The new vampires of Trinity College Dublin

Jayna Rohslau proposes equivalents to Trinity alum Bram Stoker’s Dracula encapsulating our current student anxieties

“I’m in da trees/watchin’ you sleep” the picture of Edward from Twilight declared causing the entire English lecture theatre to burst into laughter. Yet lingering in the back, I was not quite so joyous but full of a heavy sense of foreboding. Alas, how the mighty have fallen! Once a universal symbol of dread, the vampire has been reduced to a mere sparkly ornament, a vegetarian.

Bram Stoker would be rolling in his grave. For the Trinity alum, the vampire was not sparkly but instead a terrifying monstrosity: more inclined to steal your girl’s blood than her heart; someone you would much rather stake through the heart than plaster with heart eyes on your wall. That’s not all. In his 1897 novel, the author capitalises on Victorian anxieties about transgressive sexuality, racial “pollution” and disease. Foreign and weird Dracula encapsulated these themes, so when a Victorian guy read about the vampire, the chills down his spine were not solely because of the monster itself but because of its implicit associations. Oh no, he presumably lay awake at night thinking, the gays are coming to get me.

“Our changed perception of the vampire reflects our cultural evolution.”

Spend any time on campus, and you will discover that the same fears shockingly no longer apply to Trinity students. The same worries that kept the average Victorian man up shivering in the night encapsulate a day in the life of an average Trinity student. We embrace these previously taboo subjects, dressing to defy gender stereotypes, celebrating our international backgrounds and braving freshers’ flu, things that would have sent a Victorian man screaming away with his hands thrown up in the air.  For the Victorians, Dracula was a societal menace, but modern teens can say Edward’s a vegetarian in high school; he’s just like me, for real. Our changed perception of the vampire reflects our cultural evolution; as we accept these topics, we have integrated the vampire into our midst, effectively making it more like us.

That said, it doesn’t take a book to tell us we are also more anxious than ever. Most, if not all, Trinity students would agree that we have several pressing issues on our minds, from the cost-of-living crisis to generally fitting in. Literature offers a way to analyse our problems, not to mention it can be mentally productive to give a face to our enemy. We can find solace in reading: a faceless enemy can’t be defeated, but when faced with fictional antagonists, we can eliminate the threat in a non dissimilar way to the Victorians stabbing Dracula. Still, since the vampire has lost its capital as a horrifying monster, we are left with the challenge of defining the new monsters for our times. 

“While we do not fear the sparkles, the natural plumage of the frightfully trendy but otherwise predictable arts block inhabitant, the seagull is a name that evokes instant dread.”

Who is this power-hungry predator for the 21st century? That is the question. One possible candidate is that white cloaked, beady-eyed menace, the seagull. While we do not fear the sparkles, the natural plumage of the frightfully trendy but otherwise predictable arts block inhabitant, the seagull is a name that evokes instant dread. Esteemed publication The Piranha advertised the founding of a seagull hunting society, a well-intentioned measure but ultimately ineffective when your enemy’s army continues to amass around you and your helpless sandwich. Whether you study the arts, STEM, or a weird acronym, we have all had near-death experiences or know someone who has. I lost half my sandwich once, so I can personally attest to the evil forces brewing in Merrion Square Park. 

Like the death of the beautiful Lucy Westerna in Dracula, the death of my sandwich at the seagull’s hands symbolises our cultural anxieties. Due to rising costs, thousands struggle to find suitable accommodation and even afford drinks on a night out. It is difficult to determine a singular cause for the cost-of-living crisis, with The Economist proposing increasingly cautious banks after the 2008 crash, poor management of energy resources, and the pandemic’s aftermath as some of the factors. It certainly doesn’t help that the government doesn’t want to take decisive action, seemingly content to nest on its laurels and squeeze out professions on how everything is good in Ireland, comparatively speaking, to other countries around the globe. The seagull, making off with your capital, seems like an exemplary site for these fears to roost. We may be unable to confront the complex issues fuelling the crisis directly, but we can have cathartic fantasies about wringing a seagull’s neck. That’s one sandwich they can’t take away from us yet.

