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By "modern fiction", or "modern vampires", I am describing a depiction of vampires where their role as monsters has been changed to that of heroes. Apparently some people call them "vegetarian vampires", though I'm personally not keen on the term.

I'm not sure when they started, but the hallmark of this particular vampire depiction is that the vampires are essentially super heroes. They have immortality, super strength, the ability to influence others, and many other desirable traits.

In stories like True Blood, Vampire Diaries, Twilight, and similar, it seems like they no longer have any significant downsides. They aren't ugly and freaky like Nosferatu. They can pretty easily get invited into people's houses (just "glam" them at the door). Religious iconography barely itches.

Even the sun, traditionally the most surefire and absolute way to kill a vampire, has been worked around. In Vampire Diaries, it's solved in five minutes by getting a witch to wave her hand over your favourite jewelry. In Twilight you just need to stand where it's a bit shady. In True Blood you can stand on the other side of extra special glass windows.

And what of the all important blood drinking, and the murder that goes along with it? Aside from True Blood's synthetic blood, why not just glam people to donate blood and drink it safely out of blood bags? Done and done.

There are still vampire depictions where vampires are still straight-up monsters, such as 30 Days Of Night. And there are stories where vampires seem to oscillate between monster and super hero, such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer (most are just fodder for being slain, but characters like Angel are essentially super heroes).

But if you are a vampire in a universe like True Blood, Vampire Diaries, or Twilight, it seems to me that the only downside to being a vampire is either intra-vampire politics, or, more commonly, each individual vampire's self inflicted psycho-drama.

Am I missing something? Are vampires in these narratives in any sort of physical duress or have any seriously debilitating afflictions that we are supposed to assume even though it's never shown? I'm sorry, but constant brooding and moping, and other problems solved with a modicum of self esteem, are just not convincing disincentives.

It seems that vampirism is just a ticket to being perma-sexy for hundreds if not thousands of years.

Why would anyone not want to be a vampire in these modern depictions?


Update: In order to address concerns that this question may be to open ended, I'd like to constrain it to the following points:

  • The downside must be physical, not psychological.

  • The downside must not be one of this list of traditional downsides that have already been worked around in one way or another in various fictional depictions:

    1. damage caused by the sun

    2. need to kill humans to survive

    3. damage from religious icons

    4. not seen in mirrors, or cameras or any indirect viewing (completely eradicated in modern depictions)

    5. damage by garlic (completely eradicated)

    6. damage by holy water (completely eradicated)

What does that leave? Plenty of possibilities. One that occured to me recently is that it is vague, at least to me, as to whether or not these vampires face eternal damnation for being vampires. Once a person becomes a creature of the night, is some kind of "hell" a certainty once they are destroyed? In the stories I am familiar with, I don't know if that is ever made clear.

Or it could be something else entirely. There are lots of ways to make it unappealing to being a vampire, and I wonder if it supposed to be assumed, or if it is ever stated.

closed as not a real question by user366, Nellius, Beofett, user56 Feb 20 '12 at 12:30

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    I'd think the downside to being one of the vampires in Twilight would be the fact that you are one of the vampires in Twilight. – Legion600 Feb 17 '12 at 5:26
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    @Legion600: Easily the best comment ever made on this board! – Tango Feb 17 '12 at 5:30
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    I don't think you're missing a thing. Many creatures of legend are about dark and light. Werewolves are powerful, but they have no control. Vampires are immortal, but pay a price. I think what's missing is that people are over-romanticizing them and taking away all the pain, as you point out, and suffering and angst that goes with being a vamp. The legends were about pain and power and fear, both in the creature and in others, and now they're becoming something we'd all like to be. – Tango Feb 17 '12 at 5:34
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    @Legion600 -- And that's the game, Ladies and Gentlemen -- THAT comment ends any possible Twilight discussion. Thank you, Legion600; you have done us all a great service. :) – K-H-W Feb 17 '12 at 5:35
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    @DaveMG "Is there any" is why I voted to close. This question cannot have a single correct answer. – Nellius Feb 17 '12 at 9:12
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NOTE: For the purposes of this answer (and my sanity) I disregard Twilight. Those aren't vampires, they're the imaginary product of Meyer's 'special' dreams, and are only called vampires because they drink blood.

