The Sociology of Vampirism

9 Dec

Some years ago I was driving through Possil (This is an area of Glasgow that the tourists don’t see and that many Glaswegians prefer to ignore).

For some reason the expression ‘vampire country’ sprang to mind. It probably had something to do with all the steel shutters on the windows of the derelict buildings.

It’s hard to know exactly what this phrase meant other than a vague sense that this was hostile territory where bad things could happen to you if you weren’t careful.

Having said this, Possil is a bit like most parts of Glasgow in that you can turn one corner and find yourself in a reasonably nice neighbourhood and then turn another and find yourself in the Badlands. 

(This is partly the result of the way Glasgow grew up. It started off as just another wee fishing village on the banks of the Clyde, then it growed and growed, just like Topsy the rabbit, and as it growed it absorbed various little villages into itself. As a result, what you have is a patchwork quilt of a city. Outsiders can actually travel from one end of the Clyde Valley conurbation to the other and not be aware of any of this, but for the residents, there are territorial boundaries all over the city and woe betide anyone, especially young men, who cross one of those boundaries without taking due care).

So what does any of this have to do with vampires?

Well, it’s all to do with how you want to place the imaginary toads that are vampires, within the real garden that is Glasgow (And you can choose your own city or community if you prefer, the same general principles will still apply).

Being a lifelong urbanite I tend to place my fiction in an urban setting, and since Glasgow is the city I know best I tend to place stories in the city of Glasgow and its surrounding area.

Initially I thought of vampires as being social outcasts, much like drug addicts (Incidently Abel Ferrarar made much the same connection in his film The Addiction. Not a popcorn movie by any means but well worth watching if you want something a bit more challenging than the ‘Twilight’ saga).

This led me to place vampires in derelict buildings in run down areas in a sequence of three short stories (None of which have ever been published, but I think I still have them on disk somewhere). The series started with ‘Big Tam – The Fearless Vampire Hunter’ which dealt with the gradual spread of knowledge amongst marginalised people of the existence of vampires in spite of official denials. The following stories dealt with the response of the local community to the discovery of vampires amongst them, ie vigilantism, and finally with the central character rejecting vampirism as a lifestyle in favour of self realisation through education.

I was working in Social Services at the time and this influenced the kind of themes I was thinking about at the time.

More recently I have been thinking along slightly different lines. I still tend to think that an intelligent and pragmatic vampire will tend to haunt run down areas and choose marginalised and preferably homeless and excluded people as prey, but I felt that the vampires themselves should move up the social scale a little.

And I’d have to say that I’m losing patience with the whiny self-pitying vampires that seem to populate much of the genre.

I suppose Bram Stoker felt that Dracula had to show signs of relief at being hacked to death as an indication that he had been appropriately miserable while living outside of God’s grace, while I suppose Varney the Vampire finally ended himself in the crater of a convenient volcano due to the sheer ennui of popping up in yet another penny dreadful.

I can understand why Miriam Blaylock is unhappy in Whitley Streiber’s The Hunger, her lovers keep wearing out on her. In Lilith’s Dream, Lilith herself seems quite content with her lifestyle in general until she notices that the people she’s hunting seem to be more intelligent and aware than she had remembered. Bummer.

I’m not really sure why Anne Rice makes her vampires quite so miserable. Guilt at hunting human beings is certainly part of it, a general sense of existential futilityand a certain difficulty in sustaining long term relationships also seem to be significant contributary factors, but essentially they just seem to be miserable because Anne Rice wants them to be.

As for the Twighlight types, I can’t help wondering how long all this adolescent angst is supposed to continue. Are they really going to be all broody and hormonal for the rest of eternity? If so then we should get Van Helsing and his pals to drop by for a staking session.It really is the kindest thing to do.

Personally I think it makes more sense to adopt a model drawn from Natural History. Vampires are apex predators. They don’t fall in love with humans, and they certainly don’t go for the ‘vegetarian’ option of feeding on non-human prey. They regard people as food, pure and simple. They may find them aesthetically pleasing, in the same way as a hunter might well admire a handsome stag, but that won’t stop them from making a kill if they’re hungry.

Of course the situation is more complex than that for a vampire, since they all start off as humans and their only means of reproducing is to convert a human into a vampire (I don’t go for the notion of the ‘pure blood vampire’. Vampires are undead, they can’t reproduce sexually and that’s that). Vampires also need to live and hunt within human communities, so there is bound to be some degree of  social interaction.

