They've infiltrated our bookstores, invaded our nightly television schedule and taken over our movie screens. They seductively skulk in and out of our daydreams, promising everlasting youth while eyeing our arteries in a not-so-innocent way. It's getting like you can't go anywhere without bumping into the undead.

I'm talking, of course, about vampires. Don't act like you haven't noticed they are everywhere right now, and I'm not ashamed to admit I'm pretty taken with the genre at the moment. I should be more embarrassed about this, I know.

While the success of Twilight is surely to blame - the series has spent 109 weeks on the The New York Times' Best-Seller List as of this past Friday - if the popularity of HBO's True Blood series and the CW's new Vampire Diaries are any indicator, the undead are here to stay.

OK, it's not like the sexy-tortured vampire deal is new. Lest we forget, Buffy the Vampire Slayer ruled the silver screen for seven seasons, and Anne Rice started writing about the undead more than 10 years before this columnist was even born. Plus, who can forget the original fanged prince of Transylvania, Dracula?

However, with the recent culmination of True Blood's very successful second-season run on Sunday, the debut of the Vampire Diaries this past Thursday - drawing 4.91 million viewers according to the network - and the upcoming installment of the Twilight series, New Moon, in theaters this November, the genre is more popular than ever.

These three latest editions to the vampire canon were all based on books, only reinforcing my personal love affair with literature in general, and are by no means at the forefront of the vampire phenomenon.

As Louise Krasniewicz explains,"Those of us who have followed this for years know this has been going on for a long time." A professor at Penn, she teaches a class entitled "Mythology & the Movies" that explores the use of mythological creatures, like vampires, in cinema.

Then how did something that was undead and drinks the red stuff for sustenance become so appealing?

According to Krasniewicz, vampires have been used in the last 50 years as a mirror from which to explore what it is that makes us human, what characteristics are important. And it's easy to use vampires as a stand-in for these larger philosophical questions, since the most basic part of being a human being is taken from them - they are no longer "alive."

"What vampires provide is the perfect vehicle for thinking about and talking about things that are really important to people: What is it to be human? How do you define humans and how do you define not-humans?" Krasniewicz clarified. "Vampires are just so fabulous because they were human and now they are not, so what is it that they lost that made them not human?"

I see other draws as well. In a culture obsessed with youth, how can we not be fascinated with something that looks just like us, but never ages a day?

When it comes to True Blood, meanwhile, creator Alan Ball has repeatedly in interviews discussed the parallels many have drawn between the vampires in the world he has created - thanks to a Japanese-produced blood substitute, they don't have to feed on humans and thus "came out of the coffin" - and minorities and the gay community in ours.

And believe me, no one can touch the fan frenzy that the Twilight book and movie series engender. It's getting to Harry Potter/Star Wars levels of obsession among adherents to the religion that is "Robert Pattinson/Edward Cullenism." In this case, a lot of the attraction must be proscribed to the dazzling, waiting-until-marriage vampire author Stephenie Meyer created, and the British actor who brought him to life on screen. It's something about his hair … or so I've heard.

With their jaded immortality, mysterious demeanor and underlying menace, it's no wonder vampires hold an undeniable attraction for millions.

If it isn't apparent, I've been bitten. Have you?

Arielle Kane is a College senior from Briarcliff Manor, NY. Her e-mail address is kane@dailypennsylvanian.com

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