U. of Texas Sinks Teeth Into Vampire Classes

By Virginia Breen

Jul 9, 2009 7:00am

  ABC News On Campus reporter Xorje Olivares blogs: You don’t need garlic, a cross, or even holy water to talk to University of Texas professor Thomas Garza — just an open mind. Chair of the department of Slavic and Eurasian studies, Garza specializes in vampire culture, a craze sinking its teeth into much of the population. Since 1997, Garza has taught a class that looks at the history of the vampire in Eastern Europe, and examines its portrayal in literature, art and film.  With films like “Twilight” and the HBO series “True Blood” injecting new life into vampirism, Garza says he has gone from having around 30 students to well over 150. The two classes on the topic he has scheduled for the fall semester have both reached capacity enrollment. "Part of what we do in teaching our subject area is try to get students as interested or at least as engaged in this region as we are with it,” Garza said. “So that is the coolest thing about what we get to do is to try and bring these texts and these films and these myths, if you will, to a group of students in the 21st century.” But it has not been hard getting these modern-age students to cooperate. Garza says every year, students come into his class with preconceived notions about the vampire, a creature returned from the dead that sustains itself by taking the life of another. Countless images have been showcased in film, television, literature, and in our own imagination, Garza notes. “So I think what’s really great about film, pulp fiction, and graphic novel interpretations of the vampire, is that we’ve gotten lots of different views and visions,” Garza said. “You can pick and choose, and what I like about it is that different individuals will pick different favorite vampires.” It seems as though these blood-suckers are everywhere nowadays, regardless of the time of day. Prominent series like “Twilight” and “True Blood” have become enormously popular over the past year, a tumultuous time of war and economic strife, which Garza suspects may have prompted the fascination. “People turn to these stories of an unusual nature, as both a way of escape on the one hand, and also on the other hand, as a way of a sense of coping with the hard times that are right now,” Garza said. “And we’re in one of those periods.” Hard times or not, Garza said people have always been intrigued by this fantasy world—a world that he believes we can either choose to observe or even participate in. UT student Angel Vega is one of those participants. She has read the “Twilight”  books, seen the movie and watches “True Blood” religiously. She’s even getting a poster of the HBO series to hang in her living room. “If all these vampires came, I’d be like, ‘Okay, you can turn me,’” Vega said, as she began laughing. “That’s the main idea for me, is that it would be nifty to live forever and go everywhere and see everything, not just in my lifetime, but years of lifetimes.” Although Garza believes the series resonates most among teenage and pre-teen girls, “Twilight,” has definitely left its mark on people of all ages. Vega said her 38-year-old boss has read all four books, as has her co-worker’s 46-year-old mother. Book People in Austin, Texas, has sold more than 7000 copies of the series since its release to a wide range of customers. A few hundred extra books are stacked atop shelves loaded with the books. “It caught a bit of a flame and a spark,” manager Paul Benson said of the “Twilight” saga. “Even before the film came out, that was a constant best-seller here.” With more stories on the way, including Guillermo del Toro’s much-anticipated “The Strain,” it looks as though the vampire won’t be kept underground for long. “The vampire myth is just one of those long-lived stories that keeps getting built onto and added to,” Garza said. “I really do believe it will live on for centuries from now.” With ‘True Blood’ receiving some of HBO’s highest ratings since the series finale of “The Sopranos,” and a new “Twilight” film currently in production, the myth is definitely leaving people thirsting for more.

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