sociologically fascinating

by far the majority of people i have talked with about vampirism have reacted positively. yesterday i had two such, which i will recount here, because they put me in a good mood.

the first was at university during class. this is a required class with a couple of hundred students, and utterly boring, so i usually find myself sitting at the back of class doing something else. as it were, i was writing in this blog… oh dang, i already wrote about that two posts earlier. i’ll write about the other encounter then.

this second encounter happened at a party organised by thinkout, the student lgbt group i sometimes participate in (it was a good night out; i got to speak with a beautiful girl i’ve been admiring from afar – i look forward to seeing her again soon, and posed for a photographer for a dozen shots or so). at one point this rather handsome guy says we need to talk (using the formal “vous” instead of the informal “tu”). i still don’t know why we “had to” talk, but it was very interesting.

he’s from canada, has a background in sociology, and is researching a thesis on gay spaces in geneva. we soon got to talking shop (i’m in the last year of my bachelors in sociology), and found a common interest in how identities work. at which point i couldn’t help but tell him about vampires. he was instantly fascinated. and before drifting off to other subjects he mentioned that he was organising a conference on identities, and that if i wanted to prepare something i could perhaps speak there! the budding academic in me is quite excited. i hope he didn’t get too drunk and forget everything.

at which point i want to specify that yes, as a sociologist i find vampires terribly fascinating. on one hand for how society deals with what you represent to them, this mix of fear and attraction, of power and sex (we know it’s not sex, but they don’t) and taboo and desire. on the other how vampires come to adopt the label for themselves, to identify as vampires, how they deal with possible stigmas attached to it, and so on. there’s easily enough work for a thesis or two for any interested sociologist or anthropologist.

however, that doesn’t change that vampires are my friends, that i’m a donor to them, that i love some of them. that is how i got into the vampire community, and it’s what i hope to remain. if i do end up doing research on vampires and vampirism, it is out of a sincere desire to raise awareness and spread acceptance of vampirism and thus hopefully make life easier for all vampires.

    • Patrick
    • March 15th, 2009

    I found your blog through things tagged ‘sociology’, and I couldn’t help but ask: why do you believe that the people who claim to be vampires are what they claim? Isn’t it more likely that it’s all a homemade mythology and ‘vampires’ are a (sort of tragic) little outgroup than that they’re REALLY an ancient and misunderstood sub-race of people living “amongst us”?

    That it’s a subculture – populated with a few heavily invested ‘lifers’, to be sure, mainly comprised of people who think they’re vampires at a certain age and place and eventually discard that token-belief and move on when they get older and their social skills improve and their peer group shuffles?

    You mention sociology like you’re familiar with it. Isn’t that the social science take-away though? That while actually being a vampire is a physiological and ontological absurdity, calling yourself a vampire is a perfectly valid (and maybe even adroit) status claim, depending on your social milieu?

    So why do you believe you give life to “vampires”? Is the axial metaphor at work here really as transparent as imagining that people need your rare ‘generosity’ so strongly that otherwise they “start getting ill. eventually very ill”? Sort of a tepid Munchausen’s-style social life for lonely people, with a neo-Romantic motif? Or is this a really odd joke? You got me curious. This wordpress tag thing is great.

      • diss
      • March 15th, 2009

      you raise some interesting questions, i’ll attempt to answer as well as i can, considering that it’s past 6am over here.

      vampires are rather tragic. many if not most of them would prefer not to be vampires. many are intensely uncomfortable with the term vampire. they’re as far as i can tell normal people living normal lives.

      i doubt that it can properly be referred to as a subculture. there is some specialised vocabulary, but most of the indicators which we’d use for subcultures – shared fashions, styles, music, whatnot – are absent. there are many older vampires, for whom claiming to be a vampire would not be a smart move – who are lawyers, teachers, or in public office.

      i agree that there is a segment of younger people who call themselves vampires who are going to grow out of it, and gain considerable status, even if that status is as a deviant.

      i agree that ontologically it’s pretty hard to get a grip on what vampirism is. which is why i’m mostly interested in a phenomenological approach. that approach is also what allows me to actually do what i do – be a donor – without abandoning my facilities for critical thought. as such, i believe that my donoring works because i see the effects it has. which are anything but tepid.

      and finally, no, this is most definitely not a joke.

    • Patrick
    • March 15th, 2009

    “i doubt that it can properly be referred to as a subculture. there is some specialised vocabulary, but most of the indicators which we’d use for subcultures – shared fashions, styles, music, whatnot – are absent.”

