Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

"I sometimes think we must be all mad...

...and that we shall wake to sanity in strait-waistcoats."

Popular fiction and cinema has long known the power of the vampire myth. Since Bram Stoker hit on the idea of combining Central European legend with a threat to contemporary society, we've become accustomed to the idea of a blood-sucking species bent on world domination.

Yet, with a certain irony, the fictional gore-fest seems to have distracted us from the real-life vampires in our midst, their fangs fastened not in our veins but in our wallets.

On the surface, there are the obvious suspects; the redistribution of wealth through the tax system to deserving and undeserving alike (to the clear disadvantage of the former), the career landlords extracting ludicrous amounts from council Housing Benefit departments or the private care homes that charge 'self-funding' clients with savings a higher rate than other residents for the same service.

And, as JuliaM points out elsewhere (with another 1890s literary analogy), our benefits system is about to see an influx of potential claimants from, appropriately enough, the very part of the world that inspired Stoker's imaginary vampire - though one assumes these ones won't be arriving in boxes of Transylvanian earth.

Meanwhile, in the world of business, a whole culture has sprung up with the sole purpose of extracting a maximum of cash in exchange for very little effort. It's no surprise that the BBC's 'Dragons' Den' and 'The Apprentice' appear to favour business ideas that involve acting as an unnecessary agent in someone else's transaction or providing non-essential and frivolous goods and services.

Like the prudent villager who wears a crucifix or carries a clove of garlic, most of us can avoid the bloodsuckers peculiar to the technological age - the ringtones and premium phone lines, apps that charge online game players £20 for virtual trinkets or online casinos holding out gilded promises to the gullible - but sometimes, whether we like it or not, the vampire sinks his teeth in.

A recent Channel 4 documentary revealed the extent of fake 'likes' on social networking sites. We've long been aware that workers in Bangladesh are hunched over sewing machines producing disposable fashion for the UK market, but it appears their ranks have been joined by cyberserfs tilling the fertile acres of the internet.

This, presumably, counts as technological innovation in a developing country and is thus a Good Thing, even if it essentially involves fraud on a grand scale as they create and manipulate imaginary social network profiles. The 'likes' and site hits they register, bought and paid for by UK and global companies, supposedly attract genuine viewers and ultimately sell the product, while, in the best sweatshop tradition, the workers are paid a pittance.

What is truly shocking is that, along with the expected multinational corporations, this method is being used by publicly funded UK organisations such as local tourism agencies. All over the country, it seems, public bodies are willingly offering our money to PR firms and 'media services consultants' for such ephemera as facebook 'likes' or celebrity endorsement.

The more cynical among us have been accustomed to our money being squandered on new logos and branding, from the BBC's endless self-promotional trailers to the NHS trust letterheads that change every few months, so I suppose this new onslaught on the public purse should not come as a surprise.

Some time ago, I compared the economy to a flea circus, but I now see the inadequacy of the analogy; while it is in the interests of the flea to keep its host alive, the vampire does not care if his victim is bled white.  And it's beautifully democratic too; the bloodsuckers range from top-flight quango heads down to the likes of Keith MacDonald, whose recent acquittal leaves him free to resume his beer and X-box lifestyle at our expense.

The result is a feeding frenzy of national proportions, as those who neither toil nor spin batten onto the nation's veins in ever more creative ways to secure their fill, while taxpayers lose more and more of their hard-earned income in transfusions to keep the patient alive.

It's far scarier than anything from Hammer House of Horror.


By odd coincidence, while I was working on this, Leg-Iron also came up with the subject of vampires in a post that certainly merits a visit.

3 comments:

  1. Cheers for link!

    "... but it appears their ranks have been joined by cyberserfs tilling the fertile acres of the internet."

    Not new! Several years ago, when I played 'World Of Warcraft' every minute I could spare, gold farmers were rife. Mostly from China.

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  2. Good point, Julia, though at least I wasn't paying for them!

    There was something poignant in the way the programme showed the 'Visit Derbyshire' website clocking up hundred of visitors from Dhaka, few, if any, of whom will ever actually have an opportunity to enjoy the glories of the peak District.

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  3. Some time ago, I compared the economy to a flea circus, but I now see the inadequacy of the analogy; while it is in the interests of the flea to keep its host alive, the vampire does not care if his victim is bled white.

    :)

    By the way, be careful hobnobbing with this Julia character - she's dangerous.

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