A couple days ago, I started reviewing the first season of True Blood, a popular TV series based on The Sookie Stackhouse Novels. I went into Sookie’s relationship with the vampire Bill, and talked briefly about how Christianity is portrayed, something that I’m going to talk about more in-depth in a later post. However, True Blood has a lot of characters and brings up a lot of issues through them, so I was unable to properly discuss everything I wanted to last post.
More spoilers after the jump.
The first character I want to talk about is Tara, Sookie’s best friend. Tara is a really great character. She is a person of color in Louisiana, typically not a very progressive area. I like that she is not a stereotype, but that her skin color has helped to define her personal history. I would probably have been really upset if one of the main characters hadn’t been a person of color, since the show delves into metaphorical racism quite a lot when discussing human-vampire relations. It uses racist jargon quite effectively—fangs, vamps, blood suckers, blood sacks, etc.—but I require more than that. While it’s not bad of the story to use metaphors to discuss these kinds of issues, saying that True Blood has diversity because of vampires and other mythological beings is just as problematic as saying Star Trek has diversity because of aliens and using that as an excuse to cast only Caucasians. Having Tara as a person of color shows how bigotry affects real people, instead of just using metaphors. Here these two issues coincide with each other and support another.
Bon Temps is a very white, conservative area, and sometimes it seems as if both Tara and her cousin Lafayette are outsiders based on their skin color. Bill mentions once that his father used to own slaves, something Tara is extremely upset about, even though no one else in the room at the time is bothered by it. It should be noted that Tara is the only person of color who hears Bill talk about owning slaves. Everyone else is white.
Additionally, Adele Stackhouse runs a group called The Descendants of the Glorious Dead, to honor the people the men who died fighting for the Confederacy. At the meetings, Tara looks significantly uncomfortable due to the Confederate flags hung up. She and Lafayette are once again the only people of color there. I think this scene in particular really shows how much of an outsider Tara feels in the community. There’s a disconnect between her and everyone else. Adele and everyone else view the Confederate flag as a symbol of independence, back when Louisiana fought for its freedom. Tara, on the other hand, doesn’t see glory and honor in the flag. She sees slavery and oppression.
However, there is also a lot more going on with Tara’s character. She is a really fun character to watch, since she has such a vibrant personality. Tara is the kind of person who utterly refuses to take crap from anyone, and will actively tell off the customers at the bar she works at, or even Sam, who is also her boss, when he complains that she’s out of uniform. The uniform is something that she doesn’t want to wear because it is very sexualizing. This is also an argument with Sam that she wins. However, Tara’s own personal relationship with her family, specifically her mother, is where her conflict arises. Her mother is a drunk who blames her own bad behavior on demonic possession, and she has abused Tara both physically and emotionally throughout the years. Tara in turn both loves and distrusts her mother. As such, her mother seems to be the one person she has trouble standing up to. This is one of the more realistic portrayals of child abuse that I’ve ever seen. I find that a lot of people don’t quite understand how abuse like this can continue to affect people even after becoming an adult. I’ve had people close to me, in reference to my abused friends, say things like, “They’re older than eighteen; they have no excuse. Why don’t they just leave and get over it?”
The answer to that is because it’s not that simple. Abusers don’t necessarily lack love for their victims and vice-versa. The relationships tend to be rather complex. I like that the show attempts to reconcile both Tara and her mother, while still holding Tara’s mother accountable for her actions. She’s not possessed; she just refuses to take accountability for herself. The show does not excuse her for this. Even after Tara forgives her, we as the audience are never made to forget what happened.
Furthermore, the show also talks about LGBTQ+ issues and slut-shaming. Tara’s cousin, Lafayette, is gay. As Tara’s mother says, he’s a “sexual deviant”. As such, Lafayette is one of the few people to accept Sookie’s relationship with Bill, a relationship that people try to shame Sookie for having.
It is entirely possible that Lafayette doesn’t care that Sookie’s with a vampire, because he understands what it’s like to be ridiculed for having a sexual relationship outside what’s considered the norm. I like that the scenes that show LGBTQ+ struggles are neither glanced over nor poorly handled. One particular incident that comes to mind is when a group of guys refuse to eat the food at Sam’s bar because Lafayette made it, claiming that it has AIDS. Lafayette responds accordingly: by beating the shit of them and telling them that at the bar “they can eat the food the way [he] fucking made it”. However, as great as Lafayette’s parts are, outside of a few scenes here are there, for the most part, the show focuses more on Sookie’s drama with Bill. Much like how the show uses the vampires to talk about racism, it also uses vampire-human relationships to talk about homophobia and many other issues as well.
