The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

Guilty Pleasure: The Red-Blooded Maleness of True Blood

Written by: Scott Wance, Special to CC2K

The Big Question

ImageSo, fellas…’fess up…how many of you watch True Blood?

Okay, okay…calm down…relax…

Some of you are hesitating with that half-raised hand, looking around and wondering if anyone else is caught in the act with you. Some of you are snickering with a roll of your eyes. Some of you are nervously giggling while avoiding eye contact at all costs. Some of you are shaking your heads, arms defiantly crossed with a stern HELL NO! And then there’s a few of you who just might admit to watching it.

But what’s your excuse?

Do you claim you watch it because your wife/girlfriend/friend with benefits/close-female-friend-who-you-want-to-date-but-she-just-wants-to-be-friends-so-you-settle-for-platonic-couch-time-with watches it and you just happen to sit with her?

Do you secretly record it on your DVR while watching Sunday night football and tell your friends you’re actually recording the latest Discovery Channel dinosaur documentary?

Or do live in mortal fear of having your man card revoked if any of your pals learns that you love to watch True Blood?

Now take a deep breath and relax, because it’s okay to be straight AND watch True Blood.


Bats, Bloodsuckers and Sparkles…Oh My…

I remember in my college years getting some odd looks for reading Anne Rice’s vampire books. In retrospect, I question my sense of good taste in reading them (which I associate with my lack of maturity and newly established liberal arts education). Maybe I was “into vampires before vampires were cool” (or at least popular if not “cool”), but at the same time, vampires were still fodder for late-night, B-movies best watched after a few shots of Jäger; just a step below episodes of Blind Date or Highlander: The Series, but still above Juiceman infomercials. And most of those movies were only worthy of a MST3K treatment with friends. I purposefully blank out from memory the thankfully short-lived revival of Dark Shadows in the early 90s and Neil Jordan’s best attempts at making a woefully miscast, pre-couch jumping Tom Cruise appear tall in the film adaptation of Interview with the Vampire.

Between then and now, I think the only significant vampire movie was John Carpenter’s Vampires, which was pretty much what you expect of standard John Carpenter fare (take the good and the bad with that one). The key factor in all of this vampire entertainment was that the vampires weren’t necessarily depicted as “so pretty they would have to be gay in real life” (though Anne Rice made the “vampires in the closet” tack an art form). The bottom line is you could still be secure in your manhood for watching vampire movies because you were most likely to be caught laughing your ass off at them.

Sadly, all good things must come to an end.

Somehow, somewhere, vampires have become the biggest game in pop culture today. Recently, I checked out the newest releases in the Sci-Fi/Fantasy aisle in my local big chain book store (whose name rhymes with “Yarns & Mobile”). It’s crazy how at least 50% of all new-releases involve vampire themes and characters, or worse, are “the next chapter in the saga” of said books. On a side note, many of these vampire Sci-Fi/Fantasy books are heavily promoted with covers painted by artists who never went to a genuine life drawing class in their lives, read way too many comic books while growing up, or pray at the altar of Boris Vallejo.

Now we have Twilight, featuring a Ziggy Stardust-wannabe sparkly vampire and a “so-far-in-the-closet-that-he’s-finding-Christmas-presents dream boy who barely convinces anyone at being infatuated with a dull, emo girl” werewolf. The net result of these books and movies are “tween” girls being even more obnoxious in their “Team Edward” or “Team Jacob” melodramatic fangirl zeal, and the MILF and cougar vibe getting creepy as school teachers twice their age are arrested over real teenage boys like the characters these older women covet and even fantasize about.

Fortunately, there is a ray of sunshine in all of this vampire-crazed fandom, and it is True Blood.


The Stuff Men’s Dreams are Made of

Granted, one might be tempted to ask “Isn’t True Blood is just another soap opera posing as prime time TV?” And yes, arguably a show that laden with relationship drama and emotional insecurity and angst might very well be a soap opera of sorts. However, there are thematic elements that separate True Blood from the “Sex in the City is gone so what TV show can I watch with my favorite gay friends?” demographic who know that there were copious amounts of bribes and pre-paid, high-end hookers behind Desperate Housewives’ Emmy Awards.

“Guy movies” do well with men for two simple reasons — sex and violence.


