A Study of the Transformation of Social Roles of the Slavic and American Vampire

In America today, we are surrounded by borrowed images. People from all over the world flock here, and bring with them a background of cultures and beliefs, filled with imagery reflecting those ideas. Often times, these elements take on a life of there own in the cauldron known as the American "melting pot," and through interaction with their new surroundings, evolve into something quite different from their original form, becoming an integral part of our culture.

Perhaps one of the most fascinating figures to undergo this process is that of the vampire. With its original association with evil, disease, and death, it is surprising that this creature of the dark has garnered the appeal it has in American culture today. Indeed, our fascination with something that was once feared seems to indicate that the vampire's function in today's society is fundamentally different from that which it was originally.

To unravel the mystery of why such a change could have occurred, we must understand the nature of the transformation of the "old" vampire into what it is today. This requires us to first look at the past to establish the nature of the pre-existing vampire and then to the present to understand precisely which elements changed, contributing to its apparent transformation. It has been established that the vampire image we know today came from the English literary vampire, which has its origins in Slavic traditions. Therefore it is fundamental that vampires in past Eastern European situations be studied to establish an understanding of the vampire that existed before it was eventually introduced into American culture. In doing so, proceeding with caution is essential, for the word vampire can refer to a wide range of images and phenomena, depending on the context in which it is used. Because of this, it is often difficult to isolate what is meant by the term vampire, especially when it is applied to two different times and places, which is what must be done. Consequently, a working definition should be closely followed when calling something a vampire to ensure that equivalent concepts are being compared. Since vampires of both past and present will be examined, our definition must be one that includes and describes vampires of the Slavs, but allows us to filter out elements in today's society that are not directly comparable to the Slavic vampire.

Conceptually, the vampire can be divided into two main parts -- the image of the vampire itself, and its psychological and/or social functions. As stated earlier, the ultimate goal is to understand both past and present social roles of the vampire in order to shed light on its apparent functional transformation. In an attempt to do this, these roles will be derived from pre-existing data. Consequently, the definition of the vampire should not make any assumptions about its social role. If it were to, we would be pre-judging and/or misjudging the subject of our investigation. Instead, the definition must focus on other elements that we can find in both cultures, namely, those concerning the image itself. Focusing on the image of the vampire enables us to isolate it in both cultures for further analysis.

The definition must account for some degree of variability, since the image has changed somewhat over time, and even varies within each culture. But it must set a boundary to what can be accepted as a vampire and what cannot. Professor Jan Perkowski, a member if the University of Virginia's Slavic Department, has done extensive research concerning the Slavic vampire, and has come up with the following general definition for such creatures. A Slavic Vampire is "a reanimated corpse which returns at night to prey on the living."

Note that this definition fits our specifications quite well. It focuses on the image of the vampire, not its social function, and is specific enough to limit which beings of Slavic folklore can be included in our analysis. Furthermore, it is broad enough to allow some variation in the vampire image, so that in addition to application to vampires of the past, it can be applied as our definition of what comprises the vampire image today. In this fashion, we are assured that when deriving a social function for each image that we label a vampire, we are using truly comparable images. This is crucial, since it would not be surprising if two different images had different social functions. What is surprising is that very different social impacts are potentially implemented by the same image, namely that of the Slavic and present day American vampire. Consequently, the term vampire, henceforth, will refer to the image of a reanimated corpse which returns at night to prey on the living.

Now that we can isolate vampires across time and place by a working definition, we must find a way we can determine the social role a vampire image plays in a given society. First of all, a complete description of the account in which the vampire image appears should be documented. Such things as a description of the vampire, its activity pattern, it's origin, and how one can detect, protect, or destroy it should be included. Perkowski, in studying the Slavic Vampire, devised an outline of analysis to be applied to individual accounts of Slavic vampires, which includes these items as well as others.

It can be referred to for this step, though its importance is diminished in the sense that individual testimonies are not being evaluated. Rather a general overall image event in a society is described to the fullest extent. Nonetheless, the more details concerning Perkowski's outline that can be filled (especially those listed above), the more complete our knowledge of the vampire will be. One must remember, however, the level of detail will be limited by social constraints. Our description of the vampire should be applicable to the majority of vampires in a given culture, to ascertain the image at a social level. This means that some of the elements listed above can only be referred to in the most general sense, given the great diversity of vampire accounts.

