In the last installment I talked a bit about how I personally identified with the main character in my favorite horror film ever, Fright Night. In this 1985 horror comedy from filmmaker Tom Holland, the fantasy from horror movies comes crashing into reality when a young man named Charlie Brewster realizes out that his next door neighbor is a vampire. Now that Count Trumpula is really president and people in America are really drinking blood, I feel like we’re all Charlie Brewster, terrified of our neighbors, wondering what can we do and who will help us?
These men were civilized intellectuals who fought against what they believed to be civilized monsters. When confronting vampires these refined gentlemen used civilized rules of engagement such as tests to determine the identity of the fiendish bloodsuckers. They did this because unlike the werewolf or the zombie, the vampire looks and acts like a regular person. To attack a vampire in civilized society without first gaining proof that the creature is indeed undead would be untoward. “For shame!” To kill a vampire without following the proper protocols was “bad form” Understandably this makes sense, most people don’t believe or want to believe vampires exist. So to kill one without the proper proof would to the common eye appear to be the murder of a common person. So the vampire hunters always had to prove their hypothesis. A vampire must first drink blessed water; if he or she blisters it’s a vampire. The vampire must cross running water; if the vampire couldn’t “ah ha!” it’s evilness is confirmed. The vampire must touch the cross; if it recoils...okay I think you get it.
The cross thing always bothered me. Whenever a bloodsucker came too close, Van Helsing would whip out his trusty
There’s a scene in Fright Night in which the vampire, Jerry Dandridge (masterfully played by Chris Sarandon), laughs when the great Vampire Killer, Peter Vincent (played by the scene-stealing Roddy McDowell), tries to banish him with a cross. I remember watching it for the first time and when he laughed, I laughed. “Crosses are stupid” I thought, “They don’t make sense.” Jerry Dandridge crushes Peter’s useless cross and tells him “You have to have faith for this to work on me...Mr. Vincent!” Faith?
So here we are with a illegitimate rapist, racist backed by Nazis, cutthroats and vampire lords in the White House. Our polite society like the civilized vampire hunters in the Hammer films developed and installed polite norms and tests to keep vampire demagogues from becoming president. Debates, interviews, releasing of ones taxes and intense media scrutiny are all set up to be the holy water for corrupted souls like Trumpula. Instead we found out that none of those tests worked against him. He crossed running water, he drank our vile of holy water a spit it out and he laughed when we brandished our crucifix. The “good faith” of governmental norms didn’t work, how could they? Our foe doesn’t believe in are care about our civilized rules of engagement. If our monster and chief is anything but civilized, how can we then expect the same old tactics to work? I love the old hammer film vampire hunters. I love McDowell's Peter Vincent but I think we’re past the point of “good faith”. It hasn’t even been a week and Count Trumpula has already caused an unprecedented amount of harm to not only our democracy but our standing in the world.
|Fright Night (1985)|
The government is telling us there’s going to be a shitstorm of lies and misdeeds happening behind the walls on Pennsylvania Avenue. They lied about the size of the protests at the first press conference, Kellyanne Con artist said there’s such a thing as “Alternative Facts”. The monster is bold and is unafraid. No more tests. We know who they are. Now what are we going to do about it? The dated film references probably tell you I’m a child of the eighties, which means I spent my teenage years in the nineties, living through Rodney King, O.J., The Crown Heights Riots, etc. There were plenty of horrible acts of racism in the eighties, some of which I experienced first hand as a child. It wasn’t until my teen years that I began to understand the horrific phenomenon that lurked in the darkness. I remember thinking in high school that racism was just like vampirism. A vampire drains blood. Jonathan Harker in Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992) was far too drained of blood to think straight or effectively fight back against his vampire capture Dracula. Racism similarly drains energy and exhausts the oppressed in an attempt to keep them dormant. As Toni Morrison herself put it:
The function, the very serious function of racism is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being. Somebody says you have no language and you spend twenty years proving that you do. Somebody says your head isn’t shaped properly so you have scientists working on the fact that it is. Somebody says you have no art, so you dredge that up. Somebody says you have no kingdoms, so you dredge that up. None of this is necessary. There will always be one more thing.
