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.

16 comments on “The Virtues of Vampires

  1. We spent quite a lot of time, when I was the developer of the Vampire storytelling game, addressing things like how vampires adapt (and sometimes don’t) to the passage of time and the changes in society. One answer I always liked was that the constant infusion of younger blood (through, you know, feeding) gave them a kind of supernatural sympathetic connection for their modern prey. They absorbed something of the time that had infused the blood of the living and used it to blend in with the herd.

  2. Rachel Swirsky says:

    That’s a reasonable world-building justification.

    I still want my grumpy crank vampires.

  3. Henry Mayhew’s London Labour and the London Poor gives the cost of a breakfast meal of bread, butter and coffee as 2d in 1851, two pence in other words. That would be two old pence as well, pre-decimal, worth a penny after 1971. A guinea was a pound plus a shilling (twelve pence) or twenty-one shillings, and more than many Londoners of Mayhew’s era would have earned in a week. Guineas were generally used in pricings for high-class goods or services. Mundane items such as food, or services by tradesmen, were priced in pounds and shillings. Yes, even money was affected by the class system in those days.

  4. Then turn on the news. [*rimshot*]

  5. Felix Gilman says:

    mummies are generally quite grumpy, FYI, if that’s what you’re into

  6. Felix Gilman says:

    who’s a grumpy mummy, then? you’re a grumpy mummy, yes you are

  7. Will Hindmarch says:

    The key to comedy is timing, and mine is for shit. Doesn’t help that my joke was lousy to begin with. Sorry, folks.

  8. Felix Gilman says:

    bad Imhotep! no cursing

  9. I’ve been thinking about this for a long time, and disgusted by it for a long time, and finally a bit gratified by an episode of True Blood, the one where Godric, who is two thousand years old, gives this beat-down reprimand to all the other vampires saying, essentially: you’ve lived hundreds of years and what have you learned? How have you grown? He finds it all so tiresome that he kills himself, which has almost been my reaction, too.

    This, more than the crankypants thing, is my real issue. A lot of being a cranky old bastard has to do with increasing aches and pains, physical decay, and cognitive decline, to none of which vampires are subjected. So that’s fine if they want to be more contemporary; but even the most cloistered vampire who spends all his time worrying about hair and fashion, as all popular vampires seem to do, must surely accrue some powerful amount of perspective, and experience?

    Apparently not. Most of them, as they’re conveyed in popular fiction, would be tedious in the extreme to sit next to on an airplane.

  10. undeadbydawn says:

    I always kinda though, the thing about being immortal is that you have an awful lot of time. You have hundreds of years to set things up to that you are untouchable and, eventually, the brief lives of those around you become a very temporary inconvenience – or at best a whimsical indulgence. You would also know *absolutely fucking everything* due to having quite a few lifetimes in which to study whatever interests you.

    Then there’s the feeding. As Will Hindmarch alludes to above, you’d either have to be virtually invisable or very very streetwise to get yourself some blood. Perfectly prepared to completely fuck up anyone that gets in the way, in fact. So you want to know how to fight, because no level of charm is gonna win every time.
    And yes, you’d drift off because life can be immensely dull at times. You’d also get pure-grade pissed at the same old idiots [new face, same idiot] making a complete arse of running the world. Then you’d make sure that *you* and your people ran the world.

    After all you’ve had hundreds of years to work on it.

  11. Satsuma says:

    Can you imagine how fabulous Twilight would be if he behaved like the cranky old man he is? On the other hand, moody teens can act quite the same… Stephanie Meyer might deserve more credit than I’ve been giving her if that was intentional, haha.

  12. You’re absolutely right – there aren’t enough vampire stories that do this, and they ALL should.

    I loved cranky old man Angel too. And the fact that Spike was so blatantly stuck in the late 70’s, early 80’s and had no problem with this.

    Immortals are FUNNY.

    (I remember the line from the first ep of Buffy too where she spots a vampire in a club and Giles thinks it’s her impressive Slayer skills and she points out that the guy is wearing a jacket that is from the wrong decade.

  13. Mia says:

    If vampires don’t age physically maybe they also don’t age mentally or emotionally. If you get turned at sixteen then you are sixteen forever, mind, body and soul. That would suck.

  14. weaver says:

    About the only thing I liked about Interview with the Vampire was in the present day scenes when L’Estat complains that he doesn’t understand modern art.

  15. Daemon says:

    Forget cranky old men. I want to have more books where the main character vampire is still an inhuman bloodthirsty walking corpse, and the non-vampire main character doesn’t choose to overlook this in order to get a piece of undead ass. Or having the vampire be disturbed at the idea of having sex with food. Preferably both.

    Seriously, the sexy vampires are so very, very, very boring.

  16. John Markley says:

    A lot hinges on how much of the change in personality that occurs over a person’s lifetime is the result of more accumulated experience, and how much is physiological. Without knowing more about that, I don’t think we can really say what a man who is centuries old but physically young would be like.

    Also, what Daemon said.

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