Once a description of the image is documented, we are ready to proceed with analysis. I propose that the social function of a vampire can be derived from the context in which it is presented, which I will refer to as the vampire's paradigm. Within each paradigm are two components. One is the source by which the vampire image is transmitted within the community it effects. In other words, how would a person living in a community with vampires come to know about them? By what means is news of the vampire spread? This could include but not be limited to written sources, the media, and oral transmission. The second component of the paradigm is the reason for its transmission. This includes issues such as : Why did transmission take place?, What is the motivation to state an existence of a vampire? or Was there anything notable about the situation in which the vampire was presented?

By carefully outlining a vampire's paradigm, one can accurately derive its social function. To illustrate this, let us take the most general case on a generic image, loosely defined, but then apply the paradigm approach. In a psychology class at the University of Virginia, students were presented the image in Figure 1 along with its caption for thirty seconds, and asked to remember everything they could about the image. After the image was presented, students were then asked to quickly sketch what they had just saw, including the caption. Once this was done, the students were asked a series of questions, in which they could refer back to their sketches if need be. The following trends were revealed: 100% of the students saw a man, 50% saw a woman, 25% saw a fish, 60% saw a seal, 50% saw some sort of formal clothing, and 50% saw a beach ball. These results may seem surprising, since the same picture was shown to all the students. There was key difference in the way the image was presented, however. About half of the students received that caption shown in Figure 1, namely "Poster for a Trained Seal Act." The remaining students received a caption saying "Poster for a Ballroom Dance." Further analysis of the results enumerated above show that the captions had a significant effect on how the students interpreted the image.

Figure 1: Picture shown to students in experiment
Figure 1: Picture shown to students in experiment

This experiment illustrates the importance of understanding an image's context in which it is presented. If we make an analogy between the picture in the experiment and the vampire image, the value of the paradigm analysis becomes abundantly clear. Like the experiment's image, the vampire's image, by our definition, is loosely defined and allows for a large margin of variance. The sketches the students made of the image correspond to their internal representation of that image. When asked to refer back to that representation, the context in which the image was stored, namely the caption, largely determined how the student interpreted the image. Like our vampire of the past and present, the experiment's picture was essentially the same image in two different contexts. Without knowledge of the context, the meaning of the image is ambiguous or misjudged. The paradigm analysis assures that one looks at the caption below the image -- it's conceptual association -- and then extract its social effects. This is primarily done through focusing on the second element of the paradigm -- the motivation for stating the vampires existence or spreading news concerning it (in the experiment, this would be either a ballroom dance or a trained seal act). The first element of the paradigm, that of transmission, is essential as well, since it can play a large part in determining the social role, which is what concerns us. For example, if the picture was circulated among a group of people, it would be important to know whether that was done verbally (in which case the personal impressions that one person associated with the image would be transmitted along with the image), or if just the image without the caption were given (leading to ambiguity of the picture, and thus allowing for more individual interpretation), or if only one of the captions were included (leading to a biased interpretation).

Each one of these scenarios would predict a different overall social impact of the picture.

Another important aspect of this approach it that one derives the context of the image in the society where that image resides. The two aspects of the paradigm ask questions in relation to the community being studied. By doing so, we do not run the risk of applying any of our own "captions," or biases, to someone else's representation. Instead, by knowing their social context, we can make an accurate assessment of what "captions" are actually present. Once this is accomplished, the social role can be derived. For example, if we found out someone in the experiment received the picture with a label pertaining to the seal act, we could predict that the person's internal representation of the image would include such items as a seal and a beach ball. Results from the study would most likely verify our predictions. Thus, by applying the paradigm approach an image, one can accurately predict the social impact of that image.

As enlightening as the above comparison was, in the experiment above, one was dealing with a single person at a time. As eluded to earlier, in dealing with vampires, we are dealing with the image in a social context. Therefore, we will need to find out the context of the vampire on a social level. To do this, the questions we ask must be answered with responses that are accurate a majority of the time. It would be rare to find answers that will be correct in all instances -- there will inevitably be exceptions. But by answering the questions outlined carefully and accurately for the majority of the people, the vampire's context for most of the members of the society will be known, and thus its primary social functions can be derived.