If we are to fight and win we gotta study up. And by we I mainly mean you, white people. White people need to listen to those who have been fighting the darkness their whole lives. White people must listen to those who’ve had no choice. I recently had a white dude say to me after Chumpula’s election that racism is an “American western concept," and he said it to me with a straight face. I’m not exactly sure what my response was but it may have looked something like this:
It’s almost like the dude never heard of South Africa. He said this ignorant statement after bragging about his experiences in Brazil. A country known for it’s complicated history on racism, colorism and inequality. This confident White guy who figured he could dismiss my concerns about racism only did a surface study of the subject himself. The legitimate, urgent danger of racism for him isn’t as paramount for him as it is for me. My very survival depends on knowing the beast. Racism, oppression, inequality are not just American/western concepts, they’re global, and to beat them one must think of these ills in a global context. Famed activist and writer Angela Davis speaks on Ferguson in her book, Freedom Is A Constant Struggle:
Why do I say Ferguson reminds us of the importance of a global context? What we saw in the police reaction to the resistance that spontaneously erupted in the aftermath of the killing of Michael Brown was an armed response that revealed the extent to which local police departments have been equipped with military arms, military technology, military training. The militarization of the police there---if only the images of the police and not the demonstrators had been shown, one might have assumed that Ferguson was Gaza.
If racism, like vampirism is a plague that can be tracked and studied like the scholarly vampire hunting detectives of old, I realized this phenomenon needed further study. Just as Van Helsing traveled the mountains of Carpathia to learn more about the folklore and legend of the undead, I too traveled far and wide to learn more about the Unread. When I lived in Amsterdam from 2004 to 2007, I witnessed first hand a Christmas parade where thousands of White Dutch citizens put on Blackface, curly afro wigs, and red lipstick to dress as their favorite seasonal character Zwarte Piet (Black Pete). “Ah, so this is what racism in the Netherlands is like. Interesting.” I was told that the parade wasn’t racist, nor was the Blackface. I was told by White Dutch citizens who had been partaking in the Dutch holiday tradition for years that the Blackface and red lips may have been offensive to me but in reality they (White Dutch people) were honoring their favorite Christmas hero.
If you’re unfamiliar with the character Zwarte Piet, I’ll give you a very rough idea of who he is. Instead of Santa Claus, the Dutch have Sinterklaas (imagine Gandalf as the Pope) this guy Sinterklaas never had elves and instead he had slaves. Zwarte Piet is his Black right hand man. And for some reason, he’s super popular – even more popular than Sinterklaas in the Netherlands. When I was there during the holiday season, if I walked into a bakery or candy shop I’d see tons of products called “Negerzoenen” (Nigger kisses) with little Blackface mascots on the boxes. The cookies have since been discontinued.
The practice of wearing Blackface is fading out and instead White Dutch paraders wear hints of dark soot on their faces to indicate that they’ve come down a chimney. I’d personally point to the Global positive image and influence of President Obama as a indicator for people in the Netherlands becoming more race conscious. Outside of the parade of Blackface, I truly enjoyed living in Amsterdam and the Netherlands as a whole is one of the most progressive places I’ve ever lived. Well, there was that time a plain clothes policeman drew her weapon on me for no good reason. I felt like I was back home in the states at that moment. But outside those two incidents, “Ik hou van de Netherlands.”
After experiencing racism firsthand in a bunch of different countries like Germany, Ireland, Romania, Russia, Singapore, etc. I discovered that I wasn’t hunting one specific monster, I was hunting a global virus, a hierarchal plague that had taken root long ago and infected many. They’re varying degrees for sure, every country may carry the disease but the sickness doesn’t manifest in every country the same. At least maybe that used to be the case. There’s a massive wave of nationalist conservatism spreading across western Europe and here in the good ol’ U S of A we have a blown epidemic. It’s particularly worrisome that our country can no longer control its vampiric urges. We’re seen in the world as the big monster that’s mostly benevolent in comparison to all of the other dangerous monsters in the world. If we, being the biggest, scariest monster can’t get our shit together and reign in our dark urges, if we go from benevolent to malevolent monsters, we screw it up for everybody. No one can really stop us. Let me put it this way.
