August 23, 2015 by Mike
At first glance, he appears much like you and I. Middle-aged, middle class, nice home, family, couple of dogs and an antiques shop. It just happens that, in his spare time, he feeds on human blood! No, I’m not talking about a character in a TV show or an old ‘B’ movie. I’m referring to Merticus, founder of the Atlanta Vampire Alliance, who gave a fascinating interview to The Guardian last week on this most “misunderstood” of lifestyles.
Vampire myths and legends are, of course, as old as civilisation itself. They have also long been the stuff of art and literature, not the sole prerogative of the Universal and Hammer movie franchises. As an aspect of deviant leisure, however, vampirism is perhaps one of the more problematic behaviours to study, practitioners typically being very protective of their privacy because of the negative associations the term conjures up.
To be clear, I’m not talking about the undead here! I shall leave that to academic colleagues with more unusual views (see this piece from Canada as an example). No, I am referring to those otherwise “normal” members of society who regularly get together to consume human blood, mainly as a leisure activity. The AVA is just one organisation worldwide that exists to help its members meet others sharing a common “identity” and its founding member’s conversations with journalist Kim Wall offer a glimpse of what it means to practice vampirism today.
The first thing that struck me reading this piece as a consumer psychologist is that it’s actually devoid of many of the trappings of consumption many observers would have anticipated. AVA members don’t appear to embrace the goth subculture that is often associated with vampirism by the general public, for instance, and there is even a suggestion that goths are often dismissed as “fashion victims” or “posers” by the self-proclaimed “real” vampires. No sleeping in coffins, donning black cloaks and sprouting fangs here! Moreover, even the practice of consuming blood appears devoid of any ritualistic elements – no biting necks, that’s way too unhygienic and risky, today’s vampires favour sterilised scalpels to extract the blood they wish to consume, the safety of which is verified by the AVA’s requirement to undergo and present evidence of regular medical check-ups. In short, it really does seem to be mainly about drinking blood, not embracing the cultural legacy of Stoker or Le Fanu.
An interesting and quite uncommon snap-shop of a still somewhat secretive consumption practice, intelligently presented by Wall. It would be good to see more pieces such as this, as well as more formal academic work in the area. We still know relatively little about this particular manifestation of deviant leisure but, as the Internet makes the formation of groups such as the AVA more prevalent and widespread, perhaps opportunities to explore this subject in real depth will present themselves too. After all, chances are there is an AVA-type group not too far from us all!