Thirsty for a Fresh Take on All Things True Blood?

WELCOME! Thirsty for a fresh take on all things True Blood? Pull up a virtual barstool at the Pierced Pomegranate Tavern where sisters Rachel and Rebecca are serving up juicy feminist analysis with a twist and opening a vein of thoughtful sociocultural dialogue on HBO's hit series.

Like the epic literary salons of eras past - theaters for conversation and debate which were, incidentally, started and run by women; where the spirited debate about the issues of the day ran as copiously as the actual spirits did - but updated for the digital age, the Pierced Pomegranate Tavern is a fun forum for exploring questions ripe for discourse about the human condition & today's most crucial social issues through the medium of True Blood.

Your salonnières are not peddling liquor per se, but they are offering up new and alternative ideas informed by such diverse influences as pop culture, art, music, cultural history, Goddess studies, transformative theory, literature and poetry, and archaeomythology, filtered through the sieve of their own lived experiences as feminist women of a particular age, background, and culture.

This is a space where you - patrons and passersby alike - can view and engage with these perspectives through the lens of True Blood and contribute your own thoughts. So, no matter if you're a Truebie or a more casual viewer of True Blood, or your drink of choice is a pomegranate martini - one of Rachel's favorite cocktails to drink and Rebecca's to mix - an herbal tea, a frothy double mocha latte, or a can of Fresca (wink, wink) you're invited to join the conversation on the show's complexities in a way that can spark transformation.

Hopefully you'll find something to sink your teeth...err...straw, into! PLEASE ENJOY RESPONSIBLY ;-)

YOU'VE BEEN SERVED (A WARNING)...

The Pierced Pomegranate Tavern is dedicated to exploring social issues and more through the lens of True Blood. As such, you may encounter:

*SPOILERS
*TRIGGERS
related to the often provocative and adult themes presented by the show

If you choose to enter and participate in this virtual salon, please be prepared to do so in a thoughtful, respectful, and mature fashion with the above in mind. Click here to check out our comment policy. Thanks!

Disclaimer

No copyright infringement is intended, all rights to True Blood belong to HBO, credit is ascribed to sites where images appearing here were originally found.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

I don't know who you think you are, but before July is through, I wanna talk equal rights with you!

"I ought to post something about this", I remember telling my mom after she finished reading a piece on it being high time to honor our foremothers and pass the Equal Rights Amendment by Newsday opinion columnist Janus Adams to me over the phone on the Friday before the 4th of July.

By the time we got on the phone, the crickets were already humming in the grass and the sun had dipped low on the horizon. I was hurried, getting ready to take off for a trip upstate to the Lake George area to spend the long weekend with my in-laws. I knew we had to shove off in about two hours or so, and my mind was preoccupied.

Stomping around in the cramped confines of my laundry room with the phone balanced precariously on my shoulder, I was rooting through piles of folded wash for enough clean underwear to pack for the next three days and thinking about how best to avoid the crush of holiday traffic when Mom asked if I had time to hear an article she planned to tape to the fridge.

She does that, you know. A lot. Taping stuff to the fridge, that is. Her refrigerator is like a veritable billboard; gone are the scribbles and macaroni mosaics that decorated it when we were kids, replaced by political cartoons clipped from the paper, magnets that share the varied causes and ideas she supports, and lovely artwork accompanied by philosophical or spiritual mantras reminding her - and us - of who she is and what she believes. It's like a personal - or family, really, mission statement.

The apple hasn't fallen far from the tree - you should see my fridge! But I digress...

Mom wanted to read me something she planned to include as part of the rotating exhibit of refrigerator wisdom in the hopes of sparking a family conversation around the gendered politics of Independence Day that weekend, and I knew it behooved me to listen.

She had me at the first sentence, "As we celebrate our Declaration of Independence this holiday weekend, a triumph of history, let's pause to consider our herstory" [emphasis mine].

Also the author of Sister Days: 365 Inspired Moments in African-American Women's History, Adams highlighted Democratic NYS Rep. Carolyn Maloney's efforts to reintroduce the Equal Rights Amendment. It's been four decades since Congress passed this constitutional amendment enshrining the equality of rights under the law not to be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of gender - and three decades since its defeat, three states shy of the 38 needed to ratify it within 10 years.

The struggle for women's rights in the U.S. has been long and hard. Adams traced its history to March of 1776, when another female Adams - Abigail - chided her husband John to "remember the Ladies", following it through to the present day and the recent Supreme Court dismissal of a massive class-action gender discrimination suit against retail giant Walmart. In this context, she asked, "What of the rights of women?".

