Cashing in on Dracula: Eastern Europe's Hard Sells

Article excerpt

Just about over a decade ago the majority of ordinary Romanians, and particularly the inhabitants of Transylvania, were unaware of the international infamy of Vlad the Impaler and his literary counterpart, the chilling Count Dracula. It was only around the time of Ceausescu's regime collapse that news of the region's macabre notoriety trickled down to these lands. Soon thereafter, local entrepreneurs hastily acquired copies of Bram Stoker's book and ventured into developing small-scale tourist enterprises by copying the horror classic. Hotel buildings were designed to resemble castles, some restaurants featured Dracula-themed furniture (copied from Hammer horror movies on pirated videos) while others had the butter in their chicken Kiev coloured deep red.1 Live entertainment included actors in full Bela Lugosi gear hiding in a coffin in the hotel's basement and coming out to scare visitors at the stroke of midnight. Besides moderate growth in regular tourism, the commercial exploitation of Dracula and Transylvania got a boost through the increase in academic tourism, with several international meetings of scholars specializing in the horror genres.

Since the mid-1990s the Romanian government has been engaged in plans to build a Dracula theme park and entertainment complex, a project that so far has been surrounded by controversy. According to domestic backers, the development would give an immediate boost to the economy of the whole region. According to international critics, besides failing due to shaky business planning and inadequate infrastructure, it would be an assault on cultural heritage and on the ecosystem. And, according to one Hollywood studio, Dracula as popularly known could not be freely used for commercial ventures as the character does not belong to the Romanians in the first place.

This investigation will try to show that attempts intended to capitalize directly on Dracula's trademark image-like the high profile Dracula Park campaign- have run into unanticipated hurdles and so far failed to give any signifi- cant boost to Romania's economy, but that local film entrepreneurs have been much more successful in cashing in on Dracula by finding gentler and less direct ways to use the association between Romania and the infamous vampire.

It is useful to compare and evaluate these different manifestations of the pragmatic yet idiosyncratic post-communist endeavor to make Dracula more bankable for Romanians. We will look at the curious mixture of entrepreneurial and state-socialist approaches revealed in the course of the attempts to profit on Dracula. We will see how image issues inform economic judgment (and vice versa), and how brash pushy entrepreneurs and refined highbrow cultural heritage defenders are driven by largely the same fiscal motivation. This study's main contentions are:

* While the use of stereotypes is usually seen as an adverse act of one-way cross-cultural projection of preconceived ideas, in certain contexts stereotypes are embraced from within, developed and drawn on in a voluntary move of self-exoticism carried out by agreeable cultural entrepreneurs and other internal actors. However, in a globalized corporate-dominated world the fact that one may readily accept the association with a certain stereotype does not guarantee automatic access to the commercial exploitation of the same stereotype.

* While nowadays "almost all nations have to [. . .] mobilize themselves as spectacle and to attract large numbers of visitors," in poorer nations where the domestic consumer market is not solvent cultural entrepreneurship is underpinned by decisions made on the basis of perceptions of Western (entertainment) market demand.2 The development of large scale tourist projects here may be undertaken as national-scale enterprise and the respective attraction are often staged as representing the country. But such large scale attractions, in fact, enhance the sense of split identity, the consciousness of a perpetual differentiation between an image of oneself one projects outwards and presents as "object of the tourist gaze" and another "true" self, mostly characterized by being different, not identical with what is being projected. …