On True Blood

[Trigger warning for discussions and imagery of sexual violence.]

I know there are a lot of readers here who enjoy True Blood. Please note, as you read this post, I am discussing my reaction to the show, and I am not implicitly making any commentary on your reaction, your taste, your aesthetic, your principles, or anything about you at all.

I originally tuned into True Blood expecting to like it. I like Alan Ball, and I love Anna Paquin. And I frequently like vampire stuff.

The first episode left me squirming. But I gave it a few more chances, watched a few more episodes. And then I turned it off. And I have never returned.

One of my problems with the show is that it was originally presented (though I'm told the second season is less heavy-handed) as an allegorical tale about prejudice, with a strong emphasis on gay rights. Which was problematic for a few reasons, not least of which was that the tension of the show was largely drawn from the conflict between the "good" (assimilating) vampires and the "bad" (self-ostracizing) vampires, the latter of whom are predatory, thus tacitly reinforcing the gay predator trope.

And then there was the issue of exploiting women's bodies (the first few episodes were all about the boobies!), rendering the show ostensibly an allegory about one kind of prejudice (homophobia) that relies heavily on another (misogyny)—a rather remarkably self-defeating endeavor, in my estimation, as homophobia is so inextricably enmeshed with misogyny that any show purporting to be gay-positive while simultaneously engaging in misogyny cannot actually be gay-positive at all.

But my biggest problem with the show is that I ultimately found it to be rape porn thinly veiled behind the gossamer veneer of a vampire story.

True Blood is, of course, hardly the first vehicle to use vampirism as a metaphor for sex and/or rape. And I've been told, with varying degrees of eye-rolling exasperation, that I am meant to understand that True Blood is satire, the implication (as ever) being that I am too daft, humorless, unsophisticated, uncool to appreciate the satirical genius of using nonconsensual puncture by fang as a metaphor for nonconsensual penetration of orifice in order to make an ironic commentary on intolerance.

It's a point that might hold more sway with me if I hadn't also viewed a scene of a non-vampire man (Sookie's brother, IIRC) try to rape his own girlfriend and then getting pissed because she was enjoying being raped having not realized it was he doing the raping. I'll admit quite readily I have no idea what that scene was meant to satirize, ahem.

(I haven't watched enough of the show to comment on the problematic racial aspects of the show, but I direct you to Renee of Womanist Musings and Tami of What Tami Said, who both discuss those issues, among others. They are both fans, but fans with a critical eye. They're also going to start co-hosting a podcast about the show.)

Since I turned off True Blood in the first season, I've caught a scene or two when I've flipped on the telly after the channel was left on HBO when it was last turned off. Suffice it say, when I've given it a few minutes to try to dissuade me of my original opinion, I have only regretted lingering. The sexual imagery is plentiful, and although some of it is rather splendid, there are enough scenes featuring a blurriness around (or overt disregard for) consent, combined with violence, that I am as likely (or more likely) to be triggered than turned on by the sexual imagery in True Blood.

So, okay, I don't watch it. I know how to change a channel.

But as True Blood returns for its third season, marketing for the popular show seems to be everywhere, and some of the imagery is graphically violent. I was rather shocked to see Entertainment Weekly's cover featuring Anna Paquin, two bloody holes in her throat, flanked by Stephen Moyer and Alexander Skarsgard, two of the men who play vampires, bearing their fangs, Moyer's responsibility betrayed by the blood smeared across his face.

What I'm struggling with is the fact that this representation violence somehow "doesn't count," because it's about vampires.

The metaphorical rape scenes don't count because it's about vampires. The actual rape scenes don't count because it's about vampires. The sexually-charged violence doesn't count because it's about vampires.

Kind of like how the endorsement of an unrealistically puritanical abstinence, abusive love triangles, stalking, retrofuck chivalry, female self-sacrifice for love, ,and other disturbingly anti-feminist messages served up to young girls don't matter when the story is about vampires.

If I were a more cynical person (the author raises her eyebrow and purses her lips), I would suggest that the great thing about the current vampire trend is how you can get away with all sorts of inappropriate content you couldn't otherwise, any criticism of which can be summarily dismissed with: "It's about vampires. Vampires aren't even real. What are you—stupid or something? Christ, what a hysteric."

I've heard that about me.

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