Blood, Not Especially True
 
I randomly decided to watch the first couple of episodes of True Blood last night. It was better than the first episode of The Crown, which I also watched. True blood vampires and actual bloodsucking have more intrinsic interest for me than the blue blood vampires and metaphorical bloodsucking, even if I know the latter are more genuinely evil.

Anyway. True Blood isn't bad, though it has the usual problem with Hollywood metaphors for racial injustice or homophobia, inasmuch as the injustice always seems to be perpetrated against straight white people. 

For those not in the know, True Blood is set in a nearish future in which the Japanese have discovered a formula for synthetic blood that satisfies vampire cravings. As a result, vampires have come out into the open and are pushing for full civil rights. There's a Vampire Rights Amendment in the offing, and you get glimpses of talk shows debating the issue, with the usual right wing Christian conservatives opposed to doing the right thing. The metaphor with black rights and gay rights isn't subtle, nor meant to be. 

 The first scene of the series involves an encounter with a convenience store random southern white trash redneck stereotype who turns out to be a vampire. More, he's a pissed off vampire, because the convenience store clerk and other customers are joking about vampires. The force of the scene is the reversal; the white trash guy is supposed to be an intolerant racist, because poor rednecks are intolerant and racist. But he's *actually* a member of a marginalized group, quick to take offense at a slight.

This might be a way to comment on misperceptions and stereotypes—after all, lots of poor rural white people are gay, and some poor rural  people with skin as light as this guy are in fact black. The moment is mostly squandered, though, because the vampire isn't actually presented as a victim, or as a deviation from expectations. He ends the scene by threatening the life of the clerk; he's aggressive and mean, which doesn't really deviate from the poor white media default or from the vampire media default—or for that matter from stereotypes about animalistic black people. The scene ends up just being a cheap reversal. Marginalized people, whether poor or black or gay or whatever the vampire is meant to stand in for, are actually dangerous and violent. Spreading stereotypes about  marginalized people isn't wrong because it will hurt the marginalized, but because marginalized people really are animalistic and dangerous and they'll hurt you if they hear you.

There is a scene that explicitly deals with racism in the second episode—and it's again a largely missed opportunity. Telepathic waitress Sookie (Anna Paquin) has invited 150 year old vampire Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer) to her house to meet the family. Sookie's mother is in a Civil War history discussion group, and she's excited to pump Bill for details about the era, since he lived through it. Bill starts chatting, and mentions slavery—at which point Sookie's obligatory best black friend Tara (Rutina Wesley) pipes up angrily, demanding to know if Bill owned slaves.

It seems like a fair question—but it's treated as an example of prejudice by Tara. Right before Tara got angry, Sookie's himbo brother Jason (Ryan Kwanten) declared his opposition to vampire rights and generally acted like a racist shit who didn't think Bil was good enough to date his sister. Tara pushing Bill about slavery comes across as an extension of Jason's assholery—an instance of human prejudice against vampires, rather than an exploration of neo-Confederate ongoing racism. 

This is especially the case because the question of slavery goes nowhere; in a scene afterwards with Jason and Tara, the two of them discuss Jason's ongoing antipathy to Bill, but Tara doesn't mention slavery again. The show is supposedly interested in exploring civil rights, but its metaphor doesn't highlight actual prejudice or injustice directed against black people. On the contrary, vampire rights are used to erase and delegitimize black critique of a racist past and present.

It could hardly be otherwise. If you actually cared about the plight of black people or gay people, why would you create a show in which the main hero and heroine are white and straight? If True Blood is truly committed to civil rights, why isn't Tara the lead, with Sooky the best friend? Or why isn't the hypersexualized gay fry cook the one with the telepathic powers and inner depths? If you're committed to exploring injustice and illuminating prejudice, then why aren't you addressing Hollywood's white, straight default in the most direct way open to you? As with the X-Men, True Blood's metaphor comes across less as a sincere opposition to injustice, and more   as a cheap way to pick up glamorous meaningfulness without actually having to show solidarity. Maybe the show does better as it goes along, but after 2 episodes, True Blood may be mildly entertaining, but there's not much true about it.