I wasn’t always like this.
Since 2009, whenever I am introduced to someone, our mutual friend invariably says, “This is the guy I was telling you about! The vampire guy!” I’m a teaching fellow at Boston University and when I arrived late to a lecture the professor said, “There you are! We thought the vampires had gotten you!” The students all got a laugh out of that one. And I actually don’t mind being “the vampire guy,” but I wasn’t always this way.
This all began when I found out that Atlanta is home to a group of self-identified vampires called the Atlanta Vampire Alliance (AVA). Actually, “real vampires” can now be found in most North American cities––or small towns for that matter. What attracted me to the AVA was the work they were doing. They have devoted massive amounts of time and money towards a worldwide survey of vampires, studying their feeding habits, psychological profiles, religious affiliations, and medical histories. They collect this data because the AVA believes, like many vampires, that being a vampire is not a religion or the result of watching too many movies. In fact, they claim vampirism is not cultural at all. Instead, they believe there is actually something very different about them. The label “vampire” is only the simplest way to articulate a condition not understood by Western science. I spent several months observing and doing interviews with the AVA, and I gave a paper about their research and its concomitant identity claims at an annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion.
What I didn’t know at the time was that a woman from Arizona had written a novel called Twilight. The year 2009 was shaping up to be “the year of the vampire” and I was right in the middle of it. Suddenly everyone––including Geraldo––wanted to ask me why America was obsessed with vampires. In fact, “vampire booms” seem to have occurred in more or less ten year cycles since Béla Lugosi first played Dracula on screen in 1931. Before that, Westerners avidly consumed vampire stories and plays ever since John Polidori’s The Vampyre was published in 1819. And before that, figures like Voltaire and Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote in wonder and disbelief about the bizarre stories coming out of Eastern Europe in the 18th century. Somehow the vampire continues to arise, appealing to a culture’s deepest fears and desires. But why do vampires have this power (as opposed to werewolves or zombies)? I’m not sure there is a satisfying answer to that.
But for all the attention I received when the first two Twilight movies came out, I think most people are missing the point I make in Vampires Today: We cannot ignore “real vampires” because we do not exist independently from them. They are our neighbors, police officers, and nurses. Most importantly, their identities are a product of the same culture as ours. The fact that young people can lose sleep wondering whether they are an ordinary human or a vampire shows that identity has become more fluid and achieved than ever before in human history. Furthermore, as the world becomes more aware of vampires, our identities will change, too. Before I met with the AVA, I never thought of myself as a “non-vampire”.
-- Joe Laycock, author of Vampires Today: The Truth about Modern Vampirism (Praeger, 5/2009)
PHOTO: Joe Laycock at the Georgia Guidestones in Elberton, GA
Joseph Laycock is a doctoral candidate studying religion and society at Boston University. His work focuses on the exchange of ideas between organized religion, folk religion, and popular culture. Before coming to Boston University, Laycock spent several years as a history teacher in inner city schools. He is a graduate of the Program in Religion and Secondary Education and has written on promoting religious literacy in secondary schools. When not teaching, Laycock enjoys martial arts such as kali, boxing, and Brazilian jujitsu.
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