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A Review of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

11th of Jul 2012

I recently saw Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and I'm still not quite sure how I feel about it. It was fun to watch, but compared to The Avengers, the plot was a bit rushed and cartoony—not cartoony as in childish and bad, but cartoony as in simplified and distilled. Many of the plot turns were simplified almost to the point of cliche, but Wash from Firefly played Stephen Douglas, so that's automatic points there.

(Warning: Spoilers Follow)

About halfway through, I started watching it with a more critical eye. There's a branch of literary criticism—I forget what it's official name is—where you read a book or watch a movie to see what it reveals about popular culture. Basically, the qualities of the hero are the qualities that society values and wants to see more of, and the evil the hero fights is what society deems unacceptable.

Abraham Lincoln as the physically powerful, take-matters-into-my-own-hands, macho badass is nothing new. There are millions of articles out there describing the overwhelming machismo of pop culture, so that's nothing new. This is a Hollywood summer movie, so it's to be expected at this point. I was more interested in some almost throwaway lines.

One was when Lincoln put away his vampire-killing axe to focus on politics. The film mentioned a Bible verse, 1 Corinthians 13:11. "When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things." The idea that running around kicking ass is childish compared to engaging with society and using peaceful methods to create meaningful change is something that you don't see a lot in pop culture, and having a hero make a major life change because of it is something I haven't seen much of.

The other was linking vampires to the South and slavery, with slaves being kept as the vampires' food source. I doubt it was used on purpose here, but one of the tricks of propaganda is to never attack an idea or an institution directly. Instead, you connect it with something easily denounced. If it happens to be a bit ridiculous, like vampires, that makes it harder for people to argue with it, but the connection eventually sticks. Even today in the South, there's still the argument over States' Rights vs. Federal Sovereignty, and it's all traceable back to slavery. What Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter does is sidestep those arguments entirely.

Instead, it connects creatures of capital-E evil to slavery. Vampires are evil. Vampires support slavery. Therefore, slavery is evil, or so the symbolic connections go. It also takes the idea of freedom, which can be hard to understand, and crystallizes it into something more immediate. Freedom = killing vampires, which is badass. So let's freedom the shit out of some vampires. Given that the United States is still dealing with its legacy of racism, it's an interesting cultural proposition.

Of course, it's not like one movie will change anything overnight. It may not even be directly link to any change. These cultural movements are subtle, and take place over decades, even centuries. But as an example of where part of our culture is today, plus its ability as a movie to shape the public consciousness, could mark it as part of an unfolding trend. 30 years from now, I wonder how (or if) it will have developed.

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