As a growing number of youths in America begin to challenge the notion of inequality and repression, they are turning their heads away from the darkness of society's constraints and toward the light of the freedom of a vampire lifestyle. Vampires today symbolize power and life for many youth, including Asian Americans.
The idea of what is a vampire has changed across time. As legend has it, vampires are creatures of the night, damned for eternity to feed on the blood of the living for survival, feared and hated by the world. If this is the legend of vampire, how did their image change over the years? To understand the evolution of vampires, you must first look at its very beginnings.
All across the world, spanning thousands of years, ancient cultures have recorded the existence of vampire-like creatures that gives substance to some of the modern-day legends. Dating as far back as the ancient Mesopotamian and Egyptian times many thousands of years ago, evidences of vampires were found. The exact date of creation is unknown, however ancient Assyrian stone tablets have writings on blood drinking creatures.
In Asiatic regions of China, India, and Malaysia, records of blood drinking individuals were recorded. In 3000 BC, paintings were drawn on walls of India and Nepal depicting a man drinking a cup of blood while standing over a skull lying in a pool of blood. Also from India, around 1500 BC, holy writings called Vedas tells a story of a creature called "Baital" that hangs from a tree and has no blood of its own. And even in cultures like Africa, a tribe called the Caffre believed that the dead can return by the drinking of blood from the living. No matter what part of the world, stories of vampires are a part of each culture's history.
All these stories and recordings of vampires from the various countries around the world were developed independently. This is very remarkable considering that during those times, communication from one area to another, let alone one country to another, was scarce. Yet the stories were very similar. For many, these findings were enough to prove the existence of vampires.
However, although there are those who believe that vampires exist, others seek to disprove these legends. According to an interview conducted by Anthony Breznican (an Associated Press writer) with Wayne Tikkanen (a Cal State LA professor), vampires are actually linked to a disease know as porphyria. "The disfiguring disease known as porphyria weakens the flesh against ultraviolet rays and changes heme, a component of blood that carries oxygen to the brain, into a toxin," explains Tikkanen. Other symptoms of porphyria include burned lips that shows the teeth more, an aversion to garlic which would stimulate the toxin in the blood, and in some cases, insanity and delusion. This disease is said to affect about one in every 100,000 individuals.
These characteristics of the poryphia disease sounds very much like characteristics of vampires. However, despite the scientific argument for and against the existence of vampires, the popularity of vampires is growing. When I asked my roommate Mailisia, a Vietnamese American, about what she thought about these findings for and against the existence of vampires, she replied, "I still think vampires exist. In my culture (Vietnamese), there were many supernatural stories like that that my parents told me about, ghost stories and the like. There has to be some truth to them."
Every culture has their stories of ghosts, monsters, and mythical creatures that are passed down from generation to generation. In cultures all over the world, from Asia to Africa, these stories are a part of their heritage. That is why, for many people the existence of vampires cannot be dispelled.
Vampires have served many purposes. In the beginning, vampires were basically the symbol of human weakness and damnation. They were used by religious sects (primarily Christianity) to strike fear into their followers, and non-followers in particular, of the consequences of sinning against God. Sinners will be damned from heaven, sentenced to live in eternal misery, an undead among the living.
Since vampires were scary monsters that lurk in the night, feeding off of young souls by draining the blood and life out of them, many adults used vampires as a fear tactic to control their children. These parents perpetuated the fear of vampires, initiated by the churches, into the lives of their children and their children's children. The endless cycle of the powerful controlling the weak through fear continues.
In the present, however, vampires have changed their image to represent immortality and power. They've become supernatural beings that have the power to decide the fates of their victims by either taking their life or granting them immortality. These very imaginary ideals of vampires have moved away from the age-old monstrous images due in part to the porphyria discovery. The porphyria disease helps to explain, scientifically, the looks and behaviors of what were known as vampires. Therefore, vampires are no longer restricted to human-like qualities. The doors were open to allow for more imaginative fantasies of what a vampire "could" be like.
The revamped portrayal of vampires can be accredited to writers such as Anne Rice, author of the "Vampire Chronicles." Rice empowers her vampires with abilities to fly, read minds, and defy time. According to a small survey of vampire "wannabes," most of their inspiration and knowledge of vampires come from reading her books. Through Rice's descriptive writings and creative imagination, she has created a new genre of vampires that are pleasure seekers, sexual, powerful, and beautiful.
Rice has also gained a huge following by highly sexualizing the art of drinking the blood of another, describing moment to moment the pleasures and warmth of the experience. Many youths are drawn to this transformed image of vampirism due to its illusion of the sexuality. "I've always been interested in the ideas of vampires. I sometimes dabble in it a little. The whole allure of vampires is that it's erotic, sexy, and sensual," says Erin Smart, a 24-year-old production assistant for Sony Pictures Studios whohas worked on several small horror/vampire productions.
Vampires represent the acceptance of the forbidden urges and encourage the "true self" to be set free. Dressing up in vampire attire is one way youths free themselves from society's constraints. This attire typically includes: an all black outfit, black or blood red lipstick, pale white faces, and sharp canine teeth. Tammy Neroda, a self-proclaimed female vampire I chatted with on the Internet, explains, "This makes me feel like an individual. I don't have to be like everybody else."
This search for individuality is what many youths across cultures are seeking. They want to seek out acceptance and to rebel against the societal norms. Although most of the self-proclaimed vampires are of European descent, many minorities of Asian American and African American ethnicities are starting to explore the alternative vampire lifestyle.
This growing number of self-proclaimed vampires and their followers, of all cultures, is a sign that vampires represent more than darkness and death. Rather, vampires capture the very essence of life - which is freedom. They embody the ideals of freedom from societal expectations, inequalities, and constraints. As Joyce Lee, an advent vampire follower, so poignantly states, "I'm proud to be an Asian American vampire. Society has no hold over me. I am who I am, not matter how I look or what you see. As a vampire, I'm set free."
Author: Heather Lam