Click to view It's pretty obvious that the vampires seeking "vampire rights" in Alan Ball's new HBO series True Blood are stand-ins for gay people. And yet this civil liberties fable about sexy creatures who kill and maim the innocent is practically an advertisement for social conservatism. Our vampy pals may get beaten up by southerners who say things like "God hates fangs," but they sort of deserve it. Ball, who hit it big with funeral home family melodrama Six Feet Under, seems to revel in force-feeding us prurient Puritanism. True Blood shows us a glimpse of sexual freedom, only to strongly suggest it equals freedom for amoral murderers.
Initially, the show's writers seemed to be toying with the idea that the vamps might be stand-ins for blacks or gay people. Set against the backdrop of Louisiana, whose culture the show depicts primarily as a mixture of bigoted rednecks and creole perverts, True Blood's main human characters are nice white girl Sookie and her best friend, the sarcastic black girl Tara. Sookie's romantic involvement with Bill the vampire and Tara's outspoken comments about racism (as well as her gay cousin's porno webcam business) put both race and sexual orientation at center stage in this show. Thus as an audience we find ourselves wondering: Are the vampires distorted mirror images of racial or sexual minorities?
It quickly becomes obvious that the vampires are hated for their sexual identities far more than any kind of racial one. The main plot arc of this season is set in motion when women who have sex with vampires start getting killed. Vampires also hang out in special vampire bars (pictured above) which are an obvious parallel to gay bars. People who have sex with vampires are called "fang bangers," which again raises the spectre of racial allegory with its allusion to "gang bangers." But ultimately this slur is not about being ghetto but about sex.
The primary thing that seems to enrage humans about the vampires is their sexuality. It's certainly what drives them to violence against the vamps. Humans are already killing the women in Sookie's town who have sex with vamps, and they also bash the vamps who mess around with human women. In a recent episode, a group of pissed hayseeds succeeded in reducing four vamps — two of whom had been having sex with humans — to burned coffins full of boiling blood. In another episode, two white trash tweakers tried to kill Bill by draining his blood so they could sell it on the black market as "v-juice," which is renowned for its mega-Viagra properties. So even after a vamp has been wasted, his or her blood can live on as a perversion-inducing drug. So the vampires are basically queers of the monster world. Why is this nothing more than a spicy fable about minority rights? Because True Blood's vamps, who fight for acceptance and the "vampire rights amendment," are murderers, rapists, and harassers of the innocent. Bill's buddies try to kill Sookie when they first meet her (below), and the vampires at the local vamp watering hole make it pretty obvious that they regard the humans among them as prey who "want to die," as the bartender puts it.
Even Sookie, who has sex with Bill and says she's falling love with him, doesn't buy the whole "vampire rights" thing. She's seen what most vampires are like and defends Bill by saying "he's not like the rest of them." You might think this is the show's clever way of pointing out that even the lovers of minorities sometimes harbor prejudices — but no. Sookie says this after Bill's friends have come into the restaurant where she works just to harass and terrify the humans. They even grab a kid and pretend that they're going to bite him. These vamps are assholes, not oppressed minorities. They deserve to be hated. If these murderous, evil creatures are figures for gay people, then they are figures for the religious right's worst nightmare of what gay people are. Their orgies are soaked in blood, and one sip of their v-juice can convert anyone to a mindless, lust-wracked pervert. Show creator Ball has made ambivalent comments about the way his vampires seem uncannily to resemble gay people. "For me, part of the fun of this whole series is that it's about vampires, so it's not that serious," he told the Los Angeles Times. "However, they do work as a metaphor for gays . . . for anyone that's misunderstood. At the same time it's not a metaphor at all." Even if we're generous and say that in fact sometimes a vampire is just a vampire, the implications of this show remain steadfastly conservative. Instead of being gay stand-ins, the vampires become the logical outcome of gay rights. As the right wing has always said, if you let gay people get married, then the next step is people marrying their cars or children. Or marrying blood-sucking killers. The idea that civil rights campaigns for gay people could legitimize similar campaigns for demons is really no better than the idea that idea that demons are equivalent to gay people. Either way, the message is clear. If you legitimize sexual nonconformity, you're basically giving people permission to murder the people they have sex with.