The Imaginary Heroine

searching for the plot

True Blood: Love and Hate at First Bite January 29, 2010

I bought the first of Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse books (aka The Southern Vampire Series) in the airport on my way out (boo LAX red eye) and I read it all in one sitting. Since most of the weekend was a bunch of sitting around and being confused and depressed en masse, I went through a lot of books. I went through books 1 – 6, buying a new one each day and finishing it by that night. I’m now finished with all the published books (#9 Dead and Gone was scrumptious) and I can’t wait for #10 Dead in the Family to comeout in May. If you haven’t read them yet, you simply MUST!

Which brings me to last weekend, which I spent doing a data analysis for work. I mean all weekend. I worked in excess of 30 hours in two days with my boss hounding me by phone, text, and email via blackberry every second. Sans over time pay. The joys of being a independent contractor just keep on coming. I started my taxes a couple days ago… Pardon my lolspeak, but FML.

Since inputting data doesn’t really use all of my brain and bored brains make mistakes, I finally got around to watching True Blood Season 1, which I borrowed from my friend KristinV over Christmukkah vacation and hadn’t gotten around to watching yet.

I have to say I’m deeply ambivalent.

Before you think I’m biased by the books, I want say that there are some major differences from the books that I am not only okay with, but actually prefer. I love TV Tara. She is so much better than book Tara, who is white and a somewhat peripheral character. I LOVE that from the looks of IMDB Lafayette is going to be sticking around longer than he did in the books. Jessica is a totally new character and I find her beyond awesome (“You suck… ha ha that’s funny, because you really do suck ha ha”). The opening credits are a thing of beauty.

I love that the show has a life of its own. I stumble through a few scenes that are excitingly familiar, but then I’m left guessing like everyone else.

That said, I HATE all the super nasty sex. I mean, I know – it’s HBO. And I know, there’s some pretty sexy sex in the books. I know. And I don’t object to there being sex. Even fairly dark, sexy sex. It’s a sexy vampire show. I get it. But a lot of it is really violent and what’s more, characters are sort of getting off on the violence.

Violent sex is just something I have trouble dealing with on screen. There were some parts in the book that mixed sex with violence, but they were moments of horror and treated as such.

I also think in print I’m more able to tune things out. I can sort of pan away in my head and imagine only what I can handle. On the screen it’s so much harder. The scene where Jason pretends to attack Dawn was too hard to watch, even though I kind of thought I knew who it was and it turned out to be okay(ish) in the end, since she ended up being turned on and consenting to sex afterward.

Interestingly, I had less of a problem with violence-as-a-turn-on-leading-to-sex situation in Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Possibly because neither of the characters was entirely victim or attacker. Both were trained, badass spies. Jane was giving as good as she was getting, not cowering in fear and submitting to a stronger opponent. John wasn’t covering his head and wishing it would all stop. Violence was the medium by which they came to the conclusion that though they weren’t compatible as their alter egos, they were amazingly compatible as their authentic selves.

I also feel like the violent and abusive relationship between Spike and Buffy in Season 6 had elements of this going for it. Both characters were equal attackers, victims, and willing participants. The audience was also supposed to be disgusted. Buffy felt like a lesser version of herself and so she punished herself by giving in to her lust for Spike, wallowing in the degradation. This goes on until Episode 6.19 “Seeing Red,” when Buffy decides to put a stop to her self-destructive habits, including boinking Spike on the sly, and he attempts to rape her. Spike is horrified and ultimately leaves Sunnydale to seek out his redemption through the recovery of his soul. For me the attempted rape is one of the most disturbing scenes of the entire series. Again, I think equal footing and consent is ultimately the issue. Once consent is revoked and terror is used as a tool to coerce carnal access, it’s harder to hold on to elements of the erotic.

I think an integral element of True Blood is supposed to  be the examination of how closely mingled sex and violence can be. So it toes the line between disturbing and erotic, but for me some of it is too far over that line to be enjoyable. I guess in some ways my brain rating is PG-13.

A lighter criticism: Why is Bill being stalked by a depressed cellist? That man needs a more subtle leitmotif STAT!

On balance, there are some bits I’m really in love with. So, I’m still going to watch Season 2 when it comes out on DVD and maybe Season 3, if Season 2 isn’t so rape-fetishy.

 

Why Fantasy Matters

As a geeky, bespectacled, and isolated 11-year-old, I was swept off my feet by a guy named Harry Potter and plunged into a lifelong love affair with the fantasy genre. I ripped through Patricia Wrede’s Enchanted Forest Chronicles, Diane Duane’s Young Wizards Series, Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl books and Sherwood Smith’s Court Duel Duet. I read the Christianity-centric Lord of the Rings, Narnia Chronicles, and His Dark Materials Series, though with less enthusiasm.

Even after most of my peers had moved on to more adult reading material (or no reading material at all), I came to regard these books as old friends and read them over and over all through junior high, high school, college, and the present, seamlessly moving between books about the philosophical roots of Islamic terror and magic spells.

It was Buffy the Vampire Slayer that bridged the gap between my childhood experience with fantasy and my adult worldview. I was late to the party, having been too young to watch during the original broadcast in the late 90’s and the out of sequence syndicated episodes were only peripherally on my radar in the early Aughts (the end of my high school career). All of Buffy and Angel were out on DVD when I bought BtvS Season 1 to prevent myself from falling asleep before finishing my crushing load of Arabic homework and/or going crazy in student housing.

A miniscule and diffuse number of friends have shared in my love affair with Harry, Buffy, and the rest, but most of them lost interest over time. By and large, fantasy isn’t something consumed proudly and publicly by the bulk of my acquaintance. I can count the number of people I talked to about Harry Potter in college on one hand – and my email was lumos@blahblahu.edu.

In the past I considered this a good thing, because I couldn’t explain why it affected me so deeply. Had it become a widely known facet of my personality, it probably would have been grounds for classification as, at the very least, someone who couldn’t be taken seriously – which is ironic, because the fantasy realm is where it’s imminently possible to hash out the most serious thoughts about life/death, good/evil, and the pursuit of the good life.

Fiction in general invites the reader (or watcher, depending on the delivery mechanism) to interpret elements of a story metaphorically and/or allegorically in order to find deeper meanings within the text. Fantasy is especially rich source material because it eschews not only historical fact, but also what is known to be possible in the real world as well. Not only did this story not happen, it couldn’t ever happen in this reality. Conflicts are magnified to epic proportions, allowing for easy access to each facet of an issue. Your high school boyfriend doesn’t just turn into a jerk after you sleep with him, he actually loses his soul and tries to suck the world into Hell (BtvS Season 2, natch). Now, what have we learned?

Fantasy invites us to explore different dimensions of meaning on a larger than life scale in a universe unbounded by what Buffy might call “our Earth logic”.

So, why does this matter when we actually do live in a universe bounded by Earth logic? It matters, because fiction suggests hypothetical structures for our worldview and thus shapes the way in which we perceive and interact with reality. It is important that the drafting board upon which we test the bounds of our Earth logic be big enough for them to stretch until they break. So that when our fantasies stop being reflections of reality and come to create realities of their own, they are worthy.