According to Adams, we here in 2011 are far from 1848 (the year of the Women's Rights Convention and its platform, "A Declaration of Sentiments," that exposed "a history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman."). But not far enough.

Invoking the liberatory legacy of the Seneca Falls convention the Female Anti-Slavery Society, of Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and of the unsung women - black and white - who defied slavery and refused to be silenced or deterred by white abolitionist men who thought they had no place in the movement, Adams called for the passing of the ERA.

Here’s the True Blood connection: the as-yet unratified Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) is the capstone for the gender-blind laws liberal feminism has historically fought for which, according to the eminent Professor of Social Work Mimi Abramovitz (1996), include the right to vote, to enter the market, the receive an education, to own property, and to control their own bodies, to earn equal wages, etc.

As we wrote on our Feminism-With-A-Twist! page, the ERA (along with other equal rights and civil rights legislation of the past) seems to serve as the model for True Blood's Vampire Rights Amendment (VRA); the campaign for which has come recently to a highly contentious and divisive head with the string of reactionary anti-vampire terrorism touched off after King Russell Edgington "went Medieval" on TV.

By ripping out the spine of a news anchor and speechifying about the evils of humanity and the "true face of Vampire" before a television audience of millions, the King of Mississippi virtually nuked the American Vampire League's, as he called it, "precious VRA".

Check out this hilarious (yet educational!) AVL "children's outreach program" video promoting the VRA:



According to the True Blood Wiki, the VRA is a proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution that if approved and ratified would extend equal rights to vampires, creating parity with humans. The American Vampire League is the main supporter of the bill; there is also some support in the Senate.

Did you know there was a pro-VRA rally in D.C. in 2008?




Yes, it was part of the viral marketing campaign launched on the website BloodCopy, but it did more than generate interest for the show; it actually helps set its sociopolitical tone.

The Wiki continues that the VRA has received strong opposition from freshman "Congressman David Finch" (remember him from S1, smoking weed with Lafayette after their paid-for "date"?) and other conservative elected officials and organizations such as the Fellowship of the Sun. The main fear of the opposition is that recognizing equal rights for vampires would lead to the "vampirization" of America.

Under the law as it presently stands, vampires do have certain rights:

  • Vampires are able to own not only their own homes, but open-to-the-public businesses as well; for example, Eric & Pam own Fangtasia
  • They can marry IN SOME STATES ONLY, paralleling the limitations for under the Defense of Marriage Act

Vampires also have their own hotels, such as the Hotel Carmilla in Dallas, which caters to vampires, as well as their own airline, Anubis Air, equipped with specialty coffins for flight. Remember these from Season 2? While these niche busineses necessarily provide for the special needs of vampires, they also raise the spectre of "separate but equal".

Now, anti-vampire sentiment seems at an all-time high. I remember seeing some tell-tale graffiti scrawled across a brick wall in an early Season 4 episode, "Save a friend, kill a vampire". In her Newsday piece Adams recalls that in 1838, so opposed were pro-slavers to the activities of the Female Anti-Slavery Society (started by black woman and, by that time, joined by white abolitionist women) that rioters - emboldened by the blind eye of the police - torched the group's Pennsylvania Hall convention site and stoned the fleeing women. A similar fate for vampires seems possible in light of the threat posed by Marnie, possessed as she is by the spirit of a 17th century witch who was burned at the stake and is seeking retribution against the undead for her torment at the hands of a few of their numbers centuries ago.

Would there be public outcry if she caused scores of vampires to walk into the sun? Or would the public feel that the uppity undead - audacious in their quest for equal rights with humans - had gotten what they deserved; the true death? 

True Blood's VRA plot line acknowledges the inequality and stratification of contemporary U.S. society as well as the challenges of partisan politics (hello, debt ceiling talks) and making social and political change. We’ll see if Nan Flanagan can muster a political solution or if the legislation – and the AVL - are dead in the water. 

Tears of resonance are moistening my eyes; writing this post (like gazing at Mom's refrigerator) been an exercise in remembering what really matters, what's important, and what we must continue to fight for. I feel reinvigorated in my commitment to anti-oppression work and ever grateful to my mom for sowing its seeds in me - and for being there to water, fertilize, prune, and trellis my plant of social justice as it's grown and matured, branching out in many directions.

Thanks, Mom.

And Vive la Fridge!

~ Rachel
References

Abramovitz, M. (1996). Regulating the lives of women: Social welfare policy from colonial times to the present. Boston, MA: South End Press.    

