Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Vampires and politicians

A student recently interviewed me for a paper she was writing about the similarities and differences between vampires and politicians. I kind of enjoyed doing the interview, so with the student's permission, I am reposting it here.

How do you think immortality would influence a vampire’s political platform or view on issues?
This would have to have a huge effect, since immortality makes irrelevant so many of the major policy issues we deal with, from health care to Social Security to war. Even if a vampire were sympathetic to mortals' concerns over these issues, it would be hard for him to convince many people that he shares their interests.
The vampire is described as different, similar to humans but stronger, prettier, and paler than humans. These differences make him different and stand apart. Do you think looks factor into our decision for president?
Looks aren't completely irrelevant to politics, but they're likely very overrated. We've had overweight presidents (Taft, Clinton), ugly presidents (Lyndon Johnson), slight presidents (Coolidge), etc. The chances that a vampire candidate were so much more attractive than his human opponent as to affect the vote strike me as pretty remote. The paleness probably wouldn't help -- it may have hurt Richard Nixon when he ran against a tanned JFK in 1960.
The top traits that a young voting demographic associated with vampires and politicians was power-hungry, narcissistic, and selfish – what do you think that tells us about our trust and belief of our political candidates?
It's hard to know from your question -- people may apply these traits to many people in positions of authority, including CEOs, athletes, celebrities, etc. But more generally, I think it's important to distinguish between how a politician would use power and how a vampire would. If we elect a politician to advance a set of issues we care about, his/her desire for power probably helps to achieve these goals. The more he/she advances that agenda, the more powerful he/she becomes, the better able he/she is to advance the agenda further. It's hard to see how a vampire's power helps anyone other than the vampire.
Is the vampire a Democrat or Republican? Why?
Republicans describe Democrats as sucking the life out of capitalism. Democrats describe Republicans as sucking the life from the working class. So either could probably be said to have some vampire-like qualities. However, given that vampires tend to be older, paler, and wealthier than most mortals, I would tend to think that he's a Republican.
Would you vote Cullen/Dracula 2012?
I haven't seen or read any of the "Twilight" series, so I couldn't adequately comment on Cullen's candidacy. Also, the issue of immortality makes the vice presidency somehow less important than it already is. Finally, there are a lot of Dracula depictions out there. If we're talking about Gary Oldman's Dracula, there's a lot I like about him, but I'd really need to see his birth certificate before I could consider voting for him.


dmarks said...

Some politicians really look like vampires too. Secretary of State Warren Christopher, for sure. It wouldn't take someone long to convince me that Kucinich is one too. Or perhaps he is a Renfield.

Anonymous said...

On the bit about looks; do you think that the eternal youth bit could actually end up harming vampire politicians in a field where just about everyone seems to be middle-aged (and perhaps more experienced-looking)?

marc said...

Also, a vampire requires your permission to enter your people's house. Which the vampire gets by convincing you he or she is not a vampire. Despite all indications to the contrary, usually.

Seth Masket said...

On the looks question, my understanding is that vampires can assume multiple forms. Prior to Cullen, most vampires looked to be in their 30s or 40s.

Marc, vampires don't have to convince you they're not a vampire to get into your house. They just have to be extremely charming. Same with politicians.

Derek said...

I am not sure that "immoral" is necessarily the best way to describe vampires. I mean, does morality ever really enter into question with vampires? So, wouldn't "amoral" be more fitting? If that is the case, then you get really interesting comparisons for social policy. Take Bismarck as an example. To the extent that historians still even think about Bismarck, they seem agree that he had an amoral approach to politics. So you end up the father of modern, state-run social security programs who is also known for the Kulturkampf.

Seth Masket said...

Not immoral, immortal.

Cyrus said...

Well, I don't know about Cullen, but Dracula isn't eligible for the presidency unless he happened to jaunt all the way across the Atlantic in time for the date mentioned in the Constitution. Stoker gave the impression that Dracula had been brooding in Transylvania continually from his natural life until his foray into England, so that seems unlikely. There are plenty of American vampires to choose from, though.

Also, which rules of vampirism are "correct"? Specifically, does being turned into a vampire in America make one a natural-born American?

