Lifting the Lid on the Coffin: An Examination of Attitudes Towards Vampires in Popular Culture

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by Jessica Garland
WRIT 1733: Examining Monstrosity Through the Lens of Media Ecology Theory | Professor Kara Taczak

Vampires have pervaded popular culture across a wide range of media for centuries and continue to remain relevant, their popularity and appeal seemingly peaking with the recent Twilight novels and movies. Historical examinations of vampires reveal a significant change in society’s perception of them. Only recently in media have vampires occupied celebrated positions such as the emotionally supportive ally, the engaging love interest, and even the noble hero. Original vampire myths depicted the undead as repulsive, abhorrent, unholy creatures of the night. The stark difference between earlier “monstrous demon” imagery and the emotionally fraught protagonists that populate culture today reflects a dynamic evolution within our society. This essay investigates society’s evolving response to vampires, attempting to explain the two distinct stages of vampire portrayals and to explore the possibility of a newly developing third stage.

The first stage of society’s response to vampires can best be described in one word: fear. Originally, people believed that a messy death—such as deaths related to suicide, birth defects, and plagues—would result in a messy afterlife (Atwater 72). Cheryl Atwater, in her anthropological study of vampire evolution, examines how vampires were originally considered to be hideous, soulless, unholy, animalistic predators because they were manifestations of society’s fears of the ugly, the unnatural, the dangerous, and the abnormal (72). In extremely religious historical time periods, rejection of God or religious tradition constituted a catastrophe frightening enough to turn people into vampires. Hence, people believed that even the death of an atheist or a funeral performed without a priest could create a vampire (Atwater 72). Tracy Betsinger and Amy B. Scott, in their analysis of early vampire lore, notes how people believed that “those who were ‘great sinners’, the ‘god-less’, which included those of different, non-Christian faiths, and those who practised [sic] witchcraft were all considered risks for becoming vampires” (473). Religious fears attached to vampires spawned the concept that vampires were devoid of souls. In these deeply religious eras, soulless entities automatically represented pure evil. Thus, the vampire was treated as a purely evil or demonic entity.

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serpeblu |

The fear connected with soullessness manifested in a number of superstitions, including that vampires were unable “to see [their] own image in a mirror” (Hall 361). On top of creating superstitions linked with soullessness, fear of the vampire led to particular burial practices. Burial rituals in historically pagan and Christian regions, which emphasized the importance of the soul, were designed to prevent the rise of potential vampires by appeasing deceased people who might have turbulent afterlives, thus warding the dead from potential demonic invaders and “barricad[ing] the dead so they are unable to return” (Betsinger and Scott 470). Fear of vampires also resulted in an increase of strength within the Christian Church, as people gradually equated demons with vampires and thus relied more heavily on the Church for protection (Betsinger and Scott 474).

During this first stage of responding to the vampire with fear, vampires evolved to match society’s evolving fears. In times when society worried about extravagance, for instance, the terrifying vampire evolved to embody these fears by possessing excessive wealth. Similarly, in time periods concerned with promiscuous women, the wives of Dracula were often depicted as physically attractive yet repulsive to the human protagonist. In such narratives, as Carol Senf notes, “the voluptuous woman [was] transformed into a carnivorous animal” (41). Vampires characterized by their seductive and dangerously attractive features were categorized alongside vampires as animated rotting corpses since both were received by society with fear, suspicion, and caution.

The second stage of society’s response to vampires is vastly different from the first stage, in that society began to welcome the vampire as a fellow victim. Morgan Jackson expertly summarizes the second stage as populated by entities who “transitioned from mindless, soulless, and monstrous creatures into creatures possessing a conscience and having the ability to make choices between good and evil” (para. 30).  As the vampire’s struggle became internalized, the vampire narrative evolved to follow the emotional conflict and tragedy of the vampire. Most famously perhaps, this internal struggle manifested itself within the vampire’s need to drink blood in order to stay alive, despite how the vampire often despised killing. Angela Tenga jokes that the “troubled conscience” of a second-stage vampire weakens its monstrosity to such a point that the modern vampire “is more a superhero with special powers” than a monster (77). Due to the “advent of sympathetic vampires” and their depiction as tragic victims and noble sufferers, vampires were no longer depicted only as villains, according to Tenga, because now the monster was a victim of its own monstrosity (78).

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Stefano Cavoretto |

Anne Rice’s series The Vampire Chronicles is considered the turning point in vampire literature and the beginning of second-stage vampires, as one of her protagonists is praised as the first “sympathetic” vampire, specifically in Interview with the Vampire. The protagonist of Interview with the Vampire is one of the first vampires to intentionally struggle to stay human despite his nature because he “detests what it means to be a vampire” (Jackson). As the vampire is treated with increasing sympathy, the vampire hunters are “on the run for their lives, outed publically, and hated for their destiny of slaying demons” (J. Meyer 29). This new and complicated relationship between the vampire and its surroundings is also evident in the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, in which a vampire is the love interest of a vampire hunter, and in the novel I Am Legend, in which the last man on earth realizes “that in fact it is he, the last specimen of humankind, who is the real monster” and the vampires are his victims (Smetana 175).

However, it’s important to note that vampires today are still characterized as
villains. Loathing for overly romantic vampires surfaced at the same time that Stephenie Meyer’s book series Twilight reached incredibly high levels of popularity amid widespread complaints that vampires had become too “soft” or “wimpy.” That’s not to say society is cycling back towards fearing vampires, but it seems to be growing bored with the emotionally tortured vampire of the second stage. I believe this marks a new, third stage in our cultural response to the vampire. If the first two stages were opposites of each other, then this third stage, if it exists, most likely represents a compromise of fear and attraction—in essence, the ultimate monster. Yet, before a third stage can be identified, public perception of vampires must be measured.

To explore how society’s reaction to vampires has changed, society’s current reception of the vampire must be gauged. I used a combination of qualitative and quantitative research methods in order to reduce the possibility that the medium of my research (i.e., a survey, an interview, etc.) would significantly influence the data towards a particular conclusion. This combination entailed a survey completed by fifty people across a range of ages, interviews with two professionals in the field of psychology, and observations of four students’ responses to vampire movies. The survey and observations were conducted to examine participants’ reactions to the entity of the vampire in media. The interviews were conducted to investigate possible explanations for society’s various reactions to vampires.

The survey was created online and distributed through Facebook and email so that, through ease of accessibility, it could reach a wide demographic. Fifty respondents, ranging from fourteen to seventy years of age, participated in the survey in order to document a wide range of generations and their responses to portrayals of the vampire. Though potential respondents were randomly selected, considerably more females participated than males (approximately 81% of the survey was answered by females and 17% by males) and the majority of respondents were between the ages of eighteen and twenty-nine (58% of survey respondents).

The survey asked a range of questions so as to obtain a well-rounded picture of each respondent’s perspective. The styles and types of questions included demographic questions (specifically age and gender identity), questions rating levels of interest in traits of the vampire, questions pertaining to respondents’ favored depictions of vampires in film and television, and open-ended questions about interpretations of the vampire. An example of an open-ended question from the survey is “What is your favorite interpretation of a vampire and why?” Answers to open-ended questions about level of interest in vampire traits (such as attractiveness, emotional torment, predatory prowess, etc.) were sorted into various categories such as “positive second stage,” “negative second stage,” “positive first stage,” and “negative first stage” to delineate the relationship between first- and second-stage vampire reception. Though the distinctions between categories seem vague, a standard was implemented to consistently code open responses. For example, responses to open questions that only expressed dissatisfaction with the second stage were grouped into the “negative second stage” category, whereas responses that expressed dissatisfaction with second-stage vampires and satisfaction with first-stage vampires were grouped into both “negative second stage” and “positive first stage” categories.

As for the observations, I recorded the reactions of four individual volunteers during a seven-hour vampire movie marathon of three movies. The three movies—Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), Interview with the Vampire (1994), and Fright Night (2011)—were selected for their unique portrayal of vampires and their relationships with human characters. The respondents shared different levels of familiarity with the films. Observations were conducted in the Projector Room in the Centennial Towers Residence Hall and a dorm room in the Centennial Halls Residence Hall, both of which are located on the University of Denver campus. Four University of Denver students, three women and one man (ranging from eighteen to twenty years of age), participated by reacting to the films they saw and reflecting aloud on the movies. This age demographic was chosen because the participants would have been raised during the second stage, but aware of the first stage; a younger demographic might have been less familiar with the first stage, and an older demographic might have been less immersed in the second stage. The four participants’ verbal, physical, and behavioral responses, as well as comments, were recorded on paper during the movie viewing event and during an informal interview, twenty minutes after the last movie was finished, to better capture responses to the vampire movies as they viewed them and after they’d had time to be affected. Though the observed individuals may have acted differently than normal because they were aware of being observed for a study, their actions seemed authentic and their opinions seemed genuine.

Two interviews conducted with professionals in the field of clinical psychology were also performed to ascertain possible explanations for the shift between stages one and two of society’s response to vampires. The two interviewees were females with doctorates in clinical psychology, Interviewee A specializing in mental illness and Interviewee B specializing in social relationships. One interview was conducted by telephone, lasting twenty-seven minutes, and the other through email. Interview questions were open-ended and centered on potential social and psychological factors that might reinforce or inhibit change in cultural response to “others” or “entities [society] believe are threateningly different than themselves.”

In the survey, the top three rated television shows were Buffy the Vampire Slayer, True Blood, and Vampire Diaries. The top two rated movies were Interview with the Vampire and The Twilight Saga, with twenty and eighteen respondent votes respectively; Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter tied for third place with fifteen votes. Shortly after the movie viewing, during an informal interview, the respondents each stated that Interview with the Vampire was their favorite movie of those that they saw, with Fright Night entertaining them as a “guilty pleasure.” It should be noted that respondents who had not read the original Dracula novel liked the Bram Stoker’s Dracula movie overall more than respondents who had read the original source material, yet none of the participants said that Bram Stoker’s Dracula was their favorite film during the movie viewing. During the interviews, both interviewees remarked that the increase of scientific knowledge within our culture likely played a significant role in the transition between the first and second stages, in that it combatted the superstitions that fueled the first-stage reactions.

