Saturday, January 29, 2011

The FVZA Is Not a Factual Resource

The Federal Vampire and Zombie Agency (FVZA) was set up by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1868 to combat a vampire epidemic sweeping across the United States.


Did you believe that statement? I hope not. For starters, Grant's presidency began in 1869. If that's not enough to convince you that there's something a tad dodgy about the existence of a government agency established to eliminate vampires and zombies, then how about the following disclaimer from the FVZA's homepage?
This site is is fictional and is for entertainment purposes only. We are not affiliated with the U.S. Government in any way. Under no cirumstances [sic] are you to harm anyone based on information from this site.
Anyone with half a brain can tell that site's bogus. If they can't, then the disclaimer caps it off. That's why it disturbs me to see material from the site being reproduced as part of actual vampire lore or history. It's bad enough to see the propagation of imaginary works from the site, but to see material from the FVZA seep into non-fiction vampire books, too. Ugh.

Theresa Cheung's The Element encyclopedia of vampires (2009) is one guilty party. The FVZA and/or its fictional director, Dr. Hugo Pecos, are covered multiple times in her book. Worse than that, they are treated as authoritative sources. Here's their first appearance in the encyclopedia:
One vampirologist who has studied at length the aging experience of vampires is Hugo Pecos, overseer of an organization called the Federal Vampire and Zombie Agency (FVZA). According to Pecos . . . vampires are only ageless in that they do not age in the same way humans do. Their longevity is not the result of some virus or pact with the Devil, but rather their unique ability to ward off the DNA damage that occurs during cell division in normal humans (p. 11).
Here's another instance, in which Pecos is cited as an authority:
In vampire communities, an alpha vampire is a vampire who asserts dominance over others vampires with his or her superior skills, strength and intellect. According to vampirologist Hugo Pecos, who oversees scientific research into the undead, an alpha vampire is the strongest and oldest vampire (p. 19).
Pecos resurfaces in the book several more times (pp. 232, 307, 410-11, 449, 498, 547-8, 631) , as does the FVZA (pp. 184, 231-2, 307, 410, 449, 498, 547, 621). To be fair, Cheung does retain some sense of skepticism over the organisation. Or, at least, mentions skepticism: 'The lack of historical accuracy in the FVZA website and the unsubstantiated nature of the claims it makes has led few vampire experts to take it seriously' (p. 232). But then you gotta ask yourself, why did Cheung take it seriously enough to incorporate their material into her book?

I have discovered another non-fiction book which incorporates FVZA material, but in a much more subtle way. What makes this one more disturbing, is that it was written by someone with a MA degree for History.

The book in question is Charlotte Montague's Vampires: from Dracula to Twilight: the complete guide to vampire mythology (2010). Her book contains no bibliography, already a warning sign in itself. In his review of her book, Andrew M. Boylan displays his frustration with a certain section of the text that deals with the vampire's reaction to sunlight:
When it comes to sources I would have loved to have seen one for the assertion that (having first neglected to mention Nosferatu when exploring the sunlight myth) in “later stories, vampires might collapse or explode when hit by sunlight, the ‘scientific’ explanation for this being that their neural pathways would fire randomly in their brains, causing them to experience extreme epileptic reactions, blinding them, and possibly setting them on fire”! I have seen many an explanation as to why sunlight might affect a vampire, and countless more films and books when it isn’t even explained but simply taken as read. I do not recall a theorem such as that… pray tell me your source… the book remains silent.
To be fair on Montague, there's a context for her statement, which directly precedes Boylan's quotation:
The idea that sunlight was harmful to vampires was an addition to the mythology that took place in the twentieth century, and went on to appear in comics, books, films, and on television (p. 55).
But it doesn't get her off the hook that easily. After all, her recollection of the vampire's reaction to sunlight is pretty damn specific. So where did she get this info? Thanks to Google, I can tell you. The giveaway term was 'neural pathways':
Sunlight renders vampires, with their hyperdilated irises, blind. It also causes neural pathways to fire randomly in the vampire brain, creating an extreme epileptic reaction. As dramatic as this reaction may appear, it will not be enough to start a fire.
That extract's from 'The top ten vampire myths', which is found on (you guessed it) the FVZA website. The bottom of the page contains a 2001-2009 copyright notice. Remember, Montague's book was published in 2010. The page has been used been cited by other authors like this guy and that one, clearly establishing the page's existence before the publication of Montague's book.

So, remember folks: the FVZA is a fictional organisation established for entertainment purposes. Sure, the theories they discuss might sound scientific, but they're made up. So is its history, as if that wasn't obvious enough. I've got no problem with authors who want to present the FVZA's theories in association with vampire lore, as long as it's make clear that they're dealing with a fictional resource. Also, unlike Montague, provide a bloody paper trail via citation. Don't wanna stumble upon FVZA-derived material through Googling. Be honest and admit your source.

References

Cheung, T 2009, The Element encyclopedia of vampires, HarperCollins Publishers, London.

Montague, C 2010, Vampires: from Dracula to Twilight: the complete guide to vampire mythology, Chartwell Books, New York.

3 comments:

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Anthony, glad you found the source but you are right - it doesn't let her off the hook indeed it places her further on said hook in my opinion.

Why?

Firstly she still failed to quote the source. I have no problem with Montague using a fictional source - she is discussing the fictional vampire, but she should source it.

Secondly, looking at the quote I used: "later stories, vampires might collapse or explode when hit by sunlight, the ‘scientific’ explanation..." - this indicates multiple uses of this as a principle in a variety of stories, not just mentioned in one specific fiction.

Thirdly, she has changed the theorem, indicating that she didn't read the source properly. the FVZA "As dramatic as this reaction may appear, it will not be enough to start a fire." (my emphasis)
Montague: "...and possibly setting them on fire..." (my emphasis again).

So, from being source-less, she is now sourced and seen to have altered that source!

But, again, my thanks to you for diligently tracking this down :)

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Anthony, further to my last comment (for clarity) when I mention the multiple use principle, and Montague pluralising, I know that you have shown websites that use the FVZA quote (either cited or not) but they are direct lifts.

The use of the word "stories", to me at least, makes it sound that it has been used as a concept in several stories (in other words films/novels or other works of fiction) rather than a website simple lifting and quoting for a list or semi-factual discourse and (of course) the other sources you show quote the FVZA directly and do not change the concept to epilepsy leading to a fiery death.

Anthony Hogg said...

Andrew,

Well-spotted, mate!

Montague's is written in a populist format, seemingly for a juvenile audience. Lotsa pretty pictures, but no freakin' bibliography, which is what makes such "lifts" to risible. If she's gonna make such authoritative claims, then she could at least have helped us with a source.

Her use of pluralising is equally damaging, because the text - as you've pointed out - has clearly been taken from the FVZA website. I don't dispute that maybe other authors have come up with the theory, too, but all signs point to FVZA. Slightly altering their text, as she's done, doesn't change this.

I'm not impressed that Cheung used the FVZA as an authoritative source, but, at least she actually mentions her source material. Montague really shoulda known better.

Fictional theories (i.e. theories found in deliberately fictional works, or proposed for fictional works) should be delineated from factual theories (i.e. theories proffered as a legitimate explanation for certain phenomena, even if pseudoscientific).

This is why the regard for Pecos as an authoritative source is somewhat troubling, as he doesn't even exist.

If the context is laid out, I'm cool with that. If not, then we're essentially corrupting serious research into the field.

I can name at least two sources that incorporate imaginary works on vampirism into legit bibliographies - and both did so because of the subtle insertion of fake works into real ones. Thus, the fake source is reproduced. We gotta combat that sneakiness wherever possible.

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