Chapter Three: True Blood: Coming "Out"of The Coffin
"What better food for the imagination than a creature who incorporates sex, blood, violence, shape shifting, super human power and eternal life?"(Jenkins M (2010:p8))
Set in The fictional town of Bon Temps in Louisiana True Blood has become one of Americas most watched shows. Adapted from the Sookie Stackhouse Diaries written by Charlene Harris True Blood burst onto our television screens in 2008 and was an overnight success.
"To date the show has attracted over 12 million viewers per week, becoming HBO's most watched series since the Sopranos." (MontagueC (2010:p176))
True blood is created and directed by screen writer Alan Ball (Six Feet Under and American Beauty). Ball discovered Charlene Harris's novel Dead Until Dark (first novel in The Southern Vampire series) in a book store on the way to a dentist appointment, he was intrigued after the first few pages and found the book to be clever and funny. Ball Wanted to create something a little less morbid than Six feet Under which is a series about life within a funeral directors. Harris's books had inspired him and could offer a different perspective of death. Being an openly gay man who fought for his rights with with the LGBT society it has been said that Ball created True Blood as a satire to the struggles the gay community face in America. Ball has openly admitted himself he feels the LGBT doesn't have the same rights as other people.
"Iam not given the same rights as other people because of certain religious convictions. Call me crazy but I thought there was aseparation between the church and the state of America." (Lynn, P (2011))
When it came to creating the setting, Louisiana was perfect, it is warm, earthy and creates the ideal setting for the reflection of the American South. Ball wanted to keep things rural and natural giving the audience a sense of realism they could relate to. Bon Temps is shrouded in greenery with woodland areas, it gives the impression of being closed in from the outside world a safe haven for the residents of Bon Temps but a place where a predator doesn't have to look far to find its next meal.
The opening for TrueBlood doesn't contain any of the cast and conveys religious fervour, death, sex and drinking, also a bill board which states 'Godhates fangs'. This scene is all played out to Jace Everetts 'BadThings' a very southern gritty soundtrack which adds to the appeal of the show.
"In addition we wanted to explore parings of religious and sexual themes with implied violence. During a healing a white preacher wraps his hands around the throat of a black woman. Flashes of writhing naked bodies could be love making or rape. A woman thrashes violently, and is restrained, while in the (death) throes of the Holy Spirit, another woman suggestively wraps and constricts a man with her legs at a bar...the whole sequence is peppered with moments like this and depending on the viewers perception they will have a different gut feeling in response to them." (Vlaanderen,R (2009))
True Blood focuses on the life of Sookie Stackhouse a blond attractive twenty-five year old waitress working in Merlotte's Bar & Grill in Bon Temps. Unbeknown to her customers Sookie is telepathic and can tap into their deepest thoughts.
One night when working her shift in Merlotte's a stranger enters the bar and to Sookie's amazement she cannot hear his thoughts. It becomes apparent that this stranger is a one hundred and seventy-three year old vampire named William Compton and is looking to reside in Bon Temps in his late family's home. There is an immediate attraction between the pair as Bill is intrigued by Sookie's lack of fear for him and can sense that she is different from any other human he has met before.
Having the 'gift' she carries Sookie has limited her relationships with men as she knows what they are expecting before they have said it which means she is a virgin and wary of love. Sookie has old world values as her and her brother Jason were raised by their grandmother after her parents met their untimely death. Sookie is proper and polite and demands respect from the opposite sex, it could be suggested that this is another reason why Bill is so fascinated by her she reminds him of women from the nineteenth century of when he was human.
The innocence of Sookie and the lack of judgement is one of her more destructive qualities as she always puts herself in danger. But fortunately for Sookie, Bill is never out of reach to save her.
True Blood envisions a world where the vampires have 'come out' of their coffin and into society to intermingle among humans. Japanese scientists have created a synthetic blood which the vampires can survive on, allowing them to reside among humans (of a night) without the worry they are going to feed off human blood. There are many people who believe vampires are a parasite and should not be allowed to live among 'normal' citizens seeing them as outcasts, the people who choose to accept vampires or become sexually involved with them are classed as 'fang bangers'. The lack of acceptance for the vampires within society can be seen as people having fear for change and the unknown, which is a concept that has always been within society as stated within chapter one of this blog. Society is afraid of change and things that cannot be explained properly, this can be identified as just a case of bias or lack of education about certain ways of life. Within Bon Temps it is not only vampire's humans need to concern themselves with there are also werewolves, shape shifters, fairies (season three), ghosts and a Maenad (season two). It seems Bon Temps is the hotspot for supernatural's to find solace or a good place to hide a murderous intent.
"The message is of course, a liberal humanist one that the distinctions between 'normal' individuals and misfits are never simple, and that vampires/outcasts can be victims too."(Montague, C (2010:p176))
There have been many forums and blogs posted on the internet about True blood from fans and haters alike, this is just a indication of how popular this show has become and Ball welcomes opinions and criticism. one of the more critical reviewer found on i09 rant website argued the indication that the vampires represent the repressed minority of society (gay and blacks) can suggest that they are nothing more than brutal thugs and murderers and using these as metaphors for gays could only suggest that the show is indicating that gays are an unwelcome commodity within society.
"TrueBlood shows us a glimpse of sexual freedom, only to strongly suggest it equals freedom for amoral murderers. Initially, the show's writers seemed to be toying with the idea that the vamps might be stand-ins for blacks or gay people. Set against the backdrop of Louisiana, whose culture the show depicts primarily as a mixture of bigoted rednecks and creole perverts."(Newitz,A (2011)
Trueblood has been described as a satire for social, religious and political views within society; this is evident throughout the discourse of the series. It has been assumed by many theorists that the series is an outlet for Ball to vindicate his knowledge of the struggles of acceptance for the gay community in America; Ball is aware of the chauvinism the LGBT face every day. The overlying issue is that people are prejudice against something they don't understand or can't relate to. When Harris wrote the book she wanted to express the point that people should not be afraid of difference as fear builds walls and divides society.