I, like my father, believe this answer lies in another eighties horror classic, The Lost Boys. This 1987 Warner Bros. film about a family consisting of a mother Lucy and her two sons Michael and Sam move to a California Beach town to live with their Grandpa soon discover that the town is overrun with vampires blew my mind. I was in horror movie heaven in the eighties. The older brother Michael (Jason Patric) develops a crush on a beautiful, mysterious young woman named Star (Jami Gertz) and inadvertently gets involved with a gang of vampires lead by David (Kiefer Sutherland). The younger brother Sam (Corey Haim) befriends a pair a militant, vampire hunting, comic book fans, The Frog Brothers. The Frog Bros. warn Sam about the towns vampires and Sam finds soon that his brother is turning into one. The climax of the film involves the Frog Bros. teaming up with Sam, Michael and Star against David’s evil gang. When the gang is dispatched, Lucy (Dianne Wiest) comes home with her unassuming date Max (Edward Herrmann). The family soon finds out that Max, the friendly, dopey, innocent looking white guy is in fact the head vampire and they can’t stop him because he’s been invited inside. Before Max takes a bite out of Lucy, Grandpa crashes through the house with his jeep and impales the master vampire with a fence post. Then Grandpa casually strolls to the refrigerator grabs a beer and says the last line of the film:
I bring up this film not just because I love it, I bring it up because I believe it makes an interesting point about fighting evil. The first point, team up, even with people you don’t like. Sam and his vampire brother Michael with his vampire girlfriend are at odds, the Frog Brothers are sworn enemies with vampires and they’re at odds with not just Vampire Michael and Star, but Sam who doesn’t want them to kill his brother. In the end they all team up to fight the larger more impending threat. The second point, is Grandpa. The old man who’s been living through the vampire BS for who knows how long. Because of life experience he’s the one who really knows what’s needed to be done and he’s the one who drives the stake through the heart of the evil master Max.
The Frog Brothers and Grandpa in this time of Trumpula’s dark reign got me thinking. The Frog Brothers come off as extreme and impulsive. They’re willing to do whatever needs to be done to rid Santa Carla of vampires. The contrast is Grandpa who for the majority of the film gives no such indication that he has any idea that vampires have infested his town. It’s not until the end do we realize that Grandpa is an OG and keeps his vampire hunting --- close to the vest. In the end it’s the use of BOTH these strategies that help win the day. Every hour a new draconian bill oppressing the rights of women, Muslims, immigrants, Mexicans, Black people, etc. gets signed and passed. The GOP is on a mission, our country of Santa Carla is being over run. We need to follow The Lost Boys strategy.
Step 1: We Must Form A Monster Squad
We must assemble our own real Monster Squad with a diverse, frustrating but ultimately necessary coalition of allies from all perspectives and persuasions. I will now use different characters from different Vampire themed horror films and television shows to identify the many different archetypes in America that need to band together to form Frankenstein’s Monster.
Buffy The Vampire Slayer "The White Feminist" - Buffy, both the film and television character is a character of privilege. Not only is she born an attractive, popular cheerleader in a upper middle class suburb, Buffy is also granted the incredible powers of a slayer which grant her incredible strength and stamina to take down bloodsuckers. While Buffy has her friends and alliances, the show is still about her. Characters like the Black slayer Kendra Young (Bianca Lawson) never really got a true intersectional chance to be apart of Buffy’s movement. 53% of White Women voted for Count Trumpula, Black women continue to exhaust time and energy imploring the White feminist movement to make room for other voices. As long as Buffy remains the singular center of her universe, she’ll never truly beat the vampire horde. White women are needed allies, but they must de-center themselves and lock arms with us in the fight for progress.