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The Conmunity – Pop Culture Geek |

The primary research suggests that a third stage of vampire reception might indeed exist, as the survey and observations reveal clear yet contradictory trends; both the first and second stages remain influential and prevalent despite their seemingly exclusive nature. During the movie viewing, a few participants remarked that part of why they didn’t enjoy Bram Stoker’s Dracula was because of the movie’s interpretation of Abraham Van Helsing. In the original novel Dracula, Van Helsing is an eccentric but reliable professor enlisted to save Lucy from her mysterious illness. Van Helsing eventually identifies that her sickness is associated with vampires, and he goes on to help the main characters of the book defeat Dracula. On the other hand, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, in addition to portraying Dracula as a victim cursed by love and passion beyond his control, depicts Van Helsing as a less likeable character than in the book, with exaggerated eccentric behavior; he cackles, makes insensitive remarks about Lucy’s death, and even seemingly teleports in one scene. This second-stage adaptation of a first-stage book altered the characters so that Dracula becomes a noble and tragic character while Van Helsing becomes the erratic and violent entity. Jenna Meyer, whose thesis is on the evolution of the vampire, would most likely consider this a realistic symptom of movies that emphasize the sympathetic vampire, inherent to the second stage, because she remarks that “vampires have gained society’s sympathy, meaning the slayers are on the run for their lives, outed publicly, and hated for their destiny of slaying demons” (29). In a second-stage movie viewed during the historical second stage, the vampire and vampire hunter are at odds, often forcing the audience to align themselves with one side or the other; the audience members inevitably identify with the sympathetic vampire over the cruel hunter. The mediocre reception Bram Stoker’s Dracula garnered at the movie viewing, especially in light of the fact that the movie received impressive reviews in the past, could imply that society is beginning to drift away from the second stage and into a new, third stage.

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Brayan Esteban Esparza Gonzalez |

The responses to Twilight within the survey also reinforce the concept that society is growing progressively bored with the romantic vampire. Twenty-five respondents answered the question “What is your least favorite interpretation of a vampire and why?” with references to Twilight and the fact that the vampires were, in their opinions, too romanticized or tame. Respondent 30 remarked hating the vampires from Twilight because they were too “watered down”: “They were almost too human. They lost a lot of the primal characteristics that vampires normally possess, in a sense castrating their vampireness.” It should be noted that Twilight, despite its pervasive presence in pop culture, was excluded from the movie viewing event because several of the respondents absolutely refused to watch it, protesting that they’d leave the room for the duration of the movie if it were played against their request. The intense rejection of the Twilight series and the vehement criticism of the fact that Edward Cullen “defeats the purpose of a vampire, [because] he can go into the sun and sparkles which defeats the limitation on vampires’ strength” (Respondent 10) especially indicates that society is, at least partly, losing its fascination with the romanticized and very human-like vampire.

However, the decomposition of the second stage does not necessarily imply a resurrection of the first stage. The data hints at the emergence of a third stage, instead of a repetition of the first stage of fear, because the “romantic connotation” associated with the vampire is still popular (Atwater 77). In both the movie viewing and the survey, Interview with the Vampire received the most praise. Participants at the movie viewing all agreed that it was their favorite movie of the three shown and continued to quote the movie after it had finished, even miming scenes they found entertaining. In the survey, Interview with the Vampire was the most consistently picked movie when respondents were tasked with picking their three favorite vampire movies. This movie, celebrated as the initial movie (and book series) and epitome of the second stage, evidently still resonates with its audiences. The sheer popularity of this movie, in both the survey and observations, seems to signal that the second stage has not lost its potency.

The relevance of the second stage to society’s current perspective on vampires can also be potentially extracted from the responses to the 2011 remake of the movie Fright Night, a first-stage narrative in a second-stage time period. The main vampire does very little to hide his identity, and the audience receives nearly immediate confirmation that the protagonist is not only bloodthirsty but also predatory and remorseless. Just like the first-stage vampires before him, Jerry, the vampiric antagonist of Fright Night, is not a creature to be reasoned or sympathized with; he is a dangerous enemy to be killed for the good of the community. Participants laughed aloud several times and quoted funny lines after the movie had ended, as Fright Night had produced enough humor to generally entertain its audience. Yet, participants also emphasized that the movie was a “guilty pleasure” rather than an objectively enjoyable film. When respondents were tasked with choosing their three favorite vampire movies, the 2011 adaptation of Fright Night ranked 15th, which is considerably low as there were only eighteen positions. This data suggests that Fright Night’s close parallels to first-stage themes and absence of second-stage elements ultimately harmed its popularity. When the support and appreciation for Interview with the Vampire is paired with the mediocre and underwhelming response to Fright Night, the data suggests that the second stage is far from dead. Indeed, despite the complaints that Bram Stoker’s Dracula changed the characters to fit second-stage roles (Participant H looked confused as she stated, “I don’t understand why they did that, trying to make him relatable.”), the movie still managed to tie with Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter for third place on the list of respondents’ three favorite vampire movies. Even Twilight, which was so vehemently rejected, came in second on that same list, reinforcing the idea the second stage is still quite prevalent.

This contradictory data is why I suggest that a third stage exists or is at least emerging. It seems that society wants both vampires to hug and vampires to kill. This appears evident in the popularity of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which was ranked in first place on the list of respondents’ three favorite vampire television shows by a wide margin. In the show, some monsters are “creatures that must be destroyed or made into sexual fetishes” while other monsters are “potential ‘life’ partners and members of a community in which difference and the most extreme varieties of other-ness prove no barrier to companionship” (Poole 211). This interesting duality, a fundamental component of the potential third stage, is especially relevant to the Buffy the Vampire Slayer series because the monsters shift between the two stages, with certain creatures seeking redemption after their acts of “legendary evil” and other relatable creatures lapsing into episodes of cruelty (Poole 211). In the survey, thirty-eight respondents ranked the series among their top three favorites, which is more than twice the number of the second closest competitors: True Blood and Vampire Dairies. All three of these shows combine relatable and sympathetic vampire hunters with vampires that are equally sympathetic and emotional, while also incorporating the evil, animalistic vampires. These shows, especially Buffy the Vampire Slayer, signal our society’s rising desire for dynamic vampire/human relationships in popular media.

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Daisy |

Though awareness of the stages is important for cultural research, the reasons for the transitions between stages are especially significant. If the stages changed for completely arbitrary reasons, then the shifting reactions of society to vampires would contain no deeper meaning. According to two professionals in the field of psychology, the evolving knowledge of science and increased globalization contributes to and continues to shape our responses to monsters; the fact that two psychologists with differing backgrounds ultimately came to similar conclusions about the causes for such a transition reinforces the credibility of their conclusions. Both interviewees remarked that empathy is a powerful catalyst for acceptance, and empathy is best attained through direct interaction. Interviewee B, a clinical psychologist specializing in social relationships, noted that, of the “people who have a bias against LGBTQ people, the vast majority do not have a single personal relationship with a person who identifies as LGBTQ” and asserted that “exposure to the ‘other’…[and] positive interaction with the ‘other,’ ideally maintained over time…has a very strong effect on changing opinions.” This concept also implies snowball effect, in which increased interaction with a minority group or “other” leads to more sympathetic portrayals of the other, which would in turn encourage further interaction.

The diminishing fear of the other or monster through interaction and exposure may also be reinforced through expanding scientific knowledge. Interviewee A, a clinical psychologist who specializes in mental illnesses, suggested that the decreasing influence of superstitions directly contributes to the shift between the first and second stage:

Early on I think these perceptions were fear-based and also spawned from ignorance. There was also a lot more magical thinking in the past when huge groups of people were dying from plagues, etc. I think they were trying to make some sense of what they were experiencing. These days, I think people don’t take these beliefs seriously (as they once did), so there have been variations created for sheer entertainment.

The prevalence of scientific mindsets over mystical beliefs affects the culture as a whole in that, as Interviewee A later addressed, vampires aren’t the only monsters to receive a more sympathetic makeover; popular plays and movies, like Wicked and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, portray their monstrous protagonists as misunderstood, well-meaning, and likeable characters trying to overcome a society that rejects or attacks them (Interviewee A). When the fear of witches and aliens is diminished, narratives with such monsters begin “breaking down the socially constructed barriers between people” and come to resemble the second and third stages of reactions to vampires (Interviewee B).

According to Interviewee B, scientific knowledge also contributes directly to society’s evolving reactions towards the vampire because science has allowed humans to live for longer amounts of time. The second stage of vampires may have started because “baby boomers have created that youth culture to deny death” and vampires are symbols of the undead (Interviewee B). Sympathetic, suffering vampires may have been born from the complex cultural state that is an obsession with immortality combined with the fear of loneliness that accompanies outliving your loved ones. Science has granted increasingly long life expectancies, and cultural movements, such as social media, may have caused a fear of loneliness since they keep everyone connected 24/7. Thus, “more and more people are seeing their own lives in the context of social isolation and in the context of the fear of growing old alone” (Interviewee B). The vampire, as Interviewee B notes, has become the “ultimate metaphor for social isolation,” while “the symbol of sucking someone’s blood…can [be] read as a desperate cry for connection.” Because our culture simultaneously craves immortality and fears isolation, the vampire has become a sympathetic and tortured character. According to my research, the cultural forces that affected the transition from the first stage to the second stage may include the youth culture of society, advances in science, and increased empathy toward others through expanding globalization and interaction.

None of this data should be construed as conclusive. In addition to my own biases as a researcher, the sample size of fifty respondents, two interviewees, and four observation participants is much too small for any significant conclusions to be made about society’s reaction to the vampire. Along with expanding the sample size, further research should also incorporate more diverse demographics. There were an overwhelming number of females in each category of research (82% of survey respondents, 75% of observation participants, and 100% of interviewees) and though the survey targeted people from ages fourteen through seventy, 58% of survey respondents were ages eighteen to twenty-nine. In order for the survey to truly reflect the perceptions society as a whole, other gender and age demographics need better representation. It’s also important to remember that the primary research of the survey was conducted in a very limited period of time—fewer than four weeks. More time allotted to the primary research would likely produce more accurate and representative results, as the researcher could explore broader themes and investigate trends in greater depth. The researcher could conceivably ask more questions on the survey, target a more diverse and representative participant pool, include more movies in the viewing event, and interview more professionals in varying social and psychological fields.

With these potential limitations in mind, further research should be pursued. One extended research path might be to investigate small shifts within the two large stages, so as to better understand why, how, and when the first stage began its transition into the second stage. Another path of future research might be to link the progression of the response to vampires with widespread cultural movements, such as the trend of women’s increasing sexual freedom and its possible effects on sexuality within vampire narratives. Since an exploration and enhanced understanding of society’s reactions to its monsters are inherently a study of society and culture, further insight on this topic will ultimately contribute to a better understanding of society as a whole and the manner in which it operates. In essence, this research has pried back the coffin lid; it’s time to exhume the body.

