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August 24, 2010

TV Quickie: Vampire Terrorists

HBO's True Blood is known for being full of metaphors and subtext. Gay rights... Christian fundamentalism... sex... drugs... rock and roll... racism... and now Islamophobia?

Last week's episode featured a crazy Russell Edgington (Denis O'Hare) slaughtering a news anchor on live television, much to the dismay of the American Vampire League.

This week, AVL spokeswoman Nan Flanagan (Jessica Tuck) went on television to speak out against the "anti-vampire sentiment and hate crimes sweeping the nation":
"Look I do not deny that this was the heinous act of a mad man. Russell Edgington is an extremist and a terrorist but that's not because he is a vampire. It's because he is an extremist and a terrorist. He is one individual, just as Jefferey Dahlmer was an individual, and I certainly dont recall protests or a call to punish all human men after his --"
In the wake of all the madness about the  "Ground Zero Mosque" (which is neither a mosque, nor 'at Ground Zero'), I can't help but notice the familiarity.

I can't even count how many times in the past few weeks that I've had to say the words "not all Muslims are terrorists" (or something similar to that) and it feels like no matter how many times I say it, I still find just as much bigotry in the news, on the blogs, on the walls of my Facebook 'friends'. So I'll say it again: Not all Muslims are terrorists. Not even most Muslims are terrorists. Islam is not a religion of violence and hate (at least not anymore than Christianity is).

So when Nan Flanagan says that the heinous act of one crazy vampire terrorist isn't due to his being a vampire, but to his being a crazy extremist... I get it. But I'm not completely sure that the metaphor works in this case, because metaphors in a supernatural TV show don't always correlate exactly to the real world.

Why it works:

Just because violence is part of the "vampire way" that doesn't mean most vampires are going around ripping hearts out on live TV (or even off live TV). Just like there might be violence in the Koran, the Bible, etc. but that doesn't mean that every religious person is interested in being part of a religious war.

It also works because it doesn't necessarily have to just be about Muslims either. You could see the same kind of thing play out with gay rights or people who murder abortion doctors, etc...

Why it doesn't work:

The metaphor only goes so far because vampires aren't human.

True Blood is fiction and vampires aren't just another religion or race, they're a whole other species of the un-dead. Not all of the vampires on the show are evil or violent, but violence is in their nature... violence is part of the vampire way.

But violence isn't really part of the Muslim way (at least not anymore than it is part of the Christian way). I know that what a few radical terrorists did on September 11 has nothing to do with the millions of moderate Muslim-Americans living in the U.S. but too many non-Muslim Americans don't get this.

So that's where the metaphor loses me. When someone says on the news that most Muslims are moderate and peaceful, I know it's true, even if everyone around me doesn't. When Nan Flanagan says that most vampires are moderate and peaceful, are we - as viewers - supposed to believe her or not?

Of course, one part of the episode that rang so incredibly true to me was the response from Reverend Steve Newlin (Michael McMillian) of the anti-vampire church the Fellowship of the Sun:
"This heinous act of pure evil is a blessing actually, because it finally reveals the true nature of these beasts to us all and if I were less of a Christian I would say 'told ya' but of course I take no joy in this dark time."


The Mad Dame said...

While vampires aren't "human", they were once and I think we can't ignore that. Regardless of religion/morals/etc. all humans have the ability to be extremely violent. It is a primal instinct derived from hunting/self-defense. But when most "normal" humans do not fall into these violent tendencies all the time, extremist vampires (like Russell) feel like they can because they are the set above humans.The same could go for the Weres.

So the analogy (if that was what Alan Ball was going for) isn't that far off.

Renee said...

I think that this is one of the few analogies on True Blood that actually works. What Nan did when she mentioned incredibly violent humans as being non representative of humans was saying that dominant bodies get to be individuals. When A Black person does something it always a representation of hir race but when a White person does something, even terms like "lone gunmen" disassociate the act from the larger White society. I think this can be translated to several different things really.