Thursday, September 10, 2009

Who's afraid of the big, bad, vampire?

I have an unhealthy obsession with HBO's "True Blood". By that I mean, I ordered "TruBlood" the drink, and it'll be here later today. I also get pee-my-pants excited when 8 p.m. on Sunday's roll around. Sadly, or not, it's the highlight of my week. Indeed, the popularity of the show seems to imply there is a "fang-banger" in all of us waiting to get out.With the season finale airing on Sunday, I started to think critically about the show, and the themes within. Besides just the sex and gore, there are serious social issues imbedded within the context of the series. These include religious fanatacism, homophobia and fear of "the other". What I find most interesting about this mix is the way in which the characters represent the fears and prejudices that are harbored within all of us. Though the show is centered around vampires "coming out of the coffin" and assimilating (successfully or not) into modern society, it's inevitably also about relationships between the "normal" and "un-normal". This is where the concept of "the other" comes into play. Don't worry, I'm not going to go all Freud on you, but just stay with me.
At the end of the first season, viewers learned about Maryann, the seemingly kind-hearted philanthorpist acting like a one-woman Salvation Army, was instead a crazy bitch of still unknown proportions. We also learned that the seemingly "normal" Sam Merlotte was anything but. So what does this mean within the context of "the other"? It seems to me that the second season has turned Freud's theory of "the other" on it's ass. If no one is "normal", even those who look as though they are (i.e. everyone who isn't of the undead persuasion), then what does that say about fears of the perceived "enemy"?
As season two has pointed out, fear and prejudice bring out the worst in all of us. What has Jessica ever done to Mrs. Fortenberry to deserve her scorn? The obvious answer to this is pure hatred and ignorance. Even though this is just a television show, it is also a striking social commentary on the irrational fears many posess. To my knowledge, there are no vampires living in Iowa City, but there are many in the community who deal with the stigma of their births, abilities or orientations everyday.
Modern works such as "Frankenstein" and "Dracula" clearly point out the enemy by showing the monster as something inherently different than your average Joe on the street. This is how they are recognized and defeated. Their physical appearance and attributes are obvious, making them easily identifiable. What "True Blood" has done is turn the seeming "other" into a normal looking person (Maryann, Sookie, Sam, Daphne). Because of this, the characters seem either more frightening or powerful because of their ability to blend into society, unlike the vampires who are a dead (ha) giveaway with their milk-white skin and fangs.
The question I pose is whether it is better to be able to identify the un-normal and know the "enemy", or live among shape-shifters and telepaths, unaware of their abilities, in blissful ignorance. What is it that we are all so scared of? Is it the big, bad vampire that lurks in the night, or the idea that there are those around us, the seemingly "normal", that we should be frightened of? Could it be that we are scared of "the other" or just afraid of finding "the other" within ourselves?

By Dana Judas

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