Recently, on a lazy Sunday afternoon, I watched all three Blade Films (which, like the Bourne films, The Karate Kid, and Erin Brockovich, seem to be playing on some station at any given time). Something struck me about a line that runs through all three Blade films - Blade, Blade II and Blade: Trinity - a kind of disavowed fantasy structure that props up the narrative and ethical structure of the whole series, and is not simply consistent across the three films, but becomes more and more pronounced. We can call it the fantasy of the Monster-Victim, the mythically evil creature who seems indestructible at the very moment that they are being destroyed.
The Blade trilogy starts with the assumption that grounds all vampire films: that the vampires are an existential threat to humans. They are stronger, more ferocious and more intelligent (in that they know everything they need to know about us, while we are, for the most part, not even aware of them). The vampires of Blade take this superiority as a given. In Blade: Trinity Dracula, the original vampire, delivers what we might call the "puny human" speech: "Look at them down there, scurrying around like insects. They don't know anything about honor or living by the sword...Do you think they could ever grasp what it means to be immortal?" We are, in short, the inferior species at the mercy of the apex predator: prey, or if we are fortunate, branded and owned familiars doing their bidding. The movie constantly suggests that what Blade calls this "sugar-coated" world will fall to the irresistible force of the Vampire hegemony.
But a glance at the Trilogy tells a different story, the story of the predation of humans on the vampire world. Against physical strength, fangs and arrogance, the human world can marshal a dizzying array of weaponry. In the first film, Blade's sword is a formidable but limited weapon until it is supplemented by an explosive anti-coagulant developed by a human doctor. It is a weapon that can overcome even the mystical power of a great vampiric apotheosis ceremony that gives birth to an invincible vampire. Invincible for approximately five minutes until the human-made formula detonates his body from within. Blade II continues this trend. The humans have silver-nitrate and anti-coagulant spikes. When these prove less effective against the Reapers (a new strain of super-vampire that hunts ordinary vampires) the humans are up to that challenge as well, developing ultraviolet light guns and cluster bombs to dispatch even this breed of ultra-predator. Blade:Trinity takes this trend to its furthest point. Not only do we have "sun dogs" (explosive rounds that emit UV light), rocket-launchers, and a "UV arc" laser blade described thusly: "This bad-boy is half as hot as the sun and can cut through vampires like a knife through butter," but all of this pales in comparison to the ultimate biological weapon, the "Daystar Virus," a genocidal weapon that destroys not only Dracula, but every vampire it touches. It is, in the end, the vampire race - hominis nocturna - that faces the existential threat. We humans are far more effective killers than vampires could ever imagine (or ever be), and we are treated throughout the Blade trilogy to the spectacle of vampires beaten, exploding in flames, sliced into pieces, choking, and dying in seconds of an infection that makes Ebola look like the common cold.
Historically, Israel has exempted most of its Arab citizens from the military, in part because of distrust and in part because compulsory service could force Israeli Arabs into a position of divided loyalty. | Photo: Reuters |
But it is exactly this spectacle that makes the Blade Trilogy so revealing. It exposes us to the contradictory fantasy that underlies the relationship with the enemy. The enemy, on the one hand, is immortal, unkillable, monstrous, insatiable. The enemy's power threatens to destroy us, and all that we value. The enemy lives only to feed on us and watch us die. One the other hand, as the Trilogy inevitably reveals without ever acknowledging it outright, the enemy is our victim, our target. The enemy has no defense against our weapons. As much as he claims - and proudly - to be our nemesis and our worst nightmare, it is we who haunt his darkest dreams. Our ingenuity at inventing instruments of death becomes so much deadlier when we convince ourselves that we are defending ourselves against a dark horror, a beast who cannot be reasoned with or deflected. However, much the enemy suffers, however painfully he dies, we still feel ourselves at his mercy when we ourselves mercilessly hunt him.
When I first began writing this essay, I was interested only in elaborating on a particular fantasy structure that allows us to recast our victim as an invincible force at the very instant when he is most vulnerable to us. But Israel's recent attack on Gaza (or, as Israel would have it, on Hamas, the monstrous enemy) have made it clear how much this fantasy is at work today. And this is not to say that there is not a cold and rational political calculation involved in the Israeli strategy towards the Palestinians (the choking off of all possibilities of economic development in Gaza, and the inexorable annexation of the West Bank). But this calculation is supplemented necessarily by a fantasy that masks Israeli machinations and recasts its attack on Gaza as an ethical crusade. I
There have been contentions in the past that Israel has used experimental weapons in Gaza, including white phosphorous weapons in 2009, and DIME (dense inert metal explosive) munitions in the current attack on Gaza, weapons as ingenious as they are horrifying, that burn, slice and infect bodies. Even if some of these contentions are not decisively proven (although the IDF, in 2013, admitted having used white phosphorous weapons), the purely conventional weapons - F16 fighters, M60 Tanks, Apache Helicopters, Soltam K6 Mortars - used against Gaza are so far out of proportion to the Gazan's abilities to defend themselves (or even to avoid) that what we are witnessing is less a war than a bloody ritual sacrifice to the most violent and vengeful nationalistic instincts.
And, as with every functioning fantasy, the fantasy of the monster-victim tells some truth. Like the undead of cinema fantasy, Hamas speaks the language of power. They claim that they will never stop. They will drive Israel into the sea. They will not relent or surrender. They will always be there, close enough to visit death and destruction in the most-horrifying ways, with rockets aimed at civilians, with secret tunnels that emerge in the middle of the safest places, with suicide bombers that make the most-familiar streets places of potential violence. Hamas's rhetoric is the rhetoric of horror. But much like the mythical vampire, this rhetoric is a sign of weakness, not strength. "You will die at our hands," is the last defiant phrase gasped out as our foot descends onto the monster's neck.
Israel does not realize that it is fighting a fantasy, a dark image conjured by fear and rage. It is not enough that today Israel can marshal military might that dwarfs its neighbours. It is not enough that the world's only superpower would never see it fall. It is not enough that it has ringed Gaza in an unbreakable siege and inexorably slices away at the West Bank. No power is enough against the vampire of Israel's dreams. At the end of the Blade Trilogy, the monster Dracula, just before dying tells the hero "All this time my people were trying to create a new kind of vampire and one already existed... but remember this: sooner or later the thirst always wins" and Blade goes off into the world, fearing his own monstrousness, to continue the hunt. You cannot create the monster of your imagination and then fail to hunt him down. And in hunting the monster, you will convince yourself that you are carrying out a great moral duty. But Israel must realize - by listening to the Israeli voices and voices around the world who are trying to be heard - that when you project the monster onto the body of the enemy, the monster will survive your most-fierce attack. It will be the fragile human body of the Gazan civilian, the old woman, the father, the mother, the child that will lie shattered. And the monster will be you, still fearful with all the monsters dead at your feet.