The prevalence of vampires in popular culture has spawned a side effect without precedent. There exist a number of communities on the internet—mostly moderated by forums and social media—that consist of individuals who seriously and without a trace of irony self-identify as vampires. These vampires claim varying ranks in their social hierarchy from acolyte to lord (as in Lord Dracula), share tips for cosmetic powders for the palest shade of white, and forge romantic bonds that hinge on pseudo-bloodlust and consensual hypnotic subordination. They lurk in a dark tunneling complex well hidden from the sun—and presumably rid of garlic—called “the weird part of the internet,” and they thrive there.
The vampire culture allows a select group of people to enact the lifestyle of a bloodsucking demon from hell with a suave side; people like the creator of Drink Deeply and Dream—a website that is dedicated to answering questions like “Help, Am I a Vampire?” These people subvert their otherwise mundane mortal lives to adopt supernatural powers, such as the ability to transform into a bat while sleeping. The vampires engage in an overly serious form of role-play that appears harmless enough intrinsically, but one strange detail separates the activities of these vampires from Live Action Role Players pretending to be King Arthur. These people—mostly adolescents—have convinced themselves that they are the genuine article. Posers are unwelcome. “Real Vampires” accuse these posers of distortion, claiming that anyone can “create fake crap” that makes them seem what they are not. The real vampires don’t need to Photoshop fangs onto their pictures, their veracity should be evident. They really seem to think that they are vampires.
The idea that someone can believe that they are a vampire seems to be some unusual expression of schizophrenic illness, a chronic hallucination, an ego-dementing act of needless self-deception. I would argue that something more complex and human is at work here. That argument, and the ideas surrounding it will solidify as this post continues, but for now I would like to discuss a two year old police report for the purpose of full-disclosure.
Although the majority of the information regarding vampires on the internet is noncriminal, it is worth including the case of a Texas man, 19 years old, who thought he was a vampire and assaulted a woman. This is man operated aside from the mainstream digital ethnography of vampire communities, but is notable for the conviction with which he plead. Lyle Bensley claimed to be “a 500-year-old vampire from hell,” and was arrested for “breaking into a woman’s apartment and biting her on the neck.” It seems more reasonable to associate this behavior with individualized insanity than to attribute his behaviors to the influence of similarly minded, yet noncriminal, vampire believers. Bensley’s connection to vampire culture is roughly equivalent to a violent psychotic’s love for violent video games. Violent or strange media will not compel a reasonable person to commit violent crime, but a less stable person is always a risk. There is a correlation here, not a causation.
Okay, back to the social profiling.
These websites lack the levity of an off-topic board, a feature usually found on other community sites for niche communities fire alarm collectors, single malt enthusiasts, and animal rights lobbyists with multiple DUI charges and a sodium deficiency. Here on the vampire websites that off-topic lobby doesn’t exist, and that means that these people never break character. But why would they? An off-topic board exists so that a group united by common factors can indulge in conversational solidarity, but here the vampire identity is all-consuming. The on-topic boards, like “Dreams, Psychic Abilities, and Philosophy” are already conversational in nature. The fact that “Psychic Abilities” has 10 posts, while “Stories from Work” has 0, is more a factor of the participant age group’s priorities than anything else.
The severity is evident by website articles that serve as a functional core to the community. Vampirewebsite.net, a shrewdly titled vampire website, is the most popular and comprehensive. This page appears before the Wikipedia page for “Vampire,” so we might infer a large amount of net traffic. A VampireWebsite viewer can find article posts like “Approaching a real vampire” or “How to get blood.” Should these contingencies ever come to fruition, the well-read vampire enthusiast is likely to be prepared. A moderator of VampireWebsite writes that the blood of a vampire “Tastes like human blood but much stronger and fuller just plain and simple more to it.” This vivid description, one that could only be wrought from the intensity of first-hand experience, is one of many tips available to the fledgling bloodsucker. They recommend that anyone planning to consume chicken blood “put it in the microwave for 3-4 seconds, as an absolute last resort emergency,” but only after linking to a porous legal disclaimer with an asterisk. I am not making this up. The blood of a pig “has a very rich good taste,” but should be avoided “due to the risk of getting a tape worm.” After reading this I am a haunted man, kept awake countless nights wondering how Bela Lugosi avoided contracting trichinosis from Transylvanian swine.
They frequently use their real names, and profile pictures with unedited faces. The forums of VampSpace, a sort of Myspace for the living dead, has segregated boards for “vampires only” and “non-vampires.” Thread topics include “Alone and scared,” “Can anyone understand?” and my personal favorite “i need answer.” The creator and moderator of Drink Deeply and Dream claims that he/she, and most other vampires suffer from migraines and sensitivity to caffeine that exacerbates the issue. These vampire people unite over themes of social isolation, and medical self-diagnosis. Based on the user profile images and lack of reverence for grammatical rules it is safe to conclude that a large portion of this user base is made of teen-aged adolescents. Most of them seem to identify under the social grouping of “Goth,” as per the NYC Gothic website which seeks to link Goth individuals with gothic themed night clubs.
It seems unusual that an internet community would forsake anonymity to the degree that VampSpace does. Websites for video game players and baseball card collectors frequently employ forum usernames and digital signatures instead of headshots and government names. But this is a community that links people to people without the chaff generated by false identity. The fact that these people are deluded about their own humanity is incidental. The identities found on VampSpace are portrayed in earnest, albeit misguidedly, by people looking for others with similar problems. The board called “Posers,” which I won’t link to because it has zero posts in it, doesn’t actually function to weed out fake vampires, it exists to provide an “other” demographic to this community. The posers are the Brony’s “rednecks,” enemies poised at the gates threatening their bohemian way of life. They insulate within a community with clearly defined borders drawn by the users. Within those borders, a comfortable space for the misanthropic teenager, they discuss the unfamiliar symptoms of physical development, discomfort with intimacy, and loneliness through a lexicon of horror fiction. These posts display a pattern of adults comforting verbose and anxious adolescents. Peel away the eccentric window dressing and you find alarming honesty—the type of emotional confession that previous generations might have saved for their diary—placed on the internet in an open-ended act of communication for all to see.