Angel “The Disaffected-But-Still-Patriotic Conservative” - Angel is a disaffected vampire who fights vampires. He’s the on again and off again boyfriend of Buffy (of course Buffy dates a vampire...smh). After spending time with Buffy, Angel leaves behind a life of evil and instead helps those in need. If we’re going to win this, yes we need to connect with those few discontented conservatives who are are as angry about what’s happening to this country as we are. This fight is no longer a fight between Democrat or Republican, conservative and liberal. This is a fight for everything. We need all the able hands we can get and they’re a combination of those who might fall in the categories of active but humane vampires, former vampires, former familiars who are now taking up arms against their ex-comrades. Evan McMullin is someone who comes to mind. He’s as conservative as they come but he hates what Trump and his flunkies are doing. The enemy of my enemy is my friend.
Peter Vincent “The Reluctant & Frightened Has-Been” - Peter Vincent’s journey in the Fright Night films could be the redemptive journey of our current media and press. The television host of a local horror television show is considered by most to be a joke. In his youth he gained some cult fame as an actor in low budget horror films as the heroic “Peter Vincent, The Great Vampire Killer!” but he admits he was only playing a hero. When faced with the threat of a real vampire, Vincent wants to run away. It takes a young fan to help Peter find his courage and together they both stand up to evil. Right now the press, like Vincent, is considered by many a joke. Some in the media, if they haven’t already succumb to the position of sycophantic familiars don’t kneel to the dark influence of power, but they still are taking time to find their courage in this battle against it. We the people need the press, the media, to tell it like it is and call a lie a lie. Like Charlie Brewster believed in Peter Vincent, I still believe in the power of journalism. We need need them with us.
Grandpa “The Underestimated & Unseen” - While the Frog Brothers make noise and disrupt the status quo, there are going to be those of us who for many reasons must keep up appearances in the system. Some must, whether they be politicians, members of law enforcement, the military, intelligence community, etc. The men and women who are members of political organizations can’t fight evil the way the Frog brothers can. But their work is just as important and effective, especially when they work in tandem with outside agitators. Our 36th President Lyndon B. Johnson doesn’t pass the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act without Martin Luther King Jr. on the outside putting on the pressure. We the people need to be the Frog Brothers and we need to elect and or pressure those public servants on our side to do what’s necessary. We need the smiling Grandpa who the dark ones underestimate and never see coming until it’s too late.
Lafayette Reynolds, Dr. Shauna Kendal, Dr. Karen Jensen “The Future” - Queer people of color and educated Black women are going to save us all.
Lafayette (Nelsan Ellis)is a fascinating character on every level. I won’t get into the many problems with True Blood or how his character was treated on the show but instead, I’d like to talk about what Lafayette represents, or more specifically who. Lafayette Reynolds, a gay, Black man who works as the short order cook in Merlotte’s and then becomes a medium that speaks to ghosts and then gets inhabited by a demon goes through a lot. So do I imagine every other Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Trans person of color. The world we live in puts our gay brothers and sisters through the ringer just for loving and existing. In True Blood, there’s one of the greatest scenes in all of cable television where Lafayette takes down a racist, homophobe:
We need people like Lafayette Reynolds in the Monster Squad. We need them centered, visible, out loud and proud. Lafayette is the future.
And that leads me to a character I brought up briefly in Stakes Is High: Part 2, Dr. Karen Jensen (played by the still criminally underused N’Bushe Wright), in Blade (1998). She is a brilliant hematologist that damn near creates a cure for the vampire plague. A CURE! She has the knowledge to end all this nonsense. And not to blow up Black women’s spot too much but they have been like the two characters I just mentioned fighting and leading the way since the inception of this country. Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Alice Walker, Josephine Baker, have helped shape this world from the dark into a more just, more progressive world to live in. To all the other REAL Dr. Kendal’s and Dr. Jensen’s out in the world that have been doing the work. Hats off to you. Thank you Michelle Obama, Ashlee Blackwell, Amber Ruffin, Ashley Nicole Black, Feminista Jones, Jamilah Lemieux, Ariell R. Johnson, Ava Duvernay, Issa Rae, the list goes on and on.
These are the leaders in the Monster Squad for justice. We must not only listen to these extraordinary voices if we’re to survive and win, we must continue support and help raise their voices over the loud and empty vampire propaganda trying to drown them out. For far too long Black women have been pushed aside by society as it simultaneously tries to take credit for their labor and innovation. But supporting those who speak truth alone also isn’t going to help us win the day.
