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.

· Necks Overflowing With Rivers of Metaphor [NYT]


  • Colander says:

    I kind of disagree that they aren't at all considering subtext. I don't think Alan Ball could 'have fun' entirely if he tried. Sure, it IS fun, and operatic, but try reading deep-thought into the genre exercises in Twilight.
    But I agree, the NYT article if very underclassman essay exam.

  • Hernando Bansuelo says:


  • stolidog says:

    the naked butts must be a metaphor for something, but what?

  • Colander says:

    Well, when you put it THAT way...

  • Why can't it be both? Why can't it be a bit of pop culture, campy fluff that occasionally has glimmers of Deeper Meaning? That's how I see it, myself. I'm an overthinker by nature, so of course I see plenty of juicy Ideas, but I also see the titties, the ass, the abs, and the ham. It's that whole souffle that makes it so good, IMHO. As I said on that post a few days ago about how True Blood is weird for a serial in that its ratings increase as it goes along, I think this multivency is the reason for that: it can be read either as cheesecake or Literature according to taste. (Plus, I think colander has a point: I don't think Alan Bell could produce something totally mindless if he tried.)
    About Maryann, I don't think her villany is about how parties and getting laid are bad; her villany is self-absorption, lack of compassion, and Chaos unfettered. She is Id (literally) personified, attacking the Ego. But an Id without its Ego is just a wildfire that will burn itself out, though not before killing and hurting a lot of trees and animals. She showcases how lack of balance is bad; Bon Temps is her playground because of how much the other way it is, a society built on polite lies and repression and (self-)deception.

  • stretch65 says:

    sanguivorous is so new - its not even in the dictionary yet

  • Mark Lisanti says:

    True Blood is secretly about werewolves.
    Sneaky, I know

  • Felix says:

    Mary Ann isn't an encouraging force, she's an instigating one yet she uses manipulative re-enforcements like that of a life-coach to allow chaos to ensue by deliberately confusing it with some sort of social/psychological liberation. She's that girl who holds giant cluster-f**k parties, supplies the booze, sends the invitations, and let's everyone bounce of eachother in almost forcibly enduced merriment for her own entertainment. Mary Ann isn't a fidel castro villain, she's a social villain, someone fueled by her meddling, chaotic nature which permeates to others simply by her presence. It's social commentary, Mary Ann is evocative of an attitude as opposed to an your cliched embodiement of an institution (of which True Blood touches on plenty).
    In a show where people are sucking one another's blood on a regular basis, it's obvious that manipulation and indulgence are going to be common themes. The vampiric impulse is to suck the life out of anything living and sentimental which easily translates to the human intellect and how it can become clouded or swayed by desire or temptation. You'll notice characters like Jason engage in animalistic romps, Eric and other vampires (minus Bill & Jessica) have sentimentless, parasitic affairs. There most definitely is a lot of sexualtiy in this show and perhaps it's even indulgent but don't confuse the overt visual for endorsement. Sexual liberation isn't about excess, it's about an intellectual acknowledgement as well as a societal one of the gravity sex holds and how it can be both good and bad depending on the parties and the context.