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Bad Things: 10 Years of “True Blood”

Friday, September 7, 2018 | Hallowed Horrors

BY JESS PEACOCK

I was sold on True Blood – the incredibly popular and highly influential television series that premiered on HBO eight years ago today – when I first saw the visually rich opening title sequence. Set to the mesmeric and now iconic sounds of Jace Everett’s song Bad Things, we are ushered into the fantastical and hallucinatory world of the phantasmagoric series through a gateway of images that weave a surprisingly complex and affective tale of death and rebirth by way of a mosaic of symbols that evoke predatory violence, illicit sex, and old school religion, culminating in a nighttime baptism signifying the elusive redemption that many characters within the narrative desperately seek.

Despite the contrary being stated by series creator Alan Ball, it becomes readily apparent that the vampires within the world of True Blood are a not-so-subtle allegory for the LGBTQI community. It is difficult to view the proceedings through any other societal lens with regularly scripted lines referring to vampires “coming out” as well as the culturally apt anti-vampire crusade God Hates Fangs. Whether directly representative of the queer community or not, True Blood is, at least initially, very much about the fight against the physical and ideological oppression that takes place within society in perpetuum.

“the Lilith legend weaves a fascinating tapestry of a woman open about her sexuality and the power it affords her”

Additionally, the series has never shied away from the exploration of religious imagery and motifs, embracing the vampire’s perceived role as the invasive other in order to address religious persecution through the inclusion of a powerful religious organization, the Fellowship of the Sun, promoting the aforementioned anti-vampire crusade. One subplot within the series is especially entertaining, as the villainous pastor of the Fellowship, who at one time advocated for the extermination of all vampires, is transformed into one himself and loudly proclaims that he is loved by God no matter what he is.

In addition, the series explores religious fundamentalism from the opposite end of the spectrum, as the Sanguinista Movement – vampires who believe adherence to the edicts found within their Vampire Bible is the one true way to exist – advocate for a tyrannical vampire theocracy, one set on subjugating the human race as the food source of the undead. This religiously oriented storyline is connected to the introduction of the vampire Lilith, who is featured prominently in the fifth and sixth seasons wherein she is revealed as the first of all vampires, created in God’s image (who is also revealed to be a vampire).

Lilith as a mythological figure is a Jewish legend that found its most common historical telling in the Alphabet of Ben Sirach from the ninth century. Briefly summarized, Lilith was created by Yahweh as the first wife of Adam. However, as she rightfully viewed herself on equal footing to that of her husband, Lilith refused to take the submissive role in their sexual copulations. This did not sit well with Adam, and Lilith fled Eden in order to live independently. Yahweh eventually demanded that she return and sent angels to secure her homecoming. She refused, even when threatened with death.

As the legend tends to be told, Lilith engaged in sexual intercourse with demons and gave birth to the lilim, demon offspring who would creep into the beds of sleeping men and suck out their lifeforce.This view of Lilith, reinforced in the biblical book of Isaiah, reveals her as a vampiric beast seeking to devour men and children, a not-so-subtle cultural attempt by the religious gatekeepers (i.e. men) to demonize the idea of women expressing independence from a male-centered hierarchy. In addition, the Lilith legend weaves a fascinating tapestry of a woman open about her sexuality and the power it affords her, and one who seeks agency in determining when and how that influence and eroticism is expressed. As such, the Lilith narrative has found a foothold in the larger vampire mythos within popular culture through avenues such as True Blood (the less said about Billith the better).

While the series had its share of struggles over its seven-season run, it is undeniable that True Blood left an indelible impact on the culture as a whole, its tentacles reaching out in the form of references on television shows such as The Office, Saturday Night Live, and even the perennial childhood staple Sesame Street. And while its popular blend of explicit sex and violence spawned other network genre fare such as the more youth oriented The Vampire Diaries, the short-lived Death Valley on MTV, and the Netflix original series Hemlock Grove, none have so successfully tapped into the zeitgeist of the culture as deeply as True Blood.

Jess Peacock
JESS PEACOCK is the author of SUCH A DARK THING: THEOLOGY OF THE VAMPIRE NARRATIVE IN POPULAR CULTURE ("Smart and insightful" - FANGORIA) from Wipf and Stock Publishers. He has contributed to RELIGION DISPATCHES, RUE MORGUE MAGAZINE, FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND, and is the former editor-in-chief of STREET SPEECH, a social justice publication produced by the Columbus Coalition for the Homeless in Ohio. Among his academic distinctions, Peacock is the recipient of Methodist Theological School in Ohio's Ronald L. Williams Book Prize in Theology and Ethics, as well as The Matey Janata Freedwomen Award for his research and work in women's issues and is the recipient of the Heldrich-Dvorak Fellowship from the Popular/American Culture Association. He currently writes the HALLOWED HORRORS column for RUE MORGUE online, and his similarly titled book is scheduled for release in early 2019 from Wipf and Stock. Jess is currently a PhD student living in Chicago and can regularly be heard on the LEGACY OF THE MARSTEN HOUSE podcast available on iTunes.