A Bloody Good Class: Vampires 101

Sep 30, 2010 3:28pm

ABC News on Campus reporter Melanie Torre blogs: The vampire craze today is nothing new. The first vampire film in 1921, Nosferatu, may be long forgotten but feature films as well as book and television series are proof that in today’s culture, the myth of the vampire is anything but dead. And some may be surprised to find out just how alive that myth is in one University of Texas classroom. A course titled “Intro to Slavic Civilizations: The Vampire in Slavic Cultures” is taught every other fall semester by professor and vampire enthusiast Thomas Garza. He started teaching the course in 1997, but vampires were first brought into the university’s curriculum for a brief time during the 70s. The course had been collecting dust in its ‘coffin’ for “a good 20 plus years, so I brought it back … like a good vampire,” Garza said. Garza’s fascination with the vampire tale came to life on his 30th birthday.  After celebrating with friends in Hungary they decided to go on an impromptu road trip to Dracula’s Castle in Romania. Five hours later it was dusk and Garza found himself standing amid the ruins that would fuel his teaching for more than 10 years. “It was like Stonehenge. There’s a real power of the place — a spirit. You get this feeling just being there and it really moved me,” Garza said. “Standing there I thought, ‘One day when I get back to the university I’m going to teach a course on this.’” Garza said his class always fills up quickly but recently the course that used to be made up of half males and half females is now 75 to 80 percent female. He says he thinks that has a lot to do with the vampire book and movie series, Twilight. Many students have found the course to be much different than they expected, “It was less about pop culture vampires and more about the history and legends,” said Stacy Berma who took Garza’s class as a Radio-TV-Film major before graduating last year. While Berma doesn’t consider herself a “twi-hard” follower of the “Twilight” series, she enjoys HBO’s hit vampire show, “True Blood.” Her roommates even surprised her with  a “True Blood”-themed party last year. Berma only spoke praises of Garza’s course:  “It opened up a whole new world of metaphors and points of view. I find myself now comparing everyday events or even people to something that I learned in my vamp class,” she said. Junior history major Kaitlin Wilcox took Garza’s class in fall 2009. “He showed us that [vampires] had been around for centuries and they’re still here today. It just fascinated me.” Wilcox said she enjoyed studying the similarities between vampire legends and religion and culture. Garza explained, “This is a little creepy, but if you think about what the act of vampirism is and what the act of taking the Eucharist is — ‘drink of my blood, take of my body and you will have eternal life’… and what does a vampire do? Well, drink the blood of a vampire and you will have eternal life.” He says he teaches students how pagan beliefs like the vampire often have ties to religions like Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Another popular lesson is sex and vampires, according to Garza. He said they study literature like Dante’s Inferno and discuss “Why are they always supposed to be so attractive when they are essentially so evil? Why are Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise playing vampires?” Garza says the course name reels in the students but the material nearly teaches itself. “They come in with the kind of expectation of a course that’s going to be fun. And I think they wind up being surprised about how much stuff they actually learn.” So now, the big question, “Do vampires exist?” Garza says yes. “Vampires exist. Do I believe the physical creature exists? Probably not. But do I believe that the vampire is a cultural phenomenon that has changed all of history? Of course I do.” Garza says he’s met a few fang-and-cape wearing people in his lifetime who claim to be vampires, but none have him convinced. “I put myself out there so much that I wish if there was one I really would have known about it by now,” he says. Until then, Garza waits -who knows? Maybe he’ll finally get a vampire visit on his next birthday. Students studying supernatural beings can be found at colleges and universities all across the nation. The University of Wisconsin-Madison has an English course called “The Vampire in Literature and Cinema”. The University of Florida offers a humanities course, “Vampire Studies” and an honors course, “Figures of the In-between” in which students study ghosts, angels and vampires. But it doesn’t stop there — just this semester the University of Baltimore began offering students a minor in pop culture — which includes a lesson in zombies 101.

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