Amusing, if entirely predictable, news: Republican Rising Star™ and generally fun guy Ted Cruz is less than pleased with his unscheduled guest appearance on True Blood this week. In case you missed it, a fictional Bush Library gala for Ted Cruz featured as the setting for an almighty shitfight involving yakuza, Texas Republicans, security guards, and two very angry vampires. Cruz was unimpressed, taking to his Facebook page to complain that “[HBO] aired a misogynist and profanity-ridden episode where Texas Republicans are murdered attending a ‘Ted Cruz fundraiser.’ Well, I’m sorry to have lost the vampire vote, but am astonished (and amused) that HBO is suggesting that hard-core leftists are blood-sucking fiends.” Drum roll, please. Yes, folks, Ted’s here all week. Try the veal.
Still, apart from providing the opportunity for some rather amusing comedic moments (specifically, the sight of Alexander Skarsgård in a hat to rival the one the horrified dude in the white suit is wearing in the famous photo of Lee Harvey Oswald getting shot), it was a reminder that True Blood can occasionally get social/political commentary right — in a suitably cheesy fashion, of course. When it premiered, the show actually promised to provide some interesting real-world parallels — after all, the idea of a previously invisible minority demanding to be seen and treated as equals has obvious real-life resonance.
The most obvious analogy, and one that was often drawn in the show’s early years, was with LGBT rights — the public emergence of vampires was referred to as “coming out of the coffin” and “mainstreaming,” and there was a sense that they were a minority fighting for their right to be acknowledged as part of society. The thing is, such analogies have generally been undermined by the fact that the minority we’re talking about here happens to be comprised of supernaturally talented immortal killing machines, which would seem to mitigate their status as oppressed outsiders. This means that the half-baked Holocaust metaphors of Season 6, for instance, never really resonated (and, happily, were quietly ditched by the show’s writers before they graduated from inept to actually kinda offensive).
That’s not to say that depictions of intolerance toward the minority didn’t work, however — indeed, True Blood has been most effective when it’s been most grounded in reality. The idea of vampire-blood-as-narcotic, which has drifted in and out of the show’s script as the seasons have gone on, has worked well when the writers have explored it in depth. Even the whole stupid djinn plot in Season 5 had some real-world resonance, particularly in its depictions of post-Iraq PTSD. Conversely, it’s when things have gone full-on supernatural that they’ve gotten kinda silly (or, let’s be honest, completely silly): the whole maenad plot in Season 2, the faeries (especially Sookie’s ridiculous fairie godfather), etc.
But really, what the vampires ultimately stand for is sex. (Alan Ball has said as much, explaining to Rolling Stone in 2010 that “To me, vampires are sex.”) As such, letting them out of the coffin is a rejection of prudishness, an embrace of the idea of human as unashamedly sexual beings. It’s no accident that plenty of characters — including Sookie, the show’s ostensible protagonist — experience some sort of sexual awakening in a bed shared with a vampire, and that the vampires themselves fuck like rabbits when they get together for inter-undead relationships.
“Fangbanging” is presented as a sort of hedonistic abandonment of conventional morality in search of sexual pleasure. It doesn’t always land its practitioners in great situations, but boy, it looks fun. Even further, the act of being turned to vampirism also corresponds with a sexual awakening — look at Jessica, for instance, who is taken from a devout Christian family to be reborn as a sexually confident young woman. It’s notable that it takes these characters being dead for them to learn to enjoy life — repression is hard to shake off, and sometimes requires a fundamental change in your life (or death, I guess) to do so.
It follows, then, that the show’s anti-vampire groups are characterized by the sort of puritanism that’s espoused by America’s evangelical right-wing party poopers. The Fellowship of the Sun, which is introduced in Season 2, is a pretty much dead-on parody of any number of self-appointed Christian moral-police organizations, a group that embraces guns and dogma as much as it does intolerance and ignorance. And, of course, they’re big old hypocrites — the Fellowship’s leader, Steve Newlin, begins his narrative trajectory in the closet, not the coffin, and by the time he’s finally dispensed with it in Season 6, he’s become a rampaging gay vampire who’s come to embody everything his group claimed to hate. The irony is pretty heavy-handed, but it’s effective nonetheless.
All of which brings us back to poor old Ted Cruz. Of course he doesn’t like True Blood — its plotlines revolve around lampooning pretty much everything he stands for. The only surprise, really, is that it’s taken this long for the show to make explicit its distaste for America’s Republican right wing. Cruz’s bleating is predictable enough, but really, all it does is serve to reinforce the show’s fundamental question: would you rather enjoy your existence, or preach against others’ enjoyment of it? Would you rather be a fangbanger or a Fellowship member? Would you rather be Sarah Newlin or Pam Swynford De Beaufort? Pam, you say? Yeah, me too. See you on the dark side, I guess.