Count Dracula and the Chamber of Wonders
[This post contains spoilers for the final episode of the 2020 Netflix series, Dracula. Proceed with caution.]
The current rendition of Dracula on Netflix, created by Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat, was providing me with a delightfully gory evening of blood and horror when it stopped me dead. Out of nowhere, Count Dracula himself delivered one of the finest descriptions of the miracle of modern progress since Adam Smith marvelled that the greatest monarch of his time was not as far removed from the peasantry in terms of wealth than the peasant was from the monarch of an undeveloped country.
Adam Smith was able to make progress visible by comparing the rapidly industrializing England and Scotland with countries that had not yet experienced the rapid increase in wealth brought on by the division of labor and the increase of specialization and mechanization. These changes are so widespread and rapid in the 21st century, however, that we are liable to let them go unnoticed. As GK Chesterton noted, “We are perishing for want of wonder, not for want of wonders.” Or, if you prefer, George Will observed more recently in his 2019 book The Conservative Sensibility that “It is astonishing that we do not live in a state of perpetual astonishment.”
Standing in the middle of the modern world, we forget about the wonders that surround us. Gatiss and Moffat’s Dracula notices every single one of them, though. Very early in the third and final episode of the series, he awakens in the somewhat dreary town of Whitby after more than a century of slumber. He invades the completely ordinary home of Kathy and Bob, consumes Bob, and then decides to have a bit of a chat with Kathy.
“What is wrong with your servants, Kathleen? I’m assuming you have staff; you’re clearly very wealthy.”
“Yes, well, look at all this stuff! All this food. The moving picture box. And that…that thing outside. Bob calls it ummm, a car? Is that yours? And this treasure trove is your house?
“It’s a dump!”
‘It’s amazing. Kathleen, I’ve been a nobleman for 400 years. I’ve lived in castles and palaces and among the richest people of any age. Never, NEVER have I stood in greater luxury than surrounds me now. This is a chamber of marvels! There isn’t a king, or queen, or emperor that I have ever known or eaten who would step into this room and ever agree to leave it again. I knew the future would bring wonders. I did not know it would make them ordinary.“
(He’s equally fond of Tinder, which he uses as a sort of UberEats.)
It will take more than popular culture to put a stake in the heart of the 21st century’s refusal to see the amazing world humanity has created, but this 90 second scene from Gattis and Moffat’s Dracula is a very good start, and it gives us all a lecture clip to die for.