Friday, November 14, 2014

BREAKING NEWS: "Authentic" vampire hunting kits not authentic

It's official: Vampires don't exist! Probably!

The British Library confirmed as much today on its official blog. Despite there being exactly zero evidence supporting the existence of the undead, a weapons curator felt compelled to weigh in on the validity of "authentic vampire hunting kits" that occasionally pop up in auctions. Some asshole actually spent $14,850 on one at an auction in 2008.

One of these obviously fake kits is going on display as part of the British Library's Terror and Wonder exhibit (and is curiously on loan from the Royal Armouries). This is the scholarly equivalent of hit whoring, and Jonathan Ferguson, a curator of firearms at the Royal Armouries, weaves a glorious tapestry of bullshit to justify the exhibit. Here's what he has to say about it in a blog post at the British Library:
To some this might come as a disappointment, or even as a reason to decry the kits as fakes as some do. Would-be buyers should certainly not purchase under the apprehension that they are buying a Victorian antique as my own research has shown. So why acquire such an object regardless? Museums do collect deliberate fakes as comparators and for their own artistic and cultural merit, yet vampire kits are not fakes per se, because there is no evidence of a Victorian original. In the case of historical artefacts for which the original does not survive, we will also display reproductions. In this case, there very likely isn't an original. Self-defence against the supernatural was for many in history (and indeed today) a matter of life and death, but the weapons they used were ephemeral. The wooden stakes, guns, and agricultural implements that they attacked vampires and other revenants with either no longer survive, or have lost their provenance and are unable to tell us their story.

So, if they're not fake, and not reproductions, what are they? The answer is that they are 'hyperreal' or invented artefacts somewhat akin to stage, screen or magician's props. They can also be regarded, and indeed have been sold as, pieces of modern art.

I'd like to lay the blame on Hollywood for perpetuating this superstition, but film has inadvertently done more to deter this kind of superstition than any other institution in the world. Sure, if you were to step back and count the number of vampire movies produced during the last century, Hollywood would look like a glorified vampire factory. The truth is, though, that the conflicting mythologies adopted by movies throughout the years are all the evidence most reasonable people need. This is the kind of scrutiny that even Santa Claus can't withstand ... and that myth relies on outright bribery to maintain itself. And I've never so much as received a birthday card from Dracula.

from the Royal Armouries
This sounds like a fun exhibit as long as it doesn't involve anyone pissing down my back as they discuss the suddenly damp weather. I was kinda onboard with the idea of this exhibit until Ferguson began to willfully apply different meanings to words like "fake," "reproductions" and "invented artefacts," as though they all have different meanings.

What's really galling here isn't the presence of cosplay accessories in an exhibit about literature, or even Ferguson's self-fellating logical contortions ... it's that these kinds of exhibits have little to do with British vampire literature. Varney the Vampire kills himself by leaping into a volcano. Dracula's heart is cut out with Bowie knives. Lord Ruthven simply vanishes. OK, Carmilla was staked, but we're batting .250 here (though I'm willing to add a few points in honor of  Ingrid Pitt.) That's good enough for professional sports, but hardly good enough for the British library system.


Unknown said...

Yeah, I went to this exhibit, which was for the most part lovely,
beautiful collections of Penny bloods, anthologies, and gorgeous documents, and then the features you mention crop up.
And I have to say it boils my blood when I go to see something as rare as an exhibit dedicated to the literature and genre I hold so deat, and find 'Twilight', and the Cosplay community once again being mandatorily tacked onto the back of every public celebration of it.
I had the same problem when the British Film Institute ran it's Gothic festival.
I bought a gorgeous magazine covered in homages to all my favorite corner stones of horror cinema. It featured Black sunday, Hammer's Dracula, Chaney's phantom, the innocents, the haunting, Karloff's mummy, all gorgeously arranged....and the tagline was "From Universal, to Hammer, to Twilight".

Whatever opinions one has on cosplay, or teen romance, they are not a piece of literary horror history.
And inclusions of something as blatantly non historic as these kits just drives home the oppressing sensation that the genre isn't to be respected or validated, and that anyone passionate for it's contents is an un-educated, gullible, and self centered individual in fake nails, mascara and plastic fangs. And it hurts to see these beautiful and pivotal works brought to the same level as these botched cries for attention.

Unknown said...

That is to say- society and authority views us as un-educated, gullible, and self centered individuals in fake nails,
mascara and plastic fangs. And it hurts to see these beautiful and
pivotal works brought to the same level as these botched cries for

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