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Discriminating vampires

This article contains season 1 spoilers!

Having just watched season 1 of True Blood (no Season 2 spoilers please!), it is clear that one of the central themes of the show is around discrimination. From the opening credits with the “God hates fangs” graffiti, the show is continually engaging with discrimination and it companions of fear, prejudice and hypocrisy.

Naturally, a lot of the discrimination subtext revolves around vampires. As far as I can tell, this is a relatively new trope for vampire depiction (and I must admit I haven’t seen or the read the Twilight books so I don’t know how they deal with the idea of vampires being out in the open). Shows like Buffy and most traditional vampire fiction involves the vampires being unambiguously evil. And in Moonlight the vampire thing goes without too much drama. However, I would be interested to hear of other situations where this idea as vampires-as-minorities is utilised.

But back to True Blood. So there is a strong thematic element of discrimination around vampires. The background discussions of the vampire rights act frame this idea about the way that vampires are treated and their minority status. They are also clearly persecuted by the police as we see the police raiding Fangtasia and the sheriff immediately assuming vampire involvement in crimes. What does, however, make this discussion of discrimination rather more complex is the fact that the vampires are, in fact, dangerous and guilty of some of the things people assume they are. Bill himself kills and covers up crimes and points out that vampires have become very skillful at covering their tracks. The murder of the anti-vampire preacher and his family underlines a certain ruthlessness, and we clearly see that vampires themselves are even more bigoted against humans than humans are against them. The idea that Bill could be harshly punished for killing a vampire to save a human, shows the disdain with which vampires hold humans. So while the humans are clearly not in the right, neither are the vampires innocent victims of discrimination.  The argument that Bill tries to make to Sookie, however, is that humans also kill for all sorts of ends, including political, so why should vampires all be judged for doing so. In essence what we see is the argument that each vampire must be judged on his or her merit. The fact that more vampires seem to be bad than good does not negate the wrongness of discrimination. Just because the bigot may be right more often than he is wrong, it doesn’t mean he or she is always right, and even being wrong once, makes the prejudice unfair and wrong. We should never judge a person just because they belong to a particular type or class of people. It is more challenging to force people to consider not being prejudiced against the morally dubious, than to always make discrimination about the less powerful as it creates some extra moral challenges.

This is reinforced by the fact that those who are bigoted are warped, hypocritical or stupid. And in most cases anti-vampire discrimination is linked with other forms of discrimination.a Rene’s murders of women involved with vampires shows both a misogynist and anti-vampire bent; the rednecks who burn the vampire nest are also show to be homophobic as is the hypocritical politician-client of Lafayette.

Lafayette though seems constructed entirely to be about prejudice. While Tara as angry-black woman often articulates issues of racism, the Lafayette presents another in control, morally complex character who is the focus of discrimination. Black and gay he is the anti-redneck. And we never see him as a passive victim of discrimination. When he licks the hamburger bun of the rednecks who complain that their burgers might have AIDS because he cooked them, he takes control. Just as he does when he confronts the hypocritical politician who has sort the stimulus of V – vampire blood – from Lafayette but had to make do with a head job before he gives a speech where he condemns both vampires and homosexuals. Lafayette is on the margins, but he does not allow this marginal status to control him.

Between African-Americans, homosexuals, “loose” women, vampires and shape shifters we see a constant stream of prejudice and hatred in True Blood. In season 1 the program does not, however, resile from the condemnation of this discrimination, even when acknowledging that, in some cases, the judgement resulting from the prejudice may, on occasion, be founded. As an exploration of prejudice, this, I think, makes True Blood more powerful and more thought-provoking.

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5 responses to “Discriminating vampires

  1. Ooh ooh ooh! Me me me, pick me!!

    I’ve been thinking about this too; about the evocation of the dangerous vampire. And y’know what I’ve come to decide? It’s really really powerful as an anti-bigotry message, because I think it evokes, very strongly, the kinds of anxieties and fears that conservatives really do have about, say, gay people, or black people, or whoever is dangerous-minority-of-the-week. And it shows that, actually, that line that liberals sometimes use about how safe these minorities are? To convince people they don’t need to discriminate? (It’s often articulated as ‘they’re just people too, who just want to live their lives’). Well, in the end, that’s not actually that true. Gay marriage does screw up traditional notions of marriage. Poly people do completely undo the assumption that relationships are between two and that families are nuclear. Black people really do undermine the way that white culture has been taken as they way it ought to be, what everyone should be aiming for. That is, these minorities, the changes they promise if given free rein really do upset the applecart. The threat’s real, even if it’s only a threat because conservatives are determined to hang on to the way things already are, and so experience newness as deathly. The thing is, not upsetting the applecart, even if it feels safe, even if it undoes the threat, is fundamentally unjust, bigoted and wrong (and deathly, too, but that’s a whole other strand of thought that requires much more academicese to draw out). And somehow, True Blood seems to me to capture that nexus, which for something as poptarty as it is (ooooh! pretty sex!!), or even just for anything on tv, really, is quite profound.

    There’s a bit in season two I reeeeeaaaaaaallly want to talk to you about now, but I shall resist. But do let us know when you catch up, won’t you? 🙂

    • godardsletterboxes ⋅

      I think that is an extraordinarily astute observation – and I think it is right to acknowledge that different ways bring different outcomes for society and that is what it is to be “progressive” to be willing to accept that society progresses and changes. And yes, vampires do represent that change.

      I have watched season 2 now (once we started it was over in a week) – and it obviously plays with ideas about the church as conservative force. It is partly revenge, but partly about the challenge to the status quo.

  2. Yeah, that’s definitely true, and I love some of the digs at the evangelilogic 🙂 I was thinking more about that conversation between Erik and Godric, where he says something about ‘They’re right to be scared of us. We kill them.’ Erik is all taken aback, but there’s something in Godric’s suggestion about the idea that vampires need to change too… now, I’m never quite sure about this ‘marginal groups should assimilate to the norm! Yeah!’ thing. But what I kinda love about his peaceable-ness is that he is just so old; he’s seen so much, and so much change. And he’s done violent and bloodsucking, and now… well, we all know how that ends *sob*. There’s just something interesting about the minority acknowledging their threat, you know? Even if I’m not so on-side about the need to minimise it…

    • godardsletterboxes ⋅

      I wasn’t entirely sure it was about assimilation as much as the violence-begets-violence thing – more Martin Luther King type of approach – we shouldn’t be just engaging in revenge and reciprocal violence because that achieves nothing but further hatred. I figured you didn’t get to be that old without gaining a bit of insight into the human (and vampire) condition.

      • Mmm… I guess I was seeing it as part of the conversation that Bill has with that nest, you know, about ‘mainstreaming’ by no longer drinking from humans but just drinking TruBlood (and this is before he’s sexin’ Sookeh). But you could be right; I think part of what led to the ‘assimilation’ bit of my reading was Godric’s refusal to drink any blood, which seems to fit with that concept of mainstreaming. But perhaps he’s a-okay with consensual blood-drinking, and doesn’t conceived of that as hatred or violence…

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