Let us now apply the paradigm approach to the Slavic vampire. We are fortunate in the sense that research and analysis has already been done on the subject, and many accounts of the Slavic vampire have been compiled. One such compilation is contained in Perkowski's book The Darkling, A Treatise on Slavic Vampirism. Several testimonies of the Slavic vampire from various sources and concerning various countries are included. After referring to this data, an overall pattern emerges that applies to the majority of Slavic vampires. What proceeds it a very general outline describing this pattern. Many details are omitted, since these vary from story to story, and only the most pervasive characteristics concern us at this point. The description is as follows:

A village suffered from a disease or death or, as is more often the case, a series of deaths. These events were mysterious, in the sense that there were no physical causes known to the villagers that could be offered to account for them. Often times such deaths were attributed to vampires, which were corpses that came to the victims at night, attacking them, often times sucking their blood to the point of death. The way to stop the vampire was to either use various precautions to prevent it from entering the home, or to actually destroy the vampire itself. This was usually done by digging up graves, searching for corpses that showed signs of being a vampire. Although these signs varied, they usually included characteristics indicating consumption of blood and/or lack of decay (i.e. red lips, flushed cheeks, bloated figures, etc.). A vampire corpse, once identified was disposed of in a certain prescribed way. Frequent methods used were decapitation of the corpse, removal of its heart, impaling of the heart with a special sharp object, cremation, or some combination of these acts. By these methods, the vampire was found and eliminated.

With this description we are now ready to extract the Slavic Vampire's paradigm. The first issue of concern is the way news of the vampire was spread. This is difficult to know for sure. Most of the communities in which the events occurred were in a small town or village, and many times a group of residents would work together to dig up the vampire corpse.

Given the local scope of the event, news of the vampire was most likely communicated word of mouth, referred to as oral transmission. In her book American Vampires, Norine Dresser, a professor of folklore at California State University, states that oral transmission "has been considered as the primary mode of communication of concepts, stories, customs... [etc.]" Specifically, the process is defined as "the act of one person directly telling or demonstrating something to one or more persons in an informal setting..." Although knowledge of the events come to us through written sources, the Slavic vampire accounts were not written by the people themselves, but rather foreigners who heard of the bizarre vampire tales. No sources of documenting vampires written by the Slavs themselves contemporary to the event could be found by the author of this paper. Other forms of communication, such as the media, were not present in Slavic societies at the times of the recorded events, which must have occur before they were reported in 1732. Thus, within the community itself, word of mouth was the most common way news of a vampire was spread.

The second issue is of motivation. Why would someone announce the presence of a vampire, or spread the word of its existence? The events have one key element in common: they involve mysterious deaths, which are caused by vampires. Therefore the vampire is seen as a threat, causing fear. Others are warned, and steps are taken to stop it. At one level, this is the motivation for spreading the news of the vampire. If we look more closely, we will see another reason for expressing the existence of a vampire. Attributing the deaths to a vampire is the only thing explaining the fatalities, since there was no known physical cause at the time. By doing this, the villagers could take a course of action to stop the deaths. If vampires did not exist, nothing would explain these deaths and people would feel helpless, since they would not have known what to do. In other words, by attributing a cause to the terrible event, a course of action could be taken to make things better. In this case, the vampire is that cause, or a scapegoat for the deaths. It is feared because of this, yet steps can be taken to destroy the vampire, and stop the deaths. Thus, in the minds of the Slavs, the vampire was an anxiety reliever since it was a scapegoat for a fearful event which could be destroyed.

A similar conclusion is arrived at by Perkowski as well, for individual testimonies. He states that "The vampire's psychological role is that of a socially acceptable anthropomorphization of the fear of sudden, unpredictable adversity, especially death." Later he goes on to say, "The dead who seem not to be totally dead [in reference to the vampire corpses] are killed to the survivor's full emotional satisfaction wiping out feelings of guilt, fear, and false hope."(p.123)

So at least on the individual level, the function of the vampire is one of scapegoat/anxiety-reliever. But what of it's role on a social level? To the best of our knowledge, we know news of it was primarily spread word of mouth, and that the Slavs consciously feared the vampire, blaming it for the terrible event. Therefore, this impression was tied to the image as it was spread throughout the community. Others who heard this were gladly willing to accept it for the psychological reasons already discussed, and had probably heard of the vampire legend before from others in similar situations, so accepting it would not require an outstanding leap of faith. Thus, the fear of the vampire as the cause of death spread throughout the entire community, and the social role of the vampire was that of scapegoat for mysterious deaths.