    I Google a lot; if search results are any indication, it would seem that you’re at least somewhat mistaken. And anecdotally, all the people I’ve ever met who claimed to be vampires seemed to have a lot of the same interests, bad clothes, etc. It also seems to me that the exploring the “phenomenology” of feeding vampires isn’t going to get you any farther on it’s own terms than studying phenomenology of thaumaturgy by going to see Penn and Teller would.. How aren’t you just taking their word for it and playing along?

    “there are many older vampires, for whom claiming to be a vampire would not be a smart move – who are lawyers, teachers, or in public office.”

    Well, it wouldn’t be the first time somebody with something to lose hid a prurient or silly fantasy from the ridicule of their peers. Judging from the varieties of intimacy play that go under the term ‘vampirism’ (again, according to Google), from ‘psychic or energy vampirism’ to drinking blood to brooding and watching anime with your internet friends, it’s not surprising that older vampires’ would only claim to be what they ‘are’ part-time. Moonlighting, so to speak. All the benefits with few of the drawbacks.

    As well, doesn’t it seem suspicious to you that the popular interest in vampire mythos (and the outing of ‘vampirism’ that the Internet has made possible, whose Internet presence exhibits all the self-awareness and organizational structure of a normal, if monomaniacal, subculture) has unfolded and been encouraged with works of entertainment? How many impressionable kids with overactive imaginations saw ‘Twilight’ and feel strongly that that depiction is somehow true (but not quite accurate) about Their Existence and can now express their ‘longing’ to drink their friends? Google makes it easy to find enough crude mysticism and made up legends to kindle that flame of lonely introspection and nurture it into a rendezvous with subculture; it seems to me that the modern ‘vampire’ is more a product of the latter analogy (“drink your friends”) than any historical vampire myth as it is; also, teacher-vampires and politician-vampires or no, that still doesn’t at all preclude the possibility that ‘vampirism’ isn’t still just a supercilious fantasy indulged in by people with boring lives and dinged egos.

    Here’s another question for you: what do you think of all the people who claimed to be vampires, drank blood, and who really did think they were going to live forever? And didn’t.. Were they real vampires in your sense, or were they more likely just weirdos who believed in bad metaphysics?

    • hi again

      i won’t go into all your points, or the comments section of this post might end up being longer than the main content of the blog is so far.

      about vampires forming a subculture, i agree that there is a popular association between vampirism and the larger goth subculture. a certain segment of the goth subculture identifies itself as vampiric and adopts “vampiric” dress, behaviours, and so on, without actually consuming blood or draining energy. these “lifestylers” are much more visible than “real” vampires, and if you encounter self-identified vampires who look like what vampires are “supposed” to look like, it is probably them. there is a very sharp divide in the vampire communities between “real” and “lifestyle” vampires, and while it is possible to be both it is quite rare. you might think of it as the difference between a drag-queen/king and a transsexual person; one will be out making waves in the subculture, while the other is quietly getting along with their life trying to avoid being noticed for their transsexuality (unless they are fervent about awareness/advocacy). the analogy could easily be taken much further.

      to your last question, they might or might not have been vampires, but they were certainly delusional about their immortality. i am not aware of any real vampires who claim immortality, though some of the lifestyler groups seem to have integrated that into their narrative.

      i am personally not surprised at the current rise in the number of self-proclaimed vampires and agree about the influence of the media on this phenomenon. in arguing the case for real vampires, i say this rising popularity of vampires – coupled with a rising number of appearances of real vampires in the media; and also with the possibilities the internet offers for networking amongst peers – allows vampires to find positive narratives and identities for themselves. again i will make the analogy with transsexuality; if the only narratives a transsexual person has about their condition are ones of violence, rejection, and suffering they are much less likely to accept that identity than if they have narratives of examples of success, acceptance, love, and satisfaction – thus the number of people identifying as transsexual has increased from an estimated less than 1 in 100’000 (a figure still being proposed 15 years ago) to an empirical at least 1 in 1000. that does not mean that transsexuality is somehow spreading, it means that people are more readily accepting their transsexuality and identifying as such.

      to wrap this up i would like to point you at by light unseen, which has some quite thoughtful texts in the myths and realities section. i do not fully agree with the author’s opinions, but in particular the sections on vampiric people and vampire-identified people might be of interest to you. besides that, if you haven’t come across it yet, i would recommend as one of the most complete sites on real vampires.

      and i obviously need to get started on my links section.

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