The Virtues of Vampires

Via Whatever, I found this piece by Matt Yglesias asking why — if vampires are thousands of years old — they don’t act old:

Across various fictions, why don’t vampires exhibit more cranky old man characteristics? I’m only 28 and already I feel myself periodically overtaken by a desire to tell the young people all about How It Was Back in the Day. I’ll bore people with tedious stories about the old Monroe Street Giant in Columbia Heights before the fancy new stores opened, or about how there used to not be all this stuff on U Street but The Kingpin was the best bar in DC. Just yesterday, I think, a colleague and I were explaining to the rest of the ThinkProgress team that if the new progressive infrastructure and its blogosphere last for a thousand years, men will stay say the Social Security privatization fight of 2005 was their finest hour. If I ever attain immortality, I fully intend to harangue the young people of the future with nonsense about Voltron and how people think of Harvey Danger as a one-hit wonder but really that whole album’s underrated and had other good songs.

That and, you know, murder people in order to feast on their blood.

I totally agree with Yglesias. This is what vampires would be like.

It’s also the only thing I like about vampires. Vampires have the potential to be soooo antithetical to their usual representation. They have the potential to be antiheroes who spoil any epic by wandering off to complain for three hours about this annoying modern lack of chariot races.

This is also the reason I enjoyed Angel on his own TV show. Every once in a while — alas, not all the time — they would show Angel as an extremely handsome, immortal, super-strong, crime-fighting crank. “What kind of bill is this?” I remember him demanding at a restaurant, though his dialogue is paraphrased here. “I remember when you could get a loaf of bread for a guinea!* Damn kids, get off my lawn!”

*My utter lack of knowledge about pre-Euro English money is here revealed.

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31 Responses to The Virtues of Vampires

  1. 1
    tariqata says:

    Thanks for a nice distillation of why I can’t stand Anne Rice’s vampire books!

    (Though I do think that a guinea was a large-ish amount of money.)

  2. 2
    matt says:

    The UK doesn’t use the Euro! We’re still on good old pound sterling – I think you mean pre-decimalisation?

  3. 3
    Silenced is Foo says:

    Good post. Every vampire story involves at least one X100-year-old vampire, and none of them show it in any way beyond emo flashbacks.

    Well, except that one bit in the first few eps of Buffy, where Buffy points out the easiest way to spot a vampire – a dude in his ’20s whos fashion taste is not just dated, it’s carbon-dated.

  4. 4
    Mandolin says:

    ” We’re still on good old pound sterling – I think you mean pre-decimalisation?”

    Nah, just being uninformed. Thanks for updating me tho :)

    “Well, except that one bit in the first few eps of Buffy, where Buffy points out the easiest way to spot a vampire – a dude in his ’20s whos fashion taste is not just dated, it’s carbon-dated.”

    But they never bear this out! Where’s the dude who’s refused to give up his cravats?

  5. 5
    Dianne says:

    On the other hand, vampires have to worry about the whole stake through the heart while sleeping thing so they may not want to draw attention to the fact that they remember back when chosing the Pope involved a pitched battle and leaches were the latest technical innovation in medicine. Maybe the ones that survive long enough to be that old are the ones who know how to keep their mouths closed about it.

  6. 6
    Crys T says:

    I agree: I’d like to see a bit more grumpiness and reminiscing. It’s also why, as big a Buffy nerd as I am, I never really bought that Angel would be that into the teenaged Buffy. As remarkable as she was supposed to be, she still only had 16-17 years’ life experience. Hell, I’m only 46, and anyone under 25 looks like a baby to me. What would it be like if I were 200+?

  7. 7
    Anne says:

    I can recommend “Let the Right One In” (“Låt den rätte komma in”, 2008) for a weird and sensitive take on the vampire story. It is scheduled for a Hollywood remake, something which somehow doesn’t fill me with delight.

  8. 8
    Esteleth says:

    With you 100%, except here:

    My utter lack of knowledge about pre-Euro English money is here revealed

    Angel, my dear Mandolin, is Irish.

