ‘super evil,’ its raison d’etre is its unconveyability. There’s no such thing as vampires, zombies, werewolves as they always function as cultural diagnosis. The key to any film that makes use of monstrosity is that it is always-already pointing to something beyond the mere monstrosity. What vampirism in the first Blade film points to is the question that confronts us now.

Patton Oswalt has spoken on how he enjoys the representation of vampires in Blade – for him, it makes sense to envision vampires as participating in a very 90’s, eternally young, rave culture founded on exclusivity. This is an excellent point, well observed, but does miss the fact that the film’s primary antagonist, Deacon Frost, and the coterie of vampires who surround him are what seems to be a rather small subsection of the vampire community. The staid, less fun-loving members of the vampire council admonish Frost for his reckless business practices; in gathering large numbers of vampires together, he makes them an easy target for the vampire hunter Blade, who dispatches roughly nineteen of them at a rave in the film’s opening sequence.

In the ‘lousy dean’ role the vampire council are forced to adopt in the face of Frost’s nightclub antics, and at a number of key points they make during their meeting, we begin to approach Blade’s thesis on vampirism. In the film, vampires symbolise behind-the-scenes string-pullers, a Bilderberg group. As Whistler, Blade’s weapons guy/father figure explains to N’Bushe Wright’s character, Karen Jenson, “They own the police…they’re everywhere.” In contemporary parlance, they are the 1%. When Frost presents his Darwinist theories of vampires’ cultural superiority, (“We should be ruling the humans…for fuck’s sake these people are our food.”) the vampire council remain unresponsive and more pressing matters on that meeting’s agenda, such as “the matter of our off-shore accounts” come up before Frost has even left the room. This analogy established between vampires and the super-wealthy is among the more successful elements of the film and should be viewed in conjunction with its familial psychodrama, which I will return to.

First though, it is necessary to return to Frost. Frost’s subject position relative to the vampire council is made clear in the earlier scene where he is told off by them, but one or two members of the council seem positively bashful when doing so; Frost bullies the elder Dragonetti – his failure to nip Frost’s rebellion in its bud is both mystifying and difficult to not relate to the homoerotic overtones in the exchange between the two in the archives.

As Frost’s sacrifice of the elders demonstrates, Frost’s threat to the established vampire order lies in his capacity to set in motion a revolt of a younger generation, an underclass of ‘turned’ vampires in opposition to the ‘purebloods,’ who are born as such. Frost is insecure on this point – the only scene in which he sheds his disaffected coolness is when Jenson points out that rather than being part of a superior race, (hominis nocturna), he is just ‘infected’ with vampirism. In order to elucidate this further, we may need to turn our attention to what it is that Frost’s becoming the material incarnation of the vampire deity La Magra entails. As he says: “The blood tide’s coming and after tonight you people [humans] are fucking history. He’s a hurricane. An act of God. Anything he touches will instantly be turned.” This last line makes more sense in the context of an alternate ending to the film (its poor tests led to it being re-written) wherein Frost becomes a gelatinous blood-monster that swirls around the sacrificial ruin. One could envision Frost’s movement across the earth as a one-hundred foot tall blob monster touching every human as straightforward, but seeing as they replaced this scene with a swordfight, it would seem to confront Frost as more of a task.

In any case, what Frost is proposing in awakening La Magra is a disestablishment of the vampire hierarchy, a worldwide equalising in terms of class. Frost isn’t a selfless Marxist in this regard however. Frost’s response of “Sure we are,” to his second-in-command saying: “We’re gonna be Gods” demonstrates Frost’s belief that as the incarnation of La Magra, he would probably be at the head of the new power structure that he plans to inscribe.

Frost’s insurgency has implications for how we should understand Blade’s methodology as a vampire hunter. If Frost poses an existential threat to the established order – its more medieval sensibility in the European-located Blade II suggests that it may well have suffered a substantial blow at Frost’s hands, almost as if it has culturally regressed, if not technologically – is Blade’s representation analogous?

No. Frost may represent an existential threat to the vampires, but Blade does not. Blade targets Frost’s clubs because it is easier to murder ravers, whereas challenging the global world order, on which the vampires have a stranglehold, would be far more challenging. In this way we can cast Blade as having a code of practice that is as problematic and ineffective as Batman’s. Rather than dealing with the oligarchic billionaire industrialist class that are conceivably to blame for Gotham being crime-ridden, and lacking in job opportunities beyond becoming a hired thug for one of the many super-villains, he beats up said thugs, wallet-takers, etc. Rather than investing his money in better infrastructure, prison education programmes, Bruce Wayne spends money on increasingly sophisticated weaponry for his various bat vehicles. In the same way, Blade takes out young members of the vampire underclass, leaving elders such as Dragonetti to retain their positions as upholders of the status quo, ensuring wealth and power will continue to be concentrated in their hands. Blade’s ineffectuality in eradicating the vampire population may be attested to by the fact that he seems to have entered some sort of vampire folk tradition – vampires constantly seem surprised to be surprised that he really exists. If ‘the daywalker’ is at least half-rooted in the realm of myth, it’s difficult to take Blade seriously as the putative eradicator of the vampire race.

