Thursday, July 19, 2018

Monsters in the Modern World

A recent question on Quora asked how well vampires would be able to survive in the modern world. My reaction was along the line of "better than ever." In DRACULA, Bram Stoker envisions how the Count uses "nineteenth-century up-to-date" conveniences to move to the modern, technologically advanced environment of England from his "ruined castle in a forgotten land" (as Van Helsing describes it). Many urban fantasy novels imagine how vampires and other traditional "monsters" might fit into the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

To begin with, a contemporary vampire who wants to relocate can buy a plane ticket instead of having to endure a lengthy ocean voyage, with the risks of exposure in being confined to a limited space for days or weeks with a small group of oblivious human companions. An even more fundamental consideration is that, in contrast to past times and places when tight-knit communities were suspicious of strangers and people with eccentric habits, nowadays in any first-world country a vampire could blend in as just one of many representatives of diverse ethnic groups and lifestyles. For much of European and American history, failure to attend church would be seen as peculiar or downright suspicious; nowadays that behavior wouldn't raise an eyebrow. If he or she has a severe reaction to sunlight (like the undead in movies and many modern novels, although not in nineteenth-century fiction or most folklore) or simply prefers a nocturnal existence, stores and businesses with extended hours are plentiful in any decent-sized city. The Internet, of course, makes it easy to obtain most products and services without leaving home. If the vampire needs to earn money, numerous night-shift jobs are available. Never being seen eating could be attributed to allergies or some other dietary restriction. ("I'm on a liquid protein regimen.") What about nourishment? Blood banks (with, presumably, bribeable employees who could supply newly expired blood) offer an obvious source. Also, it wouldn't be hard to find potential donors with romantic notions about vampires, who would happily give blood under the impression that the alleged vampire is simply playing a role.

Computers and the Internet, in my opinion, would make transition from one lifetime to the next easier rather than harder. A competent hacker can create a new identity with supporting data planted on all the relevant websites. In the TV series FOREVER KNIGHT, one vampire makes a career of performing that very service. The issue of possible exposure by old photographs was raised on Quora, a problem that I believe is much exaggerated. What would you think if you saw a century-old photo that closely resembled a contemporary acquaintance? Would you instantly jump to the conclusion that the person must be immortal? No, most likely you would think, "What an amazing family resemblance." My husband's brother looks remarkably like a picture we have of their father in late middle age, and nobody wonders whether my brother-in-law is really his father under a new identity. :)

Werewolves could also benefit from modern conveniences. With rapid transit, on full-moon nights a werewolf could quickly travel to an isolated region where he or she could roam and hunt animal prey. If he or she suffers from the affliction of being unable to control the change or behave rationally when transformed, an electronic lock on a timer could keep the werewolf safely confined in a reinforced room during the critical period—no need to involve a fallible human helper. In case of a craving for raw meat, any big city has butcher shops where fresh meat of all kinds can be bought, then consumed in the privacy of the home. Or maybe a discerning werewolf would order exotic cuts online (venison? buffalo?). Interesting side note: Poul Anderson wrote a couple of stories about werewolves who stay rational in wolf form but need moonlight to transform. They carry flashlights that simulate moonlight, so that they can change shape by shining the artificial moonlight on themselves.

Would the Internet and social media make contact with friendly extraterrestrials easier or harder to adjust to? The news of their arrival, with visual recordings, would be transmitted around the world instantly. On the other hand, given the ease of faking photos and videos, would much of the public think it's a hoax at first? How long would it take for governments and mainstream news media to convince most of their constituents that the landing really happened? Considering we still have believers in a flat Earth and disbelievers in the moon landings, some people might never accept the existence of aliens.

Vampires on FOREVER KNIGHT worried about photographs, because they could alter human memories by hypnosis, but memory erasure didn't stick if the victims had physical evidence to reinforce their awareness of the truth. One might think social media would pose a serious danger to the anonymity of vampires, werewolves, and other monsters. Again, I think the risk isn't that high, because audiences have solid reasons to be cynical about visual "proof." Anybody who isn't already predisposed to believe in the supernatural would probably dismiss pictures or videos as staged, photoshopped, or both. If vampires WANTED to come out in public (as in the Sookie Stackhouse series and its TV adaptation, TRUE BLOOD), they might have as much trouble getting the world to believe in them, at first, as visiting aliens would.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

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