Is “True Blood” about anything?

I stopped trying to read the subtext of HBO’s “True Blood” sometime around the middle part of the first season.  It wasn’t for lack of finding anything.  The vampire trope and the situations which compelled the story forward spoke to issues of race, sexuality, health and infection, as well as US history.  But, despite all the potential, there didn’t seem to be a particular focus to the whole thing, other than being a juicy and sometimes suspenseful soap opera, that is.


Tonight’s episode, however, had me thinking that there’s quite of bit of interesting coalescence around the religion text and subtext.


Jason Stackhouse, who is well-played by actor Ryan Kwanten–and miraculously wearing a shirt in the picture above–has been in a story arc stretching from the end of Season 1 into 2.  He is being recruited by the Church of the Fellowship of the Sun, a vampire-hating group of Christian Bible-thumpers.  Not too covertly, since the first season they have represented the collection of religious-Conservative movements in the United States who advocate for anything intolerant, from stances against “race-mixing” to actively deplorable positions on same-sex rights and AIDS.

Tonight, we saw two instances of Jason being re-energized in his commitment to the fictional church and its (as yet unknown) “purpose” for him.  In the first scene, Sarah Newlin–wife of the church founder Steve Newlin–tries to stop Jason from leaving.  She does this by convincing him that she knows him and that they are alike.  She then shares how she is vengeful, seeking retribution for the pain vampires have inflicted upon her loved ones and, by extension, herself.  Jason, already seeing himself and Sarah as “alike,” is nudged back into line and in some level of conformity to her chosen direction.

In the second scene, church founder and leader Steve Newlin has dinner with Jason as he explains his theological reasoning behind hate–equating hate of the sinner with the love of “Christ”–while sharing his wife’s banana pudding.

In both scenes, one is drawn in by the calculated and rhetorically careful tactics employed to keep Jason “involved” and moving on the right track.  I suspect Alan Ball is offering us his version of how these kinds of organizations (ones seemingly devoted to love and “Christian fellowship” but, in practical terms, the vanguard of a hate movement directed against any number of “Christ’s children”) function and recruit.

On the surface, we might see this as an accusation against these efforts that they prey on the dumb and weak-minded.  Certainly, Jason isn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer. But tonight we also see Jason as less the baffoon than as the struggling and questioning young man seeking answers.  When left to his own inclination, and rooted in what he knows to be fact through experience, Jason tends toward tolerance and pragmatism.  However, he is also clearly hindered by his lack of formal education, often deferring to those that “know” more than him as they feed the hungry young lad egg McMuffins posing as health.

Far from an indictment of the recruitment targets of these religious movements, this is a subtle communication of empathy with them.  The knowing leaders of these causes shoulder the blame, not the hapless recruits they convince to do their bidding.

The season has only just begun, and my analysis could fall apart in two weeks when the next episode premieres, but, so far, “True Blood: Season Two” has me hooked.  Or is it glamoured?


“The Racism and Politics of Planned Parenthood”

Stories like this one by Erika Andersen of usually flash on my computer screen for a minute, receive a garbled grumble of some kind from a tired and exasperated professor, and then zip away to never be thought of again…at least until another one comes along.

But this is actually the fourth time in the last seven days that an article relating abortion politics, racism, and Obama has found its way into my blog reader. Coincidence? I think not.

Just so you don’t have to help their advertising revenue by clicking the link above, here’s the full-text of the piece:

The dream of Martin Luther King, Jr. was more than desegregation. It was prosperity, life and liberty — Constitutional metrics for success — for every person of every color in every stage of life. King’s niece, Dr. Alveda King, now leads a movement pitted against Planned Parenthood for targeting the black community for abortion.

On Thursday, King joined other African-American leaders and pastors in a march at the Republican and Democratic National committee headquarters to urge legislators to reject the $10 million in funding PP has pledged to donate to influence the election.

Students for Life of America and the National Black Pro-Life Union have campaigned heavily against the federal funding of Planned Parenthood, who received $350 million in taxpayer funds last year alone.

“We are uniting civil rights and moral rights to fulfill the dream of what my uncle called ‘the beloved community,’” said King. “We start where life begins, with the babies, and we will march on until abortion, racism and all society’s ills bow to the truth that we are all one race.”

Last year, after a group of college students posed as phone donors specifying that their money be used to abort a black child, the racist undertones of Planned Parenthood’s founder Margaret Sanger blazed forth. The fake donors were told their money would be marked for such delivery even after one caller said, “the less blacks out there, the better” and another noted that “there are definitely too many black people in Ohio.”

