I have a very simple thesis — if you’re a social liberal you should love True Blood (ok, unless you just don’t like fantasy/ vampire kinds of things) and if you’re a social conservative and love the show, then you’re not the brightest star in the sky. Now, this isn’t just my effort to justify my obsession with the Eric Northman character and the series (though, that’s why this post is under guilty pleasures 🙂 ), but after watching the entire 5 series show within a few weeks some really clear themes emerge in the series that should warm even the most non-vampire loving hearts.
This post, to keep it manageable is just going to play with the very evident argument emerging from the show that organized religion and dogma are destructive. There are four primary ways that the show seems to communicate the theme:
- The process of religious indoctrination. Not only does the series use the hapless Jason Stackhouse to identify the population of people susceptible to religious extremism, but it shows the process by which people become indoctrinated into any dogma.
- Showing a mirror of contemporary arguments from the “Christian” right in America. The ‘news’ dialogue throughout the series between the ‘vampire rights’ association and the Christian leaders would seem far-fetched if the types of arguments being used by the Christian leaders didn’t mirror the types of arguments that we’ve been hearing in the last several years in response to issues like gay rights, like the mandate on birth control pills, and more broadly like the ‘threats’ to American identity that socially progressive policies represent.
- Demonstrating the difficulty in reaching out to extremists. It seems like this is Godric’s role in the show (aside from being Eric’s Jiminy Cricket). He tried to reach out to the Fellowship of the Sun to build a bridge between the haters and the ‘mainstreaming vampires’. Not only did he fail, but seemed to exhausted by the process of trying to reach out that he met his ‘true death’.
- Unwavering commitment to religious dogma breeds violence. Finally, in season 5, religious dogma and an unfaltering commitment to faith are not only questioned but violence emerging from ‘true believers’ is a thinly veiled reflection of the thousands of years of violence committed in the name of religion from all three of the major western organized religions. In fact, it’s the ‘athiest’ and dubious character of Eric Northman who must be the voice of reason, arguing that the ‘god’ the vampires are worshiping is a god of violence complete with group think and the personal risks of anyone who dares speak against the norm.
Now, I’m obviously not the first person to notice the inherently anti-religious tones in the show (e.g., the Huffington Post from earlier in 2012 describes religious themes in season 5), but it’s nice to see an American series deconstructing religion and the risks of religious extremism. While I’m no lover of religion (in general), I respect those who practice their religions in ways that seem ideologically consistent with the religious texts; unfortunately, many of the ‘religious’ people that I see in the media (from sports to politics to the news) as well as in my daily life — you know the ones who are very out of the closet about their faith — seem to bastardize their own faith by contaminating it with hate, anger, and judgment. What I don’t see nearly as much are the people of faith that I know are out there standing up to the bullies and decrying them for giving Christians/ Muslims/ Jews a bad name. They’re the ones that the rest of us need to hear from the most. They’re the ones who can build a much more meaningful bridge with the rest of us to move forward beyond the last crazy decade.
As a non-Christian American for most of my adult life it has felt like I had to be in the closet about my lack of religion. What’s worse is that in the last decade, religious zealotry seems to have exploded in the US so that it’s even more socially acceptable to pressure people into demonstrating their faith… like we have a litmus test to not only prove that we’re morally worthy but also that we’re patriotic. In 2008, we actually had a presidential candidate (Huckabee) who said in a primary debate that it was time to put ‘God back in the constitution’. Last year during the GOP primaries I watched as a gay soldier — a man who’d served his country with honor asked about the candidates’ positions on gays in the military– was boo’ed by the audience. Now, the groupthink present among the social conservatives was bad enough, but not a single one of the candidates wanting to be THE president had the courage of his convictions to defend that soldier. I don’t think I’ve ever been more embarrassed to be an American (and in the last 10 years, I’ve had plenty of reasons).
So, in coming back to True Blood — it’s refreshing to see not so thinly veiled arguments against religion and dogma because it gives me hope that there are enough people in the US who do think, who see the danger in dogmatic belief that the US could find its way out of the anti-intellectual hell that we’ve been living in.
Guilty pleasure?Duh — they know their demographic (i.e., one who likes hot men). At least it’s a guilty pleasure that problematizes assumptions.