Economic Vampires

The vampire trend, it appears, is dead. Well and truly staked. The market for vampires in pop culture is drying up, tastemakers are turning their interests elsewhere, and the new hotness is fairies and angels. Even zombies, poor dears, are lagging in the polls. It’s a tough time to be undead. But the vampire metaphor lives on, and will continue to do so. Like all trends that wax and wane, this is one that will return eventually, when it becomes relevant again, and it is one that should always be carefully analysed when it pops up, because there are numerous ways to explore the vampire metaphor and its presentation can matter more than you think it does.

What was being said during the last round of intense interest in vampires? Not just about the consumers of media and what they were looking for, but the cultural context that media was occurring in? What was it all about, really? A vampire is never just a bloodsucker, my friends.

Who else has observed that the rise of the vampire coincided with a period of increasing economic optimism with faint overshadowings of warning, and the peak of the vampire trend happened to settle around the time the economy began to tank? This is not entirely coincidental. Pop culture echoes ongoing social problems and topics of discussion, it tends to reflect social trends, and it can provide an outlet for expressing things that may not be communicable in other media. The vampire metaphor provides a medium for expressing anxieties and for soothing unrest, no matter what that sense of disturbance and unease is rooted in. Like many myths, it is flexible, and you can take it and use it however you need to. People were saying something with the most recent generation of vampires, and it was a very fascinating thing from a lot of perspectives, one of which happens to be an economic one.

The latest iteration of the vampire myth surrounds extremely powerful people who have few of the limitations normally placed upon their kind; they can go out in sunlight, they can handle religious artefacts, they can interact with silver and garlic. All of the things we are told can kill them actually do not, it turns out.

They are immortal and effectively unkillable because all of the potential weapons we might use against them are no longer effective. We believe in those fragile protections because they want us to, because they maintain the fiction that these things still work. These vampires are secretive and just want to be left alone to do their work, because at heart, they are very fragile, and mortals can hurt their feelings. And it’s good work, honest to peanuts.

Does this remind anyone else of the banking industry? In the 2000s, the banking industry became an unstoppable juggernaut. An industry with tremendous historic power that dominated and shaped the economy was increasingly unregulated and unwatched. The general population was not aware of how bad things had gotten because those in the know either were banks, or had relationships with banks and thus had no reason to out them. Many banks assured consumers that they didn’t need regulation because they were responsible, and left a great deal of cloaking in place around their feeding business practices so as not to frighten members of the general public. We were lulled into complacency, a belief that the regulations that had historically worked would continue to do so, and the banks let us think that because that worked very well for them.

And then. It’s ok, you see, that the vampires are so powerful, because they are, at heart, benevolent. They will fall in love with you and become your dream lovers. They will protect you from the not so nice vampires, the evil ones. They will issue home loans with no documentation fold you in their strong, protective arms forever so you won’t have to worry about anything, ever again. Their power is here to help you. They are good, and moral, and righteous, and believe that mortals aren’t all that bad, really. Some of them even experience self-hatred and wish they could die!

Much as the banks assured us that they were really just acting in our best interests. Well, sure, they might have fed on some of us, with reluctance, but they really did want what was best for us, and they knew how to accomplish that. They knew we’d worry if we knew about the details, and now we’re angry at them for taking care of everything? We had the temerity to be upset that it turned out that the banking industry really was populated by a bunch of vampires who planned to bleed us dry in a quest for total control of society? And then we got outraged when the banks demanded government assistance because they’d made one too many bad decisions?

And it was right around the time that public anger at banks started to peak, that the vampire trend started a downward glide. Vampires, and banks, had been exposed for what they really were; manipulators, greedy, power-hungry. Too much power, to a frightening degree. We wanted nice, pure, happy things, like angels and fairies with a hint of darkness to keep them exciting, to come and save us. The undertones of the new vampire narrative, the idea that absolute power could be incorruptible in the hands of the right vampire, just didn’t ring true anymore, and no longer met our needs, as a society. We wanted wholly magical things, not evil made good through sheer willpower and endless power, and were officially over our vampire love affair.