  9. 9
    Mandolin says:

    Angel, my dear Mandolin, is Irish.

    Ah, but he was flashing back to the time he spent in England with Darla.

    (Makes as much sense as him falling in love with Buffy. ;) )

  10. 10
    Sarah in Chicago says:

    I have one thing to say.

    Vampires. Do. Not. Sparkle.

    That is all … grrrrr …

  11. 11
    Tom Nolan says:

    Hell, I’m only 46, and anyone under 25 looks like a baby to me. What would it be like if I were 200+?

    Oh, I’m in a position to answer that one: they look like blurry foetal ultra-sound scans. Mind you, looking through eighty-year-old prescription spectacles doesn’t help, Waldo.

  12. 12
    Crys T says:

    @Sarah: apparently, as I oddly enough just found out today, the whole sparkle thing is due to the “virus” that causes vampirism to basically petrify the body’s tissues, making them hard as granite and sparkly like quartz.

    My first thought, since Bella is supposed to eventually get down and dirty with this vamp, was “OUCH!!!!!”

  13. 13
    Mandolin says:

    the “virus” that causes vampirism to basically petrify the body’s tissues, making them hard as granite and sparkly like quartz.

    Yes. I have not read the books, but I was told this by a fantasy author. She also told me that the world-building is blessedly (for Bella) inconsistent, so I think OUCH! sex is not as big a deal as we might otherwise assume.

  14. 14
    Larkspur says:

    Yes, Angel was an old dude and Buffy was a baby – but she was The Slayer. That makes her more sparkly than granite or quartz or starlight or other peoples’ vampires. The Slayer!

    Hrmph. When I was a youngster, The Slayer brand meant something. Kids and/or vampires today, annoying whiny knuckleheads, blah blah blah.

    I remember how I fled into the Buffyverse at the start of our current wars. I’ve been wanting to take flight again, but my DVD player is broken. However! I was cleaning out my storage unit today (I have to find a smaller, cheaper apartment) and OMG, I found a DVD player that I’d set aside when someone gave me a shinier one, and (as I prudently noted on the box) “this probably still works”. So now I am going to switch plug-ins and power up the moving picture machine, so wish me luck. I need to run away.

  15. 15
    VK1892 says:

    A guinea is a old pound and a shiling, so 252 old pence.

    That amount in the 1800s was enough to buy several days labour of a skilled craftman.

    So yeah, you could get a loaf of bread for it, but you’d have been rather ripped off.

  16. 16
    Nancy Lebovitz says:

    Dan Simmons’ Carrion Comfort has a vampire from the old South (can’t remember if she was pre- or post- Civil War) who hadn’t adjusted to the modern world.

    And there’s a recent novel (sorry, can’t remember title) about vampires who need to be in their old environment. They’re more recent vampires, so they’re DJs on an oldies station.

  17. 17
    Chris says:

    Heh. On a related note, I found myself grumping to a teenager the other day about how “in my day, we had real vampire/human love stories–like Buffy and Angel!” It made me feel old, and I’m only 20.

  18. 18
    Danny says:

    I kind of have to go with the thought that old vampires, while total badass, have keep a low profile because things like chatting with the store clerk about how you helped build the Statue of Liberty or talking about how hellish it was when you stormed the beaches on D-Day while getting carded for alcohol because your age is questionable would not be okay.

  19. 19
    Denise says:

    That’s a very good point. I’ve always wondered why these hundred year old vampires keep falling in love with tedious, self-absorbed, obnoxious little teenagers. I’m 27 and find most teenagers unbearable.

  20. 20
    Lisa Harney says:

    I just want to know why these immortal vampires are attending high school in the first place.

    And Twilight reminds me so much of Anne Rice-style fic I wrote when I was 18 that I wonder why I never tried to sell any of it. I could be wealthy now.

    On the other hand, thank god I didn’t show any of that self-indulgent crap around.