Allusions to the Feminine in Season 4 of True Blood, OR, Has the Season of the Witch Brought Compelling, Multidimensional Female Characters to the Screen?

And since we're talking about the Season of the Witch, I've noticed that the past five episodes have been rich with to the allusions to the Feminine.

For example:

Moon Goddess Emporium
The sacred, feminine-feeling space Marnie and her eclectic circle of Wiccans call their own.

Luna
This newly-introduced character's name is evocative of the elusive, watery moon-governed depths associated with the Feminine.



Sookie's being gone for thirteen months, the number of moon cycles in a solar year.


As The Heart of the Goddess: Art, Myth and Meditations of the World's Sacred Feminine Hallie Iglehart Austen (1990) writes, The Great Goddess of Laussel (left) points to her belly with left hand, and in her right she holds a horned crescent notched with thirteen lines, representing the ancient honoring of the mysteries of the female body. In this image is reflected the waxing and waning of the moon parallelled by the ebb and flow of menstrual blood; it embodies the wisdom of non-linear, cyclic time - spiraling eternal growth.


According to Austen, in the French limestone cave where this relief is found, "The soot of countless fires has darkened the ceilings, and the floors have been beaten down by many feet" (1990, p. 6). Indeed, She once pervaded.

On her gorgeous website The Suppressed Histories Archives, Max Dashu explains that rock murals, clay and bronze pots, and countless figurines recovered from archaeological sites worldwide show that in the earliest cultures, representations of humans were almost exclusively female.


These recurring signs reflect spiritual concerns and ritual & everyday life of the people who created them.












Commonalities recur in artifacts of diverse archaic cultures; same patterns appear in more recent indigenous societies in the Americas, Africa, parts of Asia. Austen (1990) writes that for 25,000 years the female body was revered as sacred. The hold of the Goddess may go back much farther.

According to Ward (2006) some of the earliest work of human art in existence consists of female figures dating to at least a quarter million years old.

For example, the Berekhat Ram Figurine, a small yellowish-brown pebble the size of a jellybean (left) found in the Golan Heights in 1981, is dated to approximately 233,000 B.C.E. - a time when early humans weren't even supposed to have developed symbolic thinking, or even language yet. In fact, this carving dates to 100,000 before the appearance of Homo sapiens; the race that carved it was only just evolving into "us". And yet, one of them thought to shape a woman out of a small stone.

How might living in such a culture make you feel about women? The world?

This was not art as we know it, to be displayed on a museum shelf. Though these figurines, the Goddess truly lived amongst her people; they have been caressed, danced with, sung to, had oils and ochre rubbed into them.

Acheulian Goddess
Golan Heights, 800,000 yrs. old
Great Goddess of Willendorf
Europe, 25,000 B.C.E.
Imagine holding one of these Goddesses in your hand.
Feel her roundness, the comforting security of it.



Imagine carrying her throughout your day’s work…on your travels, sleeping with her beside your bed, waking up beside her (Austen, 1990, pp. 4-5) as our Paleolithic and Neolithic ancestors did.

How might being in such close contact and communion with Her form change your relationship to the female body?

Austen implores us to imagine a world in which images like the Great Goddess of Laussel were carved over the entrances to our houses of worship, or over our supermarkets and schools. She seems to be asking how a cityscape covered with (positive, representative) female images might shift our collective ways of being.

Do you agree that there is a dearth of such female images in our society?

Season 4 of True Blood  may offer a remedy, at least according to writers like John Kubicek of BuddyTv who in his June 24th piece describes it as the Season of the Witch and the Women.

With the addition of "a number of new strong women to the show" via two new female main characters (the powerful witch Marnie & shapeshifter Luna) and the promotion of Nan Flanagan (vampire spokeswoman) and Holly (witchy Merlotte's waitress) to series regulars joining Sookie, Jessica, Tara, Arlene & Pam, Kubicek feels the women really get their chance to shine.

Besides Marnie and Luna, we've also met three new female supporting characters, including the lawyer Portia, Wiccan-cum-vampire security woman Katerina, and Naomi, a cage fighter with an unlikely romantic connection to Tara.

Plus, the credits are now more evenly disbursed in terms of gender, with nine female and ten male primary cast members.

Clearly, Kubicek isn't just talking about quantity, he's also talking about quality.

