The Vampire genre has been a big producer in popular culture.
The question is, will it remain so?
No, that’s not the question. (For this too shall pass.)
No, the question is, when will Vampires fall from fashion.
I gave a presentation this summer to a big media holding company
One of my slides read "Are Vampires Done Yet"
I was trying to be provocative. I was talking about the inscrutability of our culture and the difficulty this causes, um, big media holding companies.
The head of the publishing house came up afterwards, her eye’s wide.
"I heard you on Vampires. We’re still signing up authors. And I just know the thing is going to turn, and we will be stuck with projects we cannot publish, let alone sell."
The question, then, is, how? How do we track the Vampire trend and spot its decline.
This morning I dropped in to HSX.com to see if I could find any evidence. And I found this. The Hollywood Stock Exchange is tracking a Vampire movie in production and the HSXers now evidence a waning enthusiasm.
To be sure:
a. their enthusiasm is not waning very dramatically.
b. HSXers may be not be a useful measure of popular opinion.
c. even if HSXers were a measure, they might be acting out of other motives. (They don’t like the choice of director or leading lady, for example.)
Still, it’s a project that expresses our (and Hollywood’s) interest in Vampires. It’s a measure. It changes over time.
Not perfect. But better then, "I just have this feeling."
The talking point: is there a way to use the Hollywood Stock Exchange as a cultural metric and, if so, how.
McCracken, Grant. 2009. Chief Culture Officer: How to Create a Living, Breathing Corporation. Basic Books.
McCracken, Grant. 2006. Flock and Flow: Predicting and Managing Change in a Dynamic Marketplace. Indiana University Press.
Is there a way? Yes, but it involves triangulation and a system that can incorporate judgement calls.
One obvious thing would be to look at all the vampire related stocks on HSX and see if you can extract an overall pattern, that might be a way to filter out other concerns (leading lady, etc.)
Another would be to triangulate with another data source – my guess would be that tracking e.g. Twilight through Twitter could be turned into a useful indicator at this time. Other data sources could similarly be used for triangulation.
Next up – getting into judgement call territory – what’s the HSX info on upcoming Vampire spoofs? Spoofs and comedy are always a good indicator of when something has reached a turning point in society’s collective psyche.
Finally – heavy judgement call – one could construct a model/argument/theory on the relationship of the HSX tribe to the centre of gravity of US popular culture and just work from that and the HSX figures.
All this makes me wonder if the first step in building a really whizzy radar is not in prediction of incoming trends, but getting better at this prediction of what is going out of fashion – the advantage being that the topics of interest are more easily defined – for any corporation, what’s in fashion can be delineated from sales figures (either their own, or those of competitors.) With a defined topic (like vampires) building analysis and metric doesn’t look as hard a problem.
One extra advantage is that “cool-hunting” agencies have a jump start on building the sensing networks that scanning & prediction of incoming cultural trends requires. They make mistakes and miss things because of the reasons outlined in CCO, but they are very much in the marketplace. However, it seems to me the competition in the marketplace of “trend-dying detection” is much less developed because it relies on an understanding of what is going on – that is, an understanding of the culture.
Lots of people pronounce “trends” dead, but mostly on the basis of a new trend that is “replacing” it – but maybe that alone is not good enough for a publishing house. It’s one thing to know that by Christmas, “Vampires” will not be the no.1 fashion any more, but they need a sense of the decay curve.
Well, we know that there is a relationship between fast and slow culture that you very effectively described in CCO. This is an area I’m particularly interested it, Grant. So, I want to understand the slow cultural stream that the fast vampire current is sitting on top of, which should help us be attuned to how that stream will next express itself. I mean, it looks like Goth and Vampires have a lot of slow culture overlap but have become just different enough for Vampire to go much broader and get much bigger. Something is likely to exploit that newly revealed opportunity after Vampires fade.
Hmm… I came looking for your blog (having read parts of Culture and Consumption) hoping to find topics like this – what’s up with the vampires again – but am a little disappointed that you aren’t airing a thesis on why they’ve resurfaced. Is the topic already beaten dead elsewhere?
