Yesterday morning I was greeted by a two question “Vampirology Poll” spread across innumerable Facebook groups. The poll was being conducted by the Vampyre Academy, a think tank of the South African Vampyre Community (SAVC)—not to be confused with the young-adult paranormal romance series created by Richelle Mead.
The SAVC Vampyre Academy is intended to: “support the Vampyre Community [VC] by means of gathering all relevant information on the vampyric condition and also about the Vampyre Community in all its forms and presenting it in a manner which can be used to educate.”
Two things about the poll caught my attention: 1) its questions strangely echoed a recent private Facebook conversation I had with the head of the SAVC, Octarine Valur, who was concerned about my skeptical attitude toward claims made within Self-Identified Vampire (SIV) Facebook groups, 2) there were only two answers to choose from in each poll question.
The first question asks: “Which of the following would you say is true about how a vampirologist is supposed to act FROM A VC PERSPECTIVE?” from which you can choose “To research, observe, but NOT to intervene?” or “To research, observe AND to interact, but NOT intervene?”
The second question asks: “Which of the following would you say is true about how a vampirologist is supposed to act FROM A VC PERSPECTIVE?” from which you can choose “To observe and study the VC as it is, WITHOUT influencing the VC?” or “To observe and study the VC as it is, up to and INCLUDING exerting influence over the VC to change to suit his or her own principles?”
My response to these questions is: why are those the only options? Why is there no “in between,” a maybe, a “not sure”? That the Vampyre Academy would oblige participates to choose between binaries, with no room for movement or context for “intervention” or “influence” (whatever they might be) suggests exertion of its own influence, doesn’t it?
It doesn’t help that the poll’s questions are clearly loaded. As explained on the Fallacy Files website: “A ‘loaded question’, like a loaded gun, is a dangerous thing. A loaded question is a question with a false or questionable presupposition, and it is ‘loaded’ with that presumption. The question ‘Have you stopped beating your wife?’ presupposes that you have beaten your wife prior to its asking, as well as that you have a wife. If you are unmarried, or have never beaten your wife, then the question is loaded.”
In this case, the “questionable presupposition” is “influence,” “intervene” and “change to suit his or her own principles”; in what context are these presuppositions being used? Who says that is the explicit intention—and to what end? There’s no clarification within the poll’s introduction and the intentions are certainly not outlined in the poll’s working definition of “vampirologist”: “The dictionary defines a vampirologist as ‘One who studies vampirology‘ or ‘A person that researches, studies, and discusses vampires in both the fictional and real world and the trends that follow them.‘” The uncredited dictionary definition comes from Urban Dictionary, which primarily concerns itself with user-submitted slang terms.
At its most basic level, vampirology is the study of vampires. It’s right there in the name with “vampire” and the -ology suffix: “In English names for fields of study, the suffix -logy is most frequently found preceded by the euphonic connective vowel o so that the word ends in -ology.” What that study entails or how it’s conducted is certainly up for debate, especially considering the diversity of vampire topics which certainly aren’t restricted to the SIV community, when we consider the vampire genre as a whole. Movies, fiction, history, folklore—contrary to what the Academy might think, vampire study is not “all about them.”
Consider Joe Nickell, a renowned skeptic and paranormal investigator, who also defines himself as a vampirologist (among many personae). His definition of vampirology can be found in his 2011 book, Tracking the Man-beasts: “if we are to seriously add the root –ology to vampire, the presumably scholarly field thus described must represent more than credulity and fantasy. There is a serious field of study—embracing folklore, psychology, cultural anthropology, literature, history, and so on—that attempts to research and make sense of the various aspects of the vampire myth. To that study the term vampirology may well be applied.”