Featured Image © Kiselev Andrey Valerevich |

As a child, I was raised on science fiction and fantasy. I learned to read by slowly wading through the Harry Potter series. My favorite possession was a book on dragons, and I have very distinct memories of cowering under my sheets in elementary school, convinced the sound of my accelerating heartbeat was actually the increasingly rapid drumbeat of a horde of orcs from Moria drawing closer.

Science fiction and fantasy have shaped me into the person I am today, so of course I leapt at the chance to take a first-year seminar on monstrosity. In my very first FSEM class, I analyzed the more recent film Star Trek Into Darkness in relation to the original. Comparing the two iterations of the villainous Khan, I realized that he had evolved from a domineering and intelligent foreigner into a powerful terrorist, so as to better match contemporary society’s fears. This wasn’t a change that took place over hundreds of years and generations; this significant evolution happened in fewer than forty years, and yet both movies were praised by their generations as having excellent villains.

While the idea of monsters changing to fit their society fascinated me, I didn’t explore it further until my second course on monstrosity. In my WRIT 1733 class, we learned about media ecology theory and the concept that information is altered by the media that convey it—just as monsters and their cultural significance alter across time, media, and society. Society is the medium through which the monster narrative evolves, and we can measure cultural changes through changing responses to the monster.

I hope my exploration of the society’s evolving response to the vampire encourages others to consider the history behind their favorite monsters, and what that says about the culture they live in.

Jessica BioJessica Garland came to DU from Greenwood Village, Colorado. She is a sophomore, pursuing degrees in English and Political Science. In her free time, you’ll find Jessica reading, writing, watching copious amounts of television, geeking out over movies, or hanging out with her friends. Fun fact about Jessica: she can sing the first fifty prepositions of the English language, in alphabetical order, from memory.


Atwater, Cheryl. “Living in Death: The Evolution of Modern Vampirism.” Anthropology of Consciousness 11.1–2 (2000): 70–77. Web. 25 Apr. 2015.

Betsinger, Tracy K., and Amy B. Scott. “Governing from the Grave: Vampire Burials and Social Order in Post-medieval Poland.” Cambridge Archaeological Journal 24.03 (2014): 467–76. Cambridge Journals. Web. 26 Apr. 2015.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Dir. Francis F. Coppola. Screenplay by James V. Hart. By Bram Stoker. Perf. Gary Oldman, Winona Ryder, and Anthony Hopkins. Columbia Pictures, 1992. DVD.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Complete Fourth Season. Dir. Joss Whedon. Warner Bros., 2003. DVD. Fright Night. Dir. Craig Gillespie. By Marti Noxon and Tom Holland. Perf. Anton Yelchin and Colin Farrell. DreamWorks Picture, 2011. DVD.

Hall, Robert L. “Ghosts, Water Barriers, Corn, and Sacred Enclosures in the Eastern Woodlands.” American Antiquity 41.3 (1976): 360–64. JSTOR. Web. 26 Apr. 2015.

Interview with the Vampire—the Vampire Chronicles. Dir. Neil Jordan. By Anne Rice. Perf. Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, Christian Slater, and Kirsten Dunst. Geffen Pictures, 1994. DVD.

Jackson, Morgan A. “Mindless Monsters: The Evolution of Vampire Mythology in Modern Fiction.” The Alexandrian 1.1 (2012): n. pag. The Alexandrian (Troy University Journals). Troy University, 2012. Web. 25 Apr. 2015.

Matheson, Richard. I Am Legend. New York: ORB, 1995. Print.

Meyer, Jenna. “‘You’re a Vampire… Was That an Offensive Term? Should I Say Undead American’?’ The Evolution of the Vampire in Popular Culture.” University at Buffalo, State University of New York, 2010. ProQuest Thesis. ProQuest. Web. 26 Apr. 2015.

Meyer, Stephanie. Twilight. New York: Little, Brown and Co., 2005. Print.

Poole, W. Scott. “Undead Americans.” Monsters in America: Our Historical Obsession with the Hideous and the Haunting. Waco, TX: Baylor UP, 2011. 193–217. Print.

Senf, Carol A. “‘Dracula’: Stoker’s Response to the New Woman.” Victorian Studies 26.1 (1982): 33–49. JSTOR. Web. 26 Apr. 2015.

Smetana, Erik. “Books with Bite: The Evolution of the Vampire in Contemporary Literature.” The Missouri Review 34.1 (2011): 173–80. Summon. Web. 25 Apr. 2015.

Tenga, Angela, and Elizabeth Zimmerman. “Vampire Gentlemen and Zombie Beasts.” Gothic Studies 15.1 (2013): 76–87. Academic Search Complete. Web. 26 Apr. 2015.

Whedon, Joss, dir. “Lie to Me.” Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Warner Bros. Network. 3 Nov. 1997. Television.

Appendix A
By completing the following questions, you are also granting consent for this information to be used as part of a research project that I am completing for a course at the University of Denver.  Your participation is completely voluntary.  The information you provide may be used in a project and may be published online and/or in print, but your identity will remain anonymous.  While profile information you volunteer in this survey may be included in my writing project (i.e. your age, sex, class standing, etc.), your name and identity will NOT be used or reported.  If at any time you do not want to answer a question, or do not want to complete the questionnaire, you do not have to.

1. Please select your current age from the options below.
Garland age

2. What gender do you identify as?
Garland gender

3. How interesting are the various traits of the vampire to you?
Garland chart

4. Select your three favorite vampire movies.  (Note: Some of these movies are related to books and television shows. This question only focuses on the movie-aspect so please only select your choices based off your opinion of the movies themselves.)
Garland films

5. Select your three favorite vampire television shows.  (Note: Some of these shows are related to books and movies.  This question only focuses on the television-aspect so please only select your choices based off your opinion of the shows themselves.)
Garland shows

Open-ended questions:
6. When you hear the word “vampire,” what comes to mind?
(Be as brief or descriptive as you want.)

7. What is your favorite interpretation of a vampire and why?  (This can be a creature from lore, movie character, book character, television character, etc.) (Be as brief or descriptive as you want.)

8. What is your least favorite interpretation of a vampire and why? (This can be a creature from lore, movie character, book character, television character, etc.) (Be as brief or descriptive as you want.)

Appendix B
Below are the three basic interview questions administered to both Interviewee A and Interviewee B. The phone interview had extra clarification questions to confirm answers. In order to maintain the confidentiality of the interviewees, the Informed Consent documents of each are located in a separate, private space.

1.Why are people capable over time of shifting their perception of monsters or entities they believe are threateningly different than themselves?

2.Are there other examples where a group of people altered its reaction to a creature perceived as an “outsider” or “foreign other?”

3.Are there social and psychological factors that prime or prepare people for accepting an “outsider” as similar to themselves and if so, what are these factors? Are there social and psychological factors that discourage this type of assimilation, and if so, what are they?

Figure 1
Below is a graph of the survey responses to the question “How interesting are the various traits of the vampire to you?” Respondents rated each trait as extremely uninteresting, uninteresting, kind of uninteresting, no opinion, kind of interesting, interesting, or extremely interesting (which corresponded with the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7 respectively). Their aggregate numbers were calculated and averaged, as represented in this graph.
Figure 1

Figure 2
Below is a graph of the survey responses to the question “Please select your three favorite vampire movies. (Note: Some of these movies are related to books and television shows. This question only focuses on the movie-aspect so please only select your choices based off your opinion of the movies themselves.)”
Figure 2

Figure 3
Below is a graph of the survey responses to the question “Select your three favorite vampire television shows. (Note: Some of these shows are related to books and movies. This question only focuses on the television-aspect so please only select your choices based off your opinion of the shows themselves.)”
Figure 3


The Places In Between

My beautiful picture

by Maggie Sava
WRIT 1733: Human Rights/Humans Write | Professor John Tiedemann

She was at home playing with her four-year-old daughter, Jennifer, and her one-year-old son, Paul, when the phone rang. It was the fall of 1974, and her two older children, Randy and Julia, were at school for the day. After settling the kids, she answered the call to find a man on the line.

“Hello, Mrs. Atencio. My name is John, and I am a member of the Parent Teacher Association. I am calling you today to discuss a volunteer opportunity.”

“Oh, I see. May I ask what the opportunity is exactly?”

“Well, as I am sure you are aware, Denver Public Schools have recently begun integration programs that…”

She interrupted. “Oh yeah, I have been hearing a lot about that lately.”

“Good, good. Well, you see, we need parents to observe the schools in a monitor role to make sure that all students are receiving the appropriate treatment at their new schools. We are reaching out to you because we know how involved you have been in the PTA before, and we need representatives for Hispanic students.”

“You don’t understand. Atencio is my married name. I am not Hispanic; my husband is.”

“Mrs. Atencio, we are in desperate need of volunteers. We believe that you are especially qualified for this. It is just once a month. We really need your help.”

She paused. “Okay, okay. I am happy to help. What do you need me to do?”

∗  ∗  ∗

My grandparents, Cheryl and Sam Atencio, met when they were only 18 years old. Cheryl had moved to her parents’ new home in the new upper-middle-class development of Applewood, Colorado, after transferring from Hood College, a women’s college on the East Coast, to the University of Colorado Denver. Her background was about as middle-class as it could get. Initially, her parents bought a new home that was constructed after World War II, but they ended up moving from one suburban town to the next as her dad’s job required. Before Colorado, they lived in New Jersey, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and Iowa. Meanwhile, Sam’s family settled in southern Colorado and New Mexico during Spanish colonization. Sam was born in Sante Fe shortly before his family moved to Denver to pursue better job opportunities. They settled in one of North Denver’s Hispanic neighborhoods.


Cheryl after a new haircut.

Cheryl and Sam first saw each other at a bar in North Denver. Cheryl’s friend, who was pregnant at the time, begged her to go out dancing. Cheryl agreed, so they went to Denver and wound up at a rough 3.2 bar, since 18-year-olds could buy 3.2 beer at the time. There, Sam approached Cheryl and asked her to dance. Cheryl refused unless he danced with her pregnant friend first. He obliged, and from that night on, Cheryl and Sam were inseparable. When the two brought up the idea of marriage less than two months later, neither of their families supported the idea. At the time, the proposed union of the teenagers was considered a “mixed marriage.” Sam was even kicked out of his house and forced to stay at the YMCA. Despite the resistance, they wed in 1965, six weeks after they met.