Consequently, we can conclude that the pre-existing social role of the vampire image was that of a scapegoat. With this established, we are ready to investigate the role of the vampire in today's society, and determine upon our findings whether a shift in its social role did take place, and if so, to explain the causes of that transformation. In order do this, a general description of the account in which the vampire appears today needs to be found.

To isolate a general account of the vampire in contemporary America is difficult. Even with our definition of the image, if we look closely, we find the reanimated corpse ubiquitous. Novels, films, television shows, Halloween costumes, candy, and even breakfast cereals are stamped with the presence of the vampire. How, then, are can we expect to get a handle on one unifying account of the presence of the vampire image?

One way to do this is to ask people what they think about vampires, and how they encountered them and see if any prevailing trends emerge. Dresser did just that. In her book American Vampires, she reveals results of a questionnaire distributed to 574 high school and college students, which was designed to examine whether or not people believed in the possibility of vampires. Before we embrace this evidence and its ramifications, however, one other thing must be taken into account -- the vampire's image.

It is important to ensure that when the subjects of the survey were asked about vampires, the image being discussed was one that fits our definition, namely, that is it a reanimated corpse which returns at night to prey on the living. Concerning nocturnal behavior, when asked, "Under what circumstances does a vampire appear?" 57% responded "night" or "dark." On the issue of feeding on the living, when asked "What does a vampire do?" over 57% said either "Sucks blood," "Bites necks," or "Drinks blood." Unfortunately, there is no question cited that specifically addressed the issue of the vampire being a reanimated corpse, so this cannot be assessed directly, but nearly all respondents could successfully describe the characteristics of a vampire as specified in Bram Stoker's novel, Dracula, and the 1931 film starring Bela Lugosi . Dresser does not specify what these characteristic were, but it would be expected that most students would recall the vampire as a corpse, or residing in a coffin or box of earth, since these are all mentioned in the novel and/or film. 42% of the subjects described the vampire as "pale", a quality a dead body would have.

Therefore, we see that the image of the vampire as we define it is still very much intact in today's society, and is in the minds of a significant part of the population. In fact, if we probe even deeper into Dresser's findings, we find that other attributes associated with the vampire today, such as precautions and cures, are identical to those associated by the Slavs with their vampire. Weighing all of this evidence, it seems that when responding to the survey concerning vampires, the subjects, at least most of them, saw an image comparable to the one the Slavs had, and thus we can use this data in our analysis.

When asked how they had learned about vampires, only 15% of them said they learned about it from other people, whereas 49% said they first heard of the vampire on television or in films. Already we see a stark contrast between this scenario and the one that existed with the Slavs -- the media seems to have taken over the role of oral transmission. Dresser refers to this as "tubal transmission," and says, "The television tube has become the tribal storyteller." The evidence for Dresser's claim is overwhelming. With the invention of VCRs, numerous vampire films can now be watched at home on TV, in addition to the vampires that are broadcast on the tube itself. Dresser devotes 63 pages of her book citing commercials, films, and television shows that have exposed us to the vampire. To list them would be a paper in itself. Suffice it to say, it is clear that the primary way we come in contact with the vampire these days is through television and film. An important thing to note is that because television transmits the image, people are exposed and conditioned to the vampire at an early age. Of the students that were able to remember when they learned about vampires, 84% said they were between the ages of five and twelve, with most falling towards the younger end of the spectrum. As shall be discussed later, this early exposure to the vampire image will be an important fact when considering its social role today.

It has now been established that the most influential place the vampire resides is on television. Applying this knowledge to the process of "tubal transmission," a general account of how the vampire appears in today's society becomes apparent. Most children start watching television at a very young age. Almost immediately, they are exposed to the vampire image. Television commercials such as those for "Count Chocula" cereal, cartoons such as "Count Duckula," and "Count Count" on Sesame Street are just a few examples of the vampire kids see (Incidentally, all three of these example are not only cited in Dresser's book, but can personally be recalled by the author of this paper as well). The vampire image, now instilled in the children's minds, grows and develops, through further exposure to television, as well as other sources such as comic books, novels, films, and Halloween activities. The result of this growth and development is the image of the vampire that was expressed in the results of Dresser's survey.

After describing this account of the vampire image, one might be quick to point out that the examples given of the vampire on television (i.e. "Count Count") do not conform to our working definition of the vampire image. Recall, however, that it has been established that the vampire image in people's minds does fit our definition, as evidenced by Dresser's survey and that these very same people attribute television as the major source of their exposure to vampires. What this means is that the images enumerated above, although not the image we defined, are part of the process that eventually leads to the manifestation of the image we are concerned with, and should thus be included in our account.

