I’m starting to think that instead of vampires as a metaphor for oppressed people, we really need to start using vampirism as a metaphor for privilege.
Like, yes, you’re a vampire and you probably can’t help that, and sometimes people will freak the fuck out when you’re coming at them even if it’s just to ask if you can borrow a cup of sugar for your blood muffins or something, and you’re like, “Hey, don’t judge me just because I’m a vampire!”
And then a human’s like, “Um, well, historically, vampires tend to attack us humans and drink our blood.”
And sure, your first instinct is to go “Hey, I’m one of the good vampires! I have a subscription service at a blood bank and everything!”, but… that… doesn’t change the fact that historically, yeah, vampires have survived by eating humans. Any changing perception of vampires is going to have to start with vampires.
So instead of protesting your innocence, you have to start by going to find other vampires and being like “Hey guys, we have to stop eating humans.”
And unfortunately, a lot of vampires are gonna think they’re already doing everything they need to to be Good Vampires, and this needs to be combatted. Being a Good Vampire is a never-ending struggle, and it’s not very rewarding, but it’s what has to be done.
And some humans will never, ever stop being suspicious of you, and you’ll have to accept that. Humans don’t owe you their respect just because you’re doing them the basic service of not flapping into their bedrooms at night and biting their necks. That’s like, the bare minimum of not being an asshole vampire. And some humans will probably still make jokes about how vampires can’t go in the sun without burning up and how they have no reflections and how for some reason they think “Alucard” is actually a cute baby name, but you’ll just have to deal with that, because they’re coping with the fact that this is an entire population of things that historically have always eaten them.
But it’s not about you. It’s about making the world safer for humans, and combatting it every damn time you see another vampire planning out a good old-fashioned round of feasting on virgins in nightgowns, and saying “Okay, no, that’s really offensive” the next time one of your vampire buddies refers to a human as a bloodbag, and generally working overtime to present a pro-human standpoint.
Because really, what good does it do to make the monsters the oppressed ones?
Lit nerd here! I took a class on vampires in undergraduate, and went on to take lots of other classes on the macabre, the gothic, the theme of monsters in literature, etc. Over the course of my undergraduate career, I wound up reading “Dracula” as assigned reading 3 separate times, so I’m awfully familiar with the book. If you’ve never read it, it’s definitely worth a read, as it’s short, and also one of the most famous epistolary novels ever written; if you need an example of that art form, you won’t find a better one than “Dracula.” (An epistolary novel is a work written as a series of documents—say, letters from one character to another, or supposed journal entries, that kind of thing.) Although one of the genre’s best examples, Dracula was NOT the first modern, fictional vampire—that title goes to John William Polidori, who wrote "The Vampyre" in 1819. (The short story was often attributed erroneously to Lord Byron, on whom the titular character was loosely based.)
I love this essay. Hilariously, despite the recent turn some vampires have taken in culture (I haven’t read the Twilight series, and I’m not familiar with any iteration of True Blood)—-vampires were never meant to read as oppressed, at least as they appear in works of fiction, as opposed to Eastern European folklore. They were ALWAYS meant as a metaphor for the following things: the aristocracy (Dracula in the novel being the classic example, although the vampire Lestat as an actual rock star is a pretty stellar example as well), invading foreigners & how they’ll ruin ~our~ culture (xenophobia was alive and well in Bram Stoker’s writing), fear of germs/contagion (international travel had already brought a series of dangerous diseases to British soil, including repeated waves of cholera epidemic), and a few other things. But all the people who defeat Dracula are meant to represent the good things about the “common man”: faith in God, sensible thinking, a reliance on scientific thinking and new technology to drive out ancient folkloric wickedness—a metaphorical triumph of science (common man, things accessible to everyone) over corrupt power and dark magic (obtained via privilege, accessible only to the aristocracy).
Lots of other vampire stories, particularly from this time period (late 1890s, early 1900s) carry this out, as well as some other novels with similar themes—like “The Picture of Dorian Grey.” Always, the privileged person appears unnaturally beautiful and powerful, usually at the cost of countless hidden deaths of common people or other wickedness, and is often ageless too; almost always, the privileged person acts alone, as opposed to working in groups. (Vampire covens are a more modern addendum to the story.) Even if there is more than one vampire, it’s always a privileged minority into which one must be invited—you can never become a vampire by simple hard work; you have to be chosen. (A great fictional metaphor for the troubles of the common man/peasant class is actually the trope of the werewolf, but that’s a subject for another essay.)
Last thing: Interestingly, in Eastern European/Slavic folk lore, vampires weren’t nearly as evil as they wound up portrayed in fiction. They didn’t have fangs, and they didn’t necessarily drink blood; instead of being pasty or white-skinned, they were usually ruddy in color; they often had no neck; and they were blamed for everything from illness, to crops dying, to sick farm animals, to money troubles, to the weather. And if you wound up a vampire, it was usually an accident: you died in a liminal period of life (like an unwed pregnant woman, or a soldier in battle) … or sometimes it was just as simple as a black cat jumping over your body before you’d been buried properly. At any rate, being a vampire was an unlucky fate, but it didn’t mean your soul was cursed or you were doomed to never make it to heaven or the afterlife—more like you had just gotten stuck en route.