Beyond True Blood’s Sensationalism

November 21, 2009

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Author:

Anita Sarkeesian

Executive Director and Buffy the Vampire Slayer Enthusiast

From the first time I heard about the concept behind HBO’s True Blood I was a little bit horrified.  Vampires are “coming out of the coffin” and want equal rights?  Since television producers (and especially HBO) want to make shows that are as sensational and scandalous as possible, I had my doubts about whether they could provide commentary about social justice struggles in America without being painfully offensive, ignorant and stereotypical.  I am unhappy to report that, no, they completely failed.

Check out other great blogs and commentary about True Blood:

 

For full video transcript click here >>

From the first time I heard about the concept behind HBO’s True Blood I was a little bit horrified.  Vampires are “coming out of the coffin” and want equal rights?  Since television producers (and especially HBO) want to make shows that are as sensational and scandalous as possible, I had my doubts about whether they could provide commentary about social justice struggles in America without being painfully offensive, ignorant and stereotypical.  I am unhappy to report that, no, they completely failed.

Check out other great blogs and commentary about True Blood:

 

Transcript

Vampires, Vampires, Vampires, they’re everywhere and they want equal rights too damnnit.  Yes, I’m talking about True Blood.  The problem I have with True Blood is I feel like its structurally flawed.  The writers are equating Vampire Rights with the struggle of civil rights and queer rights.  Let’s be clear, vampires are evil, manipulative, blood sucking, monsterous, undead beings.  Now to equate these evil beings with Black folks and Queer folks is not a far cry from the actual accusations against Black folks and Queer folks, both historically and currently.  To make a show that’s this sort of serious drama but fun commentary is offensive at best.

Good ol’ Sookie Stackhouse who this story is actually based on.  She’s sooo boring, really… okay, I take that back, there are somethings that are interesting about her like the psychic ability is kind of interesting, but ultimately, she is the white, female, blonde, cute, virginal protagonist which is very typical there’s not anything super special about that representation.  I do appreciate that she stands up to Bill occasionally even though she always goes back to him and even though he’s still this ‘I have to save you’ creepy guy, just having those little lines, you know, makes me happier in general and I think its also a good representation for women to see that resistance, it just falls short constantly because she still goes back to his ridiculous patriarchal behaviour.  In season two there’s a really great example of the backlash against women if they want to defend themselves against their patriarchal boyfriends.

True Blood Clip Season 2 episode 3: Scratches
Bill: That does not give you license to behave like an irresponsible child!  She is a loaded gun Sookie, not a doll for you to dress up and play with.  What are you doing?
Sookie: Walking
Bill: Don’t be ridiculous Bon Temps is nearly twenty miles away
Sookie: I’d rather walk all night then spend another second in that car with you

Next scene
Sookie: What the hell?  Scream

So now look what happens.  Sookie’s getting punished by a near death experience because she decided to stick up for herself.  Now that’s not cool, I mean the writers are writing this, they could have written it in any other way but instead they’re going with the very archaic story line of women as fragile and need to be protected and don’t you dare stick up for yourself or be strong willed.

Now Bill the other main character is also incredibly boring and annoying and you would think that if you’ve been alive for a hundred and some odd years, you would adjust to the way of life now just like every other vampire on the show has, but no, you don’t.  Bill is positioned as this sort of romantic, old school, ‘I’m gonna take care of you and respect you’ but it’s just so contrived and really messed up, I mean do we really want to celebrate these old sort of victorian ways of engaging with relationships?  I mean almost every other word out of his mouth is something about having to protect Sookie.

True Blood Clips Season 1 & 2
Bill: The more people know what you do the harder it is for me to protect you
Bill: Sookie must be protected
Bill: And I need you to watch over Sookie, protect her while I’m gone
Bill: My only desire is to keep you safe

And now Sookie will demonstrate the appropriate response to these comments.

True Blood Clip Season 1:
Sookie: Shut the fuck up

Tara is Sookie’s best friend and I really like Tara, I think that she is really kind of dynamic and interesting.  I really believe her character, I believe that she has had a really messed up childhood and her mom’s an alcoholic and she’s lashed out and been promiscuous and hasn’t had the emotional support and doesn’t really know how to, you know, love herself because nobody has ever really loved her.  So that when this evil god like creature masked as a beautiful woman, who eats a lot of organic food, comes in and gives her that emotional love and support she’s gonna fall for that.  I buy that.  What I don’t buy, is that unfortunately even though I think Tara is really interesting she’s still the Black sidekick.  She’s still the loud, pompous, aggressive, hypersexualized Black woman.

Lafayette, oh, you know we all love him, He’s really dynamic and really interesting and funny and he has definitely some choice lines BUT he is every stereotype about Black Queer men all rolled into one little pretty package and it constantly infuriates me.  Because we don’t want to reinforces these stereotypes, we want to dispel them, and break them down and make very interesting and complicated textured characters that are beyond stereotypes BUT NO, True Blood can’t do that.  We see Lafayette working in the kitchen of Merlotte’s but on the side he’s also a prostitute, and he runs his own porn website and he’s a drug dealer.  I mean really, could there be any other stereotypes thrown in here?  Putting Lafayette’s character into the greater context of the True Blood universe there is no other Black men and no other Queer men on the main cast so he’s really all we get in terms of alternative sexuality and as far as Black male masculinity.

Eric’s character has developed a lot more in season two and I’m kind of disturbed by the direction its going.  So in season one, we establish that he’s this pompous, arrogant, sort of quiet but very powerful asshole.  He doesn’t really care about humans very much, they’re just kind of toys to him and he can get whatever he wants because he’s the most powerful vampire in the area.  So in season two we start to see a bit of his emotion as far as being concerned about his maker, and he even cries, which I think its totally acceptable and great that men are crying on television but I don’t think that gives us license to feel sympathy or traction towards Eric.  I think that he is still continuing to be a perpetrator really.  The scene in which he tricks Sookie into drinking his blood is really reminincent of sexual assault and unfortuantely that sexual assault hasn’t been dealt with in a respectful way.  So he thinks that its totally okay and funny that he did that, Sookie’s pissed but what is she gonna do?  And he gets to emotionally stalk her.

I think it’s characters like Eric and the scene that I described that really reminds me that there are people behind the scenes who are purposely writing things and get to choose which direction these stories and characters go and more often then not, they are not in the direction in which fans want to see them, especially female fans, because we live with the constant fear of violence towards us on a daily basis we don’t need that to be dealt with on TV in a very negative dismissive sort of way.

I could probably go on for hours about the specifics about how messed up True Blood is but I will leave you just with those gems and I’m also going to provide some links to some really awesome articles that talk more indepthly about race and gender in True Blood.

Music in background: I don’t know who you think you are but before the night is through, I wanna do bad things with you