Early on, the two had no money. They hopped from house to house in North Denver, one of their first being a dumpy little two-story house built behind someone else’s lot on Perry Street. Cheryl was always pregnant, so they had to keep moving as they outgrew houses. By the time they found themselves at the house at 3934 Tejon Street, they already had seven-year-old Randy, five-year-old Julia, three-year-old Jenn, and a fourth child on the way. St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, the family’s parish, was down the street from their modest house. Nearby was the fire station and the police station. Police helicopters flew over the neighborhood at all hours of the night, shining their spotlights through the windows in tireless searches. A bar or liquor store could be found on practically every block. Cheryl did not fit into the neighborhood. A fair-skinned, red-haired Norwegian girl with a middle-class background stood out, and the neighbors were suspicious of her until they met Sam.

Sava 10

Christine Franck |

Across 38th Avenue, a busy thoroughfare, was the neighborhood elementary school, Bryant Webster, where Julia and Randy went to school when they were not being bussed to Gust Elementary School. Being Hispanic students in the 1970s, Julia and Randy were sent to a white school across town for half of the day as a result of Denver’s attempt to increase diversity and level the playing field for minority students. Although they were considered Hispanic, the kids did not fit into any category. Being half white and half Hispanic, Randy and Julia were stuck between two worlds. Cheryl cringed when her children returned home to tell stories of how they were called “honky” at Bryant Webster because they had a white mother and how, at Gust, they were referred to as “beaners” because their skin was brown. Fuming on the inside, Cheryl comforted Julia and Randy, explaining to them that those were not nice words and that they should not use them to refer to other people.

“Sticks and stones may break my bones,” she would remind them. “But words will never hurt me.”

My beautiful picture

Paul, Randy, Julia, and Jennifer in their Tejon house, 1975.

∗  ∗  ∗

Cheryl peered anxiously through the window, watching the sidewalk as the sunlight began to recede. Behind her, one of the babies began to cry, pulling her attention from the glass. She crossed the living room of the small house on Tejon Street, leaving her perch to check on her babies.

She took turns watching the front walk and working on dinner. Finally, she heard the shuffling footsteps of two kids on the front porch and opened the door to find Julia there with a neighbor boy. She was tired from chasing her toddlers around all day. Her fatigue was compounded by frustration when she noticed that the sun had mostly set and the city street was getting darker and darker. She thanked the neighbor boy who walked Julia from the bus stop each night and gave him some change just as Sam’s car pulled into the drive. Sam was coming home from his job at the Department of Transportation to have dinner with his family and rest for a bit before leaving to go to his second job as a valet at a country club. Now that everyone had made it home, Cheryl could serve dinner.

The concerns Cheryl had about her daughter’s safety and her difficult school day were not alleviated as she watched Julia struggle to keep her eyes open during dinner. Cheryl questioned why her kids had to be bussed forty-five minutes to a different school every day. Randy and Julia were not even on the same bus schedule. Originally, both kids went to Bryant Webster in the morning and Gust in the afternoon, but when Randy hit third grade, he was forced to change his schedule. While Randy went in the mornings, Julia went in the afternoons, and so he was not there to walk her home at night.

After cleaning up after the meal, Cheryl went to the living room, where Sam was resting. Suddenly, she vented. “How much good can they be doing these kids when they drop first-grade girls off at a bus stop two blocks away from their home at night?”

“Cher… .”

“I mean, think about it. They lose at least an hour every day. Julia is only six! Thank goodness there is that neighbor boy to walk her home.”

“I suppose they think they are doing them a service. I mean, they mix in all the students from the other school, so maybe they are getting a better experience. More diversity.”

“I hardly think they are getting anything out of this. Heck, I wouldn’t want to be going to either school! You wouldn’t believe what it’s like in Bryant Webster, Sam. It’s terrible. I saw it back when I visited Randy’s second-grade class. Some kids don’t even have shoes to wear!”

“What do you want me to say? Schools are falling apart around us, Cher, and the kids are taking the brunt of it. There are no other options, not since the redistricting from desegregation made us leave Smedly.”

“I still can’t believe they made us leave that school. Now the kids have to cross 38th with all that traffic just to get to school. It is so dangerous! That court order completely turned these kids’ life upside down. I just don’t know what to do. How are they supposed to make friends? At which school will they have a chance to play with the other kids? I just don’t think it’s good for them. Especially for Julia. She is so young and so smart. I don’t want her miss out on anything… .”

My beautiful picture

Julia, Paul, and Jennifer, 1974.

∗  ∗  ∗

At the start of desegregation, the schools needed to accommodate the new students, which required much preparation and training to explain new policies and ensure that they were properly applied. The school board used volunteer parent monitors to make sure that students were accepted into their new classrooms and treated equally by the school. The request made by the Parent Teacher Association for a representative for the Hispanic students was not one that Cheryl could comfortably turn down. She had already headed an effort to restart the PTA at Smedly Elementary, where Randy went before the redistricting. That challenging project made her well aware of the inner workings of the schools and all the help they needed.


Cheryl’s PTA portrait

Like her children, Cheryl went downtown to a new school. Monitors were not allowed to volunteer at their neighborhood institutions, so she was assigned to a poor school that was close to the low-income housing projects near Colfax Avenue and Federal Boulevard. As the acting representative of the Hispanic population at the school, she had to drive there once a month. She observed everything intently, including classes and teacher performances, and filled out special rubrics that were filed at North High School. Cheryl was frustrated by the limitations of her position. As an unwanted visitor, Cheryl knew she could not see what the school was really like day to day. She suspected that teachers and students were on their best behavior during the monthly visits, and she did not have the chance to understand the true climate of the school. Try as she might, she could not get beyond the surface of the situation. Hispanic families were wary of her serving as their spokesperson, and with good reason. She was young and white, and she could not relate to the experiences of the students she was supposed to represent. During her days at the school, she was made aware of the glaring differences between her schooling in a middle-class suburban neighborhood in New Jersey and the urban Denver school in which she found herself. In spite of all the training and preparation the monitor organization provided and her Spanish surname, she never felt as though she had the clout to honestly speak for the students she believed needed stronger support and a better learning environment. Nothing was more frustrating to a young activist dedicated to bettering her community than knowing that she could not really help.

She found herself in the same, uncomfortable in-between space her children occupied at school. She was too white to fit in with the Hispanics at the schools, yet she still had a Hispanic family and was a part of the community. Like Randy and Julia, she was often reminded that she did not belong. One day, she was sitting at the back of a classroom observing when she noticed the teacher’s assistant looking her over. When Cheryl looked back at her, the teacher’s assistant said something under her breath in Spanish that made Cheryl blush. She may not have spoken fluent Spanish, but Cheryl had spent enough time in the barrio to know when she was being called a nasty name.

She once said, “It was like being a fish out of water.”

∗  ∗  ∗

My beautiful picture

Julia with her Aunt Margie for her first Communion, 1974.

It only made sense that Cheryl would volunteer as an advocate in the schools. Cheryl converted to Catholicism when she married Sam and became fiercely loyal to her faith. The couple served the church community by being on the parish council, kick-starting and running the food bank, and taking donations to be deposited at the bank after mass on Sundays each week. Being a young, poor couple, they knew what hard work meant. They were constantly striving to create better conditions for their growing family.

Cheryl and Sam’s civic engagement also extended beyond the walls of the church; they became activists for their neighborhood. Idealistic and hardworking, Sam and Cheryl were active in every way possible. As they became leaders in their community, their house became a meeting place. Their political work predated the 26th Amendment that lowered the voting age, which meant that they were laboring for the Democratic Party in their part of the city before they could even vote. As their activism increased, they garnered attention as a motivated couple that was excited about the new forms of cultural and political empowerment emerging in a number of different communities. Their own community was in the midst of the Chicano Movement, which offered people a new opportunity for self-identification. Hispanics were tired of being mislabeled and assigned stereotypes. Community leaders were giving Chicanos and Chicanas a voice. Sam and Cheryl saw these leaders speaking from the pulpit of the neighborhood church asking for support such as food donations for migrant workers. As long as it wasn’t okra. They were sick and tired of okra.

Eventually, Cheryl and Sam were elected precinct captains, and they attended all important meetings in Denver. They became involved with policy writing and platform organizing. Their dedication had them traveling through the projects to pass out materials and brochures, all with their little ones following along. The campaigns they organized and contributed to even helped elect Pat Schroeder, the first Congresswoman from Colorado.

Despite positive political changes and momentum within their community, Cheryl and Sam found their neighborhood becoming less safe and less welcoming. Big changes were occurring in the house on Tejon Street. The family welcomed a fifth child, Noah, into the world in the fall of 1975. The house was proving to be too small. Julia, Randy, and Jennifer had to sleep in a room in the basement, while Paul and Noah slept together in a room upstairs near the master bedroom. They were outgrowing the house, and the state of the neighborhood was a heavy toll on them. Across the street was a halfway house, and the helicopters still kept them awake all night. Two blocks down, a law office that served the poor community had been blown up by a splinter group of anarchists whose graffiti littered the neighborhood declaring, “Free Kiki.” Even the family house was not immune from the dangers of the neighborhood.

On one occasion, Cheryl and Sam woke to Julia and Randy banging on their bedroom door early on a Saturday morning. As they drowsily answered their door, the kids excitedly whispered, “Mom. Dad. There is a strange man sleeping on our couch.” Confused and alarmed, Cheryl herded the kids into the bedroom as Sam grabbed a baseball bat to confront the intruder. A heavily drugged man awoke at the prodding of the wooden bat, unwilling to leave his place on the couch. Sam had to call the police. When the policeman arrived, he assumed that the drugged man was a friend who had stayed over after a wild party.

“That’s ridiculous!” Cheryl exclaimed. “You think we would throw a party here? And then call the police to get rid of the guests?”

After much convincing, the officer finally believed that the intruder was a stranger and that he needed to be removed. Cheryl and Sam found out later that there was no follow-up from the police because the intruder was convicted and imprisoned for murder.

My beautiful picture

Julia and Jennifer, Christmas 1976.

The fear and painful awareness left by that incident led Cheryl and Sam to realize that no matter what good they were doing in their community, they could not let their family pay the price by raising their children in a dangerous place. After spending more than an hour on the bus traveling between schools, and then coming home to an unsafe neighborhood, the children were going to struggle to thrive in school. Without the means to go to the private elementary school on the University of Denver campus, Julia would not be challenged enough academically. As long as she kept bouncing between Bryant Webster and Gust, she would have to make up the study time she missed while riding the bus. Bussing could not address the young students’ needs, and the family could no longer carry the burden placed on them.

