Sunday, July 11, 2010

the burger with AIDS

One of my favourite scenes from Trueblood has a red-neck return his burger to the kitchen because he has caught a glimpse of the black, heavily-made up, camp cook, Lafayette making his food. His reason is that the burger might have AIDS.

It is for scenes like this that I've been meaning to write this blog about Trueblood for a while, and trying to think of how to describe it in a way that will make people look past their misconceptions and watch it. It may have the reputation of being a thinly-veiled porn series with a yet another vampire/human love story, but it is actually one of the most ethical and engrossing things I have ever seen on screen, and important viewing for anyone who ever examined the nature of prejudice, hatred, and outright evil.

I must also say that I don't do series. Brothers and Sisters is contrived; Grey's Anatomy is barely more than a soap opera; Vampire Diaries is like the new (and equally as irritating) OC and although House is one of the better ones because it is clever and funny; it still pulls an American sentimental punch.

There is no place for the sacharrine in Trueblood. When Sookie's grandmother is brutally murdered and she discovers her, there is no soft focus or a series of people with serious faces. Sookie's telepathy means she hears the coroner's comical thoughts. The mourning she does is incredibly practical. She cleans the blood off her house-proud grandmother's kitchen floor.

The opening credits evoke the American south (and conservative, Christian small towns everywhere) perfectly. There are images of blonde children in Klu Klux Klan outfits juxtaposed with images of a stripper dancing in a red-lit bar. A toothless, greasy-haired old man smailes while rocking his rocking chair, and a neon sign lit up with the words "God Hates Fangs" (remember "God Hates Fags"?). A black church sings and prays ecstatically and an evangelical baptism takes place. There are often flashes of naked bodies. The American obsessions with flesh and sex and as well as purity and evangelism is constantly present.

I could go on about the brilliant characterisation and witty, ironic dialogue (Tara, the black woman named after the famous slave plantation in Gone with the Wind is just one example), but what I really want to write about are the main targets of the show: the evangelical Christians and the pleasure-driven hedonists who sacrifice (sometimes literally) to the god of pleasure.

Steve and Sarah Newlin are the married couple who lead the growing Christian church and yet they only use their incredible power (or perhaps it's why they have incredible power) to spread hatred and division by using half-truths.

Marianne is an anti-Christian. She hates their puritan ideals and loves pleasure and gluttony and sensation. She is a supernatural being that inspires a cult-like brainwashing of all the people who follow her, and when they have sex endlessly and party continuously, they take no real pleasure in it as they are unthinking. They end up wanting to sacrifice someone to a pagan-inspired "god who comes" in order to continue their frenzied, selfish bliss.

Rich in detail, drama, satire, comedy, quality acting and note-perfect set designs, costuming and social commentary, True Blood is a must-watch.


  1. Perhaps I should be quiet and not reveal the stupidity I usually hide behind bombast and decent baking, but I found Trueblood remarkably tiresome.

    It seems to trade in controversy for the wrong reasons. While having a gay black man kiss an old white vampire in the States may be wildly controversial, it looked like a cheap stunt. Or maybe, because I don't find such acts particularly wild or out of the norm, I thought it was much ado about nothing.

    Again, Sookie (and what an unfortunate name!) is as irritating as she is bland. I have no idea why two men are after her (the same goes for Bella-Pants) and whenever a serious question is about to be developed, some dry-looking teenage humping goes on.

    But I could be wrong. I watched most of the first season, and judging by my mother's description of black eyes and horned gods in the second season, I doubt I will be watching it.

    Maybe its because vampires are a very, very tired metaphor, and haven't been done right since Interview With The Vampire. They have always been sexual creatures, but their tragedy and depth has been lost amongst the attempts at relevance imposed on them by poorly informed Mormons and Hollywood directors. Perhaps we should be mourning their stripped immortality.

    Hiding an anti-religious metaphor in the fictional safety net of vampires seems a weak way to challenge institutes like the Phelps family and the Evangelical Right. I know the majority of TV viewers would hardly watch documentaries like Religulous and God on the Brain, but there have to be better ways of challenging organised religion than using a bunch of overly sexed, badly written vampires.

