Actually the Last Drop: A Reflection on True Blood

I stopped doing the True Blood recaps for one simple reason: I ran out of things to say.  I could’ve continued, I suppose, making jokes at the expense of the show.  But that felt cheap, the way the show as a whole felt cheap.  I could not, week after week, go on about the problematic elements of True Blood when they stayed exactly the same from week to week.  At some times, they were more pronounced than others, but by the finale, all of True Blood’s more despicable elements had settled on the surface.


So what could I do?  I could sit here and go on ad nauseum about the bastardization of the LGBT movement that True Blood championed until its bitter end, when they treated a heterosexual union between human and vampire as if it was something revolutionary, and not just another marriage of two white, young, conventionally attractive heterosexuals.  We had an inter-racial gay couple that could’ve gotten married instead, but I suppose True Blood wanted their queerness to be a metaphor and a metaphor only.  They never wanted to represent queer people, they just wanted to use their stories to pad their TV show.  And you know what, it’s not like True Blood is the only show guilty of doing that. 


The thing is, not all television shows advertise themselves as ‘queer marketing’ the way True Blood did.  Since season 1, come to think of it.  Their title sequence told us that “God Hates Fangs” as a direct correlation to the current struggles of the queer community, and by the end of the show, only one couple in the show is a gay couple.  Everyone else is perfectly content in their normal, heterosexual relationships.  That’s what a happy ending looks like, folks.  You can either have a queer narrative or a narrative with a happy ending, in True Blood terms.  We are told that there is nothing wrong with Jessica and Hoyt being together.  That this pseudo-queerness is a-okay in the eyes of God.  But not for Sookie.  Not for Bill or Eric or Alcide.  Queerness needs to be kept to the side, away from the main pairings.  Away from the main plotline, which has to get its nice little bow on top.  


Here’s my issue: this is not a trend that starts or ends with True BloodTrue Blood should be discussed and picked apart, especially since it had the gall to bill itself as a queer show, to use a queer narrative but not actually have queer characters.  Let me say once and for all that making characters a metaphor for queerness just isn’t good enough.  That’s not representation, and that’s not what a modern audience deserves.  We can actually look at True Blood as what happens when you try to use a queer narrative in an ultimately straight show.  We can take a look at the show’s own failings and apply them to what the stereotype of a ‘queer narrative’ is, and how True Blood exploited and ultimately failed those narrative devices.


True Blood makes the mistake of assuming that all queer narratives need to be tragic.  This is the fault of a writing staff that doesn’t realize that while there was a certain tragedy associated with queerness and queer characters up through the late nineties, that doesn’t necessarily mean that new narratives and new characters have to meet the same fate.  In some places, it might make sense.  It would be, narratively speaking, impossibly for Ennis and Jack to have a happy ending given their time and location.  Similarly, the stories in RENT are focused around the AIDS crisis of the late eighties, and again, that prevents any real, permanent solution to the storyline.  But True Blood is not Brokeback Mountain.  True Blood is not RENT.  True Blood was a show about vampires on HBO, and yet it felt the need to bump every queer narrative stereotype as it fell from season to season.


Maybe I’m putting too much pressure on True Blood.  This is really an issue that needs to be tackled overall in television and movies, in the media that is given to us, that we are just supposed to accept and consume.  I think what irks many of us about True Blood is that the show itself felt it was being clever, but anyone with even a modicum of queer studies know-how can pick apart an episode with very little effort.  I would know, I’m doing it right now!  If there was just a little bit of research, of effort, of something to make it anything other than what we ended up with, then maybe there wouldn’t be so much disdain for a show that almost could’ve done so many things so much better.  But we can say that about a lot of shows, not just True Blood.  And we can say that about a lot of queer narratives, even now.  So what are we to do?  What can we do?


Honestly, I’m not entirely sure.  I think we, as consumers, as creators, as a community, recognize the need for not just representation, but positive representation.  For stories that actually speak to and about a community instead of just kind of glossing over what the bullet points of ‘queerness’ are.  Maybe True Blood’s downfall lay in it’s own hubris and its lack of willingness to listen to criticism and change.  Bending to the whim of fans is rarely a positive direction for a show to take, but True Blood really could not have gotten any worse.  


Final thought?  If you’re going to bill yourself as a queer program, at least have the decency to give actual queerness more than just a background role.

on September 16, 2014