The Bible tells the story of twin brothers Jacob and Esau, estranged after Jacob cheated Esau out of his birthright and received the father’s blessing of the firstborn son. At the end of their long estrangement, Jacob and Esau met again. Genesis 33 tells us that Jacob saw Esau approaching from the distance with 400 men and, afraid that Esau would order his men to attack, arranged his household strategically so that those most precious to him would be the most likely to escape. Most Christian translations say that when Esau met Jacob on the way, he ran and “kissed him on the cheek,” but an accurate Hebrew translation is more sinister and surprising, as well as being upheld by rabbinical teachings and Jewish tradition: The rabbis teach that Esau fell upon Jacob’s neck and bit him, vampire style!
I’ve been interested for a while now in the current American preoccupation with vampires, which began roughly around the time that Anne Rice’s Lestat series became best sellers (1976), and has culminated with the Twilight series in print, and True Blood on HBO. Esau’s legendary role as a would-be vampire would be disconcerting had I not done as much reading and mulling over these brothers as I have; but I keep returning to the New Testament admonishment that spiritual folks should not allow themselves to develop a character like Esau’s, or to let an Esau thrive in their midst. “See to it,” Paul wrote, “that there be no immoral or godless person like Esau among you, who sold his own birthright for a bowl of soup.”
What is a vampire, if not a person whose birthright–his experience of being fully human–has been lost? What is a vampire, if not a once living person who succumbs to another blood sucker and must afterward live off the literal lifeblood of others, having no remaining life of his own? Isn’t this the perfect metaphor for our somnambulent American culture with its reality TV, true crime best sellers, celebrity tabloids and gossip magazines, thinly-disguised Facebook and MySpace voyeurism, and constant inane tweets where meaning must be communicated in 140 characters or less?
Life is Tweet
Recently I’ve been in several different social settings in which I noticed people sitting together eating, at the theater, and even at sporting events while texting or tweeting furiously, or otherwise engaged with their cell phones. This behavior amuses and appalls me at the same time. I wonder if people are conscious to what they’re doing? And what are we doing, if we are not trying to infuse ourselves with life from others when we text message and update our Facebook status in the midst of crowds, at restaurants where we’ve met friends for dinner, while watching a DVD with friends or family? We have this great treasure of human spirit in these temporal bodies, such wondrous possibilities of becoming and being, but so many squander it by living in the shallows. Even in the midst of other people, many will seek to escape life in the moment, with the people who are present.
Anne Rice has said that she wrote her vampire series during a time in her life when she was without God, alone in a universe of fellow dead, and that the anguished cry of her spirit was given voice through her vampire series. That her work resonated with millions of Americans–her books have sold over 100 million copies–does not surprise me. We are a generation of people to whom God is dead, from whose major religions all numinous symbols have been removed, for whom “mental health” simply means being undiagnosable and well-adjusted to a culture that is spiritually and psychologically ill.