There are still several down sides of being a vampire.

  1. Depending on the source media, sunlight is still a problem. Sure, different series have different ways to avoid sunlight - Spike had a towel and running, True Blood has special glass, Daybreakers has special filters and camera systems for cars...but if you aren't prepared for it, the sun will still mess you up.

  2. Sure, it's easy to get invited into a home if you can 'glam' (You don't really define that, but I'm assuming it means mesmerizing - similar to what Bela Legosi did in Dracula). But most vampires in modern fiction don't have all those freaky shapeshifting and mental powers. Buffy's foes couldn't do more than get ugly, and almost every other modern vampire movie disregards those aspects of the traditional mythos. Even if you DO have those powers, they typically only affect one person at a time. Their friends or allies may still try to stop you.

  3. Enough humans dedicated to killing you WILL succeed. There's nothing you can do about it, in the end. You might pile their corpses high, but there's 300+ million people in the US alone - enough of them will do the job eventually.

  4. You are immortal. If this thought appeals to you, you haven't thought it through. You won't be able to settle down, or it will become apparent that you don't age. Your parents? Unless they're immortal, you'll bury them. Your friends? The same - you'll bury them, or turn them. Any children you had? You'll live to see them turn to dust (or vampires). How long can you live like that? How many lifetimes of friends and family can you lose before you lose your mind?

  5. People are food. Eventually, bloodlust will overwhelm you. You will feed. Eventually, it will no longer seem monstrous. Especially in universes where human blood is needed (not just preferred) you will eventually come to regard every human you encounter as a hamburger - the alternative is regarding every meal as an atrocity.

  6. You are a monster. In Buffy, you lose your soul, and a demon replaces it. In other mythologies, there are differences, but almost all agree - you lose your soul. You are disconnected from humanity, both due to your aging and also because you typically have a lack of empathy (see 5). Lacking a soul, which these mythologies link to humanity, falling down the dark paths becomes much easier.

  7. Emo kids. If you're 10,000 years old (or even 1,000, or 100) a group of 15-year old 'baby bats', or even 'experienced' twenty-something emos is just going to be embarrassing. They'll seem shallow and flighty, like children playing with something beyond their ken. And, since they'll be most wiling to accept you and aid you, they'll be your main contact with humanity.

  8. Twihards. I've been avoiding Twilight for this answer, but if you aren't IN Twilight, you have to deal with all the people who think you are 'Just like Edward!'

  • I agree Twilight is best disregarded, but I grudgingly included it because it is a depiction in the category I am describing. However, I'm sorry to say I think I disagree with the premise of your answer overall. The problems you have are in two categories: tangible (sun, blood, etc...) and emotional (losing friends, disposition to others). The first category are just engineering problems, the second are problems normal humans face anyway. So, while your list is definitely something to be considered, I think each point could be countered. – Questioner Feb 18 '12 at 5:23
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    Sorry for the double comment, but one point I felt merited special mention: number 3, that enough people will kill you. The issue is, though, why would they want to? Angel, Stefan Salvatore, Bill Compton, and the like are not detrimental enough to society to merit killing them (putting aside past crimes and focusing on their current disposition). So, if one started out as a modern vampire with their attitude, there would be no cause to kill them. And then you add in the upside of learning from and potentially joining them... – Questioner Feb 18 '12 at 5:27
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    @DaveMG: Not everyone is willing to put aside past crimes. In fact, the majority of people typically aren't. And historically being notably different from the majority has been PLENTY of reason to kill someone. If that someone is immortal and feeds on blood, it becomes an easy decision for Joe Average. Besides, even those specific individuals you mention are just that - individuals. They're VASTLY different from the majority of their kind, and most people won't be willing to take time to get to know them before burning them. – Jeff Feb 18 '12 at 5:42
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    @DaveMG: Responding now to your first commment: Yes, each individual point could be countered. That said, the points reinforce each other - if any individual point would suffice on it's own, my answer would have been a LOT shorter. Essentially, it boils down to vampires being irrevocably different from humanity, and unable to have a meaningful long-term coexistence. – Jeff Feb 18 '12 at 5:44
  • @Jeff: I totally agree past crimes should not be forgiven, so each of the vampires I mentioned should be imprisoned or given the death penalty. However, that was not really the point. The point was only that the model exists for a vampire who can function in society without detriment to it. Assuming you have that vampire, then the issue is just one of getting over stereotypes, which, historically, can be achieved. – Questioner Feb 18 '12 at 5:48
9