Their decision to leave the city was affirmed by a visit from a close family friend and Catholic nun, Sister Jane. She sat them down and advised them that their place was not in the barrio. They had to continue God’s work by raising their children in a healthy environment. Cheryl soon realized that the visit from Sister Jane was a gift from God, and because of a promotion Sam received at work—a second blessing after Sister Jane’s advice—the family was moved to a safer neighborhood in the suburb of Westminster, Colorado.

∗  ∗  ∗

At the time, housing equity was still an equal rights issue, and developers needed to demonstrate diversity in new building projects. The Atencios were seen as the perfect way to show such diversity. The builder of the Countryside development eagerly welcomed them into their community. The company bought their house on Tejon Street, taking the impossible-to-sell property off of their hands and making it possible for them to put a down payment on a newly built house in the Fox Meadows neighborhood. The relief they felt in getting the house of their dreams outweighed any frustration they may have had in once again becoming the token minority. One night, before the official closing, the family took the keys to their new home and camped out on the floor. They all felt as though they were in a mansion. They roamed the four bedrooms, three bathrooms, and huge yard in which the kids could play freely. They prepared beds on the floor and lay down to sleep. They were struck by the calm that fell over the home at night and the stars they spied in the sky through the window—the same stars they had never been able to see in the heart of the city.

“Mom, mom, mom! Look at the sky! It’s so pretty! Is that what space looks like?”

“Yes, Julia. Those are constellations out there. See that one shaped like a spoon? That is the Big Dipper. Isn’t this lovely, Sam? I don’t think the kids even knew what stars were before!”

“It’s beautiful. There aren’t even street lamps out here. I feel like we moved to the country. It is too quiet though. How are we supposed to sleep with all this quiet?”

“I can’t get over how much space there is either. And did you see all the neighborhood kids out playing today? They looked like they were our kids’ ages. It is so nice to see kids out in the neighborhood.”

“I bet they probably know some good babysitters too.”

Cheryl chuckled. “You’re right. I can’t wait to invite all of the parents over for drinks. You know, I bet there are a lot of young families out here. With the kids and all. And they have a neighborhood pool. Oh, Randy, Julia, Jenn, and Paul are going to love that. And Noah, too, once he is bigger.”

“It’ll be great. I can already tell.”

Of course, money was still an issue. They had to scrape it together where they could, not wasting anything. Every drop of gas was precious. Shower time had to be provisioned among the seven of them, with close attention to the use of hot water. Julia still could not attend advanced math classes because there was no way to travel to a different school every afternoon. Nonetheless, they weren’t fretting the challenges ahead of them just yet: their budget, the long commutes to work, and Randy’s appointments at the Colorado Hearing and Speech Center in Southeast Denver. Rather, they all anticipated that spring, when they would be fully moved into their new home in the suburbs, where Randy, Julia, Jennifer, Paul, Noah, and eventually Jill and Haileigh would be able to play and explore in the yard and throughout the neighborhood with the other kids.

Life was bound to change, and a family that was used to growing pains knew that it was part of the deal. Their Hispanic friends and neighbors from Tejon, with whom they would play cards and drink beer on weekends, stopped visiting. Cheryl worried that her friends believed that the family had sold out by moving to the suburbs. Of course, they still came for baptisms, communions, and other important family parties, but it was just not the same. Cheryl and Sam also found a huge difference in community activism. In the city, anyone with an interest and a willingness to work was accepted to the cause and could quickly climb the ladder. Out in the suburbs, there were fewer organizations, and involvement was more competitive because everyone wanted to give their free time to volunteer in the schools, churches, and food banks. Cheryl and Sam’s political life changed as well. Two of the most adamant young Democrats in North Denver left the party in the wake of the Roe v. Wade court ruling, when they were told that they were not true Democrats if they did not believe in abortion. Their faith led them to be shut out, and they were forced to adapt once more.

After adjusting to a hectic urban life, Cheryl found returning to the suburbs truly bizarre. It took a while to get used to the free time; however, she soon learned to embrace her new lifestyle as a stay-at-home mom like all the other moms in the neighborhood. They had a babysitting co-op, and Cheryl and Sam and their kids all found friends their own age. It was dreamlike for Cheryl—an extended vacation from the hardship and need she had witnessed in Denver. The family became outside observers of the transformations happening in the city, experiencing it all from a commuter’s distance.


Countryside neighborhood

∗  ∗  ∗

Today, my grandmother, Cheryl Atencio, is still passionate and spirited. She is a loving matriarch. She leads her large family of seven children and thirteen grandchildren and our combination of fair-skinned redheads and olive-skinned, dark-haired cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. In Countryside, our family is still growing and changing: some kids leaving, some moving back, and now some grandchildren growing up in that very same neighborhood. For us grandkids, we have always known that we belong together, and the idea that we all came from a mixed marriage would never have occurred to us. However, my mom, Julia, and my grandma still take occasional trips to Denver, which bring back memories of those tumultuous times and give them an awareness of the many changes their communities have undergone.

∗  ∗  ∗

Cheryl gasped. “Julia, Julia, slow down. Do you remember when we used to live here on Perry Street? Probably not. We lived in that house behind someone’s back yard, behind their plot. It was before the house on Tejon. Goodness, do you see that house? It is huge! I have never seen such a large house on Perry Street before. But, you know, even down at the Sunnyside projects they are tearing down the plots and building an up-and-coming neighborhood.”

“Wow. Look, it’s for sale. Let’s stop and grab a flyer. Maybe they have an open house, too.”

“Oh, do you think Maggie will be upset if we are late to pick her up? It is almost noon.”

“Nah, she won’t care. She has things to do on campus anyway. Let’s take a look. They must have torn down one of the old houses. I think this new one takes up two of the original plots.”

“You know, your dad wrote a grant once to tear down some of the dilapidated houses. He wanted to use the space for the whole community, though. Maybe a community garden or playground or something. He just wanted to open up more space for everyone. It was so cramped here, you wouldn’t believe it.”

“That must have been a long time ago. I don’t think I remember that.”

“It might have been before you were born. Or you could have been a toddler.”

“I wish I remembered that. What I do remember is taking the bus for what seemed like forever. That was terrible. You know, Maggie still jokes about how I can’t spell some words. One time, she asked how to spell “squirrel,” and I just said, ‘squa-errl.’ It’s too bad I missed all those phonics lessons.”

Cheryl paused. “Yeah, that was a crazy time for us. At least we had the chance to move. I mean, the time to do those things is when you are young. Things get complicated as you get older. Do as much as you can when you have the energy and the time. That’s what I say.”

Images provided by author.

When I received the assignment to write a historical narrative for my Honors Writing and Rhetoric course: Human Rights, Humans Write, I dove into the most human histories that I knew: those of my family. Perhaps it was an excuse to explore the stories that were shared around the table at family dinners. Nonetheless, I discovered the importance of the small stories contained in our individual lives and how they open up pathways into our shared history.

I will admit that there were some self-indulgent motivations behind this piece. In the name of research, I was able to interview my grandmother and discover details about her life I had not heard before. I called her on the phone, emailed her, and spent time at her house cooking with her. I was given special access to her collection of family photos and newspaper clippings, and through these I was able to share in the experiences of my family.

Beyond a new appreciation for all the experiences and hard work of my grandparents, my greatest take-away from this process is that there is no such thing as a mundane life. No person’s story is too “ordinary.” The amazing narratives of history are lived out in the everyday lives of normal people. From this, I learned that you can never know someone too well. As you delve further into the details of someone’s history, you start to find important novelties. It took me 19 years to fully uncover this part of my family’s past, and I am well aware that there is so much more to discover in their stories. I hope to carry these lessons with me, and I believe that these messages are at the core of my work as a student, reader, and writer.

Sava bioMaggie Sava is a sophomore studying English and Art History in the class of 2018. She is from Westminster, Colorado. She enjoys reading, fashion, tennis, museums, art, and road trips. Maggie is also a huge fan of Fall Out Boy and tried to go see them at Magness Arena for her first concert. Unfortunately, she got sick just before the show, and although she insisted on going and convinced her mom she felt fine, she only made it long it enough to see the Plain White T’s. Maggie ended up going to the hospital, where she discovered that she had appendicitis and went into emergency surgery at 1am. She lived but has still, regrettably, never seen Fall Out Boy in concert.

Black Blood: Reckoning with Alaska’s Oil Dependency


Kengo 8

bikeriderlondon |

by Kengo Nagaoka
WRIT 1733: Honors Writing | Professor Doug Hesse

The Trans-Alaska Pipeline is the aorta of the state of Alaska. Eight hundred miles long and 48 inches wide, the steel artery stretches from the oilfields of Prudhoe Bay on the northernmost edge of the state down to the Valdez Marine Terminal on the southern coast of Alaska’s mainland. Inside, the pipeline’s thick black blood courses steadily southward, taking two weeks to travel from the Beaufort Sea to Prince William Sound, where it is piped into huge tankers and shipped to refineries on America’s west coast. Twelve pump stations, the “hearts,” push the blood as it crosses 34 major rivers and three mountain ranges on the journey through icy tundra, boreal forest, and temperate rainforest.1

The oil keeps Alaska alive, and Alaska loves it.

Nagaoka 4

Ann Glenn |

When I was a child, my parents would drive visitors 15 minutes from our home in Fairbanks to the pipeline. At this popular tourist spot, visitors would get out of the car and smile at the steel tube, read the placard about it, touch it, and take photos with it. It’s a monument, a place of pilgrimage, a living piece of Alaskan history. The pipeline gets its own section in all tourist pamphlets for Fairbanks.

There is little debate as to why it has so many fans. Completed in 1977 after three years of construction, the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS) was, at the time, the largest privately funded construction project in the world. Vigorous development was triggered after drillers found one of the most promising oil reserves in North America below Alaska’s North Slope in 1967.2 Workers swarmed to Fairbanks, a strategic place at the middle of the pipeline’s route. The construction of the pipeline itself involved over 70,000 people in a state that only had 348,000 people at the start of 1974, transforming a struggling gold rush state into a modern economic and scientific powerhouse.3 For fiscal year (FY) 2015, the Alaska Department of Revenue Commissioner estimated that about 75% of state general fund revenue would be from oil “production taxes, petroleum property taxes, corporate income taxes, and royalties.”4,5 On average, from FY 2005 to 2014, that figure has been 90%.6 This money fuels Alaska’s infrastructure, schools, transportation, health services, and universities.7 Thanks to oil revenue, my state is the only state in the Union that doesn’t have a state personal income tax or sales tax.8 Ever since oil started flowing through the pipeline, the economic activity and revenue generated by the oil industry has provided sustenance to Alaska, allowing us to enjoy modern middle-class living like the rest of the country. Alaska owes big time to its black gold.

