October 30, 2009 -- You might not think being an undead creature of the night is such an attractive proposition, but peddlers of pulpy fiction know better. Sure, zombies are disgusting, but vampires—from Lestat to Angel , from Edward to Bill —are downright alluring. Vampires are mysterious and seductive; their bite is a metaphor for sex; and they tend to frequent only the very best tailors. Even The Atlas Society’s own Ed Hudgins recently got in on the act, co-writing Dracula: A Family Musical with Talia Greenberg (Ed is not pro-vampire, however!).
Still, there’s something a little strange about our fascination with vampires. As escapist fun goes, this fantasy is more than a little twisted. For all its sensuous allure, there would be serious drawbacks to living the bloody non-life of a vamp. In short, being a vampire would kinda suck.
For starters, this whole bursting-into-flame-when-the-sun-comes-up thing leaves a lot to be desired. I mean, I like the nightlife—I like to boogie—but I also enjoy a dip in the ocean on a hot summer’s day from time to time. And talk about your Seasonal Affective Disorder! No wonder these tall, dark, and handsome fiends spend so much time brooding; they’re depressed! I wonder if full-spectrum light therapy would also cause them to spontaneously combust? I guess tanning salons are out, too.
As escapist fun goes, this fantasy is more than a little twisted.
Joining the legions of the fashionably frightful also means giving up garlic, of course, which would mean giving up many of my favorite Asian and Mediterranean dishes. Then again, vampires don’t tend to eat much of anything, do they? They just drink blood. That’s gonna cut down on your dinner invitations. And speaking of invitations, a vamp can’t enter a dwelling without an express invitation, so crashing house parties is also out.
Of course, the biggest drawback to being a vampire is all those adventurers (and pretty high school girls) trying to drive a wooden stake through your unbeating heart. Not everyone thinks vampires and humans would necessarily be at each other’s throats, however. The HBO series True Blood (which sadly fails to live up to all the hype) imagines the invention of a synthetic blood substitute that satisfies the nutritional needs of vampires, thereby allowing us all to peacefully coexist. And my colleague Francis Dumouchel observed a few years ago that even without such an invention, there’s no reason vampires could not purchase the blood they need on the open market. As long as governments allowed the sale of human blood, the initiation of force could be avoided altogether. Of course, given current attitudes regarding self-ownership, all-out war is a far more likely outcome.
These drawbacks, however, pale when measured against the benefits of being a vampire. By all accounts, vampires have great physical strength and are invulnerable to normal injury. In some stories, they can fly, transform themselves into wolves and bats, and command the very wind. The ability to hypnotize mere humans is also common.
Trumping all of these, though, is the gift of immortality. The desire among humans to live forever animates the vampire myth—though it must be said that eternal youth seems wasted on a species that casts no reflection. (Incidentally, how they remain impeccably dressed and coiffed without the benefit of mirrors is one of the deeper mysteries of vampirehood. Do they groom one another like apes?)
Come to think of it, the drawbacks mentioned above might make vampires even more enticing. Great power, immortality, late nights and the disapproval of the mundane, workaday world? Sounds like an adolescent dream come true. No wonder vampires are the rock stars of the monster kingdom. No wonder, too, that they are more popular than ever.
Don’t get me wrong: I like a good vampire yarn as much as the next guy. Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer was great fun, with clever banter, well-developed characters, thrilling battles between good and evil, and more than an occasional flash of brilliant storytelling. And sometimes, escape is all we require from entertainment, just a little respite from a demanding day. But it’s no surprise that adolescent power fantasies about vampires and vampire slayers are surging in popularity at a time when adolescence often stretches well into a person’s fourth decade of life.
In one sense, we in the developed world are victims of our own success. The in-between teenage years between play and work are a relatively recent invention. Before the industrial revolution delivered greatly expanded wealth, there were children and there were adults. In many ways, adolescence has been a boon, allowing much more time for learning and for easing into the full responsibilities of personhood.
But lately, that “easing in” period is often being prolonged indefinitely, and not so much for study as for unending play. Taking responsibility, to paraphrase Nathaniel Branden, has come to be seen by many as an onerous burden instead of a source of real personal power. Not having earned this sense of control over one’s own life, however, does not erase the desire for control. Hence, the power fantasies.
There is romance in the real world, for those who know how to see it.
It is easy to make vampires appear enticing. It takes a real artist to show that running a railroad or a steel mill can be exciting and fulfilling. There is drama in the architect’s office. There is true power in a life lived with integrity and purpose. Most fiction is either romantic or realistic, but there is romance in the real world, for those who know how to see it. One of the great gifts Ayn Rand left the world in her sweeping, epic novels was a vision of realistic romanticism—romanticism for adults—with nary a vampire in sight.