Book Review: True Blood & Philosophy by George A. Dunn & Rebecca Housel.

 

I bought this book last year around the time season three of True Blood was coming to an end, and the inspiration struck me to write a post on Sookie Stackhouse and feminism. Needless to say, that post has yet to come to fruition (watch this space next week), but I finally got around to reading the book in the past fortnight or so.

The great thing about the Pop Culture and Philosophy series is that you don’t need to be an avid fan of the topic each book deals with; most of the philosophical musings can be applied to everyday life. (I’m making a gross generalisation here, as True Blood & Philosophy is the first Pop Culture volume I’ve read!)

Anyone who’s familiar with the show and Charlaine Harris’ books will know that the way vampires are treated in the somewhat alternate universe of Bon Temps, Louisiana, is a metaphor for how gays and blacks have been treated for centuries.

True Blood and Philosophy delves into this throughout the book, but particularly in the “Eros, Sexuality & Gender” section, where the issue of “orientation” is raised: “Vampires seem to be unlike gays in that we can’t say that vampires are born that way… But there is still a parallel to being born either gay or straight, for once you become a vampire, there’s no returning to a human existence” (p. 98).

One way vampires and gays are different, though, is that “a homosexual predator” cannot “attack or coerce an unwilling person into homosexual acts”, whereas a vampire can take someone against their will (p. 99). You can’t “catch” homosexuality, but you can catch vampirism.

To take it a step further, there was a time when propaganda that the gays will give you AIDS was rife (some might argue that it still is), and were prohibited from participating in sports and other activities where blood could be spilled. This raises the question of the marginalisation of vampires in sports, as well as the use of their blood as medicine. (See “Coming Out of the Coffin & Coming Out of the Closet”, p. 93–108.)

My favourite chapter deals with the attitudes of humans towards vampires and vice versa, and how the way they treat each other amounts to the way non-fiction humans treat animals.

For example, Eddie Gauthier, the vampire whom Jason Stackhouse and Amy Burley take hostage and use as their own personal V vat, is a parallel for “the way millions of animals are treated every day on factory farms… Eddie, like the animals on factory farms, is exploited as a commodity with no regard for his suffering” (p. 36–37).

Furthermore, “… many… vampires actually regard human beings as lower forms of life ripe for exploitation, not much different from the way Aristotle and others regarded non-human species,” in “a classic example of speciesism” (p. 38–39).

Last year, I blogged about an article I read in Time, about how animals that we once thought to not be able to understand language, reasoning, fairness and pain, actually do experience these things. Vampires seem to have a similar attitude towards humans, whom they see only as a food source, and “incapable of feeling pain as we do”, according to the magister when ordering Bill to turn Jessica as punishment for killing one of their own to protect his “human pet”, Sookie (p. 44).

In a similarly intriguing chapter, William C. Curtis asks “can vampires be good citizens”?:

“Should there be a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to require vamps to come clean about their past murders in return for a grant of amnesty? How should vampires be taxed, especially since they don’t need many of the services that government provides, like Social Security, health care, and education? Can they join, or be drafted into, the armed forces?… Will their vulnerability to sunlight be treated as a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act? Can vampire convicts be sentenced to life in prison, or would eternal incarceration violate the Eighth Amendment prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment?” (p. 65–66).

All these questions have been brought about by the advent of synthetic blood, allowing vampires to “come out of the coffin”, so to speak.

On this, an interesting footnote from the chapter “Un-True Blood: The Politics of Artificiality” by Bruce A. McClelland, refers to a 1927 study by Takeji Furukawa on the correlation between blood types and personality. Being a Japanese study, and the fact that synthetic TruBlood was developed by the Japanese; is there some connection? Or just a coincidence? The clot plot thickens…

A memorable event thus far on True Blood has been the introduction of Maryann the Maenad and her Dionysian debacle. “Let the Bon Temps Roll: Sacrifice, Scapegoats and Good Times” deals with the self-preservation of the Bon Temps residents in “not wanting to know what’s in the sausage”, as Lafayette Reynolds would say (p. 141–142). Or rather, not wanting to know what’s in Maryann’s “hunter’s soufflé”!

This ignorance is further symbolised by the black eyes of Maryann’s followers; they’re literally blind to her wicked ways (p. 142).

Of course this book is more suited to the True Blood fan, however it’s not a prerequisite. (I’m trying to force-feed my friend Laura this book in the hopes that she will cotton on to the sexy-smarts of the show. She’s doing the same to me with Mad Men.) Many of the thoughts discussed go much deeper than just Charlaine Harris’ Southern Vampire Mysteries and vampirism, and it’s quite a thought-provoking—yet still light—book.

Related: Time’s “What Animals Think” Issue: August 16, 2010.

On the (Rest of the) Net.