“Although we don’t drink blood, we seem to be draining enjoyment from the lives of our peers.”

Perhaps another surrogate vampire is the American. As an American, I can personally attest to the biases associated with this label. Whether talking with my Irish and international friends or scrolling through the poetic contemplations of Trinder, I am continuously confronted with tirades against my species. “America is a scam, ” my friend said last month, sending the realities of further education tuition rates ringing through my skull (thanks – you know who you are). “Pls stfu”, “When r American students gonna learn that it’s rude to be so forward sometimes”, and “Girl from Ohio makes me so mad, can we make a PSA to all the alt Americans that it’s not attractive to be constantly depressed and ‘smarter than you’’’ are just some of the inspired compositions that other students have felt the need to transcribe in recent weeks. We are unnecessarily verbose, pretentious, and generally the worst. Although we don’t drink blood, we seem to be draining enjoyment from the lives of our peers, which essentially amounts to the same thing when you get down to the veins of it.

Whether these complaints are justified or not, our peers certainly dread it when we open our mouths. Arguably, the American epitomises Trinity student fears of socialisation. As young people, we all care an ungodly amount about being perceived as normal and without “notions”. We crave anonymity. It is far more acceptable to not speak about topics like mental health – or simply to not speak in general – then to speak up and have people realise you are different and accordingly worse. Therefore, Americans, who are not only the worst but vocal about our worst attributes, pose a clear threat to the status quo of not participating in tutorials and waiting for your name to fade away in the darkness. Why engage with these annoying foreigners when it is far easier to go write a Trinder about how much you hate this Other from a barbaric and strange land?

“In the time you have taken to roll out of bed at 11am for your 9am lecture, they have somehow managed to set three world records, climb a mountain in Wicklow, and write a LinkedIn post worthy of Icarus.”

A third beast, possibly the worst of the bunch, is the BNOC. Otherwise known as the Trinity hack, this being (it stands for Big Name on Campus) is terrifying precisely because of its perceived normalcy. Like the Count, it resembles a human in physical form. You might meet them on a night out and later, waking up in a tired haze, recall a vague impression of a person and think they seem nice enough only to scroll on Instagram and realise in the time you have taken to roll out of bed at 11am for your 9am lecture, they have somehow managed to set three world records, climb a mountain in Wicklow, and write a LinkedIn post worthy of Icarus. How have they done all this? There’s no need to have an existential crisis when the only possible answer is obvious: they are an eldritch, superior being and possess inner machinery eliminating the need to sleep. Regardless, you may have been tired moments before but no longer: now you have been horrified into awakeness and the decision to make it to your next class.

The BNOC, like the vampire, encapsulates our fear of disease. The disease, perfectionism, is rampant on campus and especially festers in the gut of the BNOC. Still, many of us are afflicted.  It is embarrassing to have this disease, to admit to yourself that your dissatisfaction is because you have in fact set unattainable goals. We can justify ourselves by pointing to one of these aspirational monsters and saying, they have done it so I too can haunt the library until closing, hit the club and make it to my 9am. Never mind that the shadow looming over you may be nothing more than a myth, and the accomplished person may have, you know, problems. 

Bram Stoker would probably be astonished to discover that his creation has been supplanted by a pigeon adjacent. Nevertheless, it’s true. If you are feeling spiteful, you might point out that despite being threats to the peace and quiet on campus, none of these beasts are fictional, in contrast to Dracula who never actually existed. Just as cultural norms have shifted, so have prevailing belief systems. In ye olden days it was at least somewhat conceivable that monsters existed, and in our modern era, we need scientifically verifiable monsters to fully encapsulate our fears made reality.

“If you are looking for a costume to truly terrify your peers, be the seagull.”

If you have yet to encounter one of these monsters, I both envy you and fear you, because this lack of identification likely means you are the problem, it’s you. On that note, Halloween just passed and so this is my advice for next year. If you want to look hot, be a vampire and wear body glitter or whatever. On the contrary, if you are looking for a costume to truly terrify your peers, be the seagull.

Jayna Rohslau

Jayna Rohslau is the Arts and Culture Editor and is currently in her Senior Fresh year studying English in the Dual BA