Saturday, August 4, 2012
Cultural Productions IV: 'True Blood' and the logic of white Southern secession
Sometimes you just get the wrong impression of a TV show. Female fans of True Blood (2008-) had always, when telling me about it, conveyed that the show was about sex - and, by implication, sex with attractive vampire men. Years before seeing the show for the first time (last evening), I had seen a still from the show somewhere (on the Internet, or maybe in the DVD shop), showing a naked actress lying on a bed, or a couch, with two handsome, muscle-y young vampire men about to insert their fangs into her... From this I concluded that True Blood was nothing more than soft porn for women. I was dead wrong on this, as I will show presently.
In general, I like vampire and werewolf shows: the recent resurgence, of Romantic and Gothic horror themes, in the white Western culture (a resurgence brought about by the Twilight craze) I find very interesting. One sees vampire and werewolf themes in folk stories all around the world, of course, but it's the Romantic elements that make the depiction of vampires in the West which make it uniquely white and Western. Even as the popular culture of the West becomes more and more ethnicised and non-white, traditional Western, white and racialist themes manage to sneak themselves in through the back door, so to speak, and evade the politically-correct TV or movie maker - who wants every show or film to be 'diverse', and portray non-white minorities (Afro-Americans, Indian immigrants, Hispanic immigrants) as supermen or oppressed or both, and white people as evil or incompetent. As the American white nationalist Yggdrasil notes, it's these kinds of shows - e.g., Downton Abbey (2010-) - which often tend to be hugely successful with a white audience; likewise, it's actors who appear in these sorts of films and TV shows - e.g., Twilight star Rowan Pattinson - who tend to be hugely successful (despite their appearing in films which get uniformly bad reviews from critics). True Blood belongs in that category of unconsciously pro-white cultural productions. Upon watching it, I saw - almost at once - that the show is not about soft porn, but about the South, and the white people there. It's a celebration of their community, values, morals - and the cause (the Lost Cause) of Southern Independence in the American Civil War.
Unlike Twilight - which is set in a small, white, ethnically homogenous town of Forks County, Washington D.C. (in the rainy, cloudy North - ideal for vampires) - True Blood is set in the (small, white, ethnically homogeneous) town of Bon Temps, in the Deep Southern state of Louisiana. The heroine, Sookie, played by Anna Paquin (the New Zealand actress who played the mutant superheroine Rogue in The X-Men (2000) is a waitress in a redneck café, who has telepathic powers - she can listen in to people's thoughts - which are a burden to her (she finds her ability uncomfortable and irritating). (The character does, in fact, bear a similarity to some of the telepathic characters in the X-Men - Professor X, Jean Grey, Psylocke, Rachel Summers, the White Queen - which I'm not sure is intentional or not). Her life changes forever, of course, when the handsome, enigmatic vampire Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer) enters town: Bill is a courteous Southern gentleman, nearly two hundred years old, and an American Civil War veteran (who fought for the South). They fall in love (of course). But, just as in Twilight, this fictional universe is full of bad as well as good vampires, and Bill's full-time job becomes one of protecting Sookie from all the bad vampires who want to suck her blood. As you can imagine, the series is a formulaic one, and pretty much writes itself - just like Twilight does (all the instalments in the Twilight movie series are iterations of the same basic story, and one has difficulty telling them apart).
The twist in this show is that, in this fictional universe, all of the vampires have come out in the open - it's as though Edward and the Cullen family in Twilight openly reveal themselves to be vampires. Some of the vampires, like Bill, agitate for their 'rights' and strive to be seen as a victimised minority - and indeed, much of the series is a satire of the gay rights movement (and the push for gay marriage). The character of Bill resembles character Ben Bruckner (Robert Gant) from Queer as Folk (2000-2005), a dreary, sanctimonious gay-rights activist who is regarded as boring by his fellow gays, and I initially thought that they were the same actor. Certainly, they dress and look the same, and both of them are regarded as dullards and kill-joys by the members of their respective 'communities'. Bill spends a lot of time in the series lecturing, in a tedious fashion, on the 'myths' and 'misconceptions' normal humanity has regarding the vampires. In this, he's like Ben Bruckner, who was endlessly lecturing on the 'myths' about contracting HIV.
