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Phil Mellows is a freelance journalist living in Brighton


 True Blood


Channel 4 / HBO

Now that Sookie Stackhouse has finally lost her virginity – both kinds – it seems a like a good time to take stock of True Blood and of vampires in general. “You’ve crossed a line,” as Lafayette says to Sookie (Anna Paquin) after she tells him she’s lain with Vampire Bill, and Lafayette (Nelsan Ellis), a black, gay, cross-dressing, drug-dealing pornographer, knows all about lines.

The vampire myth has always been about drawing lines, about defining what it is to be human, and about the fragility, the porousness of those lines: the thin skin that separates us from death, from the beast.

Karl Marx, who evoked the image repetitively, almost obsessively, put the vampire where it belongs, at the heart of the capitalist economy: “Capital is dead labour that, vampire-like, only lives by sucking living labour, and lives the more, the more labour it sucks.” (Capital, Chapter 10)

The living and the dead do not, therefore, exist (or non-exist) in discrete realms but are bound together inextricably. That is the horror of vampires. They penetrate and puncture our humanity. They are a part of us.

So Bram Stoker’s Dracula has been quietly buying up property in England, ready for a landing at Whitby that is not so much an arrival as a homecoming.

In True Blood, thanks to the invention of the eponymous sythentic blood, the vampires live, though dead, in human society, among the 'breathers', and suffer the discrimination and bigotry inflicted on the different. Sharp parallels are drawn with racism, mischievously muddled as Sookie’s best mate terrible Tara (Rutina Wesley) gets Vampire Bill (Stephen Moyer) to admit that, when alive, he was a slave-owner.

Sookie is vilified as a 'fang-banger' but her love for Bill is of the transcendant kind. It is also of the obsessive kind, obsession – called addiction when it’s thoroughly bad – being a major theme of True Blood.

Jason Stackhouse (Ryan Kwanten), Sookie’s more conventionally errant brother, is addicted to sex, then V – vampire blood that’s dealt and taken ritually like an illicit drug.

Tara’s mum (Adina Porter) is an alcoholic who believes she is possessed by a demon, giving her addiction a palpable external manifestation that might, therefore, be exorcised. While Tara herself, at first glance antisocial, rebellious and difficult, is actually a paragon of rational ‘normality’. And the best character in the show.

Oh, and there’s a serial killer lurking about.

Meanwhile, Bill is trying to be a good vampire, 'mainstreaming', trying to resist the blood-lust of Malcolm and the other bad vampires. It’s a simplified model, and a representation, of what the humans are going through as they battle with their obsessions, trapped in a vicious moral economy.

For while Bill is an ordinary, apparently non-signifying, kind of a name, bills extract a price, bills must be paid. They will have their pint of blood.

November 19, 2009

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