When he talks about "strong women" on the show I get the impression that he means well-written female characters as opposed to ones who are invulnerable to pain and strife, etc. And goodness knows we need more of those; the lack of good writing for women in Hollywood - not to mention in literature - is what drove Tanya Wright (Deputy Kenya Jones) to pen the script for her film Butterfly Rising, which she later adapted into a novel of the same name. If you can't find solidly written female characters, you've gotta develop them yourself, right?

Here's an archetypal model for such a "strong woman"...

...Look familiar? Yup, this painted terracotta female figure circa 3,500-3,400 B.C.E. was the model for the artifact the maenad Maryann struck the pose of while summoning and channeling her considerable power.

All the other images in this post came from books or websites, but I took the picture above myself; when I visited this pre-dynastic Egyptian figure in person with Rebecca and our mom at its current home in the Brooklyn Museum I was awestruck.

So taken was I by this statuette that I took photos from several angles.


A plaque near its display case reads:


This female figure, shown in a long white skirt, was found in a tomb. Does she represent a goddess, a priestess, or a mourner? Is she grieving, dancing, or manifesting her power?


So striking is this statuette - one of the most famous pre-dynastic works in the world - that all of the museum's educational and PR materials are anointed with its image.

Another similar, "triumphantly female" (Austen, 1990, p. 8) terracotta piece also comes to us from pre-dynastic Egypt:

  

As Austen writes, she emphasizes her breasts and buttocks with a dignity and strength that reminds us of women's power and beauty.

These are compelling, multidimensional female images.

So what do you think, has True Blood stepped up to the plate in terms of writing women characters that bring such strong presence to the screen?

Let us know below!

~ Rachel
References

Austen, H. I. (1990). The heart of the goddess: Art, myth and meditations of the world’s sacred feminine. Berkeley: Wingbow Press.

Dashu, M. Icons of the Matrix. Retrieved March 15, 2011 from: http://www.suppressedhistories.net/articles/icons.html

Ward, T. (2006). Savage breast: One man’s search for the goddess. New York: O Books.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Thou Shall Not Suffer a Witch to Live

*DISCLAIMER - GRAPHIC IMAGES AHEAD*

The Burning Times & Sexual Torture

Did you happen to notice the unholy glee with which these two matter-of-factly discussed the perversely sexualized protocol for burning a witch? Rebecca and I did, and it turned our stomachs.


"You must burn a witch properly, first the calves," the bishop leeringly explained in Spanish to the aristocrat at his side, "the thighs, and the hands, then the torso and forearms"...

...and as added sick delight played across both their faces, he continued, "los senos" (the breasts). 

Marnie's dreaming mind had conjured this diabolic vision, injecting her into the spectacle as an unseen, unheard observer. "This is madness" she shouted as a hooded figure touched his lit torch to the pyre that had been built up around the condemned Antonia, and ran into the crowd. "We must stop this, we have to save her!" Her frantic cries went unnoticed, as the bishop pronounced to the wealthy noble, "She cannot be allowed to die until her face is in flames."

*This scene appears in the video clip below, preceded by some context




Thou shall not suffer a witch to live
perhaps the world's most misogynistic book
(Exodus 22:18)


This single line of scripture also appears in Part One, Question 6 of the infamous Malleus Maleficarium (Latin for “The Hammer of Witches”, or “Hexenhammer” in German).

Written in 1486 by Heinrich Kramer and Jacob Sprenger and first published in Germany in 1487, it went on to become the de facto manual for the witch-hunters and Inquisitors of the Burning Times in Europe - a brutal period spanning the four centuries preceding the Enlightenment.

Ashes and cobwebs have gathered in the dark corners of our collective memory of the time from the late Middle Ages to the early Modern Era when women [and some men] deemed heretics by the Church were ruthlessly persecuted. In her book Shakti Woman self-described radical feminist healer, independent scholar and wisdom teacher Vicki Noble sweeps them away, revealing the still smoldering embers of remembrance of "the incredible loss of nine million 'witches' (women healers)" (1991, pp. 2-3) still glowing in our psyches.

Noble writes of the Malleus Malleficarum:
This book charged women, in the lewd details that sprang from the repressed minds of the Catholic clergy, with all manner of lust and fornication. But most prominently this book declared in no uncertain terms that any woman who was successful at healing was by definition a witch and would be burned. Children were forced to watch their mothers burn at the stake, and women were routinely raped, violated, and tortured until they confessed to anything the Inquisitors accused them of. (1991, p. 192)
According to Noble, the virulence of the Church's enforced celibacy erupted in the mass acting-out of this most noxious of medieval treatises' prescriptions for identifying and dispatching witches. Women were accused of being “carnal” at the core, the source of every temptation for men, linked with evil, sin, and degradation.