Does that mean this “serious study” doesn’t apply to criticism and investigation of vampire myths presented as fact? Note that SIV claims are not considered “off limits” in Nickell’s definition. Nickell even takes the opportunity to do some debunking in the same book, calling attention to the fakery of so-called “antique” vampire killing kits through personal investigation. I’ve also criticised their fraudulent historicity too, within this very website (“6 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Buy an ‘Antique’ Vampire Killing Kit,” Oct. 31, 2014). To follow the poll’s first options, we should’ve kept our mouths shut lest we offend the “community” that trades off such items; buyers, sellers, auction houses, etc.
“Study” does not always mean passive observance. Consider Dictionary.com’s multiple definitions: “application of the mind to the acquisition of knowledge, as by reading, investigation, or reflection,” “the cultivation of a particular branch of learning, science, or art,” “Often, studies a personal effort to gain knowledge,” “something studied or to be studied,” “research or a detailed examination and analysis of a subject, phenomenon, etc.,” “a written account of such research, examination, or analysis,” “a well-defined, organized branch of learning or knowledge” and the verb “to observe attentively; scrutinize”.
Studies are intended to gain deeper understanding, form conclusions on subjects and share knowledge too, aren’t they? If a vampirologist interjected on public forums, say, and told a SIV that their reaction to sunlight probably has nothing to do with being a vampire, but that they’re probably suffering from an easily-treated sun allergy, would that count as “intervention”? If so, why is that inherently bad? What’s wrong with sharing alternative possibilities or discussing view points, even critically?
Would I be “intervening” by pointing out that the SAVC’s use of “Vampyre” in its name is historically redundant, considering it’s merely an antiquated spelling of “vampire” and shouldn’t be taken seriously as a designator between SIVs and the vampire in history, folklore, film and literature? Maybe. But how is that “wrong”?
Earlier this year, John Edgar Browning, a prominent vampire and horror scholar, published a widely distributed report on SIV communities in New Orleans and Buffalo. It’s a fairly objective, and in my view, accurate report and you should read it—but don’t think his studies made him immune from personal “involvement” with his subjects.
On April 1 (Mar. 31 in the US), a link to an article covering Browning’s report was shared on the Vampire Community News Facebook group. A member named Mavenlore Scalzi piped up: “I remember this guy! He followed me around for a week or so” Browning added: “…and Mavenlore introduced me to his hot mechanic friends (without telling me he was going to do so).” Scali replied:
I remember that! “MAVEN WHY DIDN’T YOU TELL ME HE’S HOT??I FELT LIKE A GIRL CAUGHT WITHOUT HER MAKEUP!!”
And then his equally attractive friend came in…. at that point you decided that from then on you were going to get your vehicle repaired at that shop 🙂
Scali, a SIV, was one of Browning’s interview subjects. Was Browning’s “involvement” remotely professional? Does that qualify as “intervening”? Does it disqualify his work? Is it okay when vampirologists “mingle” with their subjects to that extent? No SIVs on the thread seemed to have a problem. No one created a “Vampirology Poll” to question his involvement.
Indeed, in some circles, that kind of conduct would call the whole study—and the author’s—credibility into question. But me? I don’t see the problem. I’m more concerned with the substance of the work than the author’s peccadilloes. As long as a vampire scholar can remain sufficiently “detached” from their subject that they don’t let bias or relationships get in the way of observation and criticism. All that matters is that you represent your subject accurately.
Considering my skepticism of SIV claims, you might be wondering what on earth I’m doing hanging out in these groups in the first place? I was asked a similar question in a recent interview: “You have made it a job to interact with these subcultures and to comment on many of their posts as you see fit. Do you ever feel threatened by it all? By anyone? As many of these people do not agree with your approach.” I replied:
I wouldn’t say I’ve made it my job, so much as it has become part of my job. I’m “that” guy: if I see someone has written about something incorrectly or if they’re sharing an obviously nonsensical story without checking Snopes first, I have to correct them. It just happens that I admin many vampire themed groups awash with folk from vampire subcultures who’ve been fed a steady diet of bullshit and regurgitate it accordingly.
