Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Truth About True Blood

Charlaine Harris's paranormal romance series, referred to as the Dead in Dallas or Sookie Stackhouse novels before the True Blood TV show, was largely ignored before director Alan Ball picked it up. Not so ignored, however, that I didn't devour them in the transitional period between primary and high school. A viewer of True Blood would perhaps be shocked that a twelve year old had read the novels which inspired the gritty show, and to be honest, so am I, now. But at the time, I thought they were sweet, cute stories about a pretty waitress with a vampire boyfriend and an unwanted telepathic ability, somewhat like Matilda, of Roald Dahl fame. Hence, when I first watched True Blood, I was appalled at the raw, confronting manner in which it was portrayed, and refused to watch any more. I thought Alan Ball had got it wrong, and that my tweenaged interpretation of the Sookie Stackhouse novels was far more accurate than this gritty portrayal of life in the South with legalised vampires.

Here is where the truth about True Blood lies. True Blood (the title now encompasses the novels and the show) is not merely a predeccessor to our current, somewhat softened, vampire romance model. It is a fertile social commentary which provides intrigue and possibly more moments of sadness and contemplation than suspense and thrill (although those are there too). It has more parallels with Harper Lee than it does with Stephenie Meyer, and series creator Alan Ball has imbued the characters and relationships established in the novels with more meaning and clarity onscreen than you probably thought possible in a show centring on vampires.

The creation of synthetic blood in Japan has brought about the legalisation of vampires across the globe. However, vampires face predjudice in various forms as they attempt to "mainstream" and re-integrate with communities populated by humans. Such is the case for Bill Compton, whose return to his original home of Bon Temps (pronounced "Bohn To-ahm". Sort of.) brings about a flurry of commotion. Upon entering Merlottes bar, workplace of telepathic waitress Sookie Stackhouse, he begins a deep flirtation and eventual romance with her.

Their dalliance is met with contempt from those around Sookie, including her hedonistic brother Jason, her enamoured boss Sam, her abrasive friend Tara and the local police. When several women, known "fangbangers", are murdered, suspiscion falls heavily upon Bill, and Sookie is forced to make decisions she never anticipated.

At this point, I'm sure you've realised that the setting of True Blood in Louisiana is no accident. The Southern American societal depiction conjures considerations of segregation and predjudice perhaps like no other in Western contemporary culture, thanks to Harper Lee's landmark masterpiece. I would never be so presumptuos as to hold True Blood up to To Kill A Mockingbird, but I acknowledge and admire the progressive commentary it provides on similar issues. The series has been acclaimed for its honest and unashamed exploration of drug use, sex, homosexuality, alcoholism, and small town mentality (more so the bad and ugly than the good), and all in accompaniment with the underlying ideology of society's continuing resistance to accept minorities.

Laced with characters which range from the likeable to the despicable, True Blood is probably not for everyone. But I urge you to give it a second try, as I did, if you found that you did not enjoy it the first time. However, this time, look not for the sweet moments in the vampire relationship between Bill and Sookie, for there are few - these vampires are as real as we're gonna get, and they do not sparkle. Instead, search in True Blood for those valuable insights into societal mindsets which refuse the onset of the new, and push away the different, in whatever form. I hope that you'll see in it the value that I now have!

I hope this isn't too much like a literary essay...I find that I miss very much the exploration of texts and the exposition of underlying messages in them. I'm craving complex books and series and the moment! Let me know if True Blood has grown on you, or if you liked it from the start!


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