Step 2: Pick Your Monster
I’ve used the vampire analogy for this series to examine racism. Racism is a MAJOR problem we face. But it’s not the only problem and even if it was, it’s a multi-headed vampiric hydra. To be effective we need to choose specific targets and attack. It’s easier to fight once you know what you’re good at. Recognizing those places in our own personal lives where we can effect change is going to be essential in the fight against tyranny. Not everyone can be a badass like Blade or Buffy who takes the fight directly to vampires. Without Dr. Jensen’s science, Blade doesn’t defeat Deacon Frost. If you’re a scientist, science is your weapon. If you’re a teacher, knowledge, truth and critical thinking are yours. Whatever you do, however you do it, think about how it can be used to not just fight but help.
Some of us are fighting the monster of climate change denial, others the monster of unjust racist laws against Muslim immigrants. Women’s rights, inequality, facts versus lies. The monsters keep coming. We must beat them back into the shadows and as this craziness escalates, we too must find the resolve and push on! By any means necessary if it comes to that. The Women’s March was important. But marches alone will not beat back the tide of regressive politics. We the people must make a personal habit of resistance and change. We can no longer be comfortable or hope someone else is going to fight this fight for us. If we want justice, we gotta realize it’s “just us.” I believe I first heard Richard Pryor say that. It’s easy to get depressed reading all the bad news happening out there in the scary world. But planting our feet on the ground and taking a moment, we may be surprised to find out all the weapons and tools requiredto change the world are already within our grasp.
Step 3: Have Faith
Finally, we have to have “faith” (and no, I’m not necessarily talking about the religious kind, although that’s totally cool if that works for you). I’m not personally a religious person, but I do have faith. I have to. Faith has kept me from succumbing to hopelessness when times are at their darkest. Now I know what you’re thinking, “didn’t you say earlier that crosses and the line about faith was stupid?” Yeah I did. But I guess as I’ve grown up I’ve realized what Jerry Dandridge meant when he told Peter Vincent he needed to have faith.
In my life I’ve have plenty of uncomfortable personal interactions with racists. In lighter interactions I’ve been dismissed by the White, liberal, moderate racist and at other times I’ve been told I “speak well” and “look attractive” by their well meaning naive racism. In more hostile interactions with racism I’ve been denied opportunities, profiled and in some rare instances, I’ve been called a “nigger.” In situations like this I made attempts to quickly defend myself from these monstrous attacks. My first reaction was to take out a simple weapon. A statement that had the same dumb effect that a crucifix has on a vampire. I uttered the words, “You’re a Racist,” and to my surprise, the vampire was surprised too. He recoiled and shrieked and cursed me for saying such a terrible offensive thing. Never mind that he called me nigger earlier, the real offense found was when I called him a racist. I was right back to the stupidity of vampire horror tropes. Why is calling someone a racist more racist than racism? Why can’t racists handle it? Is it like the cross or mirror to a vampire? Is showing them the truth of the empty and hollow state of a mind a shock to their systems? How does “faith” work in a situation like this? Still couldn’t figure it out.
Racists, like vampires, are able to live with and justify their terrorizing and killing of innocents, but when you point out to them that what they’re doing is indeed evil, they scream in agony. Why? Why do racists hate the cross of reality? That’s because vampires, like racists, live in false realities. Their entire existence is one giant lie. If you’re facing a vampire and you’re uncertain, if your feet aren’t firmly planted on the ground, they’ll get you. If you stand for nothing you’ll fall for anything. The effects of racism is depended on the victim believing the lies about themselves. But the lies become powerless when you learn to untangle them and uncover the truth. I was fortunate enough to be raised by two wonderful Black parents, I’m fortunate to be surrounded by loving friends and partners in my life who’ve helped me realized the truth of who I am. Because of this I’ve been able to stand up, unafraid of racist vampire nonsense. I stand on a solid foundation that can’t be shaken by bullshit. I realized the cross isn’t so much about the Christian imagery, the cross is whatever cross we all bare in life. The hard trials and experiences that forge us and make us who we are. The trials that makes us stronger, when we remember what we’ve overcome. It can act as a kind of “faith” and for vampires it’s too much to bare when they see us marching, singing, thriving, our crosses become too much to bare for them. They’re insecure.
