‘True Blood’ Open Thread: Malcom v. Martin

This post contains spoilers through the Aug. 28 episode of True Blood, “Burning Down the House.”

If True Blood had no pretensions to political meaningfulness, it might be possible to enjoy it as a dopey, campy soap opera, to ignore some of the larger plausibility gaps (like the fact that Sookie just never got around to figuring out her faerie abilities since the writers appear to have forgotten about them) in favor of the pretty people. The problem is that Alan Ball appears to have some ambitions for the show. True Blood was, at one point, a decent little metaphor for gay rights and broader sexual liberation. But by shifting it into a riff on the African-American Civil Rights movement, the show’s gotten disastrous in a way that ought to cast doubt on the accepted narrative that Ball is an important and clear-thinking artist.

It’s one thing to do a story featuring several black characters, to have good intentions about it, and to handle it badly out of a lack of ability or sensibility. It’s entirely another to badly misappropriate the Civil Rights movement in the service of a shallow metaphor. If I thought last week’s episode of True Blood, in which two literally Magical Negroes worked together to bring peace to a white family, I might even be more offended by the crassness of the conversation between Bill and Nan this week after the massacre at the tolerance festival. “Remember the civil rights movement. Sweeping social change inevitably accompanied by violence and the appearance of chaos, yadda yadda,” Nan declares. “That’s the spin we’ll give it.” But Bill isn’t having any of it. “We are going after the Necromancer and we are taking her out,” he shoots back, pulling a weak white man’s ghost of Malcolm. “By any means necessary.”

There is a really important story, or stories, to be told about the way that movements have learned from each other, and the ways that the gay civil rights movement has failed to learn from the black civil rights movement — and the ways it couldn’t have replicated that movement. A story that was more tightly focused on Nan Flanagan and her efforts to build vampire narratives, networks, and allies, might be a way to explore that dynamic, which is an important one for American politics. Even a narrower focus on the witch-vampire storyline that took a broader look at anti-vampire sentiment and splits within the vampire community might be a powerful way to explore the tension in civil rights movements between separatists and assimilationists, to illustrate the broad-based roots of events like Jason and Jessica’s failed tryst, which leaves her walking away declaring, “I am not going to glamour you just because you don’t want to feel guilty. What about my guilt? Who’s going to make me forget? Fucking humans. I’m going to go find someone to eat.”

There is a way to make this metaphor work. This is not a function of vampires being tapped out as a topic. It’s a function of carelessness and lack of imagination, of blood and guts and sex trying to stand in for racial and sexual sensitivity. And it’s something that the folks involved ought to be embarrassed about.