THE WITCHES SABBATH German, 1510. C.E.
Brazen nakedness was a sign of witches' evil nature
Once held as sacred, female body now represented depravity

The "blaming of the flesh" (Sanchez-Grant, 2008, p. 89) - and its harsh punishment - was part of every Inquisitor's playbook as the female body (seen as naturally unstable, deficient, unruly) became a site of oppression.

In the fevered and repressed minds of the witch-hunters, if sex = evil (Stone, 1976), the punishment must fit the crime.

I hesitated to post the image below due to its graphic nature, but after consulting with Rebecca I decided to go ahead and put it up because it's actually one of the tamer representations of the interrogation by sexual torture inflicted upon accused witches. 



It comes from an excellent slideshow on About.com on the persecution of witches and witchcraft where you'll find other such period illustrations that rival today's most hard-core pornography.

*PLEASE NOTE* We believe that no matter how dark and disturbing, we can't deny our history lest we be doomed to repeat it. However, we do feel some images are just too graphic and offensive for display at the PPT. To view a woodcut depicting the true depth of the depravity of the sexual torture of accused witches (and information on the origins of witchcraft, influences on our modern perceptions of witches, etc.) see Garden of the Witch

According to Noble (1991), the late American radical feminist philosopher, academic, and theologian Mary Daly would cite a parallel between the killing and maiming of women in large numbers during that time to the modern practices of gynecology.

In this vein, Arisika Razak writes of "the cultural rape of women by the dominant health care model" - a model that has usurped the woman-centered and woman-dominated profession of midwifery and placed birthing in the hands of "an obstetric speciality that accepts the myth of the dangerous womb and the hostile vagina" (1991, pp. 165 & 171). She continues that under the Newtonian and Cartesian worldview, the body was seen as a functional machine. The male body was he perfect expression of that machine; the female most imperfect and scarcely worth study. Under this logic, which persists today, the medical profession casually removes the sexual parts of women; breasts, uteri, and ovaries - and a hundred years ago, clitorises.

Interestingly, Razak notes that since pain in labor was sen by the medieval Church as God's punishment to wisdom-seeking Eve, midwives in the Middle Ages were burned as witches for the sin of seeking herbs to reduce women's pain.

The About.com gallery covers witch hunt and Inquisition-related topics ranging from the suppression of dissent & outsiders, Church depictions of witches & witchcraft, and how misogynistic, patriarchal attitudes fed the fear of witches to the persecution of women, torture implements used, witch hunts in America, and witches as scapegoats.

If you're curious (and brave) I encourage you to check out these valuable resources to learn about this shameful time during which the Catholic church seized all property of the witches it murdered and became rich as a result of the plunder; centuries from which records tell of whole villages where all the women were wiped out (Noble, 1991).

Implications of this Barbarous History for Today's World

I hate the disagree with ya, Nan Flanagan, but what happened in Salem, MA in the terrifying year of 1692 when nineteen men and women were hanged as witches, one man was pressed to death under heavy stones for refusing to confess, and several more people died in jail can't just be chalked up to, "just a bunch of neurotic Puritanettes who needed a good lay". 

The same formula that led to the conflagrations of the Burning Times (fear + trigger = scapegoat) was at play in Salem and still operates in the modern world - as evidenced most recently by last week's terrorist attacks against multiculturalism in Norway that claimed the lives of more than 70 people.

And we are still living in a culture in which, as Razak writes, "male participation in the acts of sexuality and procreation have become so equated with the acting out of hostility, physical oppression, and fear that rape, incest, and sexual abuse and murder of children, and the battering of women have become health issues of pandemic proportions" (1991, p. 165). This is certainly not to brush all men with the broad strokes of modern-day Inquisitors, but the larger societal patterns Razak speaks of are undeniable. 

The Salem Witch Museum serves as an educational resource for the lessons of that time applied to the present day. My husband and I visited in 2005 and I still have our admission stickers glued to my wallet:

 


There we saw an exhibit asking visitors to consider the phenomenon of witch hunting in the context of contemporary examples of witch hunts: the Japanese-American internment after Pearl Harbor, the McCarthy hearings on Communism and the persecution of the gay community at the start of the AIDS epidemic - these examples of the fear + trigger = scapegoat formula bring the lessons of stereotyping and prejudice full circle.

For some people, Marnie and her circle & their alternative religious practices/lifestyle might just fit the scapegoat bill. Who are the other scapegoats, what other witch hunts are under way today?

