Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Vampires Suck

No, this has nothing to do with the ongoing effort to tar-and-feather anyone with a contrary opinion as a metaphysical leech. This has to do with something my wife brought back from vacation.

People often worry about the various diseases we might contract or carry while en route aeronautically - everything from the common cold to swine flu. Scarcely a thought is given to the more pernicious afflictions of the mind we pick up along the way. I, for one, came back from an American wedding a few months ago convinced that super-sized portions were a step towards the palace of wisdom along the path of excess. Then I recalled that Jim Morrison was a half-wit lush, that I didn't want to die of a coronary by age 30, and that a half-dozen gyoza with a side of veggies is a perfectly delectable meal.

Meanwhile, my wife returned from her recent Occidental excursion enthralled by all things pallid and bloodsucking. It started simply enough when a friend passed her one of the Twilight books as a "beach read"; this very quickly crescendoed into an obsession with the popular HBO show True Blood, which is currently staining her corneas nightly as her video nightcap of choice.

Lest my wife appear a trend-swallowing idiot - she's not. As she admits, Twilight is the tripe you read when you go on vacation to a town whose lone "bookstore" is a Sheetz truckstop, and True Blood has attained the ubiquity (also enjoyed by The Sopranos or The Wire) that strong-arms you into watching at least an episode if only to be a part of your friends' conversation.

Now, Twilight is a teen Harlequin novel written by a sex-negative Mormon who hadn't even cracked Dracula when she first sat down to type her way into the wallets & hearts of hormonally-charged naifs across the heartland, so fuck that. That shit ain't even worth dignifying by discussion.

True Blood, meanwhile, is a bloody disappointment.

Yet it started so well: TV auteur Alan Ball hauls everyone's favourite libertine ghouls out of their coffins to reenact the civil rights struggle in all its heated mayhem, within the sweaty, haunted salmagundi of Louisiana. And that title sequence by Digital Kitchen is bitchin' (even if it has all the overt button-pushing & film stock/colour filter fuckery of a mid-'90s music video). The initial four minutes of the series set the scene most compellingly: as talking heads prattle about the "vampire rights" amendment on TV in the background, two all-American idiots almost provoke a convenience store massacre by a good ol' boy (complete with camo & trucker cap) who just happens to be a vampire.

I was to embarrassed to admit that maybe I was going to enjoy this: a show where people just happen sometimes to be vampires! After all, if the show intended to capture the myriad shades of the civil rights struggle, it would have to portray vampires as no less socially omnifarious & ambivalent as real people: rednecks, slackers, business people, parents, and whatnot. Hey, I want to see what kind of a dentist a vampire would make, and besides, it's hardly a leap of imagination to posit lawyers, lobbyists, and certain members of the state department as predatory bloodsuckers.

But no sooner than the star spook, Bill, appears does the show devolve into a dull retread of the cardboard-cutout characteristics worn threadbare by a century of literary & filmic flagellation: leather-bound & pasty lotharios who stare icily from beneath furrowed brows and speak with the affected elegance of a first-year drama student wallowing through a lifeless recitation of Hamlet's soliloquy. There's also apparently a law that requires vampires to listen to no music other than glossy remixes of "Tainted Love" and Nitzer Ebb. What, no Joy Division?

If True Blood's conceptual audacity was to craft a titillating analogy for the civil rights struggle, its vanilla vampires present a problem deeper than driving away seen-it-all audience members: hoary stereotypes, paper-thin & laughably caricatured, grappling for social acceptance & legal equity. In other words, if the show were stripped of its horror story facade and made a literal retelling of the civil rights movement, it would be portraying African-Americans as jitterbugging, watermelon-eating, "yessuh massa," shuck 'n' jiving buffoons. As the top-billed ghoul, Bill is afforded the screentime to develop a more nuanced social context: his efforts to conduct himself as any other rational citizen are met with suspicion by most, enmity by the ignorant, opprobium by the authorities, and even accusations of treachery by his own people (similar to being called an "Oreo"). But Bill is alone in a crowd of cadaverous lechers in black leather trenchcoats & dog collars with an enthusiasm for industrial-tinged rocktronica. How uninspired. How embarrassing.

As a parting thought, does it strike anyone else that there's a larger metaphor nestled in this? Hmm... a new arrival that once bore the promise of shifting paradigms and elevating the discourse to a higher plane of sophistication reveals itself to be little more than the moth-eaten status quo. What does that remind you of?

Just sayin'...

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