The ultimate outcasts are coming in from the cold

HE'S a bloodsucking parasite whose power over ordinary mortals is eternal, and he has yet to be exposed for murderous acts committed years ago. Yet, in the hit BBC series Being Human, the vampire is the vulnerable, courageous and moral hero in a petty, vindictive world of human spite.

Best Foreign Language Film award winner, Let The Right One In, portrays the struggle of a lonely, bullied, isolated boy befriended by the little girl next door, who happens to be a vampire. Where The Wild Things Are tells the story of a lonely boy who runs away to find acceptance on an island full of other "wild things", and the strength to re-enter "conventional" society.

Twilight and its sequel New Moon are the billion pound-earning films of Stephenie Meyer's best-selling books which centre on a lonely, fashion-resistant, serious young woman who falls in love with a moody, distracted boy at her school. He belongs to a stylish but rootless family of vampires and the film explores their struggle to control the destructive side of a biology predisposed to destroy.

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This weekend saw the UK release of the Hollywood blockbuster Daybreakers which portrays a world where a mysterious plague has transformed the vast bulk of humanity into vampires. Humans are an endangered species and the hero is trying to find a way to sustain his fellow vampires and spare the few remaining human beings in a world controlled by fat-cat financiers, big pharmaceutical firms and oil multinationals. Corporate bloodsuckers, figuratively and literally.

I'm sorry to have ruined your breakfast, but something strange is happening.

The vampire – the ultimate threat, the eternal outsider, the creature who breaks the most sacred human taboo – is finally getting a good press. Should we be concerned?

Well, it looks like adults are too busy watching. Being Human is unfolding as this season's big hit. It's the story of a vampire cast as long-suffering hero, a canary stuck down the coal mine of fearful, conformist human behaviour. The product of an accidental curse who together with his flatmates – one is a werewolf, the other a ghost – struggles to control the anti-social side of his nature.

In the process, they're making a little bit of TV history.

In our fearful society, sympathetic portraits of the ultimate outcasts are appearing in almost every bookshop, mainstream cinema and TV channel.

It's a curious phenomenon because scapegoats are more common at a time of uncertainty and economic recession. No-one would have been surprised if mass youth unemployment, unstoppable climate change and constant terrorist threat had prompted a season of Dirty Harry retribution movies.

Yet it seems that public sympathy is currently with the outsiders, even if government policy is not. What is this outsider-hugging trend all about?

Fictional figures previously feared and shunned as evil are now revealed to be "just like us", struggling to control their repulsive habits and stay "clean." Struggling to keep low-paid jobs, have friends and to battle against feelings of low self esteem. These are vampires with values. Perhaps more humane values than our own.

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Is the drive for celebrity-endorsed conformity finally producing an equal and opposite reaction? Are teenagers who've grown up in a virtual computer world starting to identify more with complex, lonely, isolated figures than with two-dimensional cheerleaders? Or is a dangerous relativism at work, where youngsters are drawn to anyone "dropped" by society because they haven't experienced the world enough to distinguish between good and evil?

In fact, the disillusioned fantasists are ourselves. No part of the current vampire wave has been written by a teenager. Instead a generation of 40 and 50 some-things have given up on the political process and grabbed the chance to make powerful, universal statements through fiction instead.

And who can blame them? The Swedish crime writer Stieg Larsson said he only wrote the Millennium novels, published shortly after his death from a heart attack at the age of 50, to finance an anti-racist foundation that would guard against the sweep of authoritarianism in Sweden and the world. Yet nothing his posthumous millions will create is likely to have the same clout as the violent, surly, un-communicative and yet utterly independent anti-heroine he created in Lisbet Salander. The fictional tale of her state-sanctioned abuse has prompted more soul searching in Sweden than any documentary.

Writers, readers and viewers seem to have turned to fantasy and fiction as a way to express hope, tackle inequality and visualise alternative ways of living.

No wonder. Politics is not the place for vision these days. Last week Tony Blair refused to apologise for an illegal war in Iraq and Harriet Harman warned the Britain's income gap will take "several generations" to close. Apparently there is no connection.

Progressive politicians talk about the need for radical change to eliminate poverty. Deep down though, they, like us, believe in the divided cake. If the poor get a larger slice our share must get smaller. Thus inequality, like the poor, will always be with us, Britain's income gap will outlive the planet. New Labour's tax credits, childcare subsidies and other bits of sticking plaster will be as good as it gets.

Even though a new book, The Spirit Level, has published evidence collected over 30 years to demonstrate that more equal societies (like the Dutch, Japanese and Nordics) almost always do better – for everyone – and less equal societies (like the UK, USA and Greece) experience a corrosive life-shortening lack of trust and wellbeing.

Even if politicians can't face it, the viewing public is fast coming to terms with a difficult truth. The biggest obstacle to sustainable prosperity in this threatened world is not the dispossessed, it's the possessed.