True Blood: Is It More Than Erotic Vampires?

True Blood
Does True Blood satisfy?

I’ve been at the helm of the Twitter account (@MythicScribes) every Sunday to live tweet about True Blood (using the hash tag #TrueBlood, along with the show-specific hash tag if HBO specifies one).  Generally speaking, I haven’t been very interested in erotic fantasy writing, movies or television.  When my wife tuned to HBO for the premiere episode of True Blood, the unique opening sequence hooked me immediately.  Alan Ball, series creator, opens the show every week with a snippet of the show’s bottom line: a very modern spin on the classic vamp themes of sex, religion and death.  There is something very raw and symbolic about the music and images used, and it served its purpose (which can be viewed here). I had to watch.

Before giving you my impressions, I should disclose that I’ve never read any of Charlaine Harris’s books, so I can make no comparison.  I would, however, like to hear yours.  I’ve even started a True Blood discussion thread in the discussion boards for that.  Feel free to go there or post your comments below.

True Blood mostly takes place in Bon Temps, Louisiana (a small fictitious town) in a reality where human blood is now synthetically created as a soft drink called True Blood (TB) (preferably heated to 98.6 degrees).  Thanks to TB, Vampires no longer need to feed off of humans and have “come out of the coffin,” to live among human kind. The most conservative elder vampires reject TB and exist similarly to the traditional vamps we’re accustomed to.  The vein that feeds the show lies where vampire and human lives intersect. Story lines also mix in a few other supernatural creatures like werewolves, shape-shifters, witches, fairies, and even were-panthers (which I’ve never personally heard of).  As of the beginning of season 4, the TV series has kept most of the supernatural creatures a secret from humankind.  Oddly enough, the only creatures to “come out” to humans are those who historically see humans as their main source of food.

True Blood is more than sex scenes mixed with bloody special effects.  The series has a lot of depth, political intrigue and a strong background mythology that’s explored creatively while storylines play out.  It asks questions such as, “How would humans get along with vampires if they knowingly lived with them everyday?”  As well as, “What if a small town folk in the Deep South learned that virtually every mythical creature ever hypothesized not only existed, but lived among them?”

This thought experiment is handled in an interestingly raw, human and realistic way.  Show producers and writers do an excellent job of creating this fictitious world, and it feels exactly how things would play out in present day Louisiana under such circumstances.  Also, just like Game of Thrones (previously live tweeted by us), viewers find it easy to care about the characters and identify with them.

With all of that cool stuff aside, there’s a huge aspect of the series that I’m not comfortable with.  The political commentary falls short of reasonable.  The series tries to draw a parallel between the LGBT community and vampires. Vampires struggle to be socially accepted, are often treated like outcasts, and even lack equal rights. For instance, humans have been seen protesting, chanting and holding signs that say, “God Hates Fangs!”  Take out the ‘N’, and you have a real life sign often hauled around by intolerant circles.  Human/vampire marriage being legal in just a few states is another attempt to show this parallel.

The Vamp/ LGBT analogy falls flat to me, and I don’t see many substantive parallels. Vampire’s feed off of their significant others during intercourse and claim “ownership” of them. Vamps are constantly fighting the urge to suck “their” humans dry despite having ample True Blood.  Also, vampires are dead…that’s necrophilia.  The anti-vampire movement is depicted as an intolerant group of crazy right-wing bible thumpers. Season 2 even went as far as to introduce a cult like church that set out to protect humanity from vampires.

So that’s my take.  I would like to hear yours, whether you agree or disagree.

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Marc Davies
Marc Davies
10 years ago

I actually thought the LGBT analogy worked well.  Your points that vamps aren’t like gay people are totally correct, but I think that is missing the point that the purpose of the series is to make you suspend belief and accept that vamps are just like real people dispite their differences – which is exactly the battle that gays face all the time.
Conservative elements in today’s society see gay people as ‘evil’ just as the anti-vamp elements in True Blood do.  To most reasonable people there is a diffrerence between feeding off others for their blood, but to these conservative elements gay people are view as just as bad.

So in my humble opinion, the analogy did a good job of highlighting the prejudices that gay people face all the time.  The ‘God Hates Fangs’ sign in the intro credits is the perfect example.  Change the last word to another starting with ‘F’ and you have a prime example of what gays face all the time.

In some ways, the series shows how it is easier for society to accept humans marrying vampires than it is for say men to marry men.  If you think about it, that is actually a really clever trick.

10 years ago

I eventually watched the first season, curious of how the books had translated.  I only read three of the books before I got bored.  I only made it through one season.  I did not believe the characters felt three dimensional, especially Sookie and Bill, which was a major problem.  I actually felt closer, in the first book anyway, to Sookie written as then I had her thoughts and she felt like a spunky character that didn’t let her unbelievable circumstances get in her way. 

In the show she felt more like an annoying little cheerleader.  I never had much tolerance for Bill, but in the book he was at least only as annoying as Angel, not more so.  

The deep, humid funk of the prose that brought the setting home to me felt strung out to the point of thin in the first season alone.  The multiple points of view were scattered, and only thinned the place more rather than a steady focus on Sookie and Bill, and the issues with her brother.

The LGBT issue is interesting.  The parallel is certainly drawn, but I didn’t find it annoying.  Sure, they pressed it a little.  But they also could have pressed the issue as being similar at one point for women or people of color.  I grew up in a conservative town, and that’s exactly what I would have expected from some of the religious groups if confronted with rights for vamps.

All and all, I felt like in the first season alone, they needed to slow down, stop trying to cover every story or every angle at once, and let it deepen and explore before unfolding.

10 years ago

I caught the premiere as well, and it was that opening sequence that turned me off and made the show, “Just another modern vampire tale.” Everything I have seen of this, it’s a poorly veiled attempt to push the envelope the same as other premium channel shows do.
The whole thing is overstated, way over the top, and just another fad show that will fade in favor of the next “push” of the envelope.

10 years ago

I can agree with that sometimes True Blood falls flat of fully realized material–whether it be political commentary or basic story elements. I’ve read the first Sookie Stackhouse books, and from my experience I think the show is better because the acting glosses over the flaws of writing. In the story itself there’s an element of a maudlin storyline–something created to sentimentalize vampires and fantasy romance, and the magic suffers for it. There’s also an element of juggling too many perspectives, but HBO is a master of multiple POVs, and with the skilled acting, that issue is often easy to ignore.

In the first Sookie Stackhouse book, the crazed right-wing Bible thumpers are the antagonists. As polarized as the American political climate is today, it’s easy to make a comparison with the evangelists of today. However, there was something 2-D about them in the book. I don’t identify with Christians or church groups, but coming from Kentucky, devout Christian warriors are a way of life and there’s no avoiding them. In the book, either because of Sookie’s perspective or poor writing, the church goers lacked life-like qualities, like doubt, second opinions, or life outside of the church. The show manages to avoid this problem by only giving us glimpses–like when the camera-wielding Christians sought to expose the vampire and his victim at night. I think that part caused me to be distracted from the unrealistic element to the scenario–wouldn’t a true vampire dispose of the camera and the invaders?

What I liked most about that particular scene is the dilemma it created for Bill, another reminder that the way of life for vampires is constantly being threatened by intolerant outside sources. That certainly resonates with LGBT issues. We’ll see if the show is able to pull off a distinct, definitive conclusion on its commentary. The subtle approach is not doing the issue justice, and that’s where we begin to see the flaws in execution and logic.

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