True Blood Returns, Raising New Racial-Representation Questions

Posted: June 15, 2010 by RA in Race, Television
Tags: , ,

TrueBlood3

Charitable Spoiler Alert: Turn away if you haven’t reached the mid-point of Season 2, and want to remain somewhat surprised.

So, HBO’s True Blood is back, and I find myself truly shocked at how satisfying Sunday night’s season premiere was. I used to watch this show in fits of laughter, yelling “this is the worst thing on TV!!” at the screen. Then somewhere early in the second season, it crossed over from “so bad, it’s good” to “pretty good” territory.

I didn’t expect to comment on this premiere, but I found myself reading an open thread at Racialicious, in which Tara’s (Rutina Wesley) state of mind after losing her boyfriend had commenters all in a tizzy.

I’m okay with Eggs’ death — he served little function other than as an accessory in the tedious “Mary Ann” plot that threatened to derail the show’s first decent season. However, I do hate that they robbed Tara of the potential for a stable relationship. I remember being glad she and Eggs got together, so she would no longer be the Sassy Best Friend/Third Wheel to Sookie and Bill — a fate all too common for black female characters on predominantly white shows.

Having said that, the following comment kinda ground my gears:

…Tara is going insane after losing “a good man who loves me” that:

1) She met and fell in love with under the influence of a demon/evil god (?)
2) He was unemployed
3) He was an ex-con
4) He slapped her around
5) He was cutting peoples’ hearts out

Granted, Eggs had no control under 1, 4, and 5 because MaryAnn made him to it. But given number 2 & 3 he was NO PRIZE.

Ugh. I’m really not a fan of this kind of thinking. Yeah, I’d like to see more portrayals of successful black people on television, but I detest the notion that every character of color has to be Heathcliff Huxtable to be considered “positive.”

This is a show about a rural town in the south, wherein the average socioeconomic status is in the area of lower-middle class. How odd would it be if Eggs was an internet billionaire? The last person who showed up in a fancy red convertible turned out to be a fucking milennia-old superdemon chick.

Yes, I understand that no matter how menial or morally questionable it may be, everyone else in Bon Temps has a job of some sort. But considering Eggs was a major part of Mary Ann’s band of traveling occult-hippies, why would he have a steady job? It just wouldn’t work with the narrative, or the air of mystery Alan Ball practically shoved down our collective throat regarding that whole crew.

Besides, you know who else doesn’t have a gig? Bill Compton. Do you hear Ms. Stackhouse yell “Scrub” when he yells “Sookeh”? Is he depicted as a loser for his bummy (and pathetically clingy) lifestyle? I mean, Eric and Pam are vampires too, yet they run the most successful vampire bar in town! What Sookie needs is to shake off that triflin’-ass Compton boy and get with a real man like Eric. Mmm hmm.

Listen, this isn’t me being in any way defensive. Without coming off like a pompous dickbag, I’ll say that far as black male stereotypes go, I’m much closer to the Huxtable than the Scrub. I was making six figures before I turned 25, and my career has been (knock on wood) on an upward trajectory from my first gig. But I too have been unemployed. I was unemployed when I started seeing the girl I’m with now. Should that have classified me as “no prize?” I understand the fear of seeing a people stereotyped, but damn.

And while we’re on the subject of things I was surprised so many found offensive, how about Arlene’s “race” comment? So here’s the story… When Tara hears about her lover being shot by a police deputy after he confessed to a string of murders, she defends him by pointing out that he wasn’t to blame for any of that, the unspoken explanation being “’cause we were both hanging with this crazy ancient chick who fed us human hearts and made us bug the fuck out with crazy-dilated pupils… In other words, her dealer had some serious shit!”

Not understanding the supernatural angle Tara referred to, Arlene patronizingly asks what was to blame for Eggs killing a bunch of Bon Temps women… Was it society? Or slavery? And when Tara (understandably) flips out at the familiar racial just-barely-undertones of this statement, Arlene sighs, “I just hate when they make everything about race!”

I chuckled audibly at that one, seeing it as a sly nod to the familiar refrain of folks who claim ignorance and then victimhood after burning crosses on the lawn of your consciousness with a few choice words or actions. I counted that as a brilliant (and, more importantly successful) use of racial satire on a show that started out as little more than an allegory on race relations in America.

I understand we want positive representations and all, and I know True Blood has its share of problematic race-representation issues. I just don’t think these two are among them.

But hey, it’s my opinion. And like blogs and assholes, everyone’s got one.

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Comments
  1. Rishona says:

    Besides, you know who else doesn’t have a gig? Bill Compton. Do you hear Ms. Stackhouse yell “Scrub” when he yells “Sookeh”? Is he depicted as a loser for his bummy (and pathetically clingy) lifestyle? I mean, Eric and Pam are vampires too, yet they run the most successful vampire bar in town! What Sookie needs is to shake off that triflin’-ass Compton boy and get with a real man like Eric. Mmm hmm.

    Oh wow, I totally agree with you on this! Thanks for summing it up so nicely!

  2. […] it would be like torture to live there…the place would be so boring!" There is a hilarious blog post here where the writer points out that Bill isn't that much more of a step up from Eggs. They basically […]

  3. Nykinora says:

    Nailed it! And thanks for pointing out the double standards regarding Eggs and Bill. Frankly, I’m mystified as to what anyone sees in Bill in the first place.

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