Firstly, the means of transmission of the image must be taken into account.

Obviously, television plays an essential role, one that should be looked at more closely. On the level of the medium itself, network executives,. television programmers, and advertisers often realizing how pervasive the vampire image is, and in an effort to attract greater audiences, continue to broadcast vampires. In this way a cycle is created. Viewers, now familiar with the vampire image, pay attention to it when it is on the air, and thus increase television ratings. Because of this, the vampire image is used repeatedly to attract even more audiences. Here we see that television, although often seen as a one-way, non-interactive form of communication, does participate in a "feedback loop," generating and responding to its audiences' reactions. Furthermore, as we shall soon discuss, there are various aspects about the vampire that appeal to different audiences. Television networks are understandably very concerned with things that appeal to people. Thus, through market research and popular trends, the vampire image keeps on finding its way to the place we first found it -- the TV screen.

Television, as important as it may be, is not the only way the vampire image is circulated. Halloween paraphernalia, films, novels. and several other elements all contribute to the vampire's presence. Note that word of mouth, the primary form of vampire news circulation among the Slavs, no longer has nearly the significant role it once used to. This plays a key role as to what aspects of the vampire image are transmitted. Among the Slavs, through oral transmission, the person's impression of the image was tied to the vampire when news of it spread. It was the impression, namely the fear and blame placed on the vampire image that stood out in the transmission -- not the image itself. If anything, the image was a vehicle for fear, which was often sought out and destroyed to relieve anxiety. This established the social role of the vampire as a scapegoat. Today, we see quite a different scenario taking place. Now, through the media, especially television, it is the image itself that is being transferred, with interpretation left primarily to the viewer. Although the vampire can be and has been depicted in a variety of ways that would influence one's interpretation of the image, ultimately it is the individual doing the interpretation, and no single association with the image is transferred throughout society. In order to determine the nature of these interpretations, one must consider the second aspect of the paradigm -- the motivation for transmission.

Why is the vampire transmitted on TV, and marketed through the media? To an advertiser the answer is obvious -- the vampire is popular. People want to see it. The vampire, particularly Count Dracula, is the one of the most popular Halloween costumes year after year. But the question is why? We know that the very people who watch the vampire on TV report a comparable image to that of the Slavs, yet the Slavs were terrified of the vampire. Why are we not? The answer to this lies in the context in which it is presented.

The vampire's most influential home is that of television. Television is a part of our everyday lives, and as a consequence, so are the common images it transmits. It is by this means that the word "vampire" has entered our everyday vocabulary. Thus, the vampire is no longer threatening. We do not fear the vampire because it is something that is commonplace. Furthermore, it has been shown that the people are exposed to the vampire at an early age. These images are often times playful and humorous, such as in cartoons or commercials. Thus, the vampire is not initially associated with fear and anxiety, but rather entertainment. This attitude toward the vampire -- its familiarity and entertainment value, established at an early stage in life, sets a precedent as to how we approach the vampire the rest of our lives.

Another reason for lack of fear is that we do not share the Slavs' motivation for it. Recall, the Slavs' needed a way to explain the calamities of death and disease that surrounded them. They did so through the image of the vampire. Because the vampire was seen as a cause of their troubles, their fear and anxiety were associated with it. Today, we have medical science to explain diseases and epidemics, and this function of the vampire is gone. We may still be afraid of having a disease, but now we turn to a doctor, not a vampire, to explain. Thus, although the image of the vampire among the Slavs remains with us, there is no room for its previous social role in our society.

With this knowledge, we can now directly address the question of how the vampire is interpreted today, and more importantly, establish its social role. As explained earlier, the image of the vampire is primary in what is transmitted, not its psychological associations. It is left up to the individual to determine those. It has also been shown that the vampire is very approachable, due to its familiarity and entertainment context established early in life. Finally, the motivation to fear the vampire no longer exists in the way it did for the Slavs. Bearing these in mind, it is understandable that Dresser says, " ... American Vampires have become less lethal and more benign than their Old World antecedents." Because of this, the vampire has become a very approachable image open to a wide variety of interpretation. A brief look at a few examples will illustrate this point.