What is the cause of Blade’s lack of methodological sophistication? The explanation that is given for Blade’s actions brings us to the ‘daddy-mommy-me’ of the Freudian psychodrama. A vampire (who later turns out to be Frost) bit Blade’s pregnant mother, who dies (she returns later) while giving birth. Like Swamp Thing, Blade mourns for his supposedly lost humanity, which he doesn’t believe himself to have lost when he was born as a vampire-human hybrid, but during years spent sustaining himself in Chicago by sucking blood from the homeless. “I have spent my whole life looking for that thing that killed my mother,” he says, which in one way makes sense, but in another way, doesn’t. Blade’s kills, if executed balletically, are indiscriminate, and he’s hardly forensic in his detective work, such as it is. I don’t think he asks one vampire in the whole film where he was on a particular night in the late sixties.

Blade goes on to say that every time he kills a vampire he gets a piece of ‘that life back,’ by which I assume he means his lost life as a human, though I can’t be sure, the line seems nonsensical to me. Firstly because it is semantically obscure and secondly because Blade rejects Jenson’s offer of a cure, which will make him completely human. Rather than jumping at the chance to gain full humanity, he opts to stay in his unresolved hybrid state, proving I think, that he wouldn’t know what to do with his humanity, were he to get it. I don’t think that he is attempting to regain his humanity is a convincing explanation for Blade’s hunting, and a scene between Blade and his mother proves revealing in this sense; she has been re-animated as a vampire, and asks him if he has enjoyed hunting and killing as much as she has. In many ways he has become her perfect son. Whistler and Blade’s inability to contemplate the possibility that Blade’s mother is still alive further denigrates the extent of their know-how on vampirism at all, considering Jenson, within a week of finding out that vampires exist has engineered a super-weapon out of an anti-coagulant and cured (!) vampirism, yet still has the boys not take anything she says seriously.

The scene wherein Blade does kill his mother requires attention, of course. He does so with a bone that Jenson obtains, which I think places its phallic resonance under erasure, considering Jenson is herself on the way to become a conduit of subjectivation in Blade’s mother’s wake. This is particularly striking when the inscriptions of Blade’s mother and Jenson as ‘mommy’ involve misclassification and underestimation. In the case of the former, Blade’s mother has to be a woman in distress. She is captured in a frieze of peril, always bleeding and reaching out for her son, always in need of avenging, silently approving any and all acts of violence in her name when she is in fact just as capable and likely to hunt, kill as Blade himself. Jenson in turn, is to be claimed as a replacement for Blade’s now dead human mother, when she seems to be the most likely among herself, Blade and Whistler to put some sort of end to the vampire ‘virus,’ as she calls it. If she hadn’t removed Blade from his sarcophagus, he certainly would have been killed and, even after being drained of large amounts of blood, racks up a respectable body count.

The fact that Blade is returned to his full-strength/potency enough to defeat Frost and kill his mother after drinking Jansen’s blood, repudiating serum in favour of ‘the real thing’ instating the film’s nostalgic discourse surrounding organicism, (perhaps to be returned to) would seem to verify Blade’s capacity to escape the ‘daddy-mommy-me,’ but such emancipation is of course, impossible. First, breaking oneself out of any system still inaugurates it, one is conducting oneself relative to it whether one recognises that or not. Second, one should recall that the only reason Blade didn’t kill Jenson when Quinn bit her initially was that she reminded him of his mother, stretching her hand out in the final moments of the film’s first scene to Blade as a baby. The director, Norrington, makes this clear via flashback, but, this flashback wasn’t Blade’s memory. Blade was a newborn at the time of this shot, in the arms of medical professionals on the other side of the room. This flashback comes from outside Blade, so that his own motivations become clear to the audience, if not him. Blade concedes to Whistler that he should have killed her, but that he did not, but offers no explanation. Through Blade’s own lack of self-knowledge, the audience is made aware that it’s ‘daddy-mommy-me’ territory.

(Further, if we were to go extra-textual, Blade’s relationship with Nyssa in the Blade II suggests that his Oedipal attraction to vampires remains strong.)

In many ways, the father-figure of Whistler would seem to be an instinctive point of entry for any analysis along these lines. But I find these adoptive father relationships to be far less interesting. The familiar foil of reluctant father/son mutual gruffness, deeper concealed understanding paired with the scene at the climax of Blade II, wherein Whistler’s paternal instincts extend to hauling a comatose Blade into a convenient blood fountain, thereby avoiding the far more radical potential of having Blade suck his blood in the same way that Jansen volunteers herself. That would have been to go a step too far, presumably.

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