It’ll come as no surprise to anyone that Danish teens, like much of the country, are no longer looking to traditional religion for answers. Yet the findings of a recent PhD thesis reveal that an odd force of nature is at play: vampires.
According to Line Nybro Petersen, from the University of Copenhagen, Danish teens are instead looking to American films and television, particularly vampire films such as the ‘Twilight’ series, for the answers to life’s big questions.
In her thesis, entitled ‘Wicked Angels, Adorable Vampires!’, Petersen studied the consumption of TV shows with supernatural and religious themes by 72 Danish teenagers, as well as a smaller study involving nine Danish teen fans of ‘Twilight’.
The study found that films and shows with supernatural themes were offering young people a safe space in which to think about life, decisions and moral dilemmas in a relaxed and enjoyable way.
However, Rasmus Nøjgaard, the priest at Sankt Jakobs Church in Østerbro, takes a very different view on Petersen’s findings. “She is jumping to conclusions,” he said. “We are all fond of the well produced movies.”
Whilst Petersen stresses that teens are of course drawn to teenage themes, she also points out that they are fascinated by the role reversal that vampires have had in recent times. “Vampires that are traditionally portrayed as evil often come across as heroic characters,” she said.
Rebecca Johansen, 17, who was one of the teens who participated in Petersen’s study, agrees that ‘Twilight’ helped her to realise that people aren’t all good or bad, and points to ‘Twilight’ character Edward as an example.
“People aren’t born good or bad, it’s the way you choose to live your life that matters – just like Edward. He chooses to make something good out of the bad creature he believed he was, but maybe he wasn’t bad after all,” she said.
However, Nøjgaard points out that vampire stories have had a very important folkloristic role since the 19th century because they deal with life and death, as well as moral issues that he believes are very basic religious questions.
In a modern context, he believes that “the vampire genre also deals with transformations of sex and the passing from life to death, which is important for teenagers since they have to clarify their own sexual behaviour in a world where you are supposed to create your own identity.”
This creation of one’s identity is something that Johansen believes is problematic for teens in current Christian contexts.
“I think a lot of things are hard to understand nowadays since the Bible was written a long time ago,” she said. “We want to make up our own opinions about things instead of listening to a priest who tells us what to do and what not to do. We’re more independent nowadays.”
Petersen points out that some young Danes hold an idolisation of films such as ‘Twilight’ that is so intense that it is actually starting to resemble a new form of religious worship. “I have observed the ‘Twilight’ fans at premieres and noted how they, through a number of rituals, show or perform their affiliation with the series. They cry, shriek, and sing,” she said.
Johansen recalls that she would often watch the films several times a day and had so many posters in her room that the walls couldn’t be seen underneath. And she also followed rituals, particularly ahead of attending a premiere.
“Usually my friends and I just talk a lot about our expectations. I had never dressed up though. But since my friend knitted me the hat Bella wears in ‘Eclipse’ when she is going camping with Edward, I wear that and pretend that I’m Bella.”
According to Nøjgaard, this phenomenon isn’t new at all.
“At all times in the history of cinema, people – specifically young people – have made rituals combined with series. For example, ‘Star Wars’ and ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’,” he said.
In spite of this, Nøjgaard strongly denies the notion that 'Twilight' and other supernatural movies and television shows are drawing Danish teenagers away from traditional religion. “They deal with a lot of the same questions as Christianity and are a great supplement!” he said.
Despite undertaking a fairly small study that cannot be representative of all Danish teens, Petersen’s findings are supportive of a greater cultural shift in Denmark: the move away from church towards state.
Whilst approximately 80 percent of the population are members of the Church of Denmark, attendances at regular Sunday services have fallen to only around five percent of the adult population.