Derek said...

Whoops. And that has been my reading comprehension failure for today.

Rob Rushing said...

It does not appear to be a coincidence that this post has more comments than usual. I think it's time to write the "Domestic Policy and Vampires" book, Seth, and then retire. Provided you extend me and Lil a permanent invite to your winter ski lodge.

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

Cullen, much as good Roman Catholics in the real world, grudgingly accepts the legitimacy of an Italian monarchy which is ancient with an aristrocracy that is permanent but not established at the point of one's birth as a human (an interesting choice of a political model for a book written by a Mormon author with many clear Mormon influences in her writing), and much of the vampire literature including Stephanie Meyer's writing assumes that vampires owe something of a Confucian style obligation of loyalty to their ancestors. Neither say much for his prospects as a democratic politican (the werewolves in her books also operate on some measure of a hereditary principle and are not organized democratically).

Anne Rice's Vampires, like Meyers' Vampires appear to be monarchists (and so are the Vampires of the Vampire Diaries series).

Cullen was a natural born citizen at both birth and rebirth, but since he doesn't age in his undead life and was turned at seventeen, he is arguably not yet thirty-five years old and hence not eligible for the Presidency, unlike Dracula, however, although Cullen's is "father" is British and was turned in Britain and hence is not a natural born citizen.

Dracula is also disqualified from the Presidency because his a Transylvanian Count, whatever his citizenship status might be, and the constitution clearly prohibits individuals holding a public office in the United States.

The lead Vampires of the popular Vampire Diaries series are also not eligible to serve in the Presidency due to the 14th Amendment, because they swore allegiance to the Confederacy, never renounced their alliegance and swore loyalty to the United States, and weren't alive to receive forgiveness when the pardons of Confederate loyalists were passed out.

Outside metropolitan Chicago, there are also laws against voting when you are dead, and you have to be a registered voter to run for the Presidency in every state. Illinois could presumably have some registered voters who are vampires if Lincoln hadn't cleared the area out of them.

By far the most politically active vampires are those of HBO's True Blood series, who actively participate openly in the political process and have organized themselves to agitate for political rights. They too are monarchists.

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

Upon further consideration, there are one group of vampires who have a somewhat democratic political process, who are found in the contemporary fantasy writing of Kelley Armstrong. Her supernaturals send representatives to a federal interspecies council with each race of supernaturals having their own internal political organizations (several multiethnic cabals which are oligarchic big businesses managed by mostly hereditary leadership organized like Prussian welfare states are the main form of internal political organization).

What does it say for the American political spirit that the only remotely democratic vampires in popular fiction in North American are the product of a Canadian, rather than an American writer? Do we lack the courage of our convictions? (Gail Carriger's British vampires in her Parasol Protectorate series also have an elected representative who serves in the administrative of Queen Victoria as part of the United Kingdom's constitutional monarchy, a bit like the wizards of Harry Potter).

Do constitutional monarchists deep down have more comfort with democracy than bona fide little "r" republicans in the U.S.?

Anonymous said...

The question is, is America ready for its first Blacula president?

Seth Masket said...

Oh, great, then we'll have all these white people saying, "I voted against him because he sucks blood. I have no problem with black people." And we'll never really know.

Jeanette said...

As much as I think that researching the similarities between politicians and vampires can be interesting, I think that probing the contemporary theories on International Relations would be more interesting. Daniel W. Drezner did a creatively good job last year.

I agree with Andrew Oh-Willeke's comment on the politically active vampires of HBO's True Blood. These vampires made me curious about the pop culture behind the vampires and the books (author Charlaine Harris) on which the series are actually based. Unfortunately in the series they are more politically active, concerning achieving certain rights as being a 'minority', than in the books. However, the structure between the supranational creatures is interesting and the creatures form their own sort of anarchy next to the 'normal' civil world.

It seems hard for authors to move vampires away from their ancestors and monarchies, because they are bound to be loyal towards these. Their immortality have caused a Shadow of the Future a long time ago, which makes it hard to bend certain policies.

It makes me wonder which message HBO actually wants to frame towards the people, because it differs from the Harris' perspective.

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