How Much Does True Blood Really Have On Its Mind?
True Blood, so hot right now. It's got the ratings, the Skarsgård, and now, finally, it's got the New York Times essay that ascribes about eight thousand Higher Meanings to everyone's favorite vampire campfest. But is True Blood really as smart as everyone thinks?
Let the first paragraph of Gina Bellfante's NYT piece give you some indication of just how over-the-top (perhaps fittingly, given the article's subject?) the Blood adoration gets here:
It seems like too much futile work in the heat of August -- work bound to lead only to phony conclusions -- to decipher how the sanguivorous have become the meat and drink of popular culture at the end of the first decade of the 21st century.
That is definitely the simplest way her intro could have been written!
Bellafante suggests that many of the show's conceits serve as metaphors for the biggest pop culture topics of our time. Sure, kind of. Are the vampires a metaphor for gays? Sometimes! Is it true that "When True Blood appeared, it was easy to assume it was a metaphor for late-stage capitalism gone haywire...because the show seemed predicated on an interest in the retail addict's belief that we're made of what we buy"? Uh, what?
Look, everyone: True Blood is very watchable, what with the sex, monsters, and general lack of restraint. And certainly, Alan Ball (along with David Chase and David Milch) has primed us to see deeper meaning in whatever's programmed on HBO. Only...True Blood isn't really that kind of show, is it? Ball himself has said that he wanted to do something fun after the mopey Six Feet Under, and True Blood feels like a rebuke to the kind of series where the main story note at the top of each script would be, "But what does it mean?" Certainly, there's a lot you can read into genre material without even trying, and definitely, when True Blood started, there was more on its mind. But now? I don't think anyone in the writers' room is pondering late-stage capitalism when they're thinking what stupid thing they can make Jason Stackhouse do, on account of his stupidity.
Bellafante almost suggests this "whatever works" approach to writing when she skirts the fact that the series seems to celebrate sexuality, and yet this season's villain is a woman whose main quirk is encouraging just that. Yes, yes, Mary Ann kills shapeshifters, and that's bad. But more often, it seems that her most terrible superpower is throwing impromptu dance parties and encouraging her friends to get laid. To hold these traits up as the examples of her villainy seems like an awfully punitive school of thought for such a supposedly enlightened series. But hey, what do I know? Maybe it's just a metaphor for capitalism.