Nagaoka 2

JLS Photography |

∗  ∗  ∗

It was 2010, and I was just about to cross the finish line of one of my cross-country ski races. I was a freshman in high school and was probably close to last place. As I panted and tried to squeeze the last drops of energy from my muscles, I looked up. Above the finish line was a broad white banner serenading my efforts. It read “Flint Hills Resources” in a tidy serif font.

Only years later would I learn that Flint Hills Resources owns a huge oil refinery east of Fairbanks and is a subsidiary of Koch Industries, the largest petrochemicals corporation in the United States and the second largest private company in the country.9 But this kind of banner is not uncommon in Fairbanks. ExxonMobil, BP, ConocoPhillips, Alyeska Pipeline Service Company (the company that maintains Alaska’s pipeline), along with Flint Hills, are common names because we see them everywhere: on TV commercials, in the newspaper, on flyers for community events, on awards and scholarships, in the mail, and at sports games. In August 2010, I saw hundreds of people at our annual Tanana Valley State Fair sporting BP knapsacks passed out at the entrance gates, a mere month after the company’s Deepwater Horizon spill had finally been capped. BP’s yellow and green sunflower logo has become for me as recognizable as McDonald’s golden arches.

These logos meant nothing to me as a little kid growing up in Fairbanks. I was born there in 1996, in a town of about 32,000, to first-generation Japanese immigrant parents.10

Fairbanks does have a McDonald’s. It’s got several, actually. But the closest Target or Olive Garden is a 360-mile drive south to Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city. At first glance, you’d never guess that Fairbanks is an oil town. It’s a place that prides itself on family-owned roadside bagel stands and backyard gardens. Fairbanksans love their personal property, their snow machines, and their own opinions. We like to think of ourselves as independent. “I’ve always thought of Fairbanks as an island,” says my friend Dylan.11

I was naturally a pretty quiet kid. During my first year of preschool, I actually did not speak a word in class. My teacher was visibly excited when she recognized me, 13 years later, when I yelled out her order number at an ice cream place I was working at in town. I had become a much more vocal person in those years. By senior year, I was leading a small jazz ensemble that played professionally around town. Music turned into my greatest passion. Considering the size of the place, Fairbanks was a great town to develop my musicianship. The University of Alaska Fairbanks music program, Fairbanks Youth Orchestras, and organizations like the Fairbanks Concert Association fueled my desire to hear and play music. My teachers were phenomenal, encouraging me to get more involved and pursue music making opportunities around town and in the state, most of which were funded by sponsorships from oil companies. The local music scene itself was diverse and welcoming, and my parents told me to pursue what I enjoyed most. The skills I learned on the drum set in my high school jazz band eventually led me to earn a spot at the Lamont School of Music at the University of Denver (DU) as a Jazz Studies major in 2014.

∗  ∗  ∗

I was sitting with a friend at a restaurant near DU on May 1, 2015 when my phone buzzed with a text message.

“What is it?” my friend asked.

I stared at the phone.

“My high school jazz band just got cut.”

I had known that Alaska was facing budget problems. During my junior year of high school, I had testified in front of my school board, urging them to preserve the district’s music programs in the face of a shrinking budget. Every year, rumors went around about which teachers were going to get laid off and what government programs were going to be cut. It was always about reduction, never expansion. In April 2015, all public school music teachers, art teachers, and counselors in Fairbanks got a “doubtful status” notice in their mailbox. But it didn’t really hit home for me until my own high school jazz band was gone, just like that, because of budget constraints. I had been reassuring myself, until that point, that my hometown would be okay in the face of economic pressure. When something that had meant so much to me throughout my four years in high school was cut, I had to reexamine what was happening.

Government revenue and spending is complicated, but in this case, there was an overarching cause. I learned that the TAPS is suffering from severe low blood pressure. And the symptoms are showing up everywhere. Oil flow through the pipeline peaked on January 14, 1988 at 2.1 million barrels per day. Today, only about 560,000 barrels per day reach Valdez.12 Oil flow has slowed down so much that the time it takes for the liquid to travel from Prudhoe Bay on the North Slope to Valdez has almost tripled from 4.5 to 14 days.13 Pipeline engineers are trying to figure out how to deal with low oil flow, which has the risk, among other problems, of creating wax and ice buildup inside the pipeline. “We can’t tell you what the end date of the pipeline is. We believe we can operate down to 300,000 barrels a day, maybe less than that. But it’s going to take some significant investment,” explains Mike Joyner, Senior Vice President of Alyeska’s operation division.14

It’s not just because oil reserves at Prudhoe Bay are running out. Oil production has been declining for decades. State officials estimate there are about 5.16 billion barrels left for recovery under the North Slope, compared to 15 billion barrels already sent down the pipeline by 2006.15,16 Despite this fact, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) on the east and the National Petroleum Reserve on the west remain closed to development.17 With safety and environmental concerns driving more regulation of the oil industry, companies are finding it harder to obtain permits to develop existing infrastructure or to drill exploratory wells and more expensive to carry out business as usual. Demand for oil is also decreasing steadily because of greater energy efficiency and investment in renewables. In 2013, more megawatts of renewable energy capacity were added per year than oil, coal, and natural gas combined.18 But these factors only aggravate the most recent issue: oil prices that were at $110 per barrel in June 2014 have plummeted to around $60 per barrel in May 2015.19 The oil industry is in a bad place.

The trouble this is causing Alaska is immense. It doesn’t end with jazz band being cut. With 75% of state general fund revenue dependent on oil royalties in FY 2015, the Alaska State Legislative Finance Division estimates a deficit of $3.4 billion for this year.20 With current oil production, the Division’s budget director claims oil prices would have to be $130 a barrel to balance the current budget.21 Unable to pass a balanced budget for FY 2015, state legislators called two special sessions to confront the issue. Talks of tapping into the Constitutional Budget Reserve and the Permanent Fund, the state’s savings accounts, have been circulating.22 Layoff notices were mailed to 10,000 government employees on June 1, as political gridlock resulting from budget debates brought the possibility of a government shutdown in July closer.23 “I’ve heard some grizzled Alaska political observers lament they haven’t seen it so bad since 1981. I’ve heard some say it’s never been this bad, ever,” State Representative Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins from southeast Alaska observes.24

On February 4, 2014, Flint Hills Resources, the same name I saw on the ski race banner years ago, announced it was going to close its refinery next to Fairbanks because of difficult economic conditions.25 For years, the refinery had been siphoning oil from the pipeline and producing gasoline, jet fuel, and heating fuel, as well as products such as asphalt, for local areas. The closure meant the loss of 80 high-paying jobs and the loss of the fourth largest taxpayer in the Fairbanks North Star Borough.26 It created an uncertain future for Fort Wainright and Eielson Air Force Base, both of which bring people and substantial business to Fairbanks but rely on cheap jet fuel produced at Flint Hills. The company isn’t the only one that’s downsizing in Alaska. In 2014, BP announced it would be laying off about 475 employees statewide, selling assets, and reducing its footprint in the state, as well as withdrawing its $20,000 sponsorship of Fairbanks’s Midnight Sun Festival, one of the town’s largest annual events.27 The downsizing also meant my good friend Dylan had to move out of state our senior year of high school. He had moved up to Alaska in 8th grade with his mother, who had a job with Koch Industries. “We tried to get our mom to jump ship with [Flint Hills] and go work at the refinery in Kenai for Tesoro so that we could stay in Alaska,” he told me. “But she said there wasn’t much of a prospect there…it was killer.”28

I was watching my town and my state face insurmountable economic pressures, and the effects were hitting closer and closer to home. Former Alaska Governor Sean Parnell stated simply, “We need more oil for that pipeline.”29

∗  ∗  ∗

Nagaoka 3

photo by Yong Jung Cho

On May 16, I stood in front of a Shell gas station a mile from DU holding up a big cardboard sign that said, “MORE OIL IS NOT THE ANSWER.” I was wearing my green “Alaska Grown” hoodie. About 15 others were with me: friends, environmentalists, social activists, hippies, and all of the above from my school. We fought to hold our signs against the wind and rain, signs that shouted: “HANDS OFF THE ARCTIC!”, “KILL THE DRILL!”, “SHELL NO!”, and “CLIMATE JUSTICE!” There was one that said bluntly, “POLAR BEARS.” It was rush hour. Some people stared silently or pretended not to see us. A middle finger was thrown our way. People filling their cars with gas behind us stared with open mouths and squinted eyes. But there also was the occasional loud honk, smiling old woman, or car full of screaming, supportive college kids our age.

One woman rolled down her window with a puzzled look.

My friend Nick Stubler yelled, “Shell is planning to drill for oil in the Arctic Ocean!” She immediately punched her car horn.

“Are you really ‘Alaska Grown’?” The girl next to me pointed at my hoodie.

“Yeah,” I said. “This one hits pretty close to home for me.”

“Absolutely,” nodded a grizzled-looking man as he passed me on the sidewalk, pointing at my sign.

Sometimes I’m not always so sure. Along with Nick, I’m a part of the student group Divest DU. We’re working to get the university to stop investing its endowment in fossil fuel companies and re-invest in more sustainable energy initiatives. We’re part of the huge international divestment movement, made up of colleges, institutions, funds, and companies that have divested from fossil fuels or are trying to. That’s usually the three-sentence summary I give while tabling and talking to people about what we do. There’s a whole list of reasons we’re fighting for divestment: climate change, rising sea levels, environmental destruction, social justice, financial stability, the moral responsibility of universities, and more. The movement is built on the idea that through divestment, we can take away the social license of fossil fuel companies and stigmatize them as they continue to be the primary perpetrators of global climate change. As of September 2015, educational institutions, businesses, governments, and individuals have pledged to divest over $2.6 trillion from fossil fuels.30 Divest DU believes that the university should not be profiting from climate destruction. And since student scholarships come from income generated by investing the endowment, nor should we. It’s a cause I can say I truly believe in.