The only thing I feel threatened by is the possibility that discussing vampires enters the realm of political correctness. Now that further sociological studies are being done on them, I have a feeling that their “feelings” will be put at the forefront over hard, incontrovertible fact: that vampires have no basis in reality outside novels and movies. I encounter enough anti-intellectualism within these circles as it is, without being blockaded by misguided, but well-intentioned rights activists.
Many SIVs are in Facebook groups I administrate, I’m a member of, or I’m invited into. Not all are explicitly devoted to the SIV community. The presumption seems to be that because I’m in a SIV community—or one that has an active SIV presence—I’m there to study it. I’m not. Instead, I patron and frequent Facebook groups that deal with vampires because I’m interested in vampires. Quite simple. As Browning’s example shows, vampire scholars are human, not robots. So are SIVs. It’s hard not to get involved. After all, they’re social groups. I have many friends within the SIV community, indeed the author of the “Vampirology Poll,” Ocatrine Valur, is one of them.
Remember when I said the poll “strangely echoed” a conversation I’d had with Octarine Valur? It turns out that was no coincidence. “The point of the poll was to get the perspective of the VC itself on the two concepts in each question,” Valur told me in a Facebook chat yesterday, “and to convey/clarify it to you where you have been going wrong . . . it’s not a vampirologist’s place to interfere in their subject of study or to alter it to the way they want it to be – that’s not a STUDY of the subject, thats EXPERIMENTATION.” I must confess, I found it an odd use of an Academy’s resources to “educate” the public on the community—by crafting a poll to send me passive aggressive “message” then distributing it through multiple Facebook groups (including mine and other SIV groups) in order to make a misinformed, presumptuous point.
Valur was at least courteous enough to acknowledge my role during the same conversation, but added: “You may be a vampirologist yes, but when you experiment and intervene, you are an activist or advocate of your own ideals, not a vampirologist.” I’m guessing the irony went over the head of the SAVC: how does my approach differ from the SAVC and its offshoots like the Vampyre Academy? If anything, that makes us two sides of the same coin; both looking at the same thing through a different lens. I share my experience and knowledge through online writings and online communities. So does Valur. I educate. So does Valur. I criticise behaviour I don’t agree with. So does Valur.
In fact, it brings me to a recent Facebook post I wrote, where I referred to an unnamed “elder” in the SIV community to whom I outlined “my vision for the VC, my approach to it”; the elder was actually Valur. We’ve had lots of discussions about my “place” in online communities. In fact, it was Valur’s idea for me to “bulletpoint” my stance—which was a good way to help me distill my approach in SIV communities:
– curtail historical ignorance by focusing on historical claims
– advocating for a name change, as “vampire” has different connotations
– to discourage blind “following,” the mob mentalities . . .
– to encourage people to directly engage, rather than rely on hearsay alone
– to illustrate that elders are not infallible
– to emphasise humanity over “vampire families,” which are ride [sic, “rife”] with nepotism for the sake of it
– to advocate greater free speech
– encourage critical thinking
Despite the straw man set up in Valur’s poll, vampirologists aren’t bound by sociological, anthropological or ethnographic guidelines—unless they’re writing reports in those contexts, of course. But I don’t write from either of those perspectives. I banter. I share knowledge. I debate. Why? Because not only does it help refine my thoughts and develop my knowledge, but it’s fun; it sharpens the mind. As I said before, I’m not in the groups to study the people in it; my observations on their behaviour are byproducts of my involvement in the communities in the first place. Consider the “fan-scholars” David Lavery celebrates in his paean to Buffy Studies—that’s me, but for vampires; it just happens that the thing I enjoy about vampires is historical representations, folklore and myth-busting.
In fact, I even run a Facebook group called Vampire Community Skeptics which aims to: “discuss and encourage critical thinking on matters relating to the vampire community.” The group’s definition of “vampire community” is actually taken from a SIV; Merticus, the head of the Atlanta Vampire Alliance and administrator of the Vampire Community News Facebook group: “anyone who identifies as a vampire. The community even extends to include donors of real vampires (sanguinarian or blood-drinking, and psychic or energy feeding), vampire enthusiasts, vampire lifestylers, and even roleplayers.”
