True Blood: Religion and Despair (2)

So what is the Truth? Is it possible that True Blood is an extended meditation on the ambiguity of truth in a world where there are fewer and fewer connections between what people say and what they really mean?

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Is this the reason that Sooke Stackhouse can hear people’s thoughts and therefore what they are actually thinking? Doesn’t that put her in an exalted, powerful position? Ironically, the fantasy that people’s thoughts can be heard is the ultimate conceit of the powerless, those who cannot use language and discourse to engage in meaningful conversation and meaningful exchange and those whose actions cannot overcome the challenges they face.

Or how about the True Death, which is the only way that vampires can die? Is truth possible in a world so layered with untruths that there is no correspondence between reality, human actions and the choices people have to make to survive?

What happens to reality when the “facts” no longer meaningfully correspond to the experiences people have, when the facts are manufactured to suit the proclivities?

Truth is that True Blood is about lies and how truth cannot exist in a world where everyone is wearing masks, so that they cannot be seen and where their “true” selves are hidden under layers of magic and false beliefs.

Perhaps there is no true self. Perhaps, the course of a human life has been set not by the force of human subjectivity but by an imagined power that has already written the scenarios humans enact and complete? At least, that is what True Blood suggests and what many human belief systems suggest govern the outcomes of human actions.

Who wrote the laws of nature? In True Blood, gods, sorcerers and magicians wrote the laws, which means that human control has been irrevocably lost to forces beyond its control. This is a governing theme in all the shows. Control has been lost. Reality is a sham. As Tara discovers, even death is not absolute. Her transformation into a vampire is one of the most poignant moments in the series, but also one of the most devastating.

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Chance, accidents, capriciousness, these are the enemies of the absolutism that vampires seek in the show. They want order and logic to rule, but discover of course that nature is capricious just as humans are and that their well-laid plans never quite work out. They seek truth, but deceive each other and humans as well. They have a hierarchical political structure that is called The Authority, which governs vampires who do not believe anything they say to each other, thus nullifying the foundations of the authority they seek.

Suspicion, innuendo and false claims, this is a small part of the inventory of characteristics not only of vampires but also of humans. Over the last two weeks, True Blood has been pushing the boundaries between reality and fantasy even further as the war between vampires who believe in co-existence with humans and those who do not believe in any form of interaction, other than using humans for food, plays itself out. But, this is also a war between life and death, between hope and despair. Will the medieval world win out over rationality and logic?

Next week, I will explore the show’s premise that we are living in pre-enlightenment times.

True Blood: Religion and Despair (1)

When the HBO show, True Blood began its now multi-season run, most of the stories and themes centered on Bill Compton and Sooke Stackhouse and their struggles to survive a world where reality had no clear and rational foundation and where their love for each other was both dangerous and avant-garde. The first few seasons also circled around relationships between the undead and the living using invocation, prayer and magic to explain the inexplicable. The lifeblood of the show was its use of special effects to conjure up ghosts and various other strange deviations of the human form and human reality. This season, the show has morphed into a profound critique of religion and fundamentalism in the United States and elsewhere.


True Blood is not only examining the rise of religion in American life, it is also exploring the pagan underpinnings of so many of the rituals and beliefs that are the foundation for religious obsessions. Religion is unveiled as an alternate reality suffused with rules and processes that are embedded with superstitions, fears and fantasies, medieval in content, outlook and action.

The show's characters find themselves in a world that is governed by magic, superstition and enchantment. The medieval Louisiana village that the characters inhabit is peopled by men and women who can transform into dogs, birds and sorcerers. These people can invoke powerful spirits and control the bodies and minds of the innocent while themselves succumbing to the nether worlds that surround their everyday activities. In this village, there are fairies and fairy worlds. There is necromancy, reincarnation, witchcraft and much more. There are magic spells that overwhelm the bodies of those that use them and an endlessly erotic interaction between vampires and humans that is entirely other worldly in its intensity.

Vampires represent everything that religion promises to humans, from eternal life right through to institutions designed to protect the faithful from themselves and their enemies. But, they are also repugnant figures born from death and always at the edge of extinction. They are the creatures from the borderlands between the living and dead who neither fit into society nor know how to control their desires. When they invoke morality, it is always with ulterior motives. Their bodies are empty but their 'blood' can heal the wounds of humans. As metaphors, vampires represent all the urges humans have to repress and negate. They are weirdly religious and come from the other side, the dark side of humanity. 

Incantations abound in every show. Words can release a vampire child from his or her maker. The right incantation can bring humans back from the dead, awaken spirit worlds, exorcise devils and define the future. The right statement at an appropriate time can shift and even reality allowing it to be shaped by vision and thought.

In fact, it is the power of words that best describes the show's exploration of religion. The right words formulated properly confer upon objects not only the power to be subjects but give willpower and subjectivity to nearly everything and everyone. This is simply an extension of the belief that the words of a priest for example, are enough to forgive the transgressions of sinners or that the baptismal act has the power to cross the line between innocence and belief. The language characters use is steeped in religious symbolism and the power of words is strong enough to bring spirits and witches back from the dead. Bodies can be inhabited by the devil or by other forms of black magic. Make an oath, take an oath — and you have done something sacred with consequences that reach backwards in history and forwards to your own survival. 

True Blood proposes that our culture and our society has returned to pagan times. The enlightenment never happened in 'Bon Temps' — so named because it is a town that has become a repository for the consequences of paganism, a place that exists outside of history. Miracles, both good and bad happen in Bon Temps everyday. Reality is stripped of pretense as the interaction between vampires, witches and magicians becomes a normal part of everyday life. The interface between the supernatural and the real has dissolved in Bon Temps. 

Part Two…