Vampires need a place to hide from the light and the Internet is their new haunt
By Liz Worth
When discussing vampire culture, there is no straightforward way to go about it. The definitions of what vampire culture is are varied, and even the use of the term vampire is up for debate among some who purport such a lifestyle.
And so, when I set out to talk to members of vampire communities about the role the Internet plays in keeping this subculture connected, I first had to set boundaries for who, and what, I was looking for. Though there are plenty of vampire fans and role players out there, I felt that my first source here should be someone who is actually living a vampiric lifestyle.
It wasn’t easy. Type “vampire” into a search engine and it doesn’t take long to track down these communities. But just because the Internet makes vampires more visible doesn’t mean that they want to be found by just anyone.
Several attempts were made to set up interviews with online vampire communities and individuals. The only reply came from the Toronto Vampire Meetup Group. But before an interview could take place, Icewind, the group’s organizer, wanted to make clear what the group’s definition of vampirism is: “The Toronto meetup group is concerned with what I would consider a spiritual belief or practice generally called vampirism by its practitioners,” he wrote in an email. He also asked that I send him details on what kind of information I would be looking for.
There’s a sense of paradox in discussing the relationship between vampires and the internet. Sitting in the same coffee shop that the group meets in, Icewind explains that there is a stigma attached to vampire culture. It’s an interest and a lifestyle that continues to be seen as subversive.
“The Internet’s just really a useful tool to get together and meet people about things that can be considered questionable topics because of the anonymity,” he says. “The pro is that anyone can just type in a few words in a browser and come across us. It’s really great for putting out education about the subculture. It’s also really great because of the anonymity, because it provides some safety.”
Icewind says a large majority of the people he knows were first introduced to the vampire community through the Internet, as was the case with him when he was 16. Although at first he viewed the concept of such a community with suspicion, expecting it would be rife with politics, his eventual face-to-face encounters proved otherwise.
He says that while it’s hard to gauge whether vampire culture is more reliant on the Internet than other subcultures, there’s no denying it’s had a strong role in bringing people together. Unlike punks who can meet up at shows, for example, vampires don’t have quite the same bustling infrastructure in the physical world.
For Icewind, who took over as organizer of this group two years ago, this is one of the reasons it’s important to maintain a community that meets both on and offline. The Toronto group also acts as a catch-all for communities in neighbouring regions. It’s not just the commonality of lifestyle, but true sense of kinship, that keeps him dedicated.
“My motivation for continuing the group is, when I got introduced online, those people really helped me a lot through my own life difficulties and they really are a second family to me,” Icewind says. “So as a way to sort of give back to the community I decided to do the same thing here in Toronto.”
Nancy Kilpatrick, a horror writer based in Montreal, says that she didn’t see vampire culture, whether from the perspective of fandom or a lifestyle, really start to expand until the Internet. Before, it was a subculture that formed through independently run groups and fan clubs, as well as word of mouth.
“I used to go to a bookstore years ago when I lived in Toronto and it was a science fiction, fantasy, horror bookstore,” Kilpatrick says. “In the process of going to that store they’d say, ‘Do you know so and so? She’s collecting vampire books, too.’ I had no idea somebody else in the city was collecting these books, so they hooked us up. And I think a lot of people found each other in similar, low-key ways.”
Kilpatrick says that while vampire culture was taking hold within the underground, and would have continued to do so no matter what kind of technology came along, the Internet has allowed it to expand in faster and stronger ways. She echoes Icewind’s sentiment on how the Internet provides fertile ground for vampire culture to thrive in, because, unlike most other subcultures, there’s more of a need for some to keep such a lifestyle or an interest a secret.
“I know when I’ve done book signings in the US, and I write horror mainly but a lot of it’s vampire, there’s always someone that comes up and picks up the book and looks at it and they throw the book at you: ‘Oh, vampires, that’s ungodly,’ that kind of thing. So you get that and I would think that there would be people whose jobs might be on the line or family situations wouldn’t tolerate that kind of interest. It is still considered weird and crazy and oddball if not out and out evil, so sure, I think some people really have to protect themselves. Anonymity on the Internet is a good way to do it.”