But don’t confuse my skeptical approach for pure cynicism on all things vampire-related. As Skeptoid podcast host, Brian Dunning, clarifies: “Skepticism is the process of applying reason and critical thinking to determine validity. It’s the process of finding a supported conclusion, not the justification of a preconceived conclusion.” It’s why I have encouraged further research into the peculiar “thirsts” that unite them—I never said I was doing it. I do not deny that “something” is going on, I only question what is. I made my stance very explicit in my recent interview: “I believe further study – medical and psychological study – should be done with members of the vampire subculture to determine what their ‘thirst’ is based on. There’s no question that there’s lots of consistency if we strip the whole thing down to a ‘craving.’ ”
In the mad rush for SIVs to put me “in my place,” they forget that I am another vampire “enthusiast,” someone interested in as passionate about vampires as they are. The difference is, I happen to know their history better than they do. I can spot when they’ve watched a little too much TV; after all, the modern concept of the vampire has been filtered, heavily, through pop culture. Knowing your history means you can spot where certain ideas have been developed, taken from or self-applied. I can certainly see why such knowledge would be a threat to people who’ve built their identities around being “vampires” but that doesn’t mean I, or anyone, should be cajoled into “keeping their mouth shut.” An identity or belief—especially one based on a myth—doesn’t give someone a “free pass.” It doesn’t make them immune from queries, investigation, exploration or criticism. After all, is it a community or is it a cult?
- “Vampirology Poll”: “Vampirology Poll,” Vampyre Academy, n.d., accessed Aug. 4, 2015, https://vampyreacademy.wordpress.com/vampyre-academy-formal-surveys/vampirology-poll/. archive.is link: https://archive.is/CqdNO.
- young-adult paranormal romance series: “Vampire Academy,” Wikipedia, last modified July 22, 2015 at 14:07, accessed Aug. 4, 2015, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vampire_Academy. archive.is link: https://archive.is/zFflD.
- SAVC Vampyre Academy is intended to: “About,” Vampyre Academy, n.d., accessed Aug. 4, 2015, https://vampyreacademy.wordpress.com/. archive.is link: https://archive.is/IOj7K.
- explained on the Fallacy Files website: “Loaded Question,” The Fallacy Files, n.d., accessed Aug. 4, 2015, http://www.fallacyfiles.org/loadques.html. archive.is link: https://archive.is/aZXXh.
- even within the poll’s own defintion: “Vampirology Poll,” Vampyre Academy.
- uncredited definition comes from Urban Dictionary: J. Murphy, “Vampirologist,” Urban Dictionary, Dec. 16, 2005, accessed Aug. 4, 2015, http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Vampirologist&defid=1555722. archive.is link: https://archive.is/TJku0.
- -ology suffix: “-logy,” Wikipedia, lasted modified July 12, 2015 at 08:39, accessed Aug. 4, 2015, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/-logy. archive.is link: https://archive.is/JQDAA.
- defines himself as a vampirologist: Joe Nickell, “Vampirologist,” joenickell.com, 2015, accessed Aug. 4, 2015, http://www.joenickell.com/Vampirologist/vampirologist1.html. archive.is link: https://archive.is/lWnb4.
- His definition of vampirology can be found in his 2011 book: Joe Nickell, Tracking the Man-beasts: Sasquatch, Vampires, Zombies, and More (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2011), 125. Another vampirologist, Theresa Bane, defines the role as “a mythologist who specializes in cross-cultural vampire studies.” Theresa Bane, Encyclopedia of Vampire Mythology (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2010), 1.
- Dictionary.com’s multiple definitions: “Study,” Dictionary.com, accessed Aug. 4, 2015, http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/study?s=t. archive.is link: https://archive.is/4ux6G.