    I agree that the majority of television is sentimental and over the top. Perhaps this is why I've watched so little, and managed to read over a thousand pages of Sherlock Holmes in the last two weeks. But television will never be really hard-hitting or effective as a medium until we change our metaphors.

    Just change the vampires to black women, or African homosexuals, and there's no need for a tawdry metaphor. Escapism into shit television and literature is partly responsible for the dearth of conversation and challenge on this muchly benighted planet.

    (You know, dearest Clea, this is a railing against the show, but I have a sneaky feeling you're seeing things I'm not. It may just be my intense dislike of current vampire pop culture that leads me to such vitriol.)

  2. I suppose I enjoy it so much because it is a kick at conservative USA (and because conservative SA is very much influenced by conservative USA, it is a kick at conservative SA as well).

    It is a brilliant portrait of a small town. Now, I know you think you've really lived in a small town, but living the student life in one doesn't count. Port Shepstone - like Bon Temps - is full of homophobes, racists and conservatives who are nevertheless - confusingly - people who build jungle-gyms for under-privileged children. I would argue that those kinds of paradoxes are implicit in the set-up of small town life there.

    Also, you have never seen conservative, charismatic churches at close-range (from the inside, in fact) like I have. The portrait is scarily accurate. The absolute certainty and happiness that people in those churches feel that is juxtaposed with equally certain hatred for anything they feel as a threat is extremely difficult to evoke in a documentary. Art is also often a more creeping way to get to people.

    They are also sly in that they slide in scenes pertaining to a loving religion, like when Sookie and her grandmother agree that Jesus wouldn't mind if someone was a vampire. True Blood is like District Nine: District Nine wasn't just talking about prejudice against aliens. True Blood isn't just talking about prejudice against vampires. It's also saying that Jesus wouldn't mind if someone was gay, or black, or a raging feminist, or a bisexual, or a transexual. It's a radical dig at Christians who incite hatred.

    The whole black guys kisses white guy thing wasn't the shocking thing about it. The shocking thing was that the vampire (supposedly the inhuman predator) was an insecure, gentle being that was cruelly slaughtered by a pseudo-spiritual, liberal, vegetarian girl.

    There is no group that escapes the sharp eye of the show's satirists and they demonstrate that people of all creeds - including those who lack one - are capable of blindness and great cruelty.

    I also just appreciate the pure melodrama of the show. "Sookie" is a totally ridiculous name. It is as ridiculous as her little denim shorts and skirts and her blonde hair. Vampire Bill (but who calls a Vampire "Bill" and expects to be taken seriously?) and Eric, ridiculously good-looking (I believe he almost pulls a blue steel once or twice) and the ever-present Arlene with her dyed hair and ridiculous outfits and her endless boyfriend dramas (except she is actually pretty true-to-life).

    Even this melodrama and fantasy is a kick against conservative American art. TrueBlood is an anathema to the sanitised pseudo-realism on shows like "Touched By An Angel" or "Seventh Heaven" and more Christian films and books than I can name.

    It's a tricky show to launch because it is has that dark, satirical edge mixed with total popular culture and soap opera starring a cast of people who could just about all be models. The actors have also - however - almost all done serious acting work. Anna Paquin is one of the youngest people to win an oscar for her performance in "The Piano" (an early Jane Campion film) and the actors who play Tara and Lafayette both attended Juliard and have done some substantial work of their own.

    That - for me - indicates that these people joined the show for a reason. It has a deeply serious message, but that they get to have a totally raucous good time packaging the message in flamboyant, wacky ways. What more could one want?

    (PS- I didn't write a good enough blog on the show because I wrote it while watchingthe World Cup Final. So I'm not surprised you weren't convinced, Zoe).

  3. Your comment reply is a superb mix of clever response, knowledge and depth. I consider my argument well-floored!

    To be honest, maybe its because, at heart, I think vampires are kinda lame. Real life is far more interesting. But again, that is subjective, everything is, and another long discussion for another tea break in Pretoria.

  4. Yes yes! Another discussion is in order. Even if we don't mention True Blood. Just discussion and chat. :)