TV: Religious Extremism in the Fifth Season of True Blood.

True Blood has always had a socio-cultural-political-sexual statement to make: vampires are marginalised like blacks and gays. Supernatural beings are inherently sexual and therefore can’t be stopped. Vampires are just the beginning of a myriad of other “supes”: maenads, witches, “shifters, were-chickens and whatever the fuck else is out there!” as Sheriff Andy Bellefleur so eloquently puts it. If we grant acceptance to them, we have to accept everyone else.

So when mention of the biblical Lilith is made at the beginning of season five, along with the existence of Salome, it’s obvious the season was going to tackle the hard, religious issues.

Lilith has long been appropriated as a vampiric being, so it’s not unusual that she should be reappropriated for True Blood’s “original bible”—the vampire bible—as being created before Adam and Eve, not with Adam, and in God’s image. Ergo, God’s a vampire and “human shall nourish vampire”.

Lilith takes on the role of the temptress, her manifestation turning everyone who drinks her blood into hallucinating psychopaths, no one more than Bill, who kills numerous Authority members in his quest to be Lilith’s chosen one. Lilith urges both him, Salome and others to “Drink the blood, drink all the blood”, which destroys Bill’s vampire form and brings him back as something demonic and altogether other worldly. Lilith’s blood is no doubt a metaphor for blindly drinking the Kool Aid of organised religion.

The rest of the season, which culminated in Bill’s transcendence last night, also focusses on religious extremism, but I think it’s the Obama mask-wearing, supe-killing hate group terrorising Bon Temps that makes the most poignant remarks about religion.

The Human Patriots don’t come to the fore til about midway through the season, when Sam’s shifter friends, then Sam himself, Luna and Emma, are attacked. The conclusion is drawn that they were targeted because they’re shifters. Some digging by Sam and the sheriff’s office uncovers a website called the Human Patriot Manifesto, replete with a “grand dragon” à la the Ku Klux Klan, which vows to stop supes stealing our jobs, controlling the media, gaining equal rights and “making us feel bad for being regular old humans”. Sookie’s even caught in the cross-fire for simply being “associated with vampires”. Sounds an awful lot like, from an Australian perspective, the panic about asylum seekers in the media and the government. The amount of times I’ve heard someone say that we shouldn’t be accepting “boat people” into our country because they want to change our way of living, steal our jobs and mooch off our tax dollars on Centrelink (for those non-Aussies playing at home, that’s our department of welfare): so which is it? Do they want to take our jobs or not work at all?

It’s a very relevant debate on the way mainstream Western culture treats “others”: in this case, supernatural beings. That the terrorists wear Barack Obama masks (a reporter even asks if it’s true that Barack Obama is killing supes!) is a not-so-subtle dig at the opinion that Obama enables minorities (Muslim’s ’cause he is one, didn’t you know? And don’t the Republicans hate Mexicans?) instead of looking out for his countrymen. Again, not so different from the asylum seeker debate…

Speaking of “mainstreaming”, that’s the name given to the assimilation of vampires with humans, the movement which Chris Meloni’s Roman heads up. According to the U.S. Government’s liaison, he’s “the only one stopping the world from sliding back into the dark ages”. When the opposing Sanguinista movement (religious fundamentalists who believe in the literal translation of the vampire bible: that humans serve only as a food source for vampires) rises up from within the ranks of the Authority, all hell begins to break loose, some of which I couldn’t keep up with and am still trying to work through mentally.

But not everyone is hip to this idea, with the phrases “Wake up sister, it’s just a book. I knew the guy who wrote it and he was high the whole time,” “You are destroying the world based on a book that is thousands of years old… That’s the opposite of evolved,” and “The small-mindedness of your religion has literally kept you in the dark” rattling around throughout the season. If these aren’t a commentary on the religious right attempting to control the government in the U.S., then I don’t know what is. In fact, the Authority, as Pam so helpfully points out, is the vampire government and church: the church controls the government. Ever the bitchy voice of reason, she also ponders aloud the question of how many times she’ll have to live through the same “scenario happen[ing] over and over”. Rest assured, if the Republicans are elected this year, the United States will begin to resemble the dark age-esque, blood soaked mise en scène of Bon Temps, Louisiana. I guess we know who Alan Ball et al will be voting for…

Images via AllMyVideos.

Event: Gustave Moreau’s The Eternal Feminine Exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria.

If you haven’t seen “The Eternal Feminine” exhibition by Gustave Moreau at NGV yet, hop to it, because it closes this weekend.

The exhibition only displays a fraction of Moreau’s work, focusing on his interpretation of the female: “strong and often dangerous” femme fatales. I was particularly intrigued by the powerful, yet controversial women he chose to paint, like Salome, the daughter of the Greek/Jewish Herodias, his response to the Unicorn tapestries, and women of the Bible.

Here are some choice excerpts from the exhibition:

On Femme Fatales.

“The term ‘femme fatale’… emerged in the middle of the nineteenth century, when patriarchal attitudes to women began to shift as a direct outcome of the growth of the middle class. Greater prosperity, brought about by the opening up of trade and the adoption of new technologies, also saw women beginning to advocate for access to high education, married women’s property rights, equal status in sexual mores and, ultimately, the vote. In France, where the Code Napoleon had defined the status of women as being the property of man, the ‘new woman’ challenged the traditional image of woman as mother and homemaker, virtuous, sexually repressed and above all else subordinate to her husband.

“The femme fatale, as an extreme contrast, was characterized as worldly, alluring and independent, with a predatory nature that was ultimately destructive to any man who fell victim to her seductive powers. Unlike the passive, Romantic heroine who existed in an aesthetic realm of erotic lassitude, she propelled a negative energy of malevolence and sadomasochism.”

On The Lady & the Unicorn.

“The cryptic, religious symbolism of the unicorn exemplifies in equal measure the essence of the medieval period and the occult spiritualism of late nineteenth century French culture. In medieval times the unicorn was associated with notions of chastity, pure love and the taming of animal passions. The legendary unicorn was reputed to be so wild that it could only be tamed by the purest of virgins, to whom it would come voluntarily for protection and comfort. He [Moreau] described his painting, ‘somewhat cryptically, as an “enchanted isle with a gathering of women, providing the most precious pretext for all the plastic motifs”’.”

On The Bible.

“Inevitably, Moreau’s choice of Biblical women as subjects was directed not toward the ideal and virtuous… But to women whose virtue had been compromised as a result of their possession of a physical beauty that attracted the attention of men, with dire consequences. Though not as dangerous as their alter egos, the femmes fatales—with whom engagement or congress was invariably fatal for the male—these women also shared a compelling attractiveness to the opposite sex.”

I also loved Moreau’s “Ulysses & the Sirens” works, and the room dedicated solely to Salome was worth the $15 cover charge alone.