In short, no. There is no real disadvantage to being a vampire in modern fiction. If you discount anything that would also trouble a non-vampire (emotional instability, death by beheading/staking, loss of loved ones), you're left with very little that specifically disadvantages them. I think this happened significantly earlier than you're identifying.

In the "old" days, vampires were not exactly pretty. They were bloated, powerful, and generally much closer to what we think of as "zombies" today. The legends vary tremendously depending on the area, but there's nothing to suggest that they're essentially eternally young metrosexuals. The garlic, crosses, beheading and stakings all date from these legends.

The suave, aristocratic supernatural personification seems to have originated with 'The Vampyre', a short story written back in 1819. This continued through the better known Dracula by Bram Stoker and through the vampire films of the 1950s.

In most cases, this vampire fiction was more commentary on class dynamics of the time than supernatural thriller. For the next 150 years, vampires came in two varieties, a blood-sucking zombie of the old legends, and an undead "1%"er. Note that even at this point, most of the "disadvantages" of vampirism have become less relevent.

They're almost always gentry, as well as both powerful and wealthy. Unlike the often mindless vampires of tradition, these were often supernaturally clever. Sure, there were some things they had to stay away from. But most of their vulnerabilities are just exceptions to the general rule that they're very hard to kill. Many of the things that they had to avoid were dropped during this period. The ones that weren't show something about the new characterization of these 'monsters'.

  • Avoids garlic? The chosen seasoning of the masses... expensive imported spices were preferred for those in the upper income brackets
  • Afraid of crosses? We're talking about the mid-1800s here, the upper class in it's entirety could be accused of being "afraid of crosses"

At this point we're only left with avoiding the sun. This is the difference that our most recent series of vampire writers have decided to dispense with. It honestly doesn't matter much if you're talking about Twilight, Underworld, or Anne Rice's characters, the modern vampires are simply pretty, young, eternal things... the children of the aristocratic vampires of the 1800s.

The main recent difference has to do with the focus on the emotional lives of the vampires themselves, rather than their effects on the humans around them. So although most of the major difficulties of vampirism went away in the 1800s, we didn't notice until this more recent group of authors pointed it out.

The more recent authors (and I'm including basically all of them in this bucket) basically want super-heroes with less spandex.

  • Great answer. I especially like your point that I think I didn't articulate in my question - that the problems modern vampires face are not different than the problems anyone else faces. Lost love and so on. Which means, if you can simply overcome the tangible issues, feeding off donated blood and protection from the sun, then you've got all the advantages and no significant downside. Possibly this answer will be marked as correct, but I am going to let it sit for a bit, because I think there is still a chance someone could point out a downside not considered yet. – Questioner Feb 18 '12 at 5:20
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There's certainly Pratchett's depiction of vampires (and werewolves, trolls, dwarves etc.), especially in the City Watch series.

Being a vampire on the Discworld still has dark sides to it. Namely, they suck blood — unless they try not to — and they definitely suffer from too much sunlight. The photographer Otto von Chriek crumbles to ashes every time his camera's flashlight goes off, and has to be revived by a drop of blood:

Otto Chriek carries his own self-revival kit (an extra-fragile glass phial of blood that breaks upon impact) for automatic recorporation, since his salamander-powered camera flashes have a tendency to turn him to ashes despite the variety of protective filters he experiments with.
(Wikipedia)

However, many of vampires living in the city (Ankh-Morpork, of course) are even a worse kind of blood suckers: they are lawyers. If that isn't a dark side to being a vampire...