Many scholars have attempted to explain the vampire's appeal in psychological terms Literary scholar James Twitchell claims that psychoanalytically speaking, the vampire image is so popular because it represents a "complete condensation of problems and resolutions of preadolescence." He claims that children must deal with first time feelings of sexual energy and hostility, and that the vampire image acts out these situations, through its blood sucking and preying on the living.

Kirk J. Schneider, a faculty member of the California School of Professional Psychology, offers a vastly different explanation. He maintains that the vampire figure, specifically Dracula, is appealing because it is horrifying. Schneider states that true horror is when we are unexpectedly immersed in the infinite. Seeing this boundlessness is analogous to the boundlessness of that which is sacred, and thus dealing with the horror allows us to get a feel of what it would be like to deal with the holy. Dracula seems infinite is his power -- and the characters in the story as well as the audience must deal with that endless power. In regards to Dracula, Schneider states that "Dracula is not simply about a monster, it is about the mysterious force which permits monstrosities."

Perkowski claims that the figure of Dracula the Vampire functions as a symbol of evil. He states the Vampire "is a focus of fascination for forbidden, proscribed feelings and acts rife with guilt and fear, a focus for venting one's secret desires to surfeit." To support his claim, he contrasts Dracula's role with that of Santa Claus, claiming that they embody elements that make them polar opposites.

Many other scholarly interpretations for the vampire's appeal can be found, dealing with issues such as immortality, eroticism, and the symbolic meaning of blood, to name a few. All claims can be justified in some way or another. Amidst these various interpretations, it would be instructive to know what vampire fans themselves consciously attributed as appealing about the image.

As part of Dresser's research, she asked people what they found so appealing about the vampire. The answers she reports reveal incredible diversity. Qualities mentioned include: eroticism, immortality, power, victimization, beauty, elegance, romanticism, the supernatural, mystery, and the unknown. Of these, three were mentioned most often, the first of which was sexual attraction. People found the biting and blood sucking element of the vampire extremely sexual. They also found the fact that vampires are immortal quite appealing. This should come as no surprise, given that we live in an age where science strives to prolong lives as our population continues to age. The third major appeal of the vampire is power. The vampire's dominance in the biting of its victim was especially highlighted in this category. All three of these appeals are supported with extensive testimony by vampire fans.

Although the testimony is convincing, is also raises several issues. It shows that even though vampire appeal can be categorized broadly, the function of a specific attribute of the vampire is individually determined, and cannot be generalized to broad sociological functions. For example, when dealing with sex appeal, some fans focus on act of blood sucking as being intrinsically erotic. Other's see an encounter with the vampire as foreplay, and thus sexually enticing. Still others see the vampire image as sexual, but focus on the sympathy the sexual act elicits for the victim. The opposite view is also taken: the eroticism present demonstrates the vampire's needs to be loved, and fans feel sorry for the vampire because they lead "dreadful half-lives." Thus we see the image can elicit a wide range of responses, even if the same characteristic is cited as appealing.

Consequently, even though it would be tempting to make broad statements about the vampire's social function given that their appeal falls into a major category, this would not be accurate. Dresser succumbs to this temptation to some extent by stating that "the three major attractions of the vampire are totally compatible with American ideals of power, sex, and immortality." We know that although these are categories of vampire appeal, they surely cannot be grouped singly. By doing so, Dresser strongly implies that the sexual role of vampires can be equated with the role of sex in America as a whole. This simply is not true. Although the prevalence of sex in our society could be the reason people interpret the vampire as sexual, we have established that the impact of that sexuality is individually determined. To compare this to a social role of sex in our society seems unjustified. The same can be said about the other categories as well. Dresser does not fully ignore the individual aspect of the vampire, however, by acknowledging that it has adapted to our culture by catering to the individualism of the US

With all of these interpretations of the vampire, it is clear that the image is much less threatening today than it was in Slavic society. As a result, associations are freely made with it and are much more diverse, and leave us hanging with the question of what its social role is. Many explanations have been offered, and these are well supported under the context in which they are presented. Some are scholarly and deal with it at a subliminal level, while others are openly acknowledged by vampire fans themselves. But to take any one of these and assign it as the unifying social function of the vampire, which is often done or implied, would be a mistake. Although their validity may have been proven in certain contexts, in must be remembered that these contexts are not shared by all, or even a majority of the population. Since the image, and not its associations, are what we receive today through television and the rest of the media, the context of the vampire is determined by the psyche it enters, and thus varies from individual to individual.

