Saturday, May 30, 2009

Joseph Laycock - Modern Vampires: Your Neighbors and Spouses

As regular readers of this blog are aware, one of the continued areas of interest and research for me is the intersection between popular culture, spirituality, and theology. A recent interview at religion dispatches with Joseph Laycock, a doctoral candidate at Boston University, touches on these areas and dovetails with some of my own interests as Laycock touched on his research into the issues surrounding modern vampirism.

Several aspects of Laycock's research are worth noting. First, he approaches this topic not as a new religious movement, but instead from the broader way in which people in late modernity are constructing their senses of identity. From this perspective Laycock sees contemporary vampires as undergoing a process of self-discovery.

Laycock also attempts to set the record straight in terms of misconceptions about the vampire community, usually construed as "a subversive religious group and that anyone who identifies as a vampire is a dangerous social pariah." Rather than these stereotype Laycock's research confirms that he sees "self-identified vampires more or less as ordinary people."

Interestingly, toward the conclusion of the interview Laycock is asked which book he wished he had written. He refers to Christopher Partridge's excellent book The Re-Enchantment of the West, Volumes I & II, and his development of the idea of "re-enchantment" theory in the West in late modernity as a significant concept in the study of new religions and the Western quest for spirituality. Laycock's research into modern vampires fits will with the idea of people seeking re-enchantment, as well as seeking inspiration for identity and spirituality through aspects of popular culture such as literature, film, and television, resulting in the creation of what Partridge labels "popular occulture."


Matt Stone said...

I must confess that the Vampire subculture is one that makes even a guy like me a little nervous. Too many long and deep associations between vampires and serial killers for me to easily shrug that off emotionally. Having participated briefly on some forums I am still left with the impression its disturbing.

John W. Morehead said...

Matt, I appreciate your honest about your nervousness. Many would likely share your fears. I'm not sure about your comments regarding the connection between vampires and serial killers. In my research I've never seen such a connection, and I would think that a look at this subculture would not have any more representation among serial killers than any other. Perhaps Laycock's research might give you a less disturbing sense of the vampire community.

Matt Stone said...

I was referring to fictional vampires, in that I have the same association for fictional vampires as I have for serial killers, that being violent death.

Imagine this, a subculture emerges in the not too distant future that romantically identifies with serial killers, possibly some fictional TV serial killers. They complain about being misunderstood by wider society, that they're not really into violence, that there's just something about the mistique of serial killers that attracts them. Maybe so. But can the public really be blamed for fearing them?

They're conjuring atavistic emotions by drawing on such motifs. I think there can be a certain thrill in being misunderstood sometimes, and I find some people deliberately invoke it. It empowers in some ways. I suspect that for some being undertood would take all the fun out of it.

John W. Morehead said...

I appreciate your clarifying thoughts, Matt. It wasn't clear originally what you were referring to. While I still appreciate your concern, I find it interesting that you use a hypothetical situation surrounding the romanticization of serial killers on television as a comparison with the vampire community. Perhaps another example would be more suitable, one with less sinister implications that might not be construed as a bias concerning the vampire subculture.

But your point about being misunderstood is well taken. There are indeed some that identify with various aspects of culture that challenge the mainstream, and whether vampires or heavy metal or satanists, this can be part of the attraction.