Vampire Politics meets the EU

This article ‘Transylvania joining EU could see one million vampires in UK by 2020’ was published on the satirical news site NewsThump. Adding a Gothic twist to Brexit, it exaggerates fears regarding national identity by suggesting that by remaining in the EU, Britain remains open to invasion from foreign blood suckers. Though not directly referred to, the article is based on Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897) and its presentation of Transylvania and the vampire mythology. This is particularly interesting given the representation of the foreign Other in this novel. As Stephen Arata argues in ‘The Occidental Tourist: Dracula and the Anxiety of Reverse Colonization’ the novel enacts a fear of the ‘civilised’ world, in this case Britain, being invaded by ‘primitive’ forces, Count Dracula, in much the same way as the British Empire attacked countries and cultures that were perceived to be ‘primitive’. It is this relationship between vampires, ‘foreignness’ and British political xenophobia that the article from NewsThump plays on via the medium of Stoker’s Gothic novel.

However, the mythology of Dracula as the archetypal vampire hailing from Transylvania is made more complex by the knowledge that Stoker’s novel views the Romanian country through the prism of cultural imperialism. His vampire is an Anglo-Irish invention based on the misinterpretation of foreign folklore. In light of Arata’s analysis of Dracula and reverse colonization, the fear of the vampire and its relation to the Romanian population seems even more flawed. It is a circular relationship: the creation of the monstrous foreign Other, such as Count Dracula, and its dissemination in popular culture confirms xenophobic fears and allays imperial guilt. The monster’s traits can then be read back onto the people themselves which is what has happened in regards to fears about immigration within the EU.

What the article doesn’t acknowledge is that Romania is already part of the EU. More problematically the image of vampires was evoked when Romania became part of the EU as British tabloid newspapers framed the arrival of Romanian migrant workers as an invasion threatening to suck the life blood from British labourers. This article from The Sun gives a taste of the xenophobic tone of this ‘journalism’. (Which is acknowledged and interrogated in this article from The Guardian by Stewart Lee). The framing of this piece is a reimagining of Dracula for the twenty-first century but one which has seeped from a fictional text into newspapers. The tone of The Sun’s article has all the markers of, to use Patrick Brantlinger’s term, imperial Gothic yet unlike its counterpart from NewsThump, it is not satire nor fiction. Much of what I have discussed reminded me of the paper given by Dr Duncan Light at the ‘Beliefs and Behaviours in Education and Culture’ conference which Sam and I attended last year. Dr Light has written about the impact of Stoker’s novel in The Dracula Dilemma: Tourism, Identity and the State in Romania but the paper he gave considered more how British culture viewed Romanians due to the lasting influence of Count Dracula.

What my brief discussion has shown, I hope, is the final line between reactionary and revolutionary forces in the Gothic. Whilst I rarely recommend going below the article to the Comments Section, it is interesting to do so here. Some commentators have acknowledged the satirical quality of the article but one person states that they ‘thought they [vampires] were already here cos someone somewhere is sucking the life out of this nation’. The language used here remains within the Gothic and the vampiric but from the point of view that Britain is already a Gothic nightmare colonized by the foreign Other. An article that attempts to attack xenophobic fears and show them to be childish and superstitious is re-interpreted (rather than ‘misinterpreted’) to lend further weight to those fears.

 

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4 Responses to Vampire Politics meets the EU

  1. William the Bloody says:

    Great analysis, Kaja, but I wonder if the person commenting that Britain’s life is being sucked out of it is repeating the trope of vampire as foreign other? In the context, I think it’s more likely that they’re resurrecting (!) Voltaire’s and Marx’s usage of vampire as representing a parasitic ruling class.

    • firekrank says:

      Oh, I didn’t think of it like that. For some reason the tone suggested that it was critical of migration (though I could have been influenced by the very xenophobic comment immediately after it). I agree that there is a room for flipping the reverse colonization reading of Stoker’s novel into the Marxist critique. It shows you how flexible the novel is.

  2. This is very pertinent as I am off to Romania again in June and I am going to be presenting on the Romanian folklore in British undead fictions!!

    There was another article recently about the effect of migrants on certain UK towns (Boston in Lincolnshire) suggesting it had become a little Romania. This was published on the BBC website as part of the EU referendum. You can see the Romanian shop given prominence in the pictures
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-eu-referendum-36258541

    A revised version of my previous paper from last year’s conference on the representation of Romania in Britain and Germany through the Pied Piper and Dracula myths is in press with Palgrave for a collection on cultures of belief. I have updated these debates to include current retellings of the Pied Piper which show him as a migrant worker in Eastern Europe in the twenty-first century. In Browning he is a ‘gypsy’ in a German town who is scorned by the townspeople and flees with their children to Romania.

    I am keeping an eye on this debate Kaja as it is so very pertinent as I said. Stoker will be involved again re: his influence on the perception of Romanians by the British. Roger Luckhurst does a good job in emphasising the importance of the East End Jew to Stoker’s narrative – hence it is just as easy to argue his main focus is London and the myth of the wandering Jew (rather than the Romanian vampire). These stories are important precisely because they are key to our understanding of ‘otherness’ and how this has changed as we are now more likely to sympathise with rather than fear ‘the other’ in recent undead fictions (though newspaper articles such as these offer a real life counter narrative).

    • firekrank says:

      I’ll keep my eye out for any other examples that might be pertinent to your paper. (Also I don’t live that far from Boston, Lincolnshire – as a port it’s always had a large number of migrant workers. I remember the rumours of a Portuguese/ Romanian/ Polish-only pub which my parents tried to track down in order to prove it was an urban myth. Turns out the name/ location/ nationality of the pub changed according who was telling the tale so that it was impossible to prove that the pub’s existence was fallacious).

      As both your and Bill’s comments show ‘Dracula’ continues to offer multiple models to consider the current political situation in Britain. Anti-gypsy/ traveller fear is still very predominant in the UK at the moment so I wonder whether there is a space for re-writing the Pied Piper from this point of view …

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