Confederate Vampires: How Abraham Lincoln Fights for the 99 Percent
Continued from previous page
But what really pushed Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter over the line is the repressed social violence it made visible and the solution for it. We live in a racially divided nation where police and economic violence is continuously focused on the black poor. Americans know even if only in a dim way that the nation was founded on slavery. Our experience of the present and the crude knowledge of the past create guilt and fear around the crisis of race. In psychoanalytic terms it is the “Return of the Repressed” defined in the classic text The Language of Psychoanalysis as “What has been repressed – though never abolished by repression – tends to reappear, and succeeds in so doing in a distorted fashion in the form of a compromise.”
This is why the American film industry returns and tries to repair the trauma of slavery by showing benevolent whites and spunky blacks taking on “the Man.” But American film makers rarely show the state of violence, the terror of KKK shooting at your house or the rape by your boss or the baking of flesh at a lynching. While watching the 2011 film The Help , MSNBC host, Prof. Melissa Harris-Perry tweeted during a scene, “First real moment. Violent arrest of black woman.”
That word, “real” is the key. The history that is repressed from our social narrative but whose effects, we still experience returns in the form of fictionalized horror or fantasy. It is the “real” not as ontological fact but as the reality that cannot be symbolized because it contradicts our ideology. In The Pervert’s Guide to the Cinema , cultural critic Slavoj Zizek said, “If something gets too traumatic, too violent even too filled with enjoyment it shatters the coordinates of our reality we have to fictionalize it.” And when we do, it is filtered through our fears. So the sense of being cheated by banks and corporations becomes translated into the razor teeth, gooey mouths of upper class vampires. In the film, Lincoln’s first kills are a pharmacist Confederate vampire and a vampire banker. Interesting choices.
The violence of slavery is compromised into the limb hacking fury of Lincoln, who takes collective revenge on our racism for the audience. It’s a white man freeing blacks so we don’t have to confront our fear of them freeing themselves.
In the documentary, Zizek said, “The first key to horror films is to imagine the same story but without the horror element, this gives us the background.” So if we subtract the vampire element, we are left with a portrait of Lincoln as a revenge driven, political radical assassinating the ruling class of a corrupt oligarchy. And this is where the movie crosses the second political taboo. It takes Lincoln, who we’ve been taught to revere as the redeemer of our nation and channels that into a cathartic explosion of violence. Blood splattering, Abe decapitates heads and in the back of my mind I hushed the unasked for thought, “I wish Obama would do that.” It makes political violence sexy.
It is why the film is flailing at the box office and why it will, like a vampire, come back to life as an underground cult classic. It crosses too many lines too fast but in doing so, it moves them and years from we won’t see those lines anymore. But in an odd reversal, one generation would have been able to see this film and “get it”.
Of course Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter ends with the Civil War. Confederate Vampires are ravaging the Union troops, cutting men apart in a silent run. Lincoln orders that silver be used in bullets as it is the only metal that can kill them. Hauling the metal on a midnight train to Gettysburg, he defends the precious cargo against a platoon of vampires. At the climax he kills the original one, who spawned all others, named Adam (played with aristocratic arrogance by Rufus Sewell). Lincoln wraps his silver watch around his fist and punches through Adam’s chest. It is gory act of sentimental violence whose symbolic meaning is that those who profit from the systemic pain of mass enslavement can only be stopped by violence.