  21. 21
    sylphhead says:

    Immortality and eternal youth is too perfect a combination, and I find it hard to take vampires seriously for that reason. You want to create a relatable anti-hero that has a nice biological excuse for you to cast a Disney Channel star but also reasons to be emo? How about a man-creature that only lives up to 30? Even if they have sparkly good looks, that seems like a legitimate curse, unlike modern Mary Sue vampires.

    Oh, and Lisa Harney, there’s still time. ;)

  22. 22
    Sam L says:

    Much as I have loved the comments on this thread, I would actually speculate that much of the “crankish” behavior people display is a way of dealing with one’s own mortality. People long to remember what things were like “back in the day” because those were the days before they had to consider how old they’d gotten. People dislike new things because they make them feel old and thus remind them of the finite amount of time they have left on this Earth. A vampire, lacking mortality, would probably be more welcome to change, as it only bears with it the thrill of the new, with none of the unpleasant reminders of aging.

    Anyways, just my take.

  23. 23
    Eneya says:

    Well, well, well… one of my favorite topics + trashing Twilight (which is not a saga!).
    The past always look better to us. And simpler and easier.
    And in Interview with a vampire I think the author did a good job showing how sad and isolated Louis feels.
    I still think for him as a big cry baby. But he seems to me more real than Edward who is just laughable.

    Still I definitely agree the world is changing so fast…

    Oh and check this out. Harry Potter vs. Edward

  24. 24
    Lisa Harney says:

    sylphead,

    It wasn’t fanfic. It was inspired by Anne Rice, but I used all my own characters, situations, and vampiric stuff. My vampires were very much like Anne Rice’s, but so were about 500% of the vampires in published fiction for the next five years.

    Sam, there’s a lot of takes on vampire flexibility. Many do get kind of stuck in the past, and many embrace the modern world. I think both have merit, but handling each takes a kind of care.

  25. 25
    Genevieve says:

    @Sylphhead

    You want to create a relatable anti-hero that has a nice biological excuse for you to cast a Disney Channel star but also reasons to be emo? How about a man-creature that only lives up to 30?

    I actually had this in a story I tried to write when I was in high school–people with special magical powers which were super-awesome, but caused them all to die by thirty. And they could be pretty emo.

  26. 26
    Duncan says:

    I second Sam L.’s suggestion.

    I guess it has become chic to badmouth Anne Rice’s vampire novels? I stopped reading them after Lestat’s Bogus Journey, pretty much; something happened to her. But the earlier books are still, I think, remarkable. It’s simply false that her vampires are “emo” (and I’ll show my own age by saying that that word doesn’t carry much emotional weight for me, though I guess I know what it means). Yes, Louis probably fits that description; Lestat doesn’t, much less Claudia. And then there’s Marius, who I think does feel old, and is not emo at all. And as Sam L. suggests, Rice’s old vampires have had time to forget mortality and to embrace change. They’re also old enough to remember how bad things were in the Good Old Days (there’s a great bit in Queen of the Damned, a dialogue between Armand and The Boy, in which Armand talks about how unpleasant the distant past was. On the other hand, many of Rice’s vampires don’t live long — like many human beings, they can’t deal with the passage of time, they go mad. Despite our fear of mortality, I don’t think many people have any idea what they’d do with an extra hundred or two hundred years. When they try to imagine an endless afterlife, they think of an eternity of golden crowns, wings, and harp music, which as someone once pointed out, would be Hell.

    About the complaint that vampires do not sparkle, I don’t see why not. Rice’s vampires aren’t like Stoker’s, Suzy McKee Charnas’s wasn’t like Rice’s, Herzog’s Nosferatu was no Bela Lugosi, Kathryn Bigelow’s were something else though they owed a lot to Rice. I haven’t read the Twilight series or seen the movies and see no reason to, but not because the author has put her own fantasies into her books.