Back to that confounding scene in Fright Night, moments later Vincent once again brandishes a cross to banish Jerry, Jerry begins to laugh again. Than something interesting happens,Vincent notices in the broken window behind Jerry that the sun is coming up. Peter no more confident finds the “faith” Jerry told him about and Jerry surprised begins to buckle under the power of Vincent’s crucifix. The vampires home is decorated with a hundreds of coo coo clocks which all begin going off at the same time. Vincent informs the vampire, “You’re running out of time, Mr. Dandridge” and the vampire flees. Using this scene I think I may now fully understand what “faith” is/means how how it relates to our current situation. Most of the horror happens at night, Jerry seems unstoppable and our heroes seem to face an uphill battle. But when the sun begins to rise our heroes task no longer seems impossible. Their victory is inevitable like the sun rising. They find hope. So to put this in an equation, let’s say:
Sun = Hope / Faith = Hope
So what do I have faith in? I have faith in Blackness. I have faith in history and knowledge. I have faith in art and science and nature. I have faith in movies! All of life’s answers can be found in horror, science fiction, superhero, romantic, musical, esoteric art house movies. And finally, I have faith in you. You’re reading this and for that I can’t tell you how grateful I am. These words are no longer just in my head, they’re in yours. That’s some kind of magic, right? Right now, everything is dark, and our monster seems unstoppable. But there are some important things we must remember if we’re survive and win. First of which is to identify and listen to the wise professor speaking truth to power.
We also have to go and meet our opponents head on where they live. In the the local city halls and courthouses, on the school boards and state senates. We must banish them from positions of power. No one hero like Blade is coming to save the day. It’s just us. Always has been, we have to be the ones who speak out and run for office. We have to get out of our comfort zones and talk to our neighbors, form bonds with our communities again. The village only lives in terror when it doesn’t realize its own power.
Remember in 2010 how the Tea Party rallied around candidates that shared their values? We MUST do the same. Almost 3 million Americans didn’t vote for a vampire overlord. We have to remember that! We must forge these strong roots, bind them together to make a sharp point against white supremacy. Our “identity politics” wasn’t the reason hate won the election. Our identities are not a weakness, they’re our greatest strength. We must see the intersectional links they have with others in a similar struggles and connect. Together we can become unbreakable.
Mirror/reflection = reality & truth / The sun = hope / Community = the stake
When we face the fiends and make no mistake, we will, we must drive a stake into the heart of vampiric hate once and for all. The stake is made of wood and must be driven through the heart of our rivals who sleep on earth. And all the cheating, scheming, feeding and abuse doesn’t change the fact that they must return like we all must to the earth. Vampires are not rooted to the earth however like we are, which is why they sleep on top of dirt, they aren’t rooted in it. They have no identity, no connection, no roots. Black people have roots, people of color all around this planet have roots. Mexicans, Muslims, gays, lesbians, trans, all of us have roots that are fluid and bend and turn and intersect with others. These roots build powerful trees, and from these trees we forge our stakes. And as De La Soul would say "the stakes is high," perhaps they’ve never been higher. The sun is on our side, we will get to the mountain top and we will defeat our foe. Our stake is made of history, our stake is made struggle, our stake is made of truth, our stake is made of love. A revolution is coming, stay strong and resist.
About The Author
Tarik Davis has a long history performing and writing comedy. He strives to cross-pollinate performance styles and audiences in all his work. Past experience includes performing for The Upright Citizens Brigade in NY, Boom Chicago in Amsterdam and The Second City in Chicago. Now based in NYC, Tarik currently teaches improv to children & adults. He writes and self-produces his own video projects, appears in commercial spots, and occasionally doodles. He can currently be seen on the hit BRIC TV web series Brooklynification and on recent sketches on Late Night with Seth Meyers (@tarikrdavis)