True Blood: race, class and gender and so much more

***SPOILER ALERT***

I freaking love the HBO show True Blood. I love science fiction and I love fantasy, mostly when it does what Ursula K Le Guin wrote about in an introduction to her novel, The Left Hand of Darkness. I dont have it accessible right now, but I remember her writing that good science fiction is not meant to be an escape. Rather, it is meant to expose the contradictions and the beauty of our own society, by taking it out of context and giving us some perspective. I think true blood does that very well.

There are questions of addiction, trust and equality in relationships, parenthood, and so on. Its just complicated by the fact that Jason’s girlfriend Amy is addicted to vampire blood, that Sookie’s boyfriend Bill is a vampire and feels that he should protect her, both physically and also by lying about his past, and that Bill is forced to make a new vampire, Jessica, to whom he has to play father with no previous experience.

CLASS

I also love this show because most of the characters are working class people from rural Louisiana. As my roommate L Boogie noted, they make dumb decisions sometimes, but they are not portrayed as dumb or backwards people. One of my favorite characters, Lafayette, works as a line cook in the local tavern, but also sells drugs and does sex work. He’s a queer black man and he spans the spectrum between the working class and the lumpen. (Some people use lumpen in a derogatory sense. I mean it here just as informal employment in the usually illegal sector, to be able to distinguish between different parts of the class.) He is also very, very intelligent. He says he is an entrepreneur. At some point he talks about himself saying he is a survivor first, a whole other list of things second, and a hooker last.

On the other hand, Jason makes a lot of dumb mistakes. He is widely considered to not be very smart. And yet, as my partner jubayr pointed out, he says some profound things once  in a while. There is an episode where he wants to arm himself a few others against some formidable opponent. They are trying to argue against him, saying that he is going to destroy the town. Jason says, “Sometimes you have to destroy something in order to save it.” Very dialectical. He is looking past form and reaching for the content, realizing that certain moments require you to be flexible, and destroy the very thing you might have spent years building and protecting. Its an important lesson for organizing. Sometimes certain organizational forms have reached the end of their usefulness, and the new must emerge from the shell of the old.

There is a moment in the second season when Sookie is talking to Bill about her decision to come to Dallas to help the vampire Eric with her skill of being a telepath. She gets him to pay her 10,000 dollars for it, but when she is talking to Bill about some things that have happened, she says she would not have left Bon Temps (her town) if she knew she was going to be bossed around in Dallas. She would have stayed at Merlotte’s where she works as a waitress. Even though she was making buku money, it wasnt enough. She wanted the freedom to use her skills under conditions of her own making. She wanted to be self-managing, and not trade one boss for another.

Bill talks about how he felt when he knew Sookie was in trouble, but he couldnt go to her, because his maker, an evil vampire named Loretta (I think) was holding him hostage. He starts to say how it makes him feel and Sookie interrupts and says, “Like a human?” Bill laughs and says,”No…like a waitress.”

GENDER

I also appreciate this show because of the way the main character, Sookie, has been developed. I remember reading an essay in the now-disbanded anarchist organization Common Action’s newsletter about the difference between the Twilight series and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I cant find the essay now, but the basic critique was that the women in the Twilight series are kind of lame (I havent read it, but I’ve heard this from others, as well), that they are in abusive relationships with men, men stalking women is supposed to be romantic, etc etc. The essay held up Buffy as an example of the kind of lead that sci fi and fantasy should encourage. She is an ass kicking vampire slayer who doesnt take shit from anyone and doesnt need anyone’s protection.

I watched a good deal of Buffy when it was still playing, and I agree with the general premise of the Common Action article. If I had to choose between Buffy and the damsel in distress of Twilight, I would choose Buffy. But the thing is, Buffy was preordained to be able to kick vampire ass. In that way, no regular woman could ever aspire to be like her. Its almost like the mystification I wrote about in my last post on Assata. Yeah, Buffy is a bad ass, but you can never be like her. Not much of a role model, in my opinion.

On the other hand, Sookie is, at least physically, a normal woman. She is a telepath, but it doesnt mean she’s not susceptible to harm done to her by vampires. And yet it pisses her off when people, especially men in her life, try to control her or tell her what to do. She takes serious risks to look out for the people in her life, and doesnt let the fact that she’s pretty physically vulnerable to get in her way. I find it inspirational. If I imagined myself in a lot of the situations she is in, I dont think I would be inclined to be so bold, but I do think that I am capable of it.

SEXUALITY

People have frequently commented on how True Blood is an allegory for queer rights. The premise is that now that the drink TruBlood exists, vampires can rely on it for sustenance and dont have to prey on humans. So they have “come out of the coffin.” In the opening credits and in occasional other scenes, signs are shown posted that read, “God Hates Fangs.” And in one scene, someone asks Sookie and Bill when they are going to get married… of course, when it becomes legal.

There are interesting class dynamics around that, though. Vampires are, on the whole, very wealthy. They have been around for a long time and can “glammer” people into giving them whatever they want. Though it is not an objective reality, queers have been perceived in this country as being more affluent than the general population. I think the show might reflect this perception.

But the vampires are generally not puritans, when it comes to sex and every other matter. They have raised the ire of the religious right, a subject which is part of the main plot of the second season. The Fellowship of the Sun is spewing hate at vampires, and has gone so far as to develop a vigilante militia to fight them. (This starts to sound more like immigrants rights issues and the Minutemen.) There is a national liberal Vampire Rights organization that is the public face of vampires, but a small group of vampires arms themselves against the Fellowship. A lot of the vampires are also despicable people, so its not a clear cut fight, but you definitely want the vampires to win.

RACE

I think there is a lot of allegory to race that is not given attention. The way vampire-human relationships get talked about is reminiscent of how people have dealt with interracial relationships. In the first season, Tara, a black woman who is Sookie’s best friend, talks a lot about race and the fact that she is black. She reads a lot and knows a lot of shit that others dont. In the first episode, she’s reading Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine. She said she thinks school is for white people to get other white people to read to them, so she figures she would save some money by reading to herself.

LBoogie pointed out that Tara is a strong, feisty black woman without playing into the stereotypes. Usually black female characters play into the stereotype or try to avoid it completely. Tara is more realistic. First, you see the life she lived, with a single alcoholic mother, and the fact that she had to stick up for herself a lot. She’s bitter and angry and a loudmouth for a good fucking reason! Actually, I started watching the show in the middle of the third season, where Tara has been kidnapped by a vampire. She is a totally different person. Thats because she’s not stupid. If she gave the vampire any lip, he would kill her. But I was surprised when I started back at the beginning of the first season and saw what she is like under normal circumstances. I guess I shouldnt have been- all the main characters are pretty three dimensional.

Anyways, I cant wait for the fourth season to start this summer. I’ll probably try to do some play by play blogging when that happens.

Advertisements

1 Comment

  1. You make me want to watch all the true blood episodes again! i initially started watching the show because of my sister(she read the books) and because ive always enjoyed watching vapires movies………they’re sexy! I agree with you Ive notice all the dynamics that you have mentioned, but not as indept as you have, so i really appreciate your post. i havent looked at it exclusively with a political lens but I look forward to the show starting again June 26 and sharing what i pull out of it!

    Chiqui


Comments RSS TrackBack Identifier URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s