Merticus Interview: Media’s Depiction Of Vampires - CSI Las Vegas: "Blood Moon"

CBS recently aired an episode of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation titled "Blood Moon." The episode focused on a murder connected to the intersection between the vampire and werewolf communities. In relation to this program TheoFantastique presents an interview with Merticus of the Atlanta Vampire Alliance. Merticus has been a member of the vampire community since 1997. He is one of the founding members of the, co-founder of the research company Suscitatio Enterprises, LLC, the co-organizer for TWILIGHT (vampire conference-style gathering), the current administrator for Voices of the Vampire Community (VVC), organizer for the Atlanta Vampire Meetup Group, and a principal contributing author and researcher for the Vampirism & Energy Work Research Study (VEWRS & AVEWRS). A native to Atlanta, GA, Merticus is active in both the online and offline Community; consulting not only with fellow members of the vampire community but also with academicians and the media on matters relating to modern psychic and sanguinarian vampirism. He has contributed to numerous academic and general media articles regarding vampirism; including an October 2007 interview with TAPS Paranormal Magazine, an October 2008 interview with, an November 2008 interview with the Washington Post, and an November 2009 interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He has consulted extensively with Joseph Laycock on a paper delivered before the annual conference of the American Academy of Religion in November 2007, Laycock’s 2009 book Vampires Today: The Truth About Modern Vampirism, and Laycock’s August 2010 publication of an academic paper about the Vampirism & Energy Work Research Study in Nova Religio: The Journal Of Alternative & Emergent Religions. Merticus has also contributed to Brad Steiger's 2009 book, Real Vampires, Night Stalkers, and Creatures from the Darkside, Corvis Nocturnum's 2009 book, Allure of the Vampire: Our Sexual Attraction to the Undead, David Skal's 2009 book, Romancing The Vampire: From Past To Present, and J. Gordon Melton’s 2010 book, The Vampire Book: Encyclopedia Of The Undead (3rd Edition). He has also attended and presented at gatherings throughout the United States and is a member of numerous forums and discussion groups.

Before the interview begins consider an important definition provided by Merticus:

A Concise Explanation Of “Real Vampirism”: Sanguinarian and psychic vampires are individuals who cannot adequately sustain their own physical, mental, or spiritual well being without the taking of blood or vital life force energy from other sources; often human. Without feeding a vampire will become lethargic, sickly, depressed, and often go through physical suffering or discomfort. Vampires often display signs of empathy, sense emotions, perceive auras, and are generally psychically aware of the world around them. Sanguinarian vampires feed by the drinking of blood - either human or animal. Sanguinarian vampires can vary in their experience of blood hunger but the unique craving for blood and the physical symptoms associated with neglecting to drink blood are unifying features of sanguinarian vampirism. The consumption of blood from human sources is facilitated through a consensual agreement by verbal or written contract between vampire and donor. Psychic vampires are understood to feed psychically on life force energy. Psychic feeding is usually performed on a willing individual or from the ambient energies of a large group or crowd.

With this definition in mind we begin our interview.

TheoFantastique: I noted that the episode repeated folklore about satanic and occult ritual murders. Did you note any stereotypes and myths repeated about the vampire, and perhaps even the werewolf communities?

Merticus: With sex, chains, blood, and decapitation involved, it’s not unreasonable to expect the words "occult" and "satanic ritual" to be referenced by criminal investigators. I’m rather relieved that this CSI episode did not venture far down the path of ritual sacrifice and occult crime despite the supposition of bloodletting being common among cults. Many of the usual folkloric and roleplaying stereotypes of the vampire and werewolf were tirelessly recycled in the dialogue including; “to kill a vampire you must decapitate it” to vampires hissing in the presence of those who are not “their kind” to werewolves “shifting during the full (blood) moon”.

Normally this wouldn’t trouble me in the least, however, the concept of sanguinarians (blood drinkers), act of meditation to achieve a vampiric state, and porphyria as a medical explanation for someone associating with vampires and attempting to drink the blood of a dead man, clearly muddled the distinction between harmless fiction and roleplay with that of the real or modern vampire community and sufferers of an unfortunate medical condition that has nothing to do with vampirism.

The vampire community is very loosely defined as anyone who identifies as a vampire. This may also include donors of real vampires (sanguinarian or blood drinking, and psychic or energy feeding), vampire enthusiasts, vampire lifestylers, and even roleplayers. Sanguinarian and psychic vampirism is not a cult, religion, medical condition known as porphyria, a paraphilia or "Renfield’s Syndrome", offshoot of the BDSM community, community composed exclusively of disillusioned teenagers, and it’s definitely not what’s depicted in fictional books, movies, or television. For those of us who identify with real vampirism, the saturation of interest in the vampire has resulted in a cross-pollination between folklore, fantasy, and fiction with that of our once relatively obscure community.

This episode painted a lurid image of the practice of blood drinking combined with porphyria when the actual murder occurred because a human pretending to be a werewolf later pretended to be a vampire to win the heart of a vampire and ran afoul of his former werewolf pack and current vampire clan. Silly human… everyone knows once you’re a werewolf you can’t become a vampire… it’s written in the scrolls of vampire and werewolf lore from centuries past! In this sense, CSI didn’t give porphyria sufferers nor vampires and therians (were-kin) any breaks. The writers simply reinforced erroneous stereotypes and misinformation that will undoubtedly persist in similar future productions.

TheoFantastique: Does it concern you that commercial television still focuses on vampires in programs largely in connection with Halloween (with the notable exceptions of things like True Blood)?