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The biggest drawback to being a vampire is psychological.

This varies somewhat depending upon individual personality, but consider:

  • You will outlive any mortal relationships you may have. Over, and over, and over again. This means that if you love someone, in the ideal circumstances you will watch them gradually age until they are old and feeble until their life eventually gutters out like a burning candle. This means that you will gradually lose things that you share with them, as your partner is no longer physically capable of the levels of energy or activity that they used to have, while you are either just as strong, or even stronger (remember that in many settings, vampires get progressively stronger with age). The only ways to avoid repetitive loss is to avoid emotionally intimate attachment (which has a progressively degenerative impact upon the overall socialization of the still-fundamentally-human psyche), or convert your partner to a vampire as well, condemning them to the same fate as yourself.
  • Adults have built up a history of memories of sensations and experiences. As a vampire, many of those sensations, no matter how enjoyable, will never be possible again. Other, once commonplace activities, will only become obtainable with major restrictions. Did you enjoy the taste of nice home-cooked meal, or have a favorite food/dessert/beverage? Too bad vampires can't process normal food (or possibly even taste). Do you have cherished memories of walking along the beach, enjoying the warmth of the sun beating down upon you? Never again, unless you want to burst into flames. Like the warm feeling you get of snuggling up in a comfy bed after sleeping in late? Nevermind that sleeping in late now means getting up well after sunset... you don't generate any body heat, so you'll never have that feeling again.
  • There's a fundamental alienation that must occur simply because your relationship with humanity (something you were at one point a part of) has changed. It is now a predator/prey relationship, even if you don't actively feed off of humans. The very knowledge that you could alters your perception.

For some personality types, these factors may not really be negatives. Some people aren't sentimental, don't form emotional attachments to other people, and already consider themselves to be predators. For these people, being a vampire probably is almost exclusively positive. But those aren't the types of people that typically become protagonists, simply because the reader/viewer can't emphasize with them.

The protagonists are much more likely to be more... human, in which case these would all be significant struggles for them.

  • I think this answer raises good points, but, I think @jkerian's answer makes the counter-argument: All these issues are ones we humans face anyway, so wouldn't it be better to have these issues and be immortal, beautiful, and powerful? – Questioner Feb 18 '12 at 5:30
  • Humans already face watching everyone around them age while they remain unchanged, not being able to eat, walk in the sun, not generating body heat, and a fundamental shift in perception due to a predator/prey relationship with other humans? What kind of people are you hanging out with? – Beofett Feb 18 '12 at 12:16
  • But this is the point of the queston: All those problems you just referenced in your comment are all addressed. Eating is possible, they can walk in the sun, and they seem to have no problem having loving relationships. So they seem to have all the advantages and none of the disadvantages that vampires traditionally have. I think the problem is that you're not considering how (what I define as) "modern" vampire tellings have disposed of all those things you are raising as being downsides. – Questioner Feb 18 '12 at 15:36
  • "Eating is possible": In at least one of the examples you gave (True Blood) eating normal food is expressly not possible. I'm not talking about "some sort of life (or unlife) sustaining nutrient is available". I mean "you can never again enjoy chocolate". "they can walk in the sun": again, using True Blood (it's the only one of the three I've watched), no, they cannot walk in the sun. Your example of "they can stay behind specially treated glass", or possibly walk around under a lead dome, is not the same thing as walking in sunlight. – Beofett Feb 18 '12 at 18:06
  • As for the relationships, again citing True Blood, its nothing but trouble. Bill Compton repeatedly laments the difficulties. Jessica complains about the loss of her life, and difficulties forming a normal relation with Hoyt. She also complains about not being able to eat food. Godric commits suicide, at least partially out of a desire to "feel the sun on his face one more time". Your examples of why none of these are issues are actually examples of... why these are issues. – Beofett Feb 18 '12 at 18:08

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