Thursday, September 24, 2009

The south will rise again….

Sometimes you just need trashy celluloid pulp fiction to get you through the daily grind. My new opiate is this HBO show called True Blood. Having missed out on a great deal of HBO since my move to London I'm just catching up.

True Blood has it all – but most importantly it has vampires. The plot is set in sweltering Bon Temps, LA, three years since vampires came "out of the coffin" and entered mainstream society. So now every podunk diner and baccy-selling Hick-E Mart carries Bud, iced-tea and Tru Blood (available in A+ and O-) to quench the thirsts of their varied customers, including those with retractable cuspids. And every televangelist's diatribe is now directed toward the undead, with the GLBT cause having taken a backseat.

The atmospheric Southern Gothic plot meanders at the pace of an airboat on a languid bayou (as opposed to a duck on a junebug) – and one can see overt shout-outs to several influences – Anne Rice novels, Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil, Fried Green Tomatoes, Quills and of course Interview With The Vampire.

But what's surprising is how much of a Blue State Louisiana has become since the vampire outings. It's like a Keith Urban video – set south of the Mason-Dixon line, but with clean-cut, well-groomed young-uns who shop from a J.Crew catalog while sipping Double Venti Whatchamacallit Frappucinno's from the local Fourbucks (a place that sells coffee for four bucks). And indeed, the appearance of a Starbucks in a nearby Hicksville gives cause for concern for the owner of the local diner who remarks that maybe its time to "get me one of them there cappuccino machines".

Other harks to being a blue state include – an openly down low brother who is also the town dealer (except he also sells V - vampire blood which makes men harder than Chinese algebra), a gran who encourages her waitress grand-daughter (a very blonde Anna Paquin) to date a vampire, a vampire who drives said date to a vampire bar punnily called 'Fangtasia' in a Beemer 5 series while playing Mongolian throat singing and Dengue Fever over his Alpine sound system, and vampires who lounge around in Buddha-bar like ambiences, wearing uber-chic stuff that came straight from Interpol's glam wardrobe.

All this makes me wonder why the producers are spinning the tale this way – Is it to make it more palatable to their bi-coastal audiences? Or is it to provide a provocative view of what The Confederacy would have looked like, were everyone cool like folks from Athens, GA.

And true to HBO fashion, there is a shrink in the mix, although in the disguised form of an African American woman - the equivalent of Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting. HBO is obsessed with shrinks owing to its belief that every show it produces needs a conscience, an overt sounding board, someone who speaks what everyone is thinking and explains the unexplained (Exhibit A – The Sopranos, In Treatment, Mind Of The Married Man, Tell Me You Love Me).

And yes there is gratuitous sex – gritty gratuitous reality-TV sex, human on human and human on vampire – and innocent virginal Mina Parker being seduced in a fugue cast by worldly wise Mr. Fangs sex.

I don't know why humanity is so obsessed by vampire tales. In my case its clear – it probably has roots in some deep seated childhood experience (Dracula was one of the first books I read at age 9) – or it might be this other vampire tale I read at a later stage in life (The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova).

But if I were to take a gander at our obsession with tales like True Blood, I would say its because these tales have it all – the seduction, the romance, the desire to feel vulnerable, the down-home comfort of everything Southern, the desire to truly become one with the fabric on humanity and another person, the timelessness, the dark but sweet gothic element, the creeping vines and overgrow gardens, the starkness of bright light and the real world, the failings of humanity against which sucking a few pints of blood for sustenance seems a somewhat feeble crime, the questioning of absolute good and absolute evil, the languidness, and the giving in to what your mammy told you not to do, only to find out that it is bliss. Vampire tales are just a cover for what most humans, deep inside, yearn for but are afraid to discover – which is why they tend to evolve and live on, like this one. I'll see all of y'all later!

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