"Vampires are a great metaphor for minority groups that the struggle for rights and recognition. But also for republicans in that they're vicious and blood thirsty and will destroy anything that gets in their way."(OlmsteadK (2011: p))
When analysing the series it becomes evident that it's not just LGBT rights which are portrayed Ball has stated in many interviews that although people could interpret the show as a hint for the gay rights movement, he just wanted to create something which appealed to the masses. The character with the most flamboyant flare within the series is Lafayette he is an overtly femmine gay black man who works within the kitchens at Merlotte's and when he's not in the kitchen, he's shooting porno videos or selling drugs to the locals.
Being gay and also black in the south doesn't reside well with some of the citizens of Bon Temps, but Lafayette overcomes their prejudices by being outspoken, witty and tough. The character of Lafayette is killed off early in Harris's books but Ball felt he could add to the character and make him his own.
The religious overtone of the series is a Christian one although a much divided view, Sookie's grandma is a devout Christian who attends church regularly and is accepting of everyone.
In the second series we become aware of a group called 'Fellowship of the sun' who claim to be a Christian group they believe vampires are interfering with the sanctity of life and believe they are creatures of the devil. The main antagonists of this group are reverend Newlin and his wife Sarah. The first appearances of the couple would indicate a caring, loving partnership intent on spreading the word of Jesus. Sookie's brother Jason joins this group after battling through a 'V' addiction trying to find his faith/calling. It becomes apparent that this group is more like a Christian cult intent on destroying vampires and anyone who stands in their way. They run a bible camp where they screen for devoted follower of their cause where they recruit the fittest/strongest to commit acts of terrorism against the vampires. Jason being easily led and in a vunerable state unknowingly becomes one of their recruits and is used as a puppet in their scheming.
Another aspect of the show which stabs at racism is the character Tara she is Sookie's best friend and Lafayette's cousin.
Tara is also black and has a very short fuse, she is very opinionated believing everyone other than her close friends are racist, she often takes things the wrong way; she has struggled through life and been let down so many times she finds it hard to trust anyone. Sookie and Tara have grown up together and often Tara has taken refuge in Sookie's house from her alcoholic, violent mother. Tara is self educated and very intelligent; in the first episode she is seen reading 'TheShock Doctrine' by Naomi Klein.
One could suggest that Tara embodies Balls attempt to highlight the struggles for the black community within South America. This is apparent within series three when Tara is pictured wearing a white Victorian style negligee, being chased by werewolves, whilst trying to escape from a vampire whom has imprisoned her. This is reminiscent of escaping slaves being chased down by dogs.
"The latter image was popularised in both pro-slavery propaganda and abolitionist tracts as warning to what could happen to fleeing slaves." (OlmsteadK (2011))
Another interesting aspect of the show is the drug use; the main drug on the market within True blood is 'V' which is vampire blood drained from a vampire for recreational use, other drugs are mentioned within the show but 'V' seems to be the most predominant on the market within Bon Temps. The reason behind this is possibly because it is the most available source with some vampires willing to provide their blood for such use. Lafayette describes the drug in series one episode five while selling the drug to a possible buyer.
"This is the life force of a vampire. They are just blood in a skin casing. Ain't a whole lot of difference between a vampire and a boudin sausage except for the blood. Our blood sustains life, this blood is life." (True blood, S1-E5)
The effects of this blood have been said to differ from person to person, it has healing qualities, heightens the libido, and has a euphoric effect causing hallucinations and makes the user feel invincible. The interesting thing about Harris's take on drinking vampire blood 'V' is, in other depictions of this creature the vampire has fed the blood to its victim after draining them to create another vampire. The concept that humans can now devour blood from a vampire for pleasure gives an interesting take on how we now see a creature that was once feared, and the very thing that frightened us can now be reciprocated by getting 'high' off their blood. This could indicate how society has changed and now veiws vampires within popular Culture as a thing of satire rather than something to fear. The influx of different interpretations of vampirism which have been portrayed throughout the years could suggest that we as avid viewers have become more open to suggestion, and de-sensitised as a viewing public. This in turn could question our own morality.
"Vampirism has become for postmodern writers a ready metaphor for the sickness of our society" (GordonJ, Hollinger V (1997:pX1))
One could suggest that there are elements of postmodernism found withinTrue Blood. Sookie Stackhouse could be classed as the typical southern Belle she is pure and righteous the only traditional ideal she doesn't have is that she has little masculine support within her house hold. True Blood maintains and upholds its own genre conventions forging and blurring the old traditions of vampirism, like the new synthetic blood which has been invented to allow vampires to reside among humans or the fact that vampires now have civil rights. The audience are supposed believe this is the true 'reality' which turns it into a hyperreality so to say true blood is a postmodern series can be argued against one could suggest that this series could be classed as hypermodern television series because the breaks with conventional traditional 'norms' are taken to the extreme.
"The postmodern return to traditional forms- by breaking with its conventions- and the open use of intertextuality are carried to extremes with hypermodernism. Through the fragmentation of boundaries between genres, as well as through the subversive picturing of traditional forms, True Blood definitely exceeds postmodernism's main principles." (Icurraspaper (2010))
True Blood captivates and draws its audience in with Ball imaginatively the viewer is left reeling for the next instalment. Using characters the viewer can relate to Ball has opened up a new interpretation of;the once feared creature giving it new purpose within popular culture. One thing's for certain whether the audience loves or hates the show, with the infusion of blogs and forums posted on the internet Ball has certainly got people's attention.