- easily treated sun allergy: Drugs.com, “Sun Allergy (Photosensitivity),” Drugs.com, accessed Aug. 4, 2015, http://www.drugs.com/health-guide/sun-allergy-photosensitivity.html. archive.is link: https://archive.is/aErsn.
- merely an antiquated spelling: Anthony Hogg, “Vampire or Vampyre?” Diary of an Amateur Vampirologist (blog), Aug. 4, 2010, accessed Aug. 4, 2015, http://doaav.blogspot.com.au/2010/08/vampire-or-vampyre.html. archive.is link: https://archive.is/MHldn.
- report on SIV communities in New Orleans and Buffalo: John Edgar Browning, “The Real Vampires of New Orleans and Buffalo: A Research Note Towards Comparative Enthnography,” Palgrave Communications 1 (2015), accessed Aug. 4, 2015, http://www.palgrave-journals.com/articles/palcomms20156. archive.is link: https://archive.is/XElhn.
- link to an article covering Browning’s report: Magdalena Anya Rakoczy shared the link to the Vampire Community News Facebook group on April 1, 2015 at 10:53am GMT+10, accessed Aug. 4, 2015, https://www.facebook.com/groups/vampirecommunitynews/permalink/910071849032415/; archive.is link: https://archive.is/sDYTx. On April 5, on the same thread, Scalzi confirmed: “Several of us including myself and Belfazaar [Michael Bousum Ashantison] were interviewed by John Edgar Browning in his research. We gots stories…. ” The article Rakoczy shared was ScienceAlert Staff, “There Are Real-Life ‘Vampire’ Tribes Roaming New Orleans,” ScienceAlert, Mar. 31, 2015, accessed Aug. 4, 2015, http://www.sciencealert.com/there-are-real-life-vampire-tribes-roaming-new-orleans. archive.is link: https://archive.is/yPorM.
- a recent interview: Nadine Maritz, “Comprehensive Interview with Anthony Hogg a Vampirologist, on Absolutely Everything Vampire,” My Addiction (blog), May 29, 2015, accessed Aug. 4, 2015, http://my-addictionbooks.blogspot.com.au/2015/05/comprehensive-interview-with-anthony.html. archive.is link: https://archive.is/Bjve0.
- a recent Facebook post I wrote: Anthony Hogg, post to Vampire Community Facebook group, July 29, 2015 at 5:32pm, https://www.facebook.com/groups/VampirecommunityVC/permalink/864385726971857/. archive.is link: https://archive.is/mqaDZ.
- his paean to Buffy Studies: David Lavery, ” ‘I wrote my thesis on you!’: Buffy Studies as an Academic Cult,” Slayage 4, no. 1–2 (2004), accessed Aug. 4, 2015, http://slayageonline.com/essays/slayage13_14/Lavery.htm. archive.is link: https://archive.is/WK4Lx.
- Vampire Community Skeptics: https://www.facebook.com/groups/vampirecommunityskeptics/. archive.is link: https://archive.is/svTrq.
- The group’s definition of “vampire community” is taken from a SIV: Merticus, “On Vampirism and Energy Work,” in The Vampire in Europe: A Critical Edition, by Montague Summers, ed. John Edgar Browning (Berkeley, CA: The Apocryphile Press, 2014), 374.
- As Skeptoid podcast host, Brian Dunning, clarifies: Brian Dunning, “What Is Skepticism?” Skeptoid, 2015, accessed Aug. 5, 2015, https://skeptoid.com/skeptic.php. archive.is link: https://archive.is/NdNxr.
- I made my stance very explicit in my recent interview: Maritz, “Comprehensive Interview.”
While writing this article, I asked Valur permission to quote segments of our Facebook chat in context with sharing it here. Permission was granted.
Soon afterwards, Valur shared the results of the poll in a South African Vampyre News article called “Vampirology Poll Ruffles a Few Feathers” (Aug. 4, 2015). As you’ve probably guessed, I’ll be writing a response to that, too. Stay tuned.