Blood, Sweat and Tears…and Goo…

Where you might see the after-the-fact-but-not-as-bad-as-real-life bruises after a fight on Days of Our Lives or “liven things up with a fist fight but no one really gets hurt” family-friendly tension in Desperate Housewives (remember, Disney owns ABC and old Walt’s legacy wouldn’t do well besmirched with Quentin Tarantino-esque violence), True Blood pulls no such punches (pun intended). Most vampire tales rely on the PG-level action of blood suckers turning to dust, melodramatically reaching out of their coffins as the wooden stakes to their hearts fell them, or disintegrating via superimposed/rotoscoped flames in the light of day.

Team True Blood knows that such toned down action is the stuff of studio execs trying to avoid R ratings (traditionally garnering less revenue than PG) and limited budgets (“Work with me people! We’re down to our last pint of fake blood and I triple-mortgaged my house last week to pay for today’s craft service!”). When a vampire dies in True Blood, it isn’t some wimpy “Alas, I die!” while holding a prop rubber stake coated in ketchup. Oh no, when a vamp bites it (again, pun intended) on True Blood, it’s a glorious spew of blood, goo and gore that could be from a dozen bodies! Even better, any nearby characters will be generously sprayed by said spewing and/or express their despair by rolling around in the resulting goo formerly known as their beloved blood sucker.

And that’s just the vampires getting the business end of a wooden stake! Fist fights, gunshots and all violence are so visceral you can practically feel the cowboy boots in the groin or sinewy knuckles knocking your teeth out. When people are mean, cruel and abusive, True Blood shows it all while being almost as unflinching as The Sopranos did.


Almost as Good as “Max After Dark”

 I’ve spent my fair share of time in small, southern towns in the middle of nowhere, and none are populated with as many winners of the genetic lottery as the fictitious Bon Temps. This is American television, so the myth that all Americans are impossibly-attractive must be maintained. To that end, a hick town full of the genetic dregs and the of-course-the-parents-were-directly-related mutants of human copulation is about as mood-killing as a secret celebrity porn video starring Bea Arthur and Rush Limbaugh. In Bon Temps, Jason Stackhouse hasn’t begun developing his “case every night” beer gut, Lafayette’s skin is blissfully clear despite slinging burgers over a hot grill, and hard-working single mom and Merlotte’s waitress Arlene still has her high school figure after popping out two kids while never stepping foot in a gym. Not to mention there must be a local plastic surgeon with a wildly-successful practice based on cheap rates for the kind of boob jobs only found at McNamara/Troy.

The nicer thing about Bon Temps is its population shags almost as much as people in Cinemax’s late-night soft porn, and we get to see all of it. Now, the average straight man might have his limits tested by seeing Eric Northman have happy fun time with Russell Edgington’s undead alternative boytoy-of-the-night Talbot (and we all can appreciate Erik’s even stronger need to have his ecstatic fling to watch the teeth now that fangs are involved). Certainly, while lesbian or bi-woman onscreen lovemaking is now common enough to almost be regarded as routine, man-on-man bumping uglies is still a big hurdle for straight and possible homophobic men to sit through. But it’s all good because the producers of True Blood, in their “we know we just pushed the envelope and made you squirm in your well-formed LAzyboy lounger” judgment, make up for gay sex scenes with plenty of naked women, usually with some bi-woman action thrown in as a “see, you are straight!” thank you.

If True Blood has any real weakness in the “Mr. Skin’s Dreams Came True in His Pants” department, it’s with casting Anna Paquin. Granted, the Sookie Stackhouse/Bill Compton romance is about as lively and interesting as emo-twig Bella and a-smile-would-break-his-pretty-face Edward in Twilight, but the advantage here is Bill and Sookie are adults who have mind-blowing sex at every opportunity (plus some of Bon Temps supporting characters). If you can get past the “but she was a teenager in that X-Men movie last week” reaction to a nude Paquin, then all is forgiven for the few seconds of Eric poking Talbot far south of his heart with his own stake of undead man-wood. Of course, the added bonus is that a particular scene ends with a “money shot” most horror movie directors can only dream of. The point is there’s no shortage of sex and naked women on True Blood, so be a girl and look away while man-on-man slash fic fantasies are coming true, or man-up and bear through it because spectacular bouncing boobies are sure to follow.

In any case, True Blood offers a little bit of everything for everyone — soap opera romance, pretty people talking way too much about their feelings, gory violence and lots of skin. So be secure in your manhood and tell your wife/girlfriend/friend with benefits/girl-who-makes-you-sit-on-the-other-end-of-the-couch that you don’t need her around just to watch True Blood, because it has plenty of the things red-blooded, violence-loving, booby-obsessed American men love and live for.

But you may still have to suffer the endless taunts from your male friends if they ever find out…because, you know, guys can be assholes about that stuff.