The latest Teen Vogue with Pretty Little Liars star Lucy Hale on the cover worryingly espouses using dieting to achieve “Your Best Body”.

Minnie Mouse meets beatnik meets Gala Darling is the latest “blog girl” trend.

A superb 2004 Andrew Denton interview with media darling/mogul Ita Buttrose.

Charlie Glickman on the perils of alternative male and female sexuality.

Pop music=guilty pleasure no more. (However, stay tuned next week for an alternative view on this subject.)

Girl with a Satchel laments the unattractive “View from the Glossip Stand” in Zoo’s UnAustralians of the Year feature.

“Stereotyping is a fun and useful tool… to categorise interests and make harmful blanket statements” about your favourite magazines. For example, Lula is for those who “never spend money on U.S. fashion magazines because they just don’t ‘get it’; they’re so dull”, while Details has “a strong Patrick Bateman vibe”.

More on Gwyneth Paltrow’s unlikability, this time from New York Magazine:

“Gwyneth is also kind of a jerk. Her perfection is judgment on the rest of us, and she makes this known in interviews and on her lifestyle website, Goop, the tone of which suggests a domestic personality just one degree shy of Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest.”

The Freudian nature of the vampire.

How women are reclaiming “bitch” as their own.

New research indicates that women’s bodies may protect themselves from rape. And so opens a whole other can of consent worms…

“Are Music Video Girls Exploited?”

This article puts to the rest the “you can’t be both beautiful and smart” way of thinking.

On the (Rest of the) Net.

“Benevolent” teen sexism versus “hostile” teen sexism at Psychology Today via Jezebel.

Also from Jezebel, “Facebook Tells You When You Will Break Up” via a handy little graph. I wonder how the graph would change to reflect Australian dating norms andmost interestinglyseasons.

The always hilarious Mia Freedman muses on “First World Problems”.

Gawker’s take on Gossip Girl’s “Juliet Doesn’t Live Here Anymore”, or more importantly, Chuck and Blair’s sex life:

“So, Blair and Chuck are totally mashing genitals against each other for pleasure, and everyone is throwing up all over the place because of it. Because it’s so gross. ‘Hey Blair, let me put my penis inside you behind those bushes.’ THROWUP. ‘Hey Chuck, why don’t you stimulate my vagina with your mouth some more.’ RETCH. ‘Oh my gosh, let’s pant and wheeze and sweat here in this limo because we just rubbed our genitalia together to the point of climax.’… IT’S GROSS, is what I’m saying… But they’re doing it anyway and that was a plot point. Absolutely nothing changed or developed in their fucking…”

Since when did Gossip Girl need a plot point, anyway? It’s a guilty pleasure and that’s the beauty of it.

This 2009 New Yorker article is suspiciously similar to a Law & Order: SVU episode from season 11. But it is a brilliantly haunting read about fire investigation, wrongful incarceration, execution and justice.

Defamer addresses Vanity Fair’s penchant for posthumous covers.

Ideologically Impure responds to Stephen Fry’s assertion that women don’t like/want/have sex as much as gay men:

“Because, Mr. Fry, do you know what happens to women who openly state they enjoy sex, who act in an overtly sexual manner, who admit to casual sex?

If they get raped, their rapist walks free.

“Because a woman saying she enjoys sex is obviously always up for it. And a woman who’s had casual sex in the past must not be fussy about who she fucks. And a woman who flirts is just ‘sending the wrong signals’ and completely gives up her right to say ‘no’.”

The allure of the Kindle, by Maggie Alderson.

The original “In Defence of Slut-O-Ween” and, in the same vein, The Stranger wishes us a (belated) “Happy Heteroween”.

Annabelle DeSisto, the girl who shut down the Situation on Jersey Shore, tells her side of the story on Best Week Ever:

“… He kept asking me if I wanted to change clothes, like to get into something more comfortable like pyjamas. And I was like ‘No’, and he was like ‘But you seem really uncomfortable in that dress, let’s just get you into pyjamas.’ I’m like, ‘Does everything you own have a rhinestone bulldog or dragon or Ed Hardy logo on it?’ And he’s like, ’Yeah, of course!’ And I was like, ‘Then I’m not changing clothes.’”

Sounds like a quintessential douchebag to me!

In defence of Kanye West:

“Part of Kanye’s curse is that after everyone chills out a little, we all realise he was just saying what everyone was thinking, and we were unfair to leap all over him…”

“What is Vampire Sex?” Effing hot, that’s what!

Shameless Wildfox plug: “13 ‘Mature’ Things to Do While Wearing Wildfox This Halloween”. I did just one of these things this Halloween. Can you guess which?

If you missed Zoe Foster’s “All Women Really Want is a Cup Of Fu*king Tea” relationship advice in Cosmo a few months ago, here it is again on her blog, via MamaMia.

