Okay, guilty-pleasure-I-had-to-pay-for: you’re Death. And I choose life.
In the past couple of episodes of True Blood, I’ve noticed female characters getting punished for the apparently unforgivable crime of being female. After the rape scene at the end of this season’s Episode 3 (do I spoil? Oh. Whoopsie), I thought I’d give the show I’ve watched for its entire run another hour to see if I should keep going.
Here’s what I saw in that hour (Episode 4, aptly titled “9 Crimes”):
- The main character, Sookie, wearing a skimpy outfit to a bar (a place she’d have gone by herself, dressed very differently, in Season 1), chaperoned by a man
- Another female character kidnapped by a male who claims to be “in love” with her
- A fight between two women, on the topic of being “redheads”
- Not one, not two, but three torture scenes, with a woman as the focus of each
It was the first time in my experience of media that a TV show closed two consecutive episodes with rape scenes. As a female viewer, I got the message. Loud and clear: Better not come back. Thank you, I won’t.
I know that the series creator is busy now, working on something else, and may not know what’s up on his old project. He should, though. True Blood is churning out some squicky, truly misogynistic stuff. Earth to Alan Ball: this moment, of women outnumbering men in the workforce and making the clear majority of purchasing decisions, is not the time to be pushing the ladies out of your clubhouse.
From The Ampersand:
… Something’s changed this season. Can you feel it? In the absence of a kick ass villain in Maryann, or a comedic Jester in Jane Bodehouse, or even the archetypal evil mother in Maxine, it seems like this season is focused on putting women in crappier and crappier scenarios… But something’s going on here. I find more and more that I spend a good portion of each episode wagging my finger around the screen. “What’s going on here? What is this? What am I looking at?”
… I feel a bit icky, and so I’m questioning it. I know I’m not alone.
You’re not, dear blogger. Pop-culture barometer The Gawker weighs in on the subject, and is bummed.
From New York Magazine’s Vulture blog:
There’s usually a difference between the highly sexualized, twisted gore of True Blood and, say, the Saw franchise. But last night, the Nazi references, Eucharist, racism, theme of despair (apparently if you glamour a girl, she’s bound to tell you love is doomed and people only disappoint), collective screams, and seared female flesh didn’t seem to be building toward a point other than shock.
Not all reviews are negative. This guy (who never watched The Wire?) finds commentary on the drug war in True Blood, calls it “devastating,” and particularly likes the line comparing a woman and a cigar.
To be fair, he writes for Slate (aka Saint Bartholomew’s Blog for Boy Writers).
I subscribe to pay cable, and I loved Six Feet Under, The Wire, and The Sopranos. Each rewarded close attention with layered characters, great writing, and well-developed plots. All of these hold up well; I still learn something new when I revisit episodes, even years later.
But those were programs for adults. The people who made them understood pay cable. The subscriber base exists for the same reason network TV rules do: to define, restrict, and in some cases advance what people can and can’t do onscreen.
I’m sure the pay-cable landscape is challenging. But watching True Blood lately, I wonder: are there things people have to do in 46 minutes of HBO screen time? Drop 25 f-bombs? Show three and a half sex scenes, walk around naked in a mall? How can it be this prescriptive, unless you don’t have much of a story to tell in the first place?
In that case, True Blood, screw the plot! Let characters do what basic-cable people can’t, for 80 percent of every screen hour. Don’t dress it all up in wolfskin and nonsense about the street prices of fake drugs.
Hell, torture porn is torture porn, right? Why distract your new rapist viewers?
I believe in freedom-to: freedom to spend the money I earn on the things I want to do, to choose among many options. Freedom-from is not what I would advocate. I’ll never say to anyone, male or female: stop doing that. I don’t know why anyone else consumes media, what he or she gets from the experience. Nor could I tell them that quality is wrong or right.
But for me, there is a line. A program, a movie, any art form can cross it. Once this happens, it is exactly the same as what happens when someone I respect hurts me. Somewhere inside, something breaks. There is no going back.
I don’t long for it, wonder what happened to it or miss it. It is simply over.
For True Blood and me, this actually is Death, I guess.