I got a bad impression of True Blood from the first pilot episode. I've got a few DVD sets in my collection which I gave up on - The Killing (2007, Danish version), Boardwalk Empire (2010), The Wire (2002-2008) - after a few episodes, out of sheer boredom and dislike. I gave up on The Wire after one episode: I just don't enjoy watching Afro-American actors, and couldn't bring myself to care about any of these Afro-American characters. (An Afro-American gets killed, by a drug lord, in the ghetto - who cares? I don't). I was on the verge of putting True Blood back on the shelf after the pilot episode, mainly because the show didn't gel for me, and because I found the Afro-American character, Tara Thornton (Rutina Wesley), extremely annoying. She is obnoxious, foul-mouthed, reads books on politics and has a chip on her shoulder about white "racism" and is just annoying in general. But, despite her, the show is good, and after the first episode, I persisted with the series, because I wanted to see what would happen next, and was pleasantly surprised. Perhaps it's an instance of the pilot not being representative of the series as a whole. A bad pilot, being the first one the audience sees, can make or break a show. The first series of Breaking Bad (2008-2012) takes the unusual step of showing its first and second episodes out of sequence: the second episode is played before the first. That means the viewer is plunged right into the middle of the developing story line. The producers of Breaking Bad made this decision, probably, because they didn't feel that the first episode was good enough to be shown first, and maybe the producers of True Blood should have done the same.
So, I found the stock character of the 'sassy, young, black woman feminist' to be extremely annoying in the pilot. But, in later episodes, Tara is shown to be living with her mother, who is a drunk (falling down, sleeping on the floor, urinating in your pants drunk), a drinker of something called 'Captain Morgan', and a follower of that evangelical, revivalist, Baptist brand of Christianity that Afro-Americans are partial to. (Later, in the series, she is shown begging her daughter for money to pay for her own exorcism - she believes her alcoholism is caused by a 'demon' inside her). In other words, Tara's mother confirms the worst stereotypes of Afro-Americans that all of us non-Americans get from reading David Duke and Jared Taylor. As a result, the character of Tara became a little more believable and realistic to me.
The only other prominent Afro-American character in True Blood is the short-order cook Lafayette Reynolds (Nelsan Ellis). Again, he's annoying in the pilot - portrayed as a homosexual who is superior to all the rednecks her serves - but he redeems himself, later on, in my eyes, when he is shown to be moonlighting as a drug dealer, gay prostitute and would-be pornographer: by conforming to our worst stereotypes of homosexuals, he becomes, to me, a lot more realistic and believable. He lives in a beautifully furnished apartment, which, with its rugs and cushions, seems Turkish or Arabic or Bedouin. He is an amusing homosexual, like the men in Queer as Folk. (The peculiar thing is that shows like these, which portray gay men as being promiscuous, drug users, and so forth, are intended to be pro-gay, and portray homosexuality in a positive light. The producers, directors and writers, however, don't seem to understand that many people in the audience will see this sort of behaviour as bad, not good, and get a negative impression of gay men and the 'gay community' in general...).
That's the Afro-Americans - what of the whites? It's interesting that this series portrays white Southerners, especially rednecks, in a good light. This is quite a change. The Jewish-American film critic, Pauline Kael, wrote, in the 1960s, that Southerners were portrayed, by Hollywood, as venal, lascivious, sensual, bigoted, intolerant, depraved, and so forth (she was referring to movies like the Sidney Poitier anti-white classic, In the Heat of the Night (1967) and the Marlon Brando movie, The Chase (1966)). This was a trend in Hollywood for quite a while. Kael, in her essay, deplored this negative characterisation of Southerners, and implied that it was 'liberals' (that's a code-word, in her writing, for 'Jews') for shoving it down the throats of the audience. Indeed, the evil white Southerner (especially the bigoted, overweight evil white Southern sheriff, who chews tobacco and says 'Nigra' a lot) was a stock character in American movies and TV for a while. But True Blood is devoid of anti-Southernism. Perhaps it's because the show is based on a series of books written by a white Southern author, Charlaine Harris, who looks like this:
As you can see, a very typical white American type. Interestingly, Bill Compton is invited, by Sookie's grandmother, to give a speech at her women's club (which meets at a church) on his Civil War experiences. The audience is, of course, all-white, except for the Afro-American Tara, and is moved to tears by Bill's reminisces. In another scene, at Sookie's grandmother's house, Tara upbraids Bill for the fact that his family owned slaves before the start of the war. He very gently, very courteously, puts her in her place and then manages to change the subject.
Many, many years ago, I saw a quote from a Afro-American commentator, who said that while white Americans loom large in Afro-American history, Afro-Americans are only a footnote in white American history. That's certainly the case here. The slavery question is a side-issue for the townsfolk who are interested in the Civil War: what's important is how the Civil War reflects Southerness, whiteness, their history, their values. White history is something for them to cling to, in an uncertain, dangerous America - what the author of Occidental Dissent calls 'Black Run America', that is, America run on behalf of (but not by) black people.