Mick Foley pens his thoughts on Linda McMahon:

“… The concerns expressed in regard to WWE are valid onessubstance abuse problems, content issues, the troubling trend of pro-wrestlers dying way too young. But if Linda McMahon is going to be held personally accountable for every negative aspect of her family business, shouldn’t she be given personal credit for every positive aspect as well? Like the 5,000 wishes to children facing life threatening conditions WWE has granted over the last twenty five years, through ‘Make-a-Wish’ and other wish granting organisations? Or the ‘Tribute to the Troops’ tour that WWE has embarked on every year since 2003; spreading holiday cheer to service-members far from home, in remote bases in Afghanistan, Iraq and Kuwait.”

When things are looking glum, take a look at this mantra from Gala Darling. Things aren’t that bad.

On the (Rest of the) Net.

 

Once upon a time, a disillusioned Los Angeles writer bemoaned the fact that when you start getting dermal fillers and can’t speak to someone else who hasn’t, “you realise there is actually something quite wrong with L.A… And then along comes Heidi Montag and you feel normal again.”:

“The amount of women, like Heidi, I see in Los Angeles walking around like blow up dolls, victims to the horrific mental disorder of body dysmorphiais huge. Body dysmorphia is as much a disease as anorexia, as bulimia, as over-eating, as alcoholism, drug addiction. These are mental disorders which manifest themselves in physical self-harm.”

Like the compulsion to have DDD size boobs implanted on your tiny, surgically-sculpted frame that cause you constant pain and prevent restful sleep and exercise.

Girl with a Satchel asks if new British magazine “…Just as Beautiful [is] Fetishising & Sexualising Fuller Female Figures?”

From “Gender is Not Just a Performance”:

“It is a crass oversimplification, as ridiculous as saying all gender is genitals, all gender is chromosomes, or all gender is socialisation. In reality, gender is all of these things and more.”

To celebrate No Make Up Week, Rachel Hills contemplates why we feel there’s something wrong with us if we don’t go around looking flawless at all times.

Still with Rachel Hills: her “Kanye West Syndrome” article, “I’mma Let You Finish…” and “Himglish & Femalese”, about how men are women are the same, but different, are stand-outs.

The New York Times, in an article from last year, ponders the vampire’s place in fashion.

In more vampire news, Billie Doux offers up Buffy Quotes for Every Occasion”, paying special attention to librarianship, in which these gems pop up: “I love the smell of desperate librarian in the morning,” and “I mean, I can’t believe you got into Oxford… That’s where they make Gileses”.

Gender blogger Greta Christina lists the “5 Stupid, Unfair & Sexist Things Expected of Men”, in which she states that “… sexism hurts men. In particular, … our society’s expectations of men, [and] our very definitions of maleness. I’ve been looking at how rigid and narrow many of these expectations are…”, such as “being tall”! Not much a man can do about his height… much like the stupid, unfair and sexist things expected of women.

We all know how much I love professional wrestler cum author cum sexual assault crusader, and finally, Jezebel has cottoned on to the awesomeness that is Mick Foley, even going as far as to say that “we need more men like him.” Amen to that. Also, check out his blog.

There’s a lot of debate over whether a straight man and a straight woman can be “just friends” (FYI, I believe they can), and this article favours the notion that having “Platonic Female Friendships Can Make For a Better Man”.

If my love for Beauty & the Beast (the DVD is currently out of the Disney vault on re-release; I have a birthday coming up…) is anything to go by, “Brunettes Love Beauty & the Beast”. As “princess hero”-affirming as that might be, the article ends on a negative note, saying that “a brunette [is] more prone to rational expectations of life and thus… the ‘We Love Belle’ fan-club must be an awfully boring place to be… Blondes: 1 Brunettes: 0”. Ouch.

ScreenCrave on why Twilight’s Bella Swan is a Feminist’s Nightmare”.

In the spirit of such Girls Night In staples as Mean Girls and Bring It On (more on my Girls Night In to come next week), Jezebel advocates for the “5 Life Lessons Learned from The Ladies of 00s Teen Films”.

In “Print This Out & Give it to Every Boy You Know”, Jezebel debunks the myths of the feminist. For example:

“[Myth:] Feminists are angry/predominantly lesbians/man-haters/all of the above… Some women are angry, yes. Some are lesbians. And some probably hate or fear men. Some women also identify as feminists. These characteristics exist independently of each other. If there’s overlap, it’s coincidental and correlated or causal…”

and

“Feminism has more flavours than Baskin-Robbins and a hundred and one areas of focus, covering everything from reproductive rights to international development to political reform or popular culture. Beyonce is a feminist and so is Hilary Clinton. And men can be feminists, too! It’s a big tent party, y’all! Heck, some women live their entire lives according to feminist principles, but never use the term.”

