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Castle and Vampire Culture

on Mon, 04/09/2012 - 00:00

Castle Vampire Weekend
The ABC drama Castle has explored a plethora of subcultures within New York City over the years, including Steampunk, S&M and even Real Life Superheroes. While other contemporary crime procedurals have likewise entered seemingly strange worlds during their investigations into murder and mayhem, however, none have done so with the respect and objectivity that Castle has demonstrated.

Instead of using such narrative devices for shock, humor and misrepresentation, for instance, Castle invokes an attempted understanding of alternative lifestyles to counterbalance any exploitation of individuals who may be considered “abnormal,” “weird” or even “dangerous” by the uninitiated. The season two episode “Vampire Weekend,” in which a dead body is found in a cemetery with a wooden stake driven through its heart, is a prime example as Richard Castle and Kate Beckett enter the Gothic landscape of modern day vampires.

“What is it with these people?” Beckett asks during the proceedings. “Dressing up as vampires, the covens, the drama?” While Kate Beckett is initially a skeptic in regards to the lifestyle, Richard Castle offers a more open minded viewpoint. “It’s not about the costumes or the makeup,” he replies. “A lot of people who are committed to the fantasy are a little different. They’re just looking for a place to fit in.”

Castle then continues with his own psychological analysis of the community, helping Beckett—whose mother was murdered years earlier—place the phenomenon in a more personal perspective. “They probably had something happen to them when they were younger,” he slowly begins. “Maybe they saw their dog get hit by a car, attended an open casket funeral. A loss of a childhood friend. Or parent. Some people become vampires, some people become cops.”

Joseph Laycock studied the vampire community in the United States at the turn of the Twenty First Century and collected his observations in the book Vampires Today: The Truth about Modern Vampirism (Praeger, 2009). His analysis is more detailed than Richard Castle’s self-proclaimed “Psychology 101,” giving equal consideration to those who “choose” the vampire lifestyle as well as others that consider themselves “awakened” to their true identities.

“Real vampires typically do not feel that they made a choice to become a vampire—it is simply part of their nature and cannot be changed,” Laycock explains. “Lifestyle vampires are fascinated by the vampire of film and literature and seek to emulate this archetype. They usually wear black clothing and may also sport makeup, prosthetic fangs, or special contact lenses.”

During “Vampire Weekend,” Richard Castle and Kate Beckett’s investigation into the death of Matthew Freeman leads them into the world of “lifestyle” vampires. In Vampires Today, Sebastiaan Tod van Houten, who played an instrumental role in the development of the actual New York City vampire scene, describes the community as “a place where the gothic movement, vampire archetypes and aesthetics, horror, occult and fetish/BDSM could come together in one package.”

Castle emulates that environment on the small screen with dungeon-like surroundings bathed in red light and coven members dressed in a combination of gothic and fetish. The scene where Castle and Beckett first enter the secret Den of Iniquity is even punctuated with Mistress Vixen drinking blood from the wrists of another woman. While some may cringe at such a spectacle, Richard Castle takes the image in stride and merely asks, “You’re sanguinarians?”

According to Joseph Laycock, not all self-proclaimed vampires are sanguinarian and drink blood, and the reasons differ in regards to those that do consume the liquid. “For many sanguinarian vampires, feeding is an erotic activity, while for others it is simply a necessary part of maintaining their health,” he writes in Vampires Today.

The vampires on Castle appear to be of the fetish variety. Mistress Vixen, for instance, refers to the murdered Matthew Freeman as merely one of her many lovers, and her drinking of his blood the day before his death was a form of “making up” after an argument between the two of them. Further proof that Vixen and her followers are lifestyle vampires rather than the “awakened” variety is provided when the mistress tells Richard Castle and Kate Beckett that Freeman and his friend Daemon were creating a graphic novel about another New York City vampire.

“Only the guy that they were basing it on was real and dangerous,” she explains. When Castle asks if she is referring to an actual vampire, Mistress Vixen replies, “He thinks he is. His name’s Morgan Lockerby. He was an original member of this coven but something happened to him. He lost all hold of reality, started believing that this was real. Now he only comes out at night and hangs out in the cemetery. It was just crazy.”

Joseph Laycock details a division within the vampire community that directly correlates to Mistress Vixen’s statement. “Although many real vampires also participate in the vampire lifestyle, there is tension between the two types,” Laycock explains. “Some lifestylers believe that there are no ‘real vampires’ and that those who claim to be vampires are mentally ill. Conversely, many real vampires express irritation with lifestyle vampires. They feel that their use of the vampire label muddies the waters and makes it harder for real vampires to present themselves as having an actual condition.”

In the case of Morgan Lockerby on Castle, it turns out that the “vampire” in question suffers from a genetic disorder known as porphyria. According to medical examiner Lanie Parish, “Its symptoms include extreme photosensitivity. The skin blisters when it’s exposed to the sun. Victims are prone to hallucinations, paranoia.”

Joseph Laycock also mentions porphyria within the pages of Vampires Today but dismisses the assertion that the illness is an actual source of vampirism. “Although this theory is rarely applied to the modern vampire community, it received widespread media attention in the late 1980s, creating far more problems for porphyriacs than for vampires,” he states. “Several men considered divorcing their wives because they were porphyriacs. One woman became convinced that her porphyriac husband was sucking her blood in her sleep. She tried, unsuccessfully, to have a priest perform an exorcism on her husband.”

While using porphyria as an explanation for Morgan Lockerby’s behavior contradicts Joseph Laycock’s thesis on modern vampires, other elements of “Vampire Weekend” depict the alternate lifestyle in a more positive manner. When asked if she ever witnessed anything unusual in regards to Matthew Freeman, for instance, the murder victim’s landlord replies, “The vampire thing was a little weird but my first husband was a Civil War re-enactor, so you tell me which is weirder.”

In addition to Richard Castle’s own unfiltered observations of lifestyle vampires, meanwhile, the usually straight-laced Kevin Ryan likewise offers detailed information about the community. “A vampire coven is like joining a church or a club,” the New York police detective explains. “You like to play golf, I like to play golf. You like to drink blood, I like to drink blood.” When asked how he knows so much about vampires, he replies, “I used to go out with a girl who was into the lifestyle. Deal breaker? She wanted to have sex in a coffin. I’m open minded but I’m not that open minded.”

The concept of “open mindedness” is something that Joseph Laycock fully endorses when it comes to modern vampires. “Vampires sell papers, and, therefore, it is good capitalism to include the word ‘vampire’ in as many headlines as possible,” he writes in Vampires Today. “Unfortunately, this practice causes the community to be associated with and implicated in many gruesome crimes. It also fuels the theories of cult cops and vampire hunters who see these headlines as evidence of some dark organization rather than as isolated acts committed by the criminally insane. The vampire community—defined as the networks and institutions used by self-identified vampires—can be almost completely exonerated from the various murders and assaults that have been labeled as vampiric.”

Despite being a part of the New York vampire scene on Castle, as well as found in a cemetery with a wooden stake driven through his heart, Matthew Freeman was not murdered because of the alternative lifestyle that he chose to embrace. Just like in the real world, the death of Freeman can instead be attributed to such “mainstream” motives as greed, envy and covering up a previous crime from decades earlier.

While his behavior may be considered “bizarre” and “unnatural” to many, the ABC drama Castle depicts the vampire culture of Matthew Freeman in an even-balanced fashion nonetheless, offering Kate Beckett an objective answer to her “What is it with these people?” question in the process.

Anthony Letizia

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