Tuesday, September 1, 2009

True Blood epiphany: If Bill Compton were a black man, he'd be Clarence Thomas

So, ya'll know I loves me some "True Blood," HBO's Alan Ball-directed, Louisiana-bred vampire romp. However, I hate the series' vampire hero--mopey, self-righteous, antebellum vampire Bill. And after watching nearly two full seasons of the show, I think I know why.

Now, "True Blood," with its sexy Viking blood-sucker; thick, swampy drawls; freaky drama and camp comedy, could be pure confection, but Ball ("Six Feet Under") finds ways to make the vampire community's fight for equal rights a stand in for GLBT and race-related civil rights battles. (Check out the HBO-created sites for Fellowship of the Sun Church and the American Vampire League. Brilliant!) That parallel makes the show an interesting watch.

Actually, Ball claims that any correlation between the fictional vampire rights movement and, for instance, the real gay rights movement is "lazy" and "wrong."

"Ultimately, if you latch onto that metaphor and become really serious about it, it would make the show extremely homophobic," he said. "Because vampires are dangerous, they kill, they're amoral, a lot of them. I don't think that's what it is. I think that's just a nice little detail in what is hopefully a big popcorn thrill ride. It's a scary romance at the heart of it. Granted, we get very much more into the culture war aspect of things this season, with the Fellowship of the Sun church and we find out much more about vampire politics... I just hope people can remember that." Read more...
Okay, Alan.

He's right that the comparison does break down under too much scrutiny. In the "True Blood" universe, unlike black folks, gays and lesbians, vampires have been, y'know, murdering and drinking the blood of humans for thousands of years and still show ample evidence of viewing human life a tad cavalierly. Human wariness of the species could be viewed as less discrimination than, well, self-preservation. But, what about that "God hates fangs" roadside sign that appears in the show's opening credits, and also series marketing like the American Vampire League ad in support of the Vampire Rights Amendment below:

Yeah, see what I'm saying here?

Despite Alan Ball's protestations, when I settle in on Sunday nights to drink in some "True Blood," I relate to the vamps as a marginalized group facing intolerance and inequity. (Maybe it's cause I'm a black woman who spends a lot of time writing online about race, gender and sexual marginalization. Who's to say.)

But this brings me to vampire Bill Compton and why I find him so very tiresome. If the "True Blood" vamps are enbroiled in "the struggle," then Bill is surely part of the problem and not the solution. The former Civil War soldier has segregated himself from the vampire community, preferring to "mainstream" (read: assimilate). He sneers at vampire culture and customs; he won't even drink from a willing human 'cept for Soo-keh, his non-vamp gal pal with whom he spends all his time. He is eternally anguished about his vampiric life, or, er, not life. Worse yet, we're supposed to like him and view him as the show's hero, because he is trying so hard to deny who he is and assimilate. He's not like those other vamps. In short, Vampire Bill is a self-hating sell-out. If he were black like me, he'd be that guy. You know the one I'm talking about.


Give me Eric, that mountainous Swede and his henchwoman Pam, any day. They've got a certain healthy lust for who they are.

Throw a fist up and say it loud: "I'm vamp and I'm proud!"

(God! Did I just write a whole post assessing parallels between an HBO vampire drama and racial and sexual equality movements? I believe I just did. What the hell am I going to do when "True Blood" goes on hiatus in two weeks?)

Check out my blogsister Renee's "True Blood" recap at Womanist Musings.


Solomon Grundy said...

Lol. Bill is definitely an assimilationist, and from a subcultural standpoint I totally agree that it's tiresome.

The confusing thing is that when we're talking vampires, unlike black folks or queers, assimilation probably IS preferable to, you know, being a serial killer.

Renee said...

First let me say I am even upset that it is not on this week because I have become so addicted. I am going to miss it terribly when it is done for the season.

As for Bill you are right about the self hating vampire that he is. You no I never really connected it to playing uncle ruckus until you pointed it out.

I am definitely team Eric. I love his boldness and I cannot tell you how many skaarsgard interviews I have watched on youtube.

Todd said...

Didn't Sookie even call him out on it, saying that it wasn't right for him to hate vampires, because it means he hates himself?

How do you see Godric fitting into all of this? He self-immolates because he can't assimilate and he can't stay a vampire.

Tami said...


The whole Godric thing is hard. The TV storyline would make him a self-hater, too. But in the books, his reason for wanting to meet the sun was very different entirely. I don't want to spoil it for anyone who might read them. But it was more about the heinous things he had done as a human and continued to do as a vamp. His wanting to die seemed for reasonable.

vern said...

i have not read the books and new to the series also so i don't know much about bill's past. but i get hooked with the show instantly. but now i want to know more about all the characters, so i have decided to watch True Blood Online so that i can watch all the previous episodes i missed.


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