So I have absolutely no interest in the current tween vampire sensation, Twilight. I tried reading the first book and gave up after a few pages. I've read bits of the third book to Zara (she's mostly reading it to herself but occasionally likes to be read to just before sleep) and have to work hard at not laughing at how cheesy it is. However, I am quite interested in vampires.
There's a strong sexual undertone in vampire legends. And also, of course, a sense of Otherness about vampires. Both of these themes have queer resonance. In addition, I should point out (thanks to JHH who pointed it out to me) that the vampire legend is connected to the anti-Semitic blood libel.
Hmm, so evil creatures who can be construed as queer folk or Jews? Why do I like them? Well, it's all what you do with the story, and I often find the stories really compelling and mysterious, from Stoker on. I thought Anne Rice's vampires were too whiny and, as I said, I couldn't get into the Twilight ones. But I'm just loving the latest Vampire TV.
A bunch of people, notably talktooloose, suggested I try watching True Blood, HBO's series about vampires in Louisiana. I started watching it over the weekend and ended up seeing 7 episodes. I am totally hooked. The series is based on The Southern Vampire Mysteries by Charlaine Harris, which I'm now eager to read. It takes place in the fictional town of Bon Temps, Louisiana and centers around the relationship between Sookie Stackhouse, a telepathic waitress in a bar/grill type place and Bill Compton, a former Bon Temps resident who became a vampire right after the Civil War and has now returned to his former home in an attempt to "mainstream" - to live among humans.
The central premise of True Blood is that two years before the story starts, Japanese scientists were able to create synthetic human blood that is enough like the real thing to satisfy the nutritional requirements of vampires. Without the need to feed on human flesh, some vampires have decided to "come out of the coffin" and reveal their true natures. There's an attempt to pass a Vampire Rights Amendment and also attendant backlash. Even stores and bars that sell the synthetic blood (called "True Blood") have staff and owners who are none too comfortable with vampire clients, causing some of the tension and conflict in the story. There's also considerable tension between vampires like Bill, who want to mainstream, and those who want to continue drinking human blood and living in vampire nests. Action takes place primarily in Bon Temps, but also at a vampire bar in Shreveport called "Fangtasia." Although the main story is about Bill and Sookie, there are many characters and a variety of subplots.
The script plays with the parallels between vampires and queer folk in a few ways. There are puns (like the come out of the coffin thing) and the struggle for equal rights for vampires is very much paralleled with the real world struggle for gay and lesbian rights. The main organized opposition to vampire rights comes from fundamentalist Christian organizations. A representative for the vampire rights group is shown on tv and has that determinedly mainstream appearance and manner of speaking that representatives of HRC have. Someone says to Bill at one point "Why should you have special rights?" and he says "I just want the same rights you have." The non-mainstream vampires refer to normal humans disdainfully as "breathers." A church has a sign up "God hates Fangs."
But queer subtext is not the only queer content in the show. There's a very gay and very queeny man who is one of the main characters, the raffish Lafayette. Lafayette works with Sookie at the bar and is a prostitute and drug dealer on the side and very out and proud and takes no shit from anyone. In addition to Lafayette's presence as Out Gay Man, there are some closeted cameos, including a Nice Young Man who dates Sookie and whom she likes until she hears him thinking that he'd love to marry her and then he's sure he'd stop thinking about Matt Damon and Jake Gyllenhaal.
There's also heterosexual sex, and lots of it. These vampires don't just have blood lust, they have regular human lust, too. And sex with a vampire (often accompanied by getting blood sucked during the act) becomes a favored activity among some humans, known as "fangbangers." Vampire/human sex is featured in pretty explicit (and very hot) scenes, as is human/human sex.
The fangbangers seem, to me anyway, to be representative of BDSM subculture. There's a strong kink element to the sex, and a feeling that if you don't have careful boundaries and limits, the practices could be very dangerous.
I don't know any of the actors except for Anna Paquin, who plays Sookie, but I think they are all superb. The characters and relationships are complex, the humorous bits are truly funny, I find myself completely immersed in a world where vampires (and telepaths, for that matter) are real. The plot occasionally falls off the edge into soap opera, but for the most part it is compelling and really makes you want to know what happens next.
So, I'd love to know if there's any fanfic or fannish discussion out there. Anyone know?