Friday 21 August 2009

The State I Am In Part V - Out of the Coffin. The other "Other"

So, Vampires. I got into "True Blood" over the last months. Somehow the mere fact that Alan Ball, creator of "Six Feet Under", had a new show didn't exite me very much a year ago, and I am not an avid reader of vampire fiction (the show is based on a series of novels by Charlaine Harris). Nevertheless, I am not one to pass over an HBO-show frequently praised by several sources. And, to be honest, the fact that there is so much uncensored sex, so much violence, in this odd, wacky, campy setting, amazed me enough to get me through to the second season and now I am watching the new episodes as they come out. But: this is one of the instances where something doesn't really exite me, where I am not very much involved with the characters, or care particularly what is going to happen to them, and I am watching because I appreciate the general good intentions and visual greatness and hope that it will get better. Not being invested in characters is usually a dead sentence for a TV show, but as I mentioned in December, there are a number of shows I watch anyways (like "Lost"), because the story is intriguing, because I want to know how things will turn out, or if they will end in a complete disaster or not.
I loved "Six Feet Under". It was well-done, multi-perspective drama with great acting, character development, visuals, and a premise that carried the show through five seasons. There are some things, however, that really make watching "True Blood" difficult. One: maybe I am wrong to say this, because I have never talked to anyone who was actually from the South, but I always feel that (Canadian) Anna Paquin and (British) Stephen Moyer, in trying to sound as New-Orleanesque as possible, make the dialogue sound cornier, more superficial and never quite serious. Probably this effect is intended, after all, Sookie is a slightly wacky character, and Bill (the mere fact that nobody calls the old Vampire "William". How very un-Anne Rice!) isn't the noble, wise, ancient Vampire as some of his literary and televisionary predecessors. Not that I care for that particular Vampire clichée, that turns the bloodthirsty creature into a romantic, poetic character, philosophizing under the pale moonlight. Vampires weren't exactly what interested me in "Buffy the Vampire Slayer", but Spike's mocking of Angel whenever he followed that path was always very enjoyable. I am among those who think that "Interview with a Vampire" and Tom Cruise as Lestat haven't exactly served the genre well (as, or at least I believe that, "Twilight" owes much to this legacy and this is one set of stories I will never get into). Mythologically, the violent, instinct-driven creature that can not die seems more interesting to me than the romantic imagination, and bloodlust and eternal life as metaphors for the human condition work better than the aesthetic, decadent Aristocrats (although the idea of a class-conflict between Aristocratic Vampires and the Working Class Werewolves in "Underworld" was well-done). Abel Ferrara's "The Addiction" and Claire Denis' "Trouble Every Day"always seemed more interesting concepts than "Interview with a Vampire" (although this might also be because I watched them in a time when the perceived intelligence of movies was connected to how depressed they made me feel).
But back to "True Blood". Apart from my inability to get over the Southern accent, I also lack any appreciation for that kind of camp. I like the Jamie-Babbit-But I'm A Cheerleader kind of camp: where an overstyled pink-blue girl-boy dichotomy served to ridicule the assumption that being gay could be cured and the very small-minded, homophobic society that stood behind this idea. But "True Blood" has, at the same time, a very serious storyline, or a background, that portrays a society confronted with an "other" and unable to integrate it. The language used to characterize Vampires in this society - two years previous they have "come out of the coffins" intentionally invites a comparison to how mainstream society, and in the case of "True Blood", a Christian small-town-community, deals with gays and lesbians. This parallel holds strong when one considers the prejudices that are mostly directed against gay men - that their sexuality is too promiscious, too aggressive. Vampires in "True Blood" are not a homogeneous group, some live in packs (where they become more violent and lose inhibitions), other decide to live monogamously with human companions. Bill, the main male character, struggles against being a Vampire, he was turned against his will as he was returning from the Civil War and perceives being a Vampire as something he has to suppress in order to regain his humanity. Not unlike the character of "Angel" in Joss Whedon's universe, he struggles with guilt for what atrocities he has committed in the past, before there even was an option for Vampires to live openly in society and feed off a substitute for blood.
Politics, which are mostly dealt with when the citizens of Bon Temps watch the news on the television in Sam's bar "Merlotte's", deal with disputed legislation to give same rights to Vampires - this struggle resembles that of Afroamericans and LGBTs, and is mostly about marriage equality, property rights etc, while the real acceptance of Vampires (who have decided not to visibly hunt anymore, as there is a substitute for human blood called "Tru Blood" that does not taste good, but keeps them alive and theoretically socially tolerable). In their struggle for equality, Vampires employ the same strategies any other minority group uses: they have PR-strategists, lobbyist, campaigns, debates with their opponents (mostly radical activists of the Christian Right).
The Christian Right, and especially a movement called the "Brotherhood of the Sun", a Militia that trains young, susceptable soldiers to battle Vampires and their sympathizers. This is part of the conflict I have with the show: the lovestory between Sookie and Bill is incredibly corny, but whenever the show turns to portray dangerous radicalism that stems from intolerance, it becomes interesting (also, the supporting characters are extremely well written and acted, kudos to Rutina Wesley and Nelsan Ellis). Sookie, the actual main character of the show, played by Anna Paquin who is barely recognizable from "The Piano" and "X-Men", is assumed to have found her eternal love in Vampire Bill - as she is a telepath (a feature very valuable to some people) and can only enjoy true silence and intimacy with a Vampire whose thoughts she can not hear (interesting nod to "Buffy" here, where reading the mind of a Vampire was explained like this: "It's like the mirror. The thoughts are there, but they create no reflection in you."). Still, the idea of romantic love is much better explored in a twist on the doomed teenager love story between the incredibly likeable character of Hoyt (a twentysomething who still lives with his mom) and Bill's "daughter" (as in he sired her against his will).
"True Blood" is a mixed bag with a lot of potential.

"True Blood", 2008-, created by Alan Ball, with Anna Paquin, Stephen Moyer, Sam Trammell, Ryan Kwanten, Rutina Wesley, Jim Parrack, Nelsan Ellis, Carrie Preston, Chris Bauer, Alexander Skarsgard, Michelle Forbes, Mehcad Brooks, Lois Smith.

[note: this starts out sounding like a "flame gun" blog post because it started out as one, and then it grew too long and I had to transfer and didn't want to edit. Interesting though how I automatically switch to a different tone over here.]

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