Planned Parenthoods across the nation are strategically placed in low-income, highly African-American populated areas — where poor women are more likely to have access. In fact, 62.5% of PP clinics are located in these communities and when you include Hispanic neighborhoods, the number increases to 70%. These same community leaders stood outside of a Washington, DC Planned Parenthood clinic in April, protesting the targeted placement.

Aside from aiming at African-Americans, PP’s activities across America are scandal-laced. In Kansas, a clinic is under criminal investigation for falsifying documents and performing illegal, late-term abortions. A California PP is accused of defrauding taxpayers up to $180 million and an employee of a Los Angeles PP was caught on video tape encouraging a minor girl to lie about her age in order to receive an abortion.

Pro-life activists fear that the $10 million PP has pledged to spend this election season will yield unfair influence over legislators to continue voting for federal funding of the organization. Taxpayers have no choice in what aspect of Planned Parenthood their dollars are channeled so individuals against abortion are forced to fund them.

“While we have a historic presidential election, with the first African-American candidate now the [Democratic] nominee, this racist agenda buy such a large organization cannot be ignored,” said Day Gardner, president of the National Black Pro-Life Union.

Sen. Barack Obama, though, possesses one of the most anti-life records in the Senate, having voted against the Induced Infant Liability Act, a bill that would have protected babies that survived late-term abortions.

Obama recently said he hoped his daughters wouldn’t be “punished” with a baby if they decided to have sex at an inappropriate age.

Planned Parenthood’s deliberate moves to situate themselves among a vulnerable population and use tactics — morals aside — to increase the group’s income deserves national attention and Congressional investigation. Gardner noted that donations received from PP are nothing more than “seed money.”

“It’s one hand watching the others money; it’s ‘you watch my back — I’ll watch your back’ money,” she said, adding that the pro-life agenda is not only a Republican platform item.

It doesn’t matter if your claim to fame is as a Democrat or a Republican…abortion is a plague among Americans — and an epidemic in the black community.”

The racist and anti-Semitic legacy of PP is rooted in the beliefs of its founder, Margaret Sanger, who often said that “we must exterminate the Negro population.” Now, more than 14 million black babies have been aborted by PP, in addition to 30 million babies of other races.

According to Ricardo Davis of Georgians for Life, Sanger even created a plan to stop the growth of the black community in response to request by “southern state public health officials.” Her magazine, Birth Control Review, published an article praising a book entitled, “The Rising Tide of Color Against White World Supremacy.”

Pastor Stephen Broden of the Fair Park Bible Fellowship Church pinpointed the PP donations to the RNC and the DNC as a “conflict of interest” and called on both organizations to return such contributions.

“Planned Parenthood has since its inception targeted the black community to fulfill its eugenic philosophy of ridding society of the poor, unfit and uneducated,” he said. “It is outrageous that our government provides a sizeable percentage of our tax dollars to Planned Parenthood’s budget to exercise its philosophy of dysgenics among black Americans.”

There’s a lot that can be said here–not the least of which is the invoking of Dr. King and his memory by a conservative publication that once opposed his movement; the selective (mis)quoting of Barack Obama; and the asserting that one vote earned him “one of the most anti-life records in the Senate”

More importantly is the context they try to frame to win over supporters at the expense of poor women of color (while using other people of color to legitimate that stance). The correlations between reproduction and racism under the banner of “eugenics” are real, historically speaking. But they were hardly the norm, nor are they now. Even when considering the clear record of forced sterilizations (both in this nation and in others) the vast majority of these procedures went to women who were willing participants. [For a great if rather theoretical explanation of the complex sets of forces setting the stage for these battles in Puerto Rico–land of the rumored organized, government-sponsored campaign to sterilize the island’s women to curb population growth–see Reproducing Empire: Race, Sex, Science, and U.S. Imperialism in Puerto Rico by Laura Briggs.]

A conservative cause like the one above is so contradictory as to make me want to scream. They claim to be protecting poor women of color from a racist institution by building from the belief that they know what is best for them. They cover that foundation by using other people of color to legitimate and ground their belief. (If I told you I liked turkey sandwiches would you write how Chicanos love turkey?) Even worse, they claim to stand for “limited government and, above all, a staunch, unwavering defense of American freedom,” except when those limits include stopping a government from deciding what a woman can do to her womb or when those freedoms include the right for a woman to decide the same.

Yes, there are millions and millions of African Americans and Latinos who both oppose abortion and would be willing to say so in vote. I would guess that those numbers even border on the majority in both electorates. Then why haven’t they supported the broader conservative cause in the past thirty years? Could it be that they object to the varied and multiple other ways that same conservative movement stands in opposition to nearly every other struggle they face in this country?