Sunday, August 23, 2009

Metaphor: Critical Review of True Blood and Buffy the Vampire Slayer

By Sarah Fallon

TV shows True Blood (Alan Ball 2008) and Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Joss Whedon 1997-2003) are both popular television series’ focusing on the supernatural, specifically vampires. Buffy the Vampire Slayer has been a massive cult success, completing its seventh and final season in 2003. True Blood too has met with a tremendous amount of success and is currently airing (in America) the final episodes of its second season. Both Buffy and True Blood use supernatural themes as a form of metaphor, either for political commentary in True Blood, or as a means of exploring the perils of high school and life in general in Buffy. This review will explore the nature of these metaphors as well as discuss their intention and success.

True Blood, based on the series of novels by Charlaine Harris, explores the idea of vampires “coming out of the coffin” and announcing their very real existence in our world. The central figure of the series is Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin), a young, telepathic barmaid living in Bon Temp Louisiana who falls in love with an almost 200 year old vampire, Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer). Vampires in Bon Temp and the rest of the world are not wholeheartedly welcomed into polite society and are often the focus of prejudice and even fundamentalism. They are representative of the ‘other’ or the outsider, which often, in the show, is related specifically to Gay Rights. This is presented to the audience through the church billboard in the opening credits which read “God Hates Fangs”, occasional background discussions about Vampire Rights and vampire marriage, and the near psychotic fundamentalist insisting that vampirism is ‘unnatural’. Despite True Blood’s popularity there are a number of comments on the internet complaining that True Blood’s overt vampire’s equal homosexuals’ metaphor is confused, ridiculous and offensive (Videogum np). I would suggest these comments are little over the top. I disagree that relating vampires to homosexuals, through metaphor, suggests that homosexuals are over-sexed and violent mass murders (Videogum np). The correlation made between vampires and homosexuals is simply that of a minority group. The concepts of nampire rights etc are only a subplot, within the main narrative, including the sexual and violent portrayals of vampires, these metaphors are largely absent and certainly not all encompassing. Furthermore, the relationship with homosexuality is either presented in a political setting such as on the news, or from a negative human perspective such as the church sign or the anti-vampire fundamentalist. In the second season of True Blood the extremist church group known as the Fellowship of the Sun was further explored, having only been mentioned in the previous season. The Fellowship of the Sun maintains elements of both fundamentalism and cultism. The training of “The Soldiers of the Light” and suicide bombing in the episode “Timebomb” lends itself to a fundamentalist regime, whereas the perky and charismatic leaders and camp style living arrangement for the new recruits seem more akin to an extremist cult.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer completed its seventh season in 2003, four years before the first season of True Blood aired, and can be seen as a precursor to the recent surge in vampire television popularity. Buffy follows the story of Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Gellar), the vampire slayer, “One girl in all the world...” (Chosen 2003). The series is ironically set in Sunnydale California. Buffy often uses supernatural themes as metaphors for the difficulties of life, primarily the Hell that is high school. In Buffy Sunnydale High is literally built upon the mouth of Hell which draws to it many nasty things, including vampires, making the pain of adolescent life all the more unbearable. Tracy Little suggests that those nasty things, particularly in the earlier episodes of Buffy, represent the fears and pressures teens and young adults felt back at the shows inception, which I believe are of just as great concern to today’s youth (282). The pressure of parent teacher night is punctuated by a group of gate crashing vamps, people literally willing to kill you to get on the cheerleading squad, and after having sex your boyfriend really turns into a horrible, violent and cruel monster. In the early seasons of Buffy each week some aspect of teenage life is explored through supernatural themes; abuse, exclusion, self-esteem, peer pressure and of course prom. In later seasons the metaphors become less regular as do the monsters of the week, instead themes become broader, sweeping over entire seasons and focus on issues such as, love, sex and family. One metaphor which remains throughout all seven seasons is the question of identity, which is inextricably linked to Buffy’s role as ‘the’ slayer. While Buffy’s metaphors aren’t quite as glaringly obvious as those in True Blood, they are easily understandable once pointed out, for example; Oz becoming a werewolf referring to the transformation through puberty, Marcie Ross who literally becomes invisible after being continuously ignored by her peers.

The Metaphors present in both True Blood and Buffy the Vampire Slayer are easily understandable, although Buffy’s may be more subtextual, and in that regard are successful. However True Bloods intended message against discrimination and fundamentalism has clearly been skewed by many online commentators, seeing it more as satire than commentary (Videogum & HitFix np). Buffy on the other hand, has had a number of papers written on it and its metaphors, none of which seem to have been misinterpreted. I believe True Blood to be a thoroughly enjoyable show, and did not see the metaphors as confusing or offensive but an entertaining sidebar and would recommend it to anyone capable of enjoying those metaphors at the time and then moving on to the rest of the narrative. Buffy has been one of my favourite shows since I was old enough to get the jokes and the metaphor prevalent throughout has only enriched my viewing pleasure.

List of Works Consulted

Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Dir. Joss Whedon. Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation, 1997-2003

“Can the True Blood Metaphor Get Any More Fucked Up?” Videogum. 22 September 2008. 19 August 2009 <>.

Fienberg, Daniel. “TV Review: ‘True Blood’ Season Two.” HitFix. 12 June 2009. 19 August 2009 <>.

Little, Tracy. “High School Is Hell: Metaphor Made Literal in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Philosophy. Ed. James South. USA: Open Court Publishing Company, 2003. 282-293.

True Blood. Dir. Alan Ball. HBO, 2008.

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