I've been loving True Blood so far this season. It's doing what it does best, being a ridiculous show that I still find myself looking forward to as if it's awesome. I saw an interesting comment on this week's show that made me think about what seems to link back to the ongoing discussion of fandom about storytelling vs. being responsible. I'll put it under a cut for spoilers for the lastest ep, "If You Love Me, Why Am I Dyin?" The comment involves the folks in Hot Shot and potentially offensive portrayals thereof...

In a review of the ep a reviewer loved the parts of the ep involving the vampires, (I agree--I'm loving King Bill and Jess and Erik is a revelation in this new form. The actor must be having so much fun.) But she also said, concerning Crystal and her family: "Once again it struck me what a terrible job that Alan Ball has done with this community. In the books, the people of Hot Shot were poor, but they were no where near the terrible classist characterization that Ball has drawn. We were meant to see these people as feral and subhuman last night, and this in turn was used to justify Crystal's rape of Jason. In every other instance of violence that I can remember in True Blood, power featured heavily into the narrative, but in the case of Jason and Crystal, it was about inbreeding, poverty and a lack of humanity. Alan Ball did survivors and the poor no favours with last night's script."

Reading this I thought...hmm, why didn't I watch those scenes and think it was a classist characterization that was poorly done? It's not because I don't see how it's obviously classist to link poor people with inbreeding and savagery. It's more that it never occurred to me that it was saying anything about poor people any more than their turning into panthers did. To me it was about the familiar horror trope. The folks in Hot Shot are more related to the Leatherface family in Texas Chainsaw Massacre and the Peacocks from Home on TXF than the characters in Winter's Bone. The trope isn't about poor people being icky but in stepping off the grid of civilization. (I believe that this type of trope is actually one of the earliest recognizable themes in American literature, in fact.)

This often gets linked to certain classes of people, though again I don't think the point is usually that their lack of money makes them savage. The werepanthers on TB tell their own creation story in the ep, and true to form it's a story about being associated with "the old ways" and rejecting modern society possibly in response to being left behind by it. City builders are developing the land in Deliverance, slaughter houses stopped using sledgehammers in Texas Chainsaw Massacre. In those movies the locals take out their anger on outsiders. Here the were panthers use Jason for their own survival when their fertility becomes a problem. Inbreeding, yes, is a real joke used against real people, but it's also a popular Gothic trope. The crumbling family in the crumbling house, turning in on itself.

And I realized when imagining a better version of the Hot Shot werepanthers that I like Alan Ball going for the horror trope just because, well, I like horror. The trappings of the horror genre are everywhere these days, especially in dark fantasy and supernatural romance. And while I always feel positively about supernatural monsters in any form, I much prefer the horror version to the dark fantasy or romance. I can't say I like the TV version of these guys better than the book since I've never read the books, but it doesn't seem like the books are horror and I like it when TB dips into actual horror. Jason's current predicament seems like the closest the show's ever come to it. 'Bout time we got some monsters that aren't sexier humans! And where feasting on human flesh isn't a new form of sex but just cannibalism. Yeah, I basically loved them sitting around the campfire chewing on human remains.

And I'm sure many would say that these horror tropes in themselves are offensive, but that's where it gets into that conflict about responsibility in stories. And of course when it comes to that conflict horror, except for some exceptions where the tale seems to have an overtly moral lesson, usually winds up being seen as irresponsible. (And the type of horror with very overt, comforting moral lessons are less common today.) So if you're a horror fan you've always got to lean towards story over avoiding offense.

That said, Alan Ball did apparently say something about the episode that's completely nuts, in that Jason is getting his "comeuppance" in this ep for benefitting from his looks and enjoying sex for so long. Um...what? Slut shaming doesn't make any more sense when it's a guy, AB. The only way it would even be a little logical to say Jason's getting "comeuppance" here would be if he were a rapist himself. Jason's an innocent victim here. Makes me want to sit him down and walk him through exactly why he thinks Jason has asked for this any more than, say, Tara did when both of them seemed guilty only of wanting a loving relationship (and not having Sookie's fairy luck in that area).
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