Tuesday, 25 May 2010
Those of you that follow me on Twitter will probably already know that I am a huge fan of the American television series True Blood. Written by Alan Ball (who also wrote the amazing Oscar winning film, American Beauty) True Blood is set in the small, conservative Southern town of Bon Temps, Louisiana. Vampires are living amongst human society, surviving on synthetic blood and attempting to integrate and achieve equal rights despite the huge prejudice against them. The story line revolves around the relationship between the two main characters: Sookie Stackhouse - a human waitress with a powerful ability to read minds, and Bill Compton - a five hundred year old vampire.
It is a dark fantasy, richly imagined and blackly comic, sexy and bloody and over the top, and in my opinion one of the very few things actually worth watching on television. Not only is it grippingly entertaining, but it is also far more sophisticated than it may at first appear. The opening credit sequence is nothing short of stunning and could actually work as a short film on its own. Created by Digital Kitchen it uses stereotyped imagery of the rural Deep South, juxtaposing themes of sex, religion, and violence to set the scene and create a deep sense of unease. We see a rickety Lucky Liquor store on a dirt road segueing into glowing crosses that could almost be burning. A white preacher heals a black woman as the rest of the congregation sway and clap. A bar room brawl made murky under red lighting occurs in slow motion. The snippets of film and jerking, sometimes flashing images all culminate in a river baptism, a woman flailing and splashing in the dark as two men dunk her in.
What struck me the most about season one in particular were the observations that it appeared to me to make about female sexuality - in particular the way in which societal judgements and norms are set in place to rigidly control it. It is made clear from the beginning that Sookie Stackhouse is a good, traditional Southern young woman - in fact it is made explicitly clear almost from the start that she is still a virgin. In Bon Temps women who associate with vampires are generally viewed with disaproval and contempt. They are labelled 'fangbangers', and so when a woman who was known to sometimes frequent the vampire bar Fangtasia is discovered dead in her apartment, and a further woman (one of Sookies fellow waitresses) is also found murdered in her home with vampire bite marks on her body, the whisperings around the town are that they had somehow asked for it - that they had 'had it coming.' Of course then the irony is that whiter than white Sookie Stackhouse falls in love with a vampire herself - bestowing unto him her precious virginity - and so sullying her reputation. What is interesting is that the whole town appear to take it upon themselves to be horrified, as if her virtue somehow belongs to all of them and it is up to them as a community to safe-guard it. Meanwhile her brother Jason (who was a sexual partner to both the dead women) behaves like a child in a sweet shop - having sex with every willing woman he can find - and everyone simply smirks and shakes their heads. Boys will be boys after all. Of course it is not long before the body count rises and the murderer is on the hunt for Sookie. The good girl gone bad must pay the ultimate price it would seem.
One of the reasons I like True Blood so much is that it pokes fun at this sexual double standard. It exposes as ridiculous the notion that women can be judged good or bad, deserving or undeserving of violence, based purely on how they choose to conduct their sexual lives. With a cast full of telepaths, shape-shifters, vampires and rednecks True Blood manages to say an awful lot about the nature of inequality and prejudice whilst at the same time spinning a yarn so riveting, I defy anyone not to become hooked.
Roll on season three. I can't wait.