  27. 27
    Simple Truth says:

    One of the themes that doesn’t get much press in vampire literature that I thought Anne Rice did a good job of bringing out (at least in the early books) was the one of a time and place for things. Vampires were beautiful and eternal, but existed outside of time. Therefore, anything they loved or touched would turn to dust eventually, not to mention having to move every twenty or so years to keep from being discovered as something unnatural through their lack of aging. A couple of vampire fictional worlds have touched on the idea that this loss and constant change makes them “go underground” (TVL, Underworld a bit) in order to survive, to renew and reawake with a different time. Hell, Armand’s whole spiel with Louis was to awaken himself to the new age and leave the decadence behind.
    When done right, vampires can be a good way to examine the reasons for wanting the cycle to change, to want the catharsis and reemergence of the changes of life as apart from the desire not to die. A book comes to mind – Tuck Everlasting, that if I remember correctly, deals with some of the same issues in YA sort of way. When done wrong, they become this fascination with staying young forever. I know that’s the way of the media (and it does have an allure) but I would not trade one line on my face to be who I was when I was a teenager. I’m most definitely thankful for the wisdom of experience.

  28. 28
    Crys T says:

    @Simple Truth: Oh, I like the vampire genre, but I guess I’m a bit old-fashioned because of the whole Rice and post-Rice thing of making them into basically human beings…..With A Twist. Vampires are monsters (they make monster movies about them). They kill, whether it’s people or animals. I didn’t mind Angel being moody and angst-ridden because he had a soul. It made sense within that context. But Rice’s Louis and the vampires that followed him annoy me more than intrigue me–quit whinging and wringing your hands and go terrorise someone already!

    This is also why I like Spike: yes, he does fall in love with Buffy and his chip means he can’t hurt anyone, but no matter what happens, no matter how much the show’s writers lull you into accepting him as one of the gang, in the end he’s evil. At least until he gets his own soul back.

    the world-building is blessedly (for Bella) inconsistent, so I think OUCH! sex is not as big a deal as we might otherwise assume.

    Actually, according to this fantastic (and hilarious) summary of the Twilight books, the “Ouch!” is pretty ouchy. Apparently Bella was left covered in bruises after having sex with Edward for the first time. Though I doubt Meyers took into account the hideousness of the internal damage that would have been caused.

    Knowing this makes me feel even more creeped out by the books.

  29. 29
    Simple Truth says:

    @Crys T:

    I guess the vampires I read about never had the monster element as much (with the exception of Salem’s Lot and maybe Bunnicula :) so I’m used to the “vampires as boyfriends” element.
    As far as your link, that’s exactly the site I read about the Twilight books as well. I loved it. Sparkle peen!

  30. 30
    Juan says:

    “Vampires are monsters (they make monster movies about them). They kill, whether it’s people or animals. I didn’t mind Angel being moody and angst-ridden because he had a soul. It made sense within that context. But Rice’s Louis and the vampires that followed him annoy me more than intrigue me–quit whinging and wringing your hands and go terrorise someone already!”

    That partly sums up why I can’t stand most of the current vampire genre nowadays. And it reminds of how when ‘everyone’ was gonna gaga for the Twilight books that I wound up returning to the Hellsing anime & manga series about a vampire so unashamedly, and sometimes gleefully, monstrous that when he gives a human the chance they rather commit suicide than shoot him and other monsters(vampires) call him a monster.

  31. 31
    Lisa Harney says:

    @Simple Truth: Oh, I like the vampire genre, but I guess I’m a bit old-fashioned because of the whole Rice and post-Rice thing of making them into basically human beings…..With A Twist. Vampires are monsters (they make monster movies about them). They kill, whether it’s people or animals. I didn’t mind Angel being moody and angst-ridden because he had a soul. It made sense within that context. But Rice’s Louis and the vampires that followed him annoy me more than intrigue me–quit whinging and wringing your hands and go terrorise someone already!

    Have you read The Vampire Lestat? Because there’s not a lot of whinging or hand-wringing in that – Lestat embraces the idea of being a monster, and has no trouble killing. He only decides later on (after meeting Marius) to restrict himself to the “blood of the evildoer” but he never experiences any pangs of conscience over killing.

    Of all of Anne Rice’s vampires, only Louis is like Louis. Even in Interview With the Vampire, Louis is the only vampire who seems to focus on regretting his lost humanity.