But always in the back of my mind is my hometown in Alaska, a state built on the world’s demand for oil and the presence of huge multinational corporations like BP, ConocoPhillips, and ExxonMobil. It pains me to think that proposing fossil fuel divestment for the University of Alaska system would be preposterous. Always in the back of my mind is that broad white banner with “Flint Hills Resources” on it at the finish line. Always in the back of my mind are my jazz band and my high school, fueled by the state government’s oil revenue. When I visit the homepage of the Fairbanks Concert Association, which has brought hundreds of musicians and performers up to Fairbanks and has inspired me so much, I see ConocoPhillips, BP, Flint Hills, and Alyeska at the top of the sponsor list.31 I’ve personally received $20,480 from the Alaska Permanent Fund, which invests oil revenue for a profit that is distributed to all Alaska residents each year as a dividend. That’s $81,920 for my entire family of four since 2000, when we started getting the yearly check.32 I can never escape the fact that my life in Alaska was defined, directed, and funded by oil. I can’t say Alaska owes big time to oil without admitting I do too.

∗  ∗  ∗

The last time oil prices tanked, Fairbanks lost its downtown. The Polaris Building, the tallest building in Fairbanks, now stands still and empty in what was once the heart of the economic boom caused by the construction of the TAPS. Built in 1952, the Polaris Building used to house a thriving hotel and restaurant. It’s now home to black mold that creeps up its crumbling walls and moss an inch thick on its floors.33 The rest of downtown Fairbanks looks a bit better, but not by much. Old buildings not renovated since the 50s crowd the streets, and failed or failing businesses are a common sight. Tourists are everywhere, but not many Fairbanksans would say, “Let’s go have some fun downtown!” At night, the bright glow of yellowish-blue halogens light the streets, presumably to deter crime and help police spot drunks.

In early 1986, oil prices crashed. Even though world oil consumption was declining, in late 1985, Saudi Arabia aggressively started increasing production, and in response the rest of the OPEC countries did the same.34 Crude oil prices fell from $23 per barrel in December 1985 to less than $10 per barrel in July the next year (non-inflation adjusted).35 In Alaska, state general fund revenues were cut in half over two years, from $4.1 billion in 1984 to $2.1 billion in 1988.36 Nine out of 12 Alaskan banks failed, business and property values fell, and thousands of jobs were lost.37 Unemployment hit a high of 11.5%, and between 1986 and 1988, about 35,000 people left Alaska to find jobs elsewhere.38 That’s more people than the current population of the city of Fairbanks. In the decades following the crash, oil prices eventually recovered, and so did Alaska, but downtown Fairbanks was left a dead spot. These days, Alaska Governor Bill Walker cautions we need to be careful with the budget so that “we don’t create the tailspin we saw in the 80s.”39

I don’t want my high school, my house, or any building in Fairbanks to end up like the Polaris Building. Alaska is no stranger to boom-and-bust economic cycles. After all, modern Alaskan history starts with the discovery of gold in the territory and the huge influx of people and capital that followed. However, the State of Alaska House Special Committee on Fiscal Policy argues the recent budget crisis is not just another bout of the boom-and-bust cycle, but part of a larger trend of a widening fiscal gap that the state will have to face for decades to come.40 We desperately need some way to sustain Alaska.

Reduced to the simplest terms, there are two options: more oil or something else. The Arctic Ocean holds an estimated 34 billion barrels of crude oil that could be accessed by offshore drilling initiatives like Royal Dutch Shell’s, which I protested in May.41 In April 2015, both chambers of the Alaska State Legislature overwhelmingly approved a joint resolution urging Washington state officials to stop interfering with Shell’s plans to drill in the Arctic. Simply building a port for Shell in Alaska would generate 500 to 700 jobs, they claimed.42 Additionally, ANWR and the National Petroleum Reserve, which sandwich Prudhoe Bay, could be opened for oil and natural gas development. These projects could fix the TAPS’s blood pressure problem.

But Alaska’s problem is not the issue of too little oil in the pipeline. It’s way bigger. It’s our complete dependency on the black blood that currently supports our entire economy. Encouraging more oil development will entrench us deeper in our oil dependence. It means giving oil prices a license to throw our state around. If Alaska keeps holding on to oil as its savior, it will follow oil on its path downward.

Fossil fuels are not our future. Alaska lives in a world where renewable energy development has already eclipsed fossil fuel energy, and activists and governments alike are halting the progress of oil, natural gas, and coal projects that aren’t already hindered by economic pressures. In 2012, scientists estimated we could release about 565 more gigatons of carbon dioxide into our atmosphere and stay within a “safe” level of global warming. And the world’s oil, natural gas, and coal companies own enough fossil fuels in reserves to release 2,795 gigatons of CO2 if they are allowed to continue their usual business.43 As we realize the effects of burning fossil fuel on our climate, we also need to realize that betting our livelihood on new oil exploration outside of Prudhoe Bay is like chaining ourselves to an already sinking ship. Shell’s license to drill in the Arctic may seem like a good chance to make the pipeline healthy again, but ultimately it will make it even more challenging to end our relationship with oil when we really need to.

“Unfortunately, there is no simple solution,” explains the State of Alaska House Special Committee on Fiscal Policy. “There is no single resource that can fill the huge role [oil] has played in funding state government.”44 Therefore, Alaska has to aggressively diversify its economy and revise its public and private tax structures to cope with this transition as soon as possible. Alaska has to heavily push economic development in its fisheries, mining operations, and tourism industry. We have to pursue projects that add value to already existing industries, like “fish processing plants, […] aluminum reduction, server farms, and dairy farming.”45 We need to create a profitable business environment that will appeal to non-fossil fuel companies. This means investing in infrastructure and transportation and “low-cost energy […] for the Interior and rural communities where economic activity is hamstrung by the cost of fuel.”46 The state will likely have to impose a personal income tax and sales tax for the first time in decades. According to rough estimates, we could add about $1.8 billion to general fund revenue with the steep rates of 5.6% for an income tax and 7% for a sales tax.47 We need to restructure tax law on oil, gas, coal, and mining so that more money stays in-state. Money from yearly revenues and Alaska’s reserves alike need to be used to transition the state to more sustainable industries.

But more than anything, we need ideas. Alaskans—from the women and men sitting in the state’s legislative chambers to high school freshmen in their Alaska Studies classes—need to initiate serious conversations about how our state will look in a post-fossil fuel world. “We can’t be complacent like the frog in the pot of boiling water,” says Scott Goldsmith, Professor of Economics at the University of Alaska Anchorage. “We need to jump out before it’s too late and become proactive in the creation of our own future.”48 This dialogue has already started, but it needs more momentum and participation. On June 5, Governor Walker and his cabinet hosted a weekend-long convention at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, called “Building a Sustainable Future: Conversations With Alaskans,” to address the state’s economic future. “Self-determination was at the heart of our quest for Statehood. Alaskans wanted to control the future of this state,” explained Walker in a Facebook post. “Once again, Alaska is at a decision point. With oil revenue alone unable to sustain us, how do we chart a new course?”49 The convention gathered more than 200 leaders from around the state to “empower participants” through education and conversation so they could “return home and host their own community discussions.50, 51

Governor Walker’s convention was a step forward in advancing calls to implement a state income tax and carefully use the Permanent Fund’s earning reserves to close the state’s fiscal gap. And there was a lot of hope contained in those three days. “The challenges are obvious. The opportunities might be less clear,” Walker stated. “The first opportunity I see is an opportunity to tap Alaskans’ collective wisdom and ingenuity.”52 He added, “Through teamwork and respect for the voices of all Alaskans, we can develop the best solutions.”53 This sentiment was echoed by others as well. “Alaskans are a resilient and resourceful people, and can rise to meet the challenge facing them in the twilight of oil’s dominance,” said the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.54 There was also a call for cooperation across political boundaries. “If there’s a lasting image to come out of this two days, it’s of Mr. Republican Jack Coghill and a liberal Democrat, Vic Fischer, coming arm in arm together,” said University of Alaska Fairbanks Chancellor Brian Rogers, addressing two original Alaska Constitution authors who were in the audience.55

But behind this optimism is the reality that we have a lot of work to do to see the future we want for Alaska.

Nagaoka 7

Rose Ellet |

A few weeks ago, my friend Tristan Glowa, who works for the divestment campaign at Yale University, went to a Q&A session with Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski. He submitted a question about how Alaska should move forward in diversifying its economy in the face of the inevitable decline of fossil fuels. As Murkowski started reading Tristan’s question off the slip of paper, she paused and picked out another one from the pile. Meanwhile, bipartisan efforts in our state legislature push for more oil and gas development, with the topic of economic restructuring away from fossil fuels completely off the table. Our leaders are scared to confront this issue. Shifting this dialogue is the first step in many to achieving a sustainable Alaska.

Any transition away from oil will result in great personal sacrifices for all Alaskans. Goldsmith proposes that “the transition to a post-Prudhoe economy is the biggest challenge Alaska will face in the next 10 years.”56 Nothing will likely be able to provide the state government with as much revenue as oil. Therefore, the transition may mean more budget cuts, more loss of jobs, and more expensive living for the sake of a smaller, more sustainable Alaska. But I want the best possible long-term future for my state, and I don’t see more oil being part of the equation.

I am an environmentalist who was raised on oil money. But I’ve begun to realize that it’s useless to feel inhibited by the contradictions between my passion for climate justice and the benefits I’ve received from oil in Alaska. I feel frustration more than anything, and the need to take action immediately. My state was born out of oil development, but now it’s at the mercy of the oil industry. As my friend Tristan argues, “Just because the system I live in unavoidably relies on fossil fuels doesn’t mean that’s the future I am working to create.”57 We’re at a turning point in Alaska’s history where we need to make the extremely difficult decision to end our long relationship with the oil industry. I stand by what I wrote on the cardboard sign I held in front of the Shell gas station: “MORE OIL IS NOT THE ANSWER.”

Slowly, the tide is turning. A few months after our protest at the Shell station, the oil giant announced it would abandon Arctic drilling for “the foreseeable future.”58 And the amount of money that institutions around the world have committed to divest from fossil fuels in the fall of 2015—$2.6 trillion—is 50 times the amount pledged at the same time in 2014.59 Even my high school jazz band seems to have been resurrected for the time being because of the letters of support school administrators received from parents. These are victories, but there are many more battles to be won.

I’m envisioning a different future. I want a future where Fairbanks can be as independent as it wants to be, and where fairgoers don’t have the BP sunflower emblazoned on their backs. I want a future where the entire state isn’t thrown into crisis whenever the price of oil wavers. I want a future that’s not tied to a single commodity. I want our kids to be able to take classes without the fear that their teachers won’t be around anymore. I want future generations of Alaskans to applaud us for taking the first steps away from a failing industry and toward a sustainable state. I want Alaskans to be able to look at the black blood in our pipeline as history, not a lifeline.

