Sunday, July 12, 2009
Vampires come full circle.
I've been watching "True Blood," if you haven't seen it - check it out because you're in danger of being spoiled. So, proceed with caution into the rest of this post because there will be spoilers.
I'll probably be blogging the series like I blogged the re-imagined "Battlestar Galactica," right up to its disappointing last show. So far "True Blood" is missing a lot of the elements that made Battlestar such a standout series. There is no character here comparable to Baltar. The music is okay, but it in no way compares to the fantastic music that Bear McCreary composed. The special effects are kind of cheap and the characters sometimes get stereotypical and cliche.
However, in spite of those weaknesses this show has some great writing, and in that department I think they might top Battlestar. The show also is yet another evolution of the vampire genre, a genre that just won't stop evolving. When Bram Stoker wrote "Dracula," the most popular of the first vampire novels, he wrote it for a Christian culture. Dracula was turned away by crosses, burned by holy water and communion crackers. A crucifix protects Jonathan Harker in the movie version when he cuts himself shaving and Dracula lunges for his throat but stops when he sees the crucifix around Jon's neck.
One measure of the way our culture has been changing is what has been happening with vampire fiction. In "True Blood" not only are the vampires (as in Anne Rice's books) not harmed by Christian symbols some of the villains seem to be fundamentalist Christians, in particular, televangelist Steve Newlin and his wife Sarah, and some of the vampires are the noble and moral heroes, in particular Bill Compton.
The explicitly Christian elements of Vampire fiction have been gradually draining out of the genre because more and more fans find that part of the story to absurd for even the willing suspension of disbelief. "True Blood" isn't unique in this, Alan Ball, exec producer, has only pushed the envelope a tiny bit farther, and only for television. If you really want to push the envelope you'd have a vampire con artist who was Jesus 2,000 years ago, and that was already done by J.G. Eccarius in his novel "The Last Days of Christ the Vampire."
One of the delights of the series for me is its mess of complicated subtexts and allusions. In the background of the series the Vampires are trying to "come out of the coffin" and become accepted by mainstream society (much like gays and atheists). This is possible because a Japaneses firm perfected a synthetic blood known as Tru Blood that was meant for transfusions but then vampires discovered they could live off of it and the company began bottling and marketing the synthetic blood for sale to vampires. This lead to vampires letting their existence be known to the rest of the world in an event that has come to be known as "coming out of the coffin" movement, or "The Great Revelation."
I'm not sure Alan Ball knows what he's done here, I think he meant to make gays coming out as a subtext for vampires (I predict there will be a character modeled after Ted Haggard who preaches against vampire sex but turns out to be a gay fangbanger who is addicted to vampire blood), but there's another group that fits the subtext too; atheists. Note some of the things the religious leaders say in the "True Blood" show and promos about vampires being immoral. That's something I've heard from youtube Christians talking about atheists, and it gets lots of responses.
Just take all those videos, Christian and atheist, and replace the word "atheist" with the word "vampire" and your halfway towards creating a scene for "True Blood." The idea of vampires coming out of the coffin would be the Nightvision Phantom's worst nightmare. It sounds like liberal "moral relativism" accepting pure evil because vampires of the Bram Stoker type really were spawns of Satan.
I've been toying around with the idea of doing a youtube video where I create a character who comes out as a "True Blood" type vampire. Think about it, there already is an atheist "out" campaign. They have this red letter "A" you could turn upside down to make a "V" once you got rid of the cross line:
Alas, I'll need a webcam for that, so, until then I'd like to pass the idea on to others. Let me know if you do such a video and I'll do a shout out for you.
There are also other areas of writing in this series that have some stinging criticism of religion. One of those areas is the character of Jessica. Instead of telling you, let me just show you. The first two vids are set up for a funny twist in the third video:
Note how in the first two vids Jessica claims to be "a good Christian girl" but then, after she becomes a vampire she is all "Whoopie! I'm a vampire" and "there are people I want to kill." Is that the original Jessica saying that, or something demonic inside her?
Eventually she does visit her parents:
Accepting gays and atheists into mainstream society looks far easier after you consider accepting demonically possessed killers. This brings up a bunch of issue I did not note in my "Where do rights come from?" video talking about abortion:
"True Blood" raises a lot of neat issues about moral relativism, rights and the limits of tolerance that would never come up in any other context, but yet the issues resonate to all the other contexts. Whether vampires should be accepted into mainstream society depends on whether that acceptance can encourage the vampires to change their ways. If it does, then such acceptance is a benefit to society. If they can't change their ways, then it will have a negative effect.
It's the best subtext for a TV show I've ever seen. No matter how the dice fall on what vampires are, those issues get raised. So, is Jessica going to be too much a prisoner of her own bloodlust:
You'll have to watch the show to find out.