Occidental Dissent's push for a renewed Southern secessionism is a good one. White nationalism is a deeply flawed, American ideology (which boils down to, in the words of one nationalist comrade of mine, 'I don't like niggers') which doesn't carry well to countries outside of America (e.g., Australia) which traditionally have never had a big black population (African immigrants only started coming here to Australia in the past ten years or so - they were imported as 'refugees' by humanist church groups and refugee advocates), or a big and powerful Jewish population either. Besides which, whites, as we know from white history (which is so heavily touted by the white nationalists) are known for killing each other in the millions, for the sake of nationalism, or religion, or ideology (fascism versus communism versus liberal democracy; or Southern secessionism versus Northernism): they have never undertaken any war in the name of race and whiteness. The notion of a politicised white race, of the white race as a political entity, is without precedent. And, indeed, even the racialist states of the South, or the racialist state of South Africa, referred to whiteness in the context of Southern secessionism and Boer nationalism respectively.
Because Southern secessionism does have a historical precedent, and does refer to existing political realities, it could work. White nationalism, though, which was invented in the past forty years (by David Duke, a Southerner and a resident of Louisiana) is without precedent and doesn't accord with the realities of human nature. It's artificial, in other words. What's more, it requires a lot of work - a lot of indoctrination and propagandising - for Bulgarians, Greeks and Russians, for example, or Romanians and Hungarians, or Serbs and Croats, to see themselves as all being part of the one white race. One has to be a universalist - and, almost, a Christian, filled with brotherly love for one's fellow whites - to be a white nationalist. That's impracticable. But the doctrine of Southern secessionism is eminently practicable, given that the South is a distinct entity and is (relatively) ethnically homogenous: given that the rest of America is going to the dogs, why not just cede? The US Republican Party has always, since the time of Nixon, taken the votes of white Southern voters for granted. But, in between elections, the Republicans betray the South - by foisting huge numbers of Mexican and other Mestizo immigrants on them. Presumably, Romney will, if he wins the next election (on votes from whites mainly in the Mid-West and South) turn around and shaft the Southerners once again, by amnestying the 11.5 illegal Mestizo immigrants, and by inviting millions more to come across from Mexico and other Latin American states... Romney will do this because, as a Republican in 2012, he is convinced that the Republican vote will collapse without the votes of the 'powerful' Hispanic electoral bloc (in reality, most Hispanics don't bother registering to vote); what's more, he is part of the American business class, which is convinced that the American economy will collapse without low-wage, low-skill Hispanic labour; and he is beholden, like every white Western politician, to the anti-white clique, which wants to eliminate, once and for all, the white peoples in their own lands. So, given this, the logic of Southern secession is impeccable.
As to how this will be carried out - what the mechanics of it are - that is another question. One mustn't build castles in the air: one has to work with the existing situation. At the moment, the Southern secessionist (like the nationalist activist here in Australia) must articulate his viewpoint and inculcate his tendency as much as possible, and build and build... The idea has to take root first. From that, actions - political actions - will follow.
Aside from the theme of 'Southernism', True Blood has another theme, and that is drugs. Unlike Breaking Bad, which is about crystal meth, True Blood is about Ecstasy. People in the show consume a drug, called 'V', made out of vampire blood (well, it's not made out of, but pretty much is, vampire blood, consumed in minute quantities). Sookie's brother Jason (Ryan Kwanten), a loveable loser and simple-minded road worker (what we Australians would call a council worker - municipal councils are in charge of maintaining the roads here), takes some 'V' in a small dose and then begins to act like an Ecstasy-addled nightclub raver. He stumbles into a redneck café, his pupils heavily dilated, and tells his redneck friends (much to their amusement) that he loves them. He runs his hands over a woman's forearm and declares that, because his senses are now so heightened, he can feel every hair... Looking at some daffodils growing in a garden, he sees tiny sparks shoot out. I found these scenes to be among the funniest in the show. Later on, his 'V' inspired trips become more and more intense, and he enters a kind of virtual-reality world, which looks like one of those house-music videos from the late 1980s (the nightclub rave culture had its own music - house - to go along with the effects of drugs like Ecstasy, and was, to Ecstasy, what acid rock was to LSD). He becomes involved in a relationship with a woman who is an 'organic vegan', who wears hippie/gypsy clothes, and is a 'V' addict... All of this is damned odd stuff, which one doesn't expect to see in a Southern setting.
At any rate, the show is (and in this, the women viewers who told me about it were correct) very sexual. That is, it has about as much graphic sex as a Spanish movie: this is unusual, given how prudish North American culture is. In one comic sequence, Jason overdoses on 'V', swallowing an entire test-tube, and gives himself a permanent erection. Eventually, he goes to a doctor, who gets rid of the erection by sticking in a king-sized hypodermic into his penis and draining out all the blood.
Generally, the women in this show are over-sexed. Which again is unusual. Perhaps this is a return to the theme of the randy, licentious Southerner, which we last saw in those sixties movies. But whereas was portrayed as hateful in those films, in True Blood, the South is an object of adoration.