It’s a given of Natural History that the population density of predators is determined very largely by the population density of the prey species. This means that a scattered population of humans means an even more scattered population of vampires. A dense population of humans leads to a more concentrated population of vampires. Vampires are therefore going to live in cities. They need the crowd for anonymity (both for themselves and their prey) and also to provide the density of prey that they need to sustain themselves.

 So vampires live in cities, their relationship with humans is liable to be complex, but unsentimental. I would expect vampires to enjoy hunting and not to be too maudlin or guilt ridden by it. It’s always dangerous to attribute human emotions to non-human animals, but it’s hard to watch film of orcas or big cats hunting and not see a certain exuberance about them when they make a kill.

I think it goes without saying that vampires will be charismatic and glamorous. This is partly following the Natural History model again, but it’s also based on the logic that if a vampire is picking someone out to make into another vampire, they’re more likely to choose someone they find attractive. This is partly because they’re going to be stuck with each other for centuries, but also because that attractiveness will make it much easier for them to hunt. Sex for a vampire is not about love (or even lust) it’s abut hunting. Although one must concede that vampires may also enjoy sensual pleasures.

In a similar way, one would expect vampires to also have qualities of intelligence, pragmatism and ruthlessness because these will also be qualities necessary for survival.

In terms of their social organisation, I suppose I would expect some sort of hierarchy, probably territorial in nature and probably also with a strong centralised authority. This model is adopted mostly from the Mafia, as described in The Godfather (The  films more than the book).

The reason for this structure more than any other is that it provides a secure basis for territorial control and also for maintaining secrecy. My assumption is that rivalry between vampires would be lethal and chaotic unless it was rigidly controlled, so one would expect a compex structure of convention and protocol in order to impose limits on the potential for conflict.

Of course, one would also assume extensive infiltration of human institutions by the vampire community, or at least by agents acting on their behalf, and this too is drawn from The Godfather model.

Personally I think this makes for a coherent and (within limits) credible basis for vampire fiction. I don’t claim that it is the only viable model, and I do not claim that my thinking is entirely original. Aficionados of the genre will notice similarities to the work of a variety of novelists and film makers. (None of us works in a vaccuum.’The immature artist plagiarises, the mature artist steals’ – F Scott Fitzgerald). All I can really say is that the ultimate synthesis is mine.

If anyone else wants to play with these ideas, go ahead. I have no doubt that even if you use some, or all of the above ideas, you will still produce stories and characters that are sufficiently different from anything I could come up with for us all to coexist without trouble.

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4 Responses to “The Sociology of Vampirism”

  1. Craig Hallam 10/12/2011 at 4:18 pm #

    Brilliant post! I think your vision of modern vamps is about as close to an uncomfortable reality as it’s possible to get. Hope I get to read something of yours using this model, soon!

    • fekesh 12/12/2011 at 11:39 am #

      I don’t want to come across like a marketroid, but you can actually get hold of something I’ve written. It’s a novel called The Elect and it’s based on the ideas I was writing about in this post.
      You can follow the link on my profile page, or use this URL http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B005WH3R2E#_ to find the book on Amazon. It may not be very good, but it is cheap.
      At present this book is attracting no attention at all, as far as I can see (There’s a lot of stuff out there, and I’m rubbish at self promotion).
      Incidently, I re-read the ‘Big Tam’ stories I was referring to in the post. They’re about 14 years old now, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that I still liked them. I’m still thinking about what to do with them.
      Anyway, glad you liked the post.

      • Craig Hallam 12/12/2011 at 7:05 pm #

        Get yourself out there more! Self promotion is hard and it takes up a lot of time, but it’s worth it. Is The Elect in print or ebook? I’ll have a look asap 😀

      • fekesh 06/02/2012 at 11:13 am #

        Just a brief update. I’ve revised The Elect (a bit) and renamed it The Familiar. The actual changes to the text are pretty minimal, it was just a tidying up exercise. I’ve also published a follow up e-book on Amazon called Mistress of the City. Right now I’m doing a promotional thing, so they’re both free and will be until tomorrow (7.2.12) at about midday. After that they’ll still be available on the kindle library.
        The promotion seems to be working, I’m finally shifting a few copies of both books. (I won’t get any royalties, of course, because they’re free, but at least it’s making me a bit more visible).
        Anyway, thanks for the advice and encouragement.
        Good luck with revising your new book.

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