Thursday, September 17, 2009

True Blood Divergence

In response to meloukhia's brilliant summation of the current vampire trope, I'm motivated to post a little defence of True Blood.
Before I get carried away, let me layout Mel's groundwork. Mel has provided one of the best summaries of the current vampire trope that I have read:
Essentially, Mel notes that the current vamp story contains the following:
  • A socially isolated young woman (broken home, dead parents, adopted, etc). Further, our heroine is usually adolescent.
  • Enter devilishly good looking, but ultimately noble and of impeccable manners "Ancient Vamp," who is maddenly attracted to our heroine.
  • They fall in love, which results in numerous complications.
  • The vamp deflowers our heroine and in doing so, is "initiated into a magical (and sexual) world by the Power of the Vampire Penis.
Although not completely across the board, I would like to add the following:
  • Through her interaction with the vamp, our heroinse gains skillz that while increasing her ability to not be helpless against her foes, render her reliant and connected to the vamp. Think Anita Blake and the vampire marks, Bella and her creepily passive vamp talent.
  • Our heroine is not only isolated by circumstance, but appears to have very few social connections at all. Anita Blake has hardly any real friends - Ronnie turns up every few books, briefly - nearly dies and buggers off. Bella has friends as fillers - usually only there when Edward is not.
Although I'm sure there are more standard characteristics to this tale, I note the two above for my nefarious objective; True Blood's Sookie Stackhouse provides a reasonable divergence from the standard. In doing so, Sookie, gasp, becomes a rounded character.
Sookie's Mad Skillz -Spoiler Warning
Unlike some of her compatriots*, Sookie's skillz are entirely her own. Sookie's ability to read minds and shoot crazy lightning energy stuff is, as it turns out in the novels, based on her fairy bloodline. Her skills are not enhanced by Bill, nor do they originate from him.

Sookie's Social Skillz
Although Ms Stackhouse is isolated from the folk of Bon Temp due to her mad skillz, Sookie manages to have friends and family. Unlike Bella, who doesn't really relate to anyone who isn't a freak, or Anita, who only really seems to relate to freaky dick and scorns everyone else with her rather antagonist and harsh personality, Sookie can, omg, relate to people.

Although I admit that Sookie is not a feminists dream. She does present a vamp story heroine who is not adolescent who actually has agency within the story. Indeed, through Sookie not being a passive filler, (Bella), the storyline of True Blood is able to diverge from the Sookie/Bill love story, enabling the series to be about...Sookie!

*Note: I realise that this deviation is shared by Buffy.


meloukhia said...

Man, everyone's calling me "Mel" these days. I guess that's what I get for having a hard-to-spell nom de plume. Better than the blogger who keeps referring to me by my last name (which is, you know, public information, but still weird to see since it's not the name I use for writing/interacting on the Internet).

Gack! I have so much I want to say, but want to wait on until I know whether or not you have read the Sookie Stackhouse books, because I don't want to spoil you (on the books or potential future events on "True Blood"). So, uh, let me know if I can talk about the books or not?

I will say that I think Sookie is a more realized character than some other characters who inhabit stories like this, which is awesome.

However, I do think you brought up two additional great points here: the acquisition of skills as a result of dating a vamp, and the social isolation. I can't believe I left those out of my analysis, because they are also commonalities in this trope!

Natalie Rae said...

Hi Mel.. (hope Mel is ok).. No, I haven't read the books. However, I'm one of those weird people who actively reads spoilers. Not sure if I will read them anyway! So - go for it!
Let me say though, my post was more of an ajoinder to yours, rather than attempting to contradict your analysis.

As a sidenote - on comparing the vampire trope, have you seen Buffy versus Edward?

meloukhia said...

Hooray, I'm glad I can talk about the books! And I definitely don't view this post as a contradiction, but rather an enrichment and an exploration. I very briefly and topically covered four different stories, all of which have a lot of room for exploration, which is exactly what you did.

So, here's the thing. In the books, Sookie actually does acquire skills as a direct consequence of being involved with Bill and other vampires. Bill helps her focus/strengthen/control her telepathy, and blood from Bill and Eric makes Sookie stronger and healthier. (She doesn't "shoot crazy lightning energy stuff" in the books, so I assume I've just been spoiled on something that happens in season two, which I haven't seen yet. Hopefully I will have forgotten by the time HBO gets around to releasing the DVD!)

Furthermore, one of the themes in the books is Sookie's social isolation as a result of her telepathy. Non supernatural residents of Bon Temps avoid her, with the exception of a handful of people, because she frightens and unsettles them. She is actually incredibly socially isolated and damaged by the death of her parents, the community's avoidance of her, and her history of sexual abuse. While she has traditional "Southern graces," she also lacks social skills as a result of her lack of experience and her discomfort with being around people when she can read their minds.

Now, obviously, this is information you could not have had without reading the books, so, yes, it's a refutation of your points, but it's not an indictment or anything. Based just on the events of "True Blood," Sookie is a pretty good example of divergence from the vamp story trope, as you illustrate here. I think that small screen Sookie is different from book Sookie, so a legitimate argument could be made for excluding information in the books which is not presented or has not yet been presented on screen.

That said, even in the books, there is some divergence from the vampire love story norm. For example, Sookie is sexually independent after having sex with Bill, choosing to pursue and cultivate her own sexual relationships instead of being bound to him. (Although there's a weird connection going on with Eric in the later books.) She is also personally independent, rejecting reliance on assistance from supernatural men to get things done, and reacting strongly against the idea that she needs to be protected simply because she's a woman.

Er...sorry this is so long. Normally I tell people with comments this long to go put it on their own blog! Consider the length your response to my post?

Natalie Rae said...

Hi Mel,
sorry for adding in a spoiler!

RE - the themes of social isolation. I think that this does come through in the series. However, the thing that I like about True Blood is that Sookie does have social contacts, despite being isolated from the general population. She has a sibling *which in the trope is rare to the point that I can't think about another instance of this*. In Tara and Lafayette, she actually has friends.

RE the differences between the books and the the tv series. The more I hear about the differences that are in the books, the less I want to read them. Not just about the differences in Sookie, but also in Tara and Lafeyette.

Not really the standard - but - have you thought about the status of men in the TV series? My bf and I were discussing the fact that, from our view anyway, any standard, white, straight, human male, is largely displayed as, well, stupid. Something for thought, anyway.

meloukhia said...

Oh, don't worry about the spoiler; it's not really fair to refer to something as a spoiler when it's aired over a week ago, and it sounds like something pretty minor. I just like bitching because HBO refuses to stream/iTunes/something True Blood, forcing me to wait until the DVDs come out to watch.

You raise an interesting point with the treatment of men. Jason is a classic example of the stupid white guy, as is Xander, and it would be kind of interesting to explore that characterization more. Obviously, you've got to make human males unappealing to make viewers/readers comfortable with the idea of a vampire love interest...

As for siblings...Buffy's got Dawn (kinda), Elena has a sister/brother depending on whether one's talking about the Vampire Diaries books or the television series, and, uh, I guess Bella doesn't have any siblings.

Yeah, the books/series of True Blood are very different, and diverging more over time, it sounds like. It gets confusing for me because I have trouble remembering if something is in the books or in the series or directly contradicted by one or the other. I think Alan Ball has done a great job with taking something which interested him and playing around with it, pushing it in new directions.

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