Twilight Saga's Got It WRONG

By Starr, Douglas | Winnipeg Free Press, November 4, 2012 | Go to article overview

Twilight Saga's Got It WRONG


Starr, Douglas, Winnipeg Free Press


Attractive and misunderstood? Not a chance. 'Real' vampires are ugly

BOSTON -- Vampire movies and TV shows are the rage nowadays -- perhaps because their heroes are attractive, tormented and misunderstood, which is how many young viewers see themselves. But the original Dracula was not quite so attractive. In fact, he was the very model of a thug.

When Bram Stoker wrote the novel Dracula in 1897, people were in a panic about crime. They had difficulty understanding why -- in an era blessed with prosperous empires, flourishing arts and sciences and a burgeoning consumer culture -- crime rates were rising throughout Europe and the United States. For answers, they turned to science, itself one of the glories of the Victorian age.

One popular theory, devised by the Italian psychologist Cesar Lombroso, was that criminals were born that way. Lombroso spent his career searching for the roots of criminal behaviour, interviewing and examining thousands of living criminals and dissecting the brains of thousands who had been executed. One gloomy day in December 1871, he found what he was looking for. He was conducting an autopsy of the notorious robber Giuseppe Villella when he noticed an unusual malformation: a small hollow at the base of the skull under which was an enlarged portion of the spinal cord. He had never seen this before in human beings.

The inspiration struck him like lightning: Criminal behaviour was not something people learned but a malformation they were born with. Lombroso dissected hundreds more brains and claimed to find the defect in most of them. Lombroso's observations and statistics were notoriously sloppy, but to his mind, his theory fit perfectly with the most advanced science of the day. Only a decade earlier, Paul Broca, the father of neurology, had discovered damage to a particular part of the brain caused an inability to form words. Wouldn't it also stand to reason a malformation of a different part of the brain could lead to criminal behaviour? He borrowed from Darwin's theory as well, or at least as interpreted in the late 19th century. If people evolved from primitive beings, could there not be the remnants of a primitive being in each of us? Some scientists proposed that in some people those primitive traits only not survived but thrived, magnified by generations of defective bloodlines.

All this led Lombroso to suggest the existence of a kind of a subspecies of human, which he called Criminal Man. Possessed of congenitally criminal brains, these creatures roamed the modern world as savages misplaced in time, lacking any sense of civilized morality. "Theoretical ethics passes over these diseased brains as oil does over marble, without penetrating it," wrote Lombroso.

Criminal Men bore traits that went along with the more primitive brain, including insensitivity to pain and the inability to blush or feel shame. They also bore telltale physical characteristics -- which Lombroso called stigmata -- including lantern jaws, jug ears, and unibrows. Such people, ruled by their primitive instincts, had poor impulse control and a tendency toward violence.

Lombroso's theory became immediately popular, for it played into the era's mania for measurement and its fascination with the dark side of human nature. He served as an expert witness at trials, determining guilt not by the evidence from the crime scene but by analyzing the defendant's appearance. In one case, two brothers were accused of murdering their stepmother. After examining the defendants, Lombroso testified one of them was "clearly the criminal type, exhibiting huge jaws, swollen sinuses, extremely pronounced cheekbones, a thin upper lip, large incisors... and left-handedness." The man was convicted.

Not everyone agreed. The French criminologist Alexandre Lacassagne felt social conditions, not heredity, led to most criminal behaviour. …

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