Merticus: While it’s true that the month of October usually signifies the return of the vampire to the screen and the foreground of pop-culture, lately this has been a year-long phenomenon. Last year (2009) marked one of the most active years for the vampire in recent memory and I expect we’ll see much of the same in the foreseeable future. CSI is no stranger to outlier or fringe subcultures with episodes devoted to furries and several to the BDSM lifestyle with Lady Heather. They have incorporated the concept of real or living vampires and vampirism into their storyline’s on at least two other occasions; CSI: Las Vegas “Suckers” in February 2004 and CSI: New York “Sanguine Love” in February 2010. “Suckers” introduced the Black Veil, sanguinarian vampirism, and other vampire community terminology and “Sanguine Love” illuminated the inner function of a coven (what we generally term as a House or Order). While all of these episodes fell short of an accurate depiction of the vampire community, “Sanguine Love” accomplished what “Blood Moon” and “Suckers” failed to achieve - humanizing the concept of real-vampirism while portraying its participants as ethical, law abiding, and a recognized identity group.

The mainstream culture has increasingly become interested in exploring all aspects of the vampire archetype and the possibility of real vampirism. While there are some in our community who enjoy living the vampire aesthetic, vampirism is largely an amalgamation of physical, mental, and in some cases spiritual attributes. The pop-cultural interest in the vampire has led to the intersection of vampire enthusiasts with that of real vampires. We now find ourselves educating growing numbers of the public that one is born with a vampiric nature and not turned, that we adhere to ethical and safe feeding practices, are of sound mind and judgment, and productively contribute to society. As long as television shows such as CSI are not seeking to intentionally demonize or marginalize those who self-identify as vampires, then I’m not concerned over their occasional explorations into the dark side of reality.

TheoFantastique: The program also stated that the mythologies of the vampire and werewolf overlapped in history, and that a tension continued into the present day. Is this accurate, or is this a Hollywood-inspired idea from films like the Underworld trilogy?

Merticus: Unless one considers Universal’s 1944 unrealized film project of The Wolf Man vs. Dracula as inspiration for eternal conflict between the vampire and werewolf, there is no historical basis in mythology to support such claim. None of the early eighteenth century texts I have from vampire lore researchers such as Dom Augustine Calmet or John Heinrich Zopfius nor sixteenth century accounts of the Peter Stubbe trial and other suspected werewolves include references to both creatures in the same work, much less either being at odds with the other. White Wolf’s, Vampire the Masquerade and Werewolf the Apocalypse, created a roleplaying foundation for strained vampire-werewolf relations and this has remained part of our pop culture ever since. The Underworld franchise capitalized on this idea and for the first time presented the sexy and violent images of warring vampires and werewolves [lycans] we have come to know today.

In subcultural terms, while the otherkin, therian/were, and vampire communities often commingle, there remains distinct and established communities of vampi(y)res and therians. Even so, several vampire Houses and groups are accepting of therians as part of their membership. As far as gatherings, vampires have their "courts" and therians have their "howls", but both meet socially in clubs and other events of all types. The various factions of the vampire community have a difficult enough time arguing over possible biological, spiritual, and social aspects of vampiric identity without having to worry themselves over other groups. I’m not aware of any current conflicts between any self-identified vampires and therians from the modern (non-roleplaying) communities.

TheoFantastique: Do you feel the writers made an attempt to research the vampire community and its gatherings?

Merticus: Rarely do the writers and producers of such shows seek the guidance and consultation of those from the vampire community. In all fairness, many within the vampire community aren’t willing to extend any assistance after suffering numerous poor treatments at the hand of the media. Still, their lack of contact is ironic because we are accustomed to receiving almost weekly media requests ranging from basic article research to reality television proposals. We’ve come to realize through our work on various television and production projects that more time is spent on casting and visual effects than the background or technical aspects concerning subject matter. Writers often rely on spotty information gleaned from the first few web sites they encounter or from personal [mis]conceptions they have about vampires.

The writer’s job is to provide the most entertaining script in the shortest amount of time which unfortunately means they don’t typically embed themselves within our community nor solicit our feedback on their storyline prior to filming. If they were to approach us with a script in advance I’m sure some of us would be more than willing to make suggestions and improvements that would benefit both parties. There are many aspects to the real vampire community which lend themselves to the theatrical while avoiding the cliché portrayals we’ve grown to expect from these shows. Cultural events such as Dracula’s Ball, Endless Night Festival, Court of Lazarus, and local gatherings throughout the community coupled with the various academic and research texts on modern vampirism would be excellent educational opportunities if the writers would only take the time to explore them.

TheoFantastique: What would you like to see reflected in future television programming that incorporates vampires?

Merticus: The purpose of television programs such as CSI is to first and foremost entertain, not educate. Therefore, I don’t think it fair to demand these shows be held to the unreasonable standard of trying to act as a documentary and drama rolled into one. The concept of modern vampirism is complex and can’t adequately be explained in a forty-minute crime drama. The specifics of vampirism manifest differently on an individual basis and these nuances sometimes insulate the confusion in defining the vampiric range of ability and experience. This is why some vampires view vampirism as a physical condition, others as spiritual or metaphysical, and still others regard it as simply a state of being.

I’d rather these inherent complications not be compounded by writers and producers mixing elements of folklore, fiction, roleplay, and actual subcultures of people into the same episode. Moving ahead, the greatest service they can do for the vampire community and vampire fandom in general is to focus on one specific theme dealing with vampires or vampirism and seek the consultation of experts in that particular discipline. In the meantime, we’ll work within the avenues afforded to us by academia, sociological, scientific, and cultural entities to lessen the stigmas perpetuated by stereotypes and the damaging effect they’ve caused some in our community.

TheoFantastique: Merticus, thank you for responding so quickly to my questions about this recent program, and for sharing your thoughts.

Related posts:

"Joseph Laycock: Vampires Today"

"CSI: Astro Quest Parody and Homage"

"The Otherkin: Fantastic Texts, Pop Culture, and Neo-Religiosity"

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