Even the term “Fangbanger” is derogatory in the True Blood universe, and people tend to take it a step further and call Sookie things like “whore” and “slut”. Through Sookie’s relationship with Bill, the show is able to portray how women who express themselves in a sexual manner that society disapproves of can be attacked for it.
That said, the show is not perfect in all these issues, especially the slut-shaming one. About halfway through the first season, Jason, Sookie’s womanizing brother, hooks up with someone who is essentially the stereotyped manifestation of white trash. She’s a woman who likes to have a lot of sex, but she’s also portrayed as being really stupid. Since she pretty much exists to have sex with Jason, her stupidity and her sexuality go hand in hand. I really have to wonder how a show that does so well in many other regards regresses so much here. There’s really no excuse for this. Before Jason meets this woman, he used to hang out with Dawn, Sookie’s coworker who is later murdered. Dawn may have also existed to be killed for being a Fangbanger, and also to sleep with Jason, but she was still a real person who had her own hobbies and interests.
Though Dawn is only in a few episodes, I thought she was a fairly positive portrayal of a sexually liberated woman. She had sex a lot with Jason, completely aware that he’s not going to commit to her, because she likes to have sex. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Once Jason discovers that she’s a Fangbanger, the two get into an argument. Dawn says she’s not ashamed that she slept with a vampire and let him bite her. Jason says she ought to be ashamed of it. Dawn takes offense at this and actually kicks Jason out of her house. Never at any point does she actually feel bad for being sexually liberated.
Unfortunately, the show really doesn’t understand kinks and rape culture all that well. Jason and Dawn like to play games with each other, such as Dawn tying Jason up or Jason wearing a mask and pretending to break into Dawn’s house. But there is no discussion between them. These are things that they throw at each other as surprises. In real life, this kind of behavior leads to rape and other traumas very easily, so I really wish the show had done a lot better in this regard.
Of course, I have a lot of other issues with this show, but the next big one is that other than Eric, another vampire, and Lafayette, the main male characters are all dumbasses. Sam is a pretty despicable character for the first half of the season, due to how he shows his affections for Sookie. There’s a line between being nice to a person because you want her to be happy and being nice to a person because you want her to like you. Sam crosses that line plenty of times. He is a character who is stuck in the “friend zone”, so to speak. As such, because he’s nice to Sookie, he acts as if Sookie owes him, as if he’s entitled to her affections, even though she doesn’t feel for him that way. Sam easily comes across as a terrible person here, because of this. He improves over the course of the first season and gets a little less creepy, so there’s that at least.
Jason is a playboy who is always thinking about his next lay. In season one, he hits rock bottom and becomes a drug addict. He finds himself hooked on vampire blood, also known as V. He’s even high during his grandmother’s funeral, and victim-blames Sookie for her death, going so far as to beat her for dating Bill and putting their family in danger. The wikia page says this about him:
Jason knows he is better off if he decides with his brain instead of his libido, but that’s something he is not capable of doing.
Knowing that only makes his stupidity worse, because it sounds as if he actually chooses to be dumb. I do like that he and Sookie eventually forgive each other and reconcile, and that it takes a while, considering that he hit her. However, in some ways, his bad decision-making can seem very over the top and exaggerated.
Then there’s Bill who, like Sam, is a bit of an asshole. But Bill’s shining moment of stupidity comes in the season finale. Sookie and Drew face off against each other during the middle of the afternoon. Bill, sensing that Sookie’s in danger, walks into the sunlight to save her. Naturally, he starts burning up. Putting himself in danger like this, which I know he does because of how much he loves Sookie, is rather pointless. By the time he gets to where Sookie and Drew are, he can barely stand. All he can do is fall over, meaning that instead of helping, he only gets in the way and becomes a burden. Out of every bad decision I’ve seen the characters make this season, this one was the most flabbergasting, and I ended up laughing hysterically during an otherwise serious moment.
All in all, despite these issues, I really liked the first season of True Blood. I haven’t read any of the books the show is based on, so I can’t really talk about differences between them and the show. They’re something I’ll think about picking up when I’m done reading A Song of Ice and Fire, but that’s going to be quite a while. If you haven’t seen True Blood, I would recommend this show. It’s got a lot of great characters—even the stupid ones are pretty well written—and a very interesting premise. I would totally check it out if I were you.