This accounts for its diversity of interpretation that we witness today.

What this tells us is that the American Vampire today is used as source to fulfill the individual desire and needs of a population. This, in itself, should be considered its significant role in society. It would otherwise be difficult to understand why the image of a reanimated corpse has been preserved for so long, given that its ancient social function is of little use in American society today. But the image of a reanimated corpse and its desire for blood serves as symbol at so many levels and in so many ways, that once we are exposed to it at an early age, it stays with us forever, adapting in its meaning to each person's own psyche. To isolate the fulfillment any one of these needs as social role in itself would be unjustified. But the general therapeutic role of the vampire should not be overlooked. It allows us to express our thoughts and ideas, fulfill our fantasies, and cater to needs otherwise left unnourished.

Thus, by isolating the vampire image in both the past and present, and then analyzing its paradigm, we were able to assess its social role, in both the past and the present. Below is a summary of the findings presented:


Results Table

As shown above, in the past, the vampire was needed as an outlet of fear and anxiety by being a scapegoat for unexplainable calamity. Now, with medical science, this role is extinct in our culture. But instead of disappearing, the vampire has entered the media, serving as a multifaceted creature, able to fulfill a wide range of elements in the individual psyche. The reasons for its shift in function is not only due to our change in needs, but also a change in the way the vampire image is transmitted. Earlier in history, the associations of fear with the vampire were inseparable in its transmission, whereas today the image can stand alone, making it subject to a much broader scope of interpretation. It would be interesting to apply a similar approach to the vampire in its different stages as it migrated into our society. Subjecting vampires such as the ones in Flhckinger's report and English Literature would quite possibly reveal a more progressive transformation of its function to what we know today. One thing, however, is known for sure: the image has withstood the test of time and change of cultures. In doing so, it has shown that, real or unreal, the vampire seems immortal with its continued presence in our society.

I would love to gain feedback! Please send any questions or comments to: amoeba@virginia.edu



Dresser, Norine. American Vampires. New York: Vintage Books, 1989.

Perkowski, Jan L. The Darkling, A Treatise on Slavic Vampirism.
USA: Slavica Publishers, Inc., 1989.

Rice, Anne. Interview with the Vampire. New York: Ballantine Books, 1976.

Schneider, Kirk J. Horror and the Holy. Chicago: Open Court, 1993.

Stoker, Bram. The Essential Dracula. Ed. Leonard Wolf.
New York: Penguin Group, 1993.

Television Programs:

Vampires, Witches, and Werewolves. Unsolved Mysteries. Narr. Peter Graves.
NBC, WVIR-TV, Charlottesville. 26 Oct. 1994.


Bram Stoker's Dracula. Dir. Francis Ford Coppola. Columbia/Zeotrope, 1992.

Dracula. Dir. Tod Browning. Universal, 1931.

Interview with a Vampire. Dir. Neil Jordan. Warner Bros., 1994.

Class Notes:

Jain, Samay. Class notes from PSYC 420: Neural Mechanisms of Behavior,
Fall term 1994. Prof. Paul Gold, University of Virginia.

Jain, Samay. Class notes from SLAV 236: Dracula, Fall term, 1994.
Prof. Jan L. Perkowski, University of Virginia.

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Vampyres Only. http://www.vampyres.com



A special thanks goes out to Bruce McClelland in the Slavic Department at the University of Virginia, as our discussions provided insights and direction crucial to this paper.

Source: Written by Samay Jain (amoeba@virginia.edu)


Fanged Films

From the Library

As the 20th century evolved, rational man turned to science to explain mythology that had pervaded for thousands of years. How could a man be mistaken for a vampire? How could someone appear to have been the victim of a vampire attack? Science, in time, came back with answers that may surprise you.Anemia
A million fancies strike you when you hear the name: Nosferatu!N O S F E R A T Udoes not die!What do you expect of the first showing of this great work?Aren't you afraid? - Men must die. But legend has it that a vampire, Nosferatu, 'der Untote' (the Undead), lives on men's blood! You want to see a symphony of horror? You may expect more. Be careful. Nosferatu is not just fun, not something to be taken lightly. Once more: beware.- Publicity for Nosferatu in the German magazine Buhne und Film, 1922  

Drawn to Vamps?

No. 4
Captain Marvel and Sivana's Vampire
Vol. 1 No. 18
The Mask of Horror