If you want to start an ugly fight in a room full of Americans, ask them to debate the validity of gay marriage or the moral virtue of building a cultural center (including a mosque) just blocks from Ground Zero. If you want to unite the same room, ask them how they feel about something fictional like vampires-and ‘True Blood’ in particular.
Regardless of the public’s feelings towards homosexuality and Muslims in America, it’s easy for most people to enjoy a graphic twist on some good old-fashioned fiction. The ‘True Blood’ variety happens to include the oft-discussed concepts of supernatural beings and gratuitous vampire sex.
“True Blood” creator Alan Ball and Southern Vampire Mysteries author Charlaine Harris are primarily responsible for creating the Sookieverse-what could be seen as an alternative reality of present-day Louisiana due to the ‘coming out’ of vampires who, through nifty Japanese technology, can survive on synthetic blood.
In the book series, Harris inserts and incorporates real-world occurrences. As a true connoisseur of life in Louisiana, Harris included references to real-life devastating Hurricane Katrina. As in real life, the Katrina in the books causes death and devastation to New Orleans; it affects the characters in the book in multiple ways. For fiction about present-day Louisiana to feel realistic and relevant (especially when you’re talking about vampires and werewolves), it would feel odd to leave Katrina out as a defining character or force in the book.
So far, “True Blood” doesn’t include extensive conversation about Katrina, but like other shows suck as “Lie to Me,” “True Blood” makes the most of modern times by incorporating references to real-life current events, people and social struggles.
Specifically, “True Blood” has addressed the subjects of gay civil rights and perception of Islam within the series using carefully-constructed allegory. In case you miss the “GOD HATES FANGS” sign in the show’s opening credits, just watch the first season. Some of the (likeable) characters cope with the vampires’ ‘coming out’ with the tools they have, namely religion and social commentary. Some, like Sookie’s grandmother Adele, choose to be open-minded about vampires-though her tolerance eventually contributed to her demise (and possible local martyrdom). Others, such as Sookie’s brother Jason, find their lives affected more immediately by this vampire revelation and explain that vampirism isn’t natural or that God doesn’t approve of folks like Bill.
Hearing Jason say this as he sits on the couch talking to Sookie and his grandmother, I can’t help but be reminded of a stereotype of southern people. Just as I’m about to completely accept that parallel and unfortunately give in to the stereotype, I think more about Jason and his situation. Jason Stackhouse, for one, likes to party and have a good time. He’s also got an innocent quality about him, which can’t really be explained in the first season of the show. Lastly, the allegory is altogether humorous when you think about it-although I’m making the connection that a real-world Jason might be spewing fear and hatred about gay people, “True Blood” Jason is, in fact, talking about vampires.
In more recent episodes of “True Blood,” Russell Edgington, a rogue vampire king, went into a bit of a rage. As a vampire of approximately 2,800 years, he’s not exactly eager to change his thoughts on vampire superiority. After graphically killing and feasting on a newscaster on national television, vampire government realizes it has a crisis on its hands. Humans label Edgington a ‘vampire terrorist.’
Suddenly, some human characters wonder whether all vampires are terrorists. Some don’t say it, but they get jumpy (or jumpier) around vampires. Edgington’s actions gives some characters reasons to justify and voice more personal fears. As the show goes on, it’s clear that some characters such as Merlotte’s waitress Arlene Fowler grow increasingly intolerant of vampires.
When an American television audience hears ‘terrorism,’ it’s likely that many of them will connect the word to the atrocious acts of September 11, 2001. A plotline involving an obvious terrorist is bound to stir up emotions-and allegory.
In our real society we have been facing the same thing. Extremist terrorists practice a form of Islam. Does that make all Muslims terrorists?
While most would say no, the answer is complex and full of caveats. While all Muslims are not terrorists, some terrorists self-identify as members of that faith. The crux of the issue often comes down to a matter of propriety, such as the recent debate over whether a mosque should exist near Ground Zero. This is a very personal and impassioned debate for many, as each American feels personally affected by terrorism. It completely changed our culture.
That said, it wasn’t too soon for Ball to make the connection. Likely part of the cultural plot of the series before the mosque controversy occurred, the “True Blood” Edgington/vampire terrorist plot addresses a complex fear (and stigma) afflicting American culture and cultural groups since that tragic September day.
I like that the show remains general about its presentation of this issue. Unlike the debate over gay rights, most Americans consider terrorism to be a fresh issue understandably accompanied by fresh wounds. The vampires aren’t trying to build a vampire sanctuary near a sensitive location in America, but the allegory and its issue are relevant.
I know that the presentation of both issues in this manner has caused me to think about why others maintain a viewpoint opposite mine. Without going into detail about my own stance on these issues, it’s easier to understand how people stand for or against an issue when you know about their jobs, backgrounds and personal associations with the issue at hand. Jason, for example, probably didn’t care much about the vampire issue until his sister started dating Bill-so he was kind of forced to form an immediate opinion based on available information.
Stackhouse’s desire to protect his family and do the right thing in a tumultuous world is not foreign to television viewers who need to make similar choices every day. Over time, I’ve even considered Jason’s actions and beliefs to be similar to those of multiple presidents-both liberal and conservative.
Instead of arguing about morality, tolerance and intolerance, we might be better off squaring with these larger issues in our personal lives like beloved Sookie does before turning them into large-scale debates. Because of the amount of change and action happening in “True Blood,” the characters have little choice but to form opinions and act upon them. Since most of us don’t have vampires (or terrorists) at our front doors, we have some time to think about these issues-logically and emotionally-before heading out into the world with a solid opinion. I’m grateful that “True Blood” has helped me consider other viewpoints and perspectives through the safe and entertaining lens of television.