Bloody Good

By Rob Patterson

A while back I previewed without watching the new HBO series True Blood in my entertainment picks column. And in the same space, wrote about how I have begun watching again, from the beginning, Six Feet Under, the brilliant series guided by True Blood creator Alan Ball. Now that I have a few gulps of True Blood down my critic’s gullet, I’m ready to say that it’s another television triumph, a series that pushes the envelope of the form to new and exciting places.

Vampires aren’t new to television, as witnessed by Buffy the Vampire Slayer. They’ve been an ever-growing fang-toothed presence ever since Bram Stoker created the character Dracula just prior to the dawn of the 20th Century.

To understand why a fictitious strain of fang-toothed, bloodsucking monsters seem to have grown in popularity alongside the rise of modernity and, one would suppose and certainly hope, rationality, one only need look to primal human characteristics. Vampires serve as a stark representation of the dynamic of good versus evil, and in human form no less. They address the notion of both death and life after death. Their nocturnal life addresses light versus dark. As sexuality has come out of the bedroom of our still somewhat puritan society, the act of sucking blood from someone is a fairly obvious metaphor for sex, as well as power, control, exploitation and the danger some humans pose to others.

So it’s no wonder that these creatures caped within a mythic and mystical past proverbially roam among us so persistently, from the many vampire movies throughout the history of the genre to the best-selling books of Anne Rice to the rise of youth countercultural Goth style and even lifestyle. Vampires are the epitome of humans as the “other” as well as our fears about what’s lurks within us and regarding death and what may or may not come after and that primal desire to live forever. And they serve to explain many things that seem unexplainable in rational terms to most humans.

And Ball makes the most of this in True Blood. He happens to be gay, but says that his vampires are not meant to represent gays. But as he told the Los Angeles Times, “they do work as a metaphor for gays … for anyone that’s misunderstood.”

He notes how “part of the fun of this whole series is that it’s about vampires, so it’s not that serious,” and how even if metaphors might be seen, “at the same time it’s not a metaphor at all.” And the best way to create metaphors that work in art is likely by not trying to create them at all.”

Nonetheless, very powerful metaphors are threaded throughout the series. The vampires of True Blood may not be a symbol for gays, but sexuality is rampant in the show, and the vampires in it are part of a new, seemingly dangerous and to some exciting and others threatening and even repulsive sexual thrill. The series does a magnificent job of encapsulating the yin/yang in the American character of our highly sexualized culture and still persistent Puritan leanings.

Debuting at a time when an African-American was running for President—and I imagine that Ball would also say that the vampires in the show striving for acceptance as full citizens among the living are also not a metaphor for racial equality — True Blood starkly explores our fears of those who are different from us that Obama’s run has brought back to the forefront in American culture. Its small town deep-South setting only heightens that.

And in its main characters, True Blood certainly epitomizes the struggle between good and evil. Sookie Stackhouse, the not just virginal but virgin waitress with psychic powers, is clearly the “good.” And she finds herself drawn to 170-year-old Bill Compton, the “bad” vampire who seems to want to overcome his evil urges and live as much as an average life as someone who is the walking dead can.

Critical observations on the show range from love to hate, and I see it was flawed in some ways myself, as much as I like and enjoy it. But in the final analysis, True Blood is both entertaining and provocative as well as important and significant.

Rob Patterson is a music and entertainment writer in Austin, Texas. Email

From The Progressive Populist, December 1, 2008

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