Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Is True Blood Really A Bon Temps?

image After hearing all the praise for True Blood, I finally sat down and watched all of season one, plus all seven episodes this season.  So I guess one could say that I got my vampire on.  For the sake of full disclosure I will admit to owning all of Ann Rice’s Vampire Chronicles, Interview With the Vampire the movie as well as Queen of the Dammed.  I have watched Twilight but have not read the books. In truth, most things vampire related that I have been exposed to, I must admit to really enjoying.

I didn’t think that I would like True Blood when I first started watching it but now Sunday cannot come quickly enough for me.  There are several issues that I have to purposefully overlook to enjoy the show.  In the Vampire world created by True Blood, the same erasures and constructs remain; the characters of color are limited and women do not take on a leadership role.

 imageOne could argue that Sookie is reasonably feminist even though she seems to be surrounded by men cannot stop themselves from wanting to save her. It is clear despite the fact that her beloved Bill could easily end her life, she demands a right to exercise her agency and control her body.  In the midst of sex when she informed Bill that he did not have her permission to bite her neck, I believe it spoke very loudly because women often acquiesce or are forced into sexual behaviour that they are not comfortable with.

While we do have Sookies strong character as a good representation of women, one cannot overlook the fact that the women that were murdered in Bon Temps (Good Time) were killed for choosing to engage in sex with vampires.  This very closely mirrors the honour killings that occur in real life. With the exception of one male, all those that are shamed for having relationships with vampires are women, once again paralleling the slut shaming that occurs in real life.  In the last episode Sookie is almost raped as punishment.

Until the very end of the season one, Lafayette , Lettie Mae and  Tara were the only recurring people of color.  In the second season they were joined by Tara’s love interest Eggs.  This is a show about dysfunction so it hardly seems right to complain that the mother is an alcoholic who eats her own vomit to avoid wasting the alcohol that she consumed however, it would seem that outside of the vampires themselves these characters have the most problems.  Tara is the prototypical angry Black woman and this is enhanced by the fact that she seems to only able to care for a man after she is induced to do so my an evil spirit.  image Lafayette is one of my favourite characters and it is great to see a man of color portrayed as same gender loving, however the goodwill is somewhat diminished when we discover that he is willing to sell not only himself but anything.  Heaven forbid there be a Black male character on television that is not on the make.

Even though the little drama building out of the aptly named Bon Temps is based in so called supernatural angst, the humanity is retained by repeating social constructions that we have all become all to familiar with.   Just like any other show on television, it is written from a particular lens and does not seek to challenge that which we have normalized despite the sex and gore.  I firmly believe to exist in this world, one must compromise to a certain degree because all creations will be imperfect because they are the genesis of imperfect beings.

True Blood works because it appeals to our fear of death and combines that with violence and sex.  We may eschew such things publicly but that which we choose to entertain ourselves with speaks the truth about our deeply hidden thoughts.  The vampire in recent depictions has most often been cast as the dark hero that somehow we must identify with.  It is the darkness in us all, that we daily do battle with.  We want the vampire to portray more human characteristics because we want to believe that we too as a species have not completely lost our moral compass. 

I am very interested to hear your thoughts on this show.  Why do you watch it and what do you find the most problematic?  Even as I am repulsed by the slut shaming of women and reliance on gender and racial stereotypes, I cannot deny that it is all interwoven in such a way as to leave one gasping for more and a desire to see if they can find their way out of the darkness.