I was noodling on Vampires the other day, but also lumped Zombies, Pirates and Ninjas in the mix. These archetypes seem different to me than other ‘trends’. Surely the Vampire was dead after the spoof, “Love at First Bite” in 1979. But then the Anne Rice-led revival brought it back (technically the 1st book was published in 1976, but didn’t gain widespread popularity until later). Then it jumped the shark with the Tom Cruise-Brad Pitt movie in 1994. Surely Ninjas were done with horrible movies like American Ninja (1985) or with comedies starring Chris Farley (Beverly Hills Ninja, 1997), and yet Ninja has become a replacement word for ‘expert’ to the point where it’s almost accepted parlance. We can put Pirates away now after the 3rd Pirates of the Caribbean flick, right? You get the point. These characters are like Zombies (pun intended), they just keep coming back to life.
So it’s not just a matter of knowing when to jump off the Vampire merry-go-round, it’s knowing when (and where) to jump back on. If you jumped off Vampires would you have known to jump back on in time to publish Twilight. 14 agents rejected it before Stephenie Meyer got a deal. If you were off Zombies would you have gotten back on it time to publish NY Times bestseller Pride & Prejudice and Zombies?
I don’t think you can “get off” any of these, you have to triangulate as noted above, but the triangulation has to revolve around the audience (young adult – Twilght. mature – True Blood) and sub-genre (comedy, horror, sci-fi…) and then the actually quality of the content. So what sort of matrix board do you have to create to know that a NC-17 comedy horror Zombie video game will work, but a PG-13 young adult time-travelling Vampire TV show won’t? You can’t. All you can do is hope you bat .300 and that when you fail, you fail fast.
Another point to make in this rambling post: If you broaden your scope a bit, I think it would be difficult to find a time over the last 40 years or so when any of these four archetypes didn’t have a level of bubbling popularity via books, comic books, tv, movies, video games, music. If all you’re looking at is 1 or 2 content categories maybe it looks like they’re dead, but they may be flourishing elsewhere.
I quite agree with Mr. Liebling’s comment in that vampires have been bubbling around popular culture for quite a long time, and perhaps fall into a special category when it comes to trending. I also applaud his refraining from discussing which archetype would win in a fight, a level to which I am willing to stoop – ninjas (http://www.amazon.ca/Santa-vs-Satan-Compendium-Imaginary/dp/0307406709/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1279558942&sr=8-2).
The thought that struck me when thinking about how to spot trends in decline was first to think about their rise. I got to thinking about what might have allowed the vampire genre to really take hold “this” time, and to flourish. Is it possible that the success of Harry Potter, which began in the late 90’s, might have been a significant precursor to the rise of the vampires? By flooding the popular mindset with certain types of ideas, specifically the magical and the fantastic, perhaps Potter-mania helped create the vampire success, at least in part. Kids who started in with Harry Potter at the beginning might be in the 15-30 age range, which anecdotally seems like a key consumer of Twilight (for example).
So in thinking then about a decline, I started to think about whether a decline appears more broadly across the genres populated by the magical and fantastical. Then I saw an ad for a movie starring Nicholas Cage as a wizard … truly the end is nigh.
I submit that the HSX.com route, while certainly an interesting idea, might be too prone to bubbles (and the other concerns you mentioned in the blog) to make it something big publishing houses could use as an authority. The mob is fickle, after all.
I had the same question as Tom Guarriello about what the deeper cultural context of vampires is, especially since the genesis of the over the top craze is Young Adult fiction. Vampires are certainly nothing new, but the level of the fad is incredibly high.
Something is really different. When Buffy the Vampire slayer debuted in 1997, it became a cult hit — but nothing to the huge mainstream impact of Twilight. Different story, different take, different time — but still, there’s something to why teenage girls (especially) are obsessed with vampires right now.
To follow up on something lots of people have noted – in complex situations you cannot proceed simply by sensing, you need to probe/experiment now and then, throw something out and see if people pick it up – easier for book publishers than TV producers – but perhaps that’s where new media channels (youtube/vimeo/hulu) come in.
Few cultural items disappear these days, they retreat to subcultures, incubate and then become fashionable again as the wheel turns – and indeed the vampire/werewolf/underworld theme has bubbled along for years after jumping the shark with Tom Cruise/Brad Pitt – Blade and Underworld spring to mind.
CarlenLea reminds me that at heart “Twilight” is only partly a “vampire” phenomenon – another lens is to see it as a story about the highs and lows of unrequited, unconsummated love. In a way this is something that teenage girls in particular (they are the volume audience here, even though other segments are involved) have always been interested in. At the same time, one could be tempted to point to the politics of abstinence, promise rings etc. as precursors in recent times. Those political attempts did not seem to change behaviours… but maybe they helped make psychological space for the first parts of the Twilight story – and depending on your business, where that story goes next may be more important than vampires per se…
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