I would like to tell that to a certain “I hate feminism” espousing lady I know…

Lady Most Likely: Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People

Every time I turn on the readio, it seems like there’s a Will.I.Am collaboration (“3 Words” with Cheryl Cole; Usher’s “OMG”; “Imma Be” with Black Eyed Peas) or Will.I.Am sounding collaboration (“Nothin’ on You” by B.o.B.; “If We Ever Meet Again” by former über-producer Timbaland and Katy Perry) getting airtime. The BEP front man may indeed be the new Timabland, so I was surprised he didn’t make it onto the list. There’s always next year, I suppose…

Someone who did make it on, though, is Lady Gaga.

Cyndi Lauper, Gaga’s partner-in-crime for the MAC AIDS Fund, profiles her for possibly the most talked about ranking this year. I have no doubt Gaga is the most influential person in entertainment today, as she’s collaborating with and inspiring the fashion, beauty, art, advertising, music and film worlds with her own performance artas Lauper writes, “she is inspiring other artists to go further in their own work”and striking up water cooler conversation with her boundary pushing antics, both onstage and off.

Time is spot on in naming Marc Jacobs the only influential fashion figure. Jacobs, who is profiled by fellow fashionista and friend, Victoria Beckham, glamorised grunge, began the bag lady chic movement, and is now championing voluptuousness in his new season looks for Louis Vuitton and his titular line. Perhaps Karl Lagerfeld and Anna Wintour would have made welcome additions, but Jacobs certainly has the respect of all facets of the fashion world his peers, his models, his muses and his loyal subjects.

I am utterly dumbfounded to not see George Clooney on the list. Not only did he single-handedly organise the Hope for Haiti Now telethon but, like a fine wine, he only gets better with age.

In other “Artists” notes, shoe in Oprah is profiled by Phil Donahue, while her partner, “Mr Oprah” Stedman Graham makes the Least Influential list (more on that below); Robert Pattinson is bafflingly included (for influencing legions of teens and, worryingly, tweens ready and willing to let Pattinson bite them? Perhaps Brad and Angelina would have been better choices, as they actually contribute something to societyas well as being really, really ridiculously good looking. Or even Stephenie Meyer, without whom Pattinson wouldn’t have an Edward Cullen to broodingly portray); and “new media mogul” Ashton Kutcher, whom I was pleasantly surprised to see on the list.

Of course, President Obama makes an appearance as one of, if not the most influential leaders. While he certainly is the most well-known leader on the list, whether he’s been as influential as he could have during his first year in the presidency is a point of contention for a lot of politicos and American citizens.

My second favourite President (after Obama, George W. Bush is the only other President whose reign I was [un]lucky enough to grow up during, so Clinton wins via default), I find Bill Clinton funny, charming and smartalthough, hey may not have been utilising the latter during Lewinskygate. Nonetheless, he’s making positive change, and that’s all that matters here.

On the other hand, former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin makes the list. She is certainly fascinating and controversial, but I wouldn’t call her influential. Perhaps she would be more at home on Barbara Walters’ annual most fascinating people list?

Speaking of other lists, on page 96 you will find Joel Stein’s “The Time Bum Hundred”, relaying how he chronicled the 100 least influential people of 2010, split into “four categories… Losers, Flameouts, Morons and Slimy Bastards”. The complete list is not available in the mag, but it is on Time’s website.

Here is a sneak peak of “the Least Influential People Who Used to or Ought to Have Influence”, not including babies (who really are the least influential people in the world!), “the tattooed chick who messed up Sandra Bullocks’ marriage” (negative influence), and Tiger Woods, who just had a “bad year”, but is “still immensely influential, only now his influence lies in preventing men from texting their mistresses”: the Tom Tom GPS navigation system; “We Are the World 25 for Haiti”; Paula Adbul; Michael Jackson’s doctor, Dr. Conrad Murray who, unfortunately, was influential enough last year to play a key role in the death of Michael Jackson; Joaquin Phoenix; gay-disapprover, sex tape “without any sex” star and Former Miss California Carrie Prejean; “first dog” Bo Obama; George Clooney’s ex, Sarah Larson; former MTV TRL host Carson Daly; questionably, The Doors, who “actually sucked and just had a handsome lead singer”; Grover; Carrot Top; news anchor Katie Couric; John Edwards; the quintessential douche bag reality show dropout, Jon Gosselin; keeping it in the familyLindsay and Michael Lohan; Jersey Shore outcast Angelina Pivarnick; Bernie Madoff; Levi Johnston; Tila Tequila; Nicollette Sheridan; witches (“Charmed was like, ten years ago. It’s all about vampires, werewolves and zombies now”); anddrum roll pleaseSpencer Pratt and Heidi Montag, collectively known as Speidi. Let’s hope Heidi truly is uninfluential, especially for The Hills‘ primarily teen audience’ssake, or we could have an army of over-inflated, frozen-foreheaded Barbie clones on our hands.