Nagaoka 6

Sam Chadwick |

∗  ∗  ∗

The Trans-Alaska Pipeline used to be the aorta of the state of Alaska. Eight hundred miles long and 48 inches wide, the steel artery stretches from the oilfields of Prudhoe Bay on the northernmost edge of the state down to the Valdez Marine Terminal on the southern coast of Alaska’s mainland. Inside, there is nothing. My grandchildren run around the now-overgrown parking lot where my parents once took visitors to see the pipeline, knocking on the tube and smiling at the ringing, hollow sound that it makes.

Featured Image © Anita Ritenour |

It wasn’t until my first year at DU that I became very engaged in the issue of global climate change. Since I was little, I have always had an appreciation for nature and preserving the environments I was in. Throughout high school, I worked on recycling and air quality issues in my hometown of Fairbanks, Alaska. During my first year in college, I joined Divest DU, a student organization committed to combatting climate change by urging the university to divest, or withdraw investments, from fossil fuel stocks. The people I met through this organization educated me on the urgency and scale of climate change, its ties to social justice issues, and the inspiring ways in which people were coming together to fight what I believe is the most massive and overarching injustice of our generation.

But my mind always wandered back to Alaska, a place completely dependent on oil revenue…the home that I was born and raised in.

The basis for the structure of this essay came from a book we read in my Honors Writing course. In her book Full Body Burden, Kristen Iversen tells the story of the Rocky Flats Nuclear facility in Colorado while narrating her own childhood growing up beside the plant. Eventually, these threads coalesce into a single story. We read this book around the same time I started to hear about a serious budget shortfall that Alaska was facing the coming year due to low oil prices. Memories about my interactions with oil money growing up in Alaska flooded me. I decided to use a similar structure as Full Body Burden to bring together the two stories I wanted to tell.

Nagaoka bio
Kengo Nagaoka is a second-year Jazz Studies major at the Lamont School of Music and a Leadership Studies minor with the Pioneer Leadership Program. Kengo was born and raised in Fairbanks, Alaska, and spends most of his free time playing drums, writing music, and exploring outside. One of his favorite things to do is to get dusty with his suite-mates.


1 Alyeska Pipeline Service Company. “Trans Alaska Pipeline System: The Facts.” Alyeska Pipeline Service Company, 2013. PDF file.

2 Alaska History and Cultural Studies. Modern Alaska: Oil Discovery and Development in Alaska. Alaska Humanities Forum, n.d. Web. 26 May 2015.

3 The State of Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Research and Analysis Section. “Annual Components of Population Change for Alaska, 1945 to 2014.” The State of Alaska, 2014. Microsoft Excel file.

4 The State of Alaska Department of Revenue Commissioner’s Office. “Spring 2015 Forecast Adjusts Revenue to Reflect Lower Oil Prices.” The State of Alaska Department of Revenue, 3 April 2015. PDF file.

5 The State of Alaska House Special Committee on Fiscal Policy. Understanding Alaska’s Revenue. Understanding Alaska’s Budget, n.d. Web. 26 May 2015.

6 Knapp, Gunnar. “The Most Important Things to Understand About Alaska’s Fiscal Situation.” University of Alaska Anchorage Institute of Social and Economic Research, Jan. 2015. PDF file.

7 The State of Alaska House Special Committee on Fiscal Policy. Understanding Alaska’s Spending. Understanding Alaska’s Budget, n.d. Web. 26 May 2015.

8 State of Alaska, House Special Committee on Fiscal Policy. Understanding Alaska’s Revenue.

9 Murphy, Andrea. “America’s Largest Private Companies 2014.” Forbes, 5 Nov. 2014. Web. 26 May 2015.

10 The State of Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development Research & Analysis Section. Alaska Local and Regional Information. Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development Research, n.d. Web. 26 May 2015.

11 Smock, Dylan. Personal interview. 17 May 2015.

12 ConocoPhillips Alaska. Trans-Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS). ConocoPhillips Company, n.d. Web. 26 May 2015.

13 Murphy, Kim. “ALASKA OIL: Flow Has Slowed Through Pipeline.” Sunday Gazette [Charleston, WV], 15 Aug. 2010. ProQuest. Web. 26 May 2015.

14 Ibid.

15 Ibid.

16 Alyeska Pipeline Service Company. “Trans Alaska Pipeline System.”

17 Murphy, K. “ALASKA OIL.”

18 Randall, Tom. “Fossil Fuels Just Lost the Race Against Renewables: This is the Beginning of the End.” Bloomberg Business, 14 April 2015. Web. 26 May 2015.

19 Nasdaq. Crude Oil: WTI (NYMEX) Price. Barchart Market Data Solutions, 2015. Web. 26 May 2015.

20 Knapp. “The Most Important Things.”

21 Associated Press. “By the Numbers: Alaska Budget Debate, Attempts to Fix It.” Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, 07 May 2015. Web. 26 May 2015.

22 Forgey, Pat. “Is the Permanent Fund the Solution to Alaska’s Budget Gridlock?” Alaska Dispatch News, 20 May 2015. Web. 26 May 2015.

23 Herz, Nathaniel. “House Bipartisan Budget Deal Appears to be Dead on Arrival in the Senate.” Alaska Dispatch News. 30 May 2015. Web. 8 June 2015.

24 Kreiss-Tomkins, Jonathan. “Ugh.” [Email], 6 March 2015. Web. 8 June 2015.

25 Cole, Dermot. “In a Blow to Fairbanks, Flint Hills Says It Will Close Down North Pole Refinery.” Alaska Dispatch News, 04 Feb. 2014. Web. 26 May 2015.

26 Ibid.

27 Buxton, Matt. “BP No Longer Sponsoring Fairbanks Midnight Sun Festival.” Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, 28 May 2015. Web. 8 June 2015.

28 Smock. Personal interview.

29 Murphy. “ALASKA OIL.”

30 Visser, Nick. “The World Has Pledged To Divest $2.6 Trillion From Fossil Fuels.” Huffington Post, 22 Sept. 2015. Web. 11 Nov. 2015.

31 Fairbanks Concert Association. Sponsor List. Fairbanks Concert Association, n.d. Web. 26 May 2015.

32 The State of Alaska Department of Revenue Permanent Fund Dividend Division. Historical Summary of Dividend Applications and Payments. The State of Alaska, 31 December 2012. Web. 26 May 2015.

33 Caldwell, Suzanna. “Fairbanks’ Empty, Decaying Polaris Building Looking for Love.” Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, 24 April 2011. Web. 26 May 2015.

34 US Energy Information Administration. Petroleum Chronology of Events 1970–2000. US Department of Energy, n.d. Web. 26 May 2015.

35 Ibid.

36 Alaska History and Cultural Studies, Modern Alaska.

37 Ibid.

38 Associated Press. “Alaska Faces Tough Decisions, Drastic Budget Cuts, Dipping into Savings as Oil Prices Plunge.” Fox Business, 18 Jan. 2015. Web. 26 May 2015.

39 Gutierrez, Alexandra. “Governor’s New Budget Cuts 300 State Employees.” Alaska Public Media, 5 Feb. 2015. Web. 26 May 2015.

40 The State of Alaska House Special Committee on Fiscal Policy. What is a Fiscal Gap? Understanding Alaska’s Budget, n.d. Web. 26 May 2015.

41 Fessler, David. “The Pros and Cons of Arctic Oil Drilling (And Why We Should Start Now).” Investment U [The Oxford Club], 15 May 2015. Web. 26 May 2015.

42 The Office of Senator Giessel. “Legislature Urges Seattle to Stop Blocking Alaska’s Economic Development.” Alaska Senate Majority, 19 April 2015. Web. 26 May 2015.

43 McKibben, Bill. “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math.” Rolling Stone, 19 July 2012. Web. 26 May 2015.

44 House Special Committee on Fiscal Policy, What is a Fiscal Gap?

45 Goldsmith, Scott. “Alaska’s Petroleum Industry: Transformative, But is it Sustainable?” University of Alaska Anchorage Institute of Social and Economic Research, April 2011. PDF file.

46 Fairbanks Daily News-Miner Editorial. “Population Wobble Worrisome: Decline Not Portent of Disaster, But State Needs to Pay Attention and Act.” Fairbanks Daily News Miner. 13 May 2015. Web. 8 June 2015.

47 House Special Committee on Fiscal Policy, What is a Fiscal Gap?

48 Goldsmith. “Alaska’s Petroleum Industry.”

49 Walker, Bill. “Self-determination was at the heart of our quest for Statehood. Alaskans wanted to control the future of this state. Once again, Alaska is at a decision point. With oil revenue alone unable to sustain us, how do we chart a new course?” [Facebook post], 6 June 2015. Web. 8 June 2015.

50 Cole, Dermot, and Nathaniel Herz. “Fairbanks Fiscal Cram Session Leads to New Focus on Revenue, Spending, Services.” Alaska Dispatch News. 7 June 2015. Web. 8 June 2015.

51 The State of Alaska Governor Bill Walker, Building a Sustainable Future: Conversations with Alaskans. The State of Alaska, n.d. Web. 8 June 2015.

52 Walker, Bill. “Building a Sustainable Future.” Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. 31 May 2015. Web. 8 June 2015.

53 The State of Alaska Governor Bill Walker, Walker Kicks Off Dialogue On Fiscal Future. The State of Alaska, 4 June 2015. Web. 8 June 2015.

54 Fairbanks Daily News-Miner Editorial. “Population Wobble Worrisome.”

55 Cole & Herz. “Fairbanks Fiscal Cram Session.”

56 Goldsmith, Scott. “High Oil Prices Give Alaskans a Second Chance: How Will We Use this Opportunity?” University of Alaska Anchorage Institute of Social and Economic Research, Sept. 2011. PDF file.

57 Glowa, Tristan. “So it’s pretty inarguable that we need to transition to a clean energy economy rapidly if we don’t want to be screwed by climate change. Obviously, as an Alaskan, I depend on oil given that it’s funded my life here. Just because the system I live in unavoidably relies on fossil fuels doesn’t mean that’s the future I am working to create (which is a question of political economy, not individual purchases). Does that make sense?” [Facebook comment], 20 May 2015. Web. 26 May 2015.

58 Macalister, Terry. “Shell Abandons Alaska Arctic Drilling.” The Guardian, 28 Sept. 2015. Web. 11 Nov. 2015.

59 Visser. “The World Has Pledged To Divest.”