True Blood – Wait, Who’s Doing Those Bad Things Again?

Immediately after I finished True Blood’s first season, I had a new post pop up in Google Reader. Nikki Stafford wrote an article titled I wanna do bad things to you (a reference to the series’ theme song) chronicling her love for the series. Her insights, as usual, are spot on, but something still struck me as odd about her post. I couldn’t think of what it was, so I went along my merry way.

Then it hit me as I was catching up on Season 2 and actually listening to the theme song. The lyric isn’t “I wanna do bad things to you,” it’s “I wanna do bad things with you.”

True Blood Friends And that opens up a whole load of interpretive avenues regarding the in-world Vampire Rights metaphors and their out-of-world parallels. It is quite obvious that VR in True Blood represents both racial prejudice and homophobia.

A while back, my fiancée and I were talking about the mutuality that should exist in relationships. Given that we both have M.A.’s in English, the wording is just as important, if not more so, than the intent of what is being said. We discussed the implications of all kinds of words used to delineate gender roles within a relationship, and eventually we came to the difference in the phrase “making love to” one’s partner as opposed to “making love with” one’s partner. The latter is decidedly more mutual, and my fiancée and I have done our best from then on to utilize the words that grant each of us the equal stake we have in the relationship.

It might sound silly to some people, but Jennifer and I understand and believe in the power words can have on people and their ideas.

Since I’ve already had deep discussions on this very line, hearing True Blood’s theme song really got me to thinking about the show and its themes.

Vampires, as far as horror conventions go, are generally considered predatory creatures, night stalkers, and other kind of equally aggressive adjectives. They are the ones who want blood, so they take it where they can get it. Generally, they “do bad things to you” whether you want them to or not. In most vampire mythos, the prey—humans—have no say in whether they are eaten or turned into a vampire themselves.

However, True Blood introduces the idea of “fangbangers,” humans getting bitten/eaten during sexy-time with vampires. To be a fangbanger indicates a willingness to consort with vampires, not simply functioning as a random meal. The vampires are no longer solely in control because the fangbangers are willing participants. The vamps are not doing “bad things to” anyone; they are doing them with someone.

The voluntary aspect of the theme song and its implementation in the series brings a lot of the real-world metaphors home. How evil can vampires be if they no longer push their habits on society? If everyone (and unfortunately, this is not the case) who is fed on by vampires were a willing participant, would there be any need for laws regulating them, and more than that, would the laws be unconstitutional were that the case?

This very debate rages as we speak in the United States Congress regarding gay marriage. The issue of the government intruding on people’s personal lives is at stake. This same intrusion was an issue in the U.S. until 1967 when interracial marriages were finally legalized. Where does the government’s influence in people’s personal lives stop, and who is it that gets to determine what harm I want to visit upon myself, and on top of that, who gets to determine if it is even harm?True Blood Sucker

In True Blood, there are vampires out there who just want to hurt other people—they “wanna do bad things to” them. But every time there is a character like that, he or she is killed. Those who experience mutuality in doing their “bad things” generally lead a much safer existence in that they’re not dead yet (except for the fact that they’re vampires).

I see this dichotomy as a sense of morality or karma the show is attempting to impart. Do good things, good things happen to you. Do bad things, and you can guess the rest. By consistently rewarding the characters who “wanna do bad things” together and punishing those who “wanna do bad things” to someone else, a higher power can be seen threaded through the narrative.

In some ways, this can be terribly limiting regarding storytelling. If the good guys are always destined to win because they play fair, where is the tension in conflict? But if the bad guys end up coming out on top, then what does that say about the narrative’s compliance to established themes?

Anyway, all of this is from a single word that many might have missed or paid no attention to during the opening credits. One of the great things about well-made television is that every last element is important, and with True Blood that is certainly true. Nothing exists in the series unless it has some pertinence on the narrative at some point. There seem to be no arbitrary details in the show itself, so why would the theme song be any different?

Comments

  1. Anonymous

    Another way to read a fangbanger is with a BDSM subtext. Some people want other people to tie them up and "do bad things *to* them. It's an issue of consensual non-consent. It could also be a metaphor for assisted suicide; consorting with vampires can certainly get you killed.

    Come to think of it, this kinda ties into the debates of the Dollhouse. Do we have a right to have our "selves" wiped and replaced with a custom-made amalgamation? There's your consensual non-consent and assisted suicide all rolled up into one.

    Makes a neat meta-commentary on television, too.

    -jane

  2. Jennifer

    A whole post on a single word? I love you so much right now 🙂

    Ooh, nice catch on the Dollhouse comparison, Jane! I'll have to ponder that one a while.

  3. Beej

    That is a very interesting catch with the Dollhouse comparison. For all my thought about the idea of mutuality and respect among participants, I actually never thought about BDSM and/or consentual non-consent. But now that you mention it, there's a lot to be said about how much right we have to act any way we want, not just someone else. Interesting.

  4. Sydera

    Beej, I hate you 🙂

    Vampire literature is one of my favorite genres, and now your post has me wondering if the vampire fantasy is actually a rape fantasy, and what that means for the would-be feminist vampire writer. But from whose perspective is the fantasy told? Fangbangers aren't unique to Charlaine Harris' vampire world–they're always the other half of the vampire romance.

    It seems to me that most vampire literature is written by women, for women readers, and that male characters are the vampires in most of the stories. . . leaving the female protagonists of the series to negotiate the attraction/repulsion they feel for said vampires and eventually become (reluctant?) fangbangers themselves. Oh boy.

    Is it possible to write a feminist vampire novel? Or is the genre intrinsically, er, messy?

    It seems to me that the Trueblood drink is a great device that gets Charlaine Harris around the issue of consent. I think there's a great article to be written about how other series address this very issue. The vampire fantasy might be, at its core, a rape fantasy, but the many entries in the genre resist identifying their female protagonist as a victim. In fact, she usually outwits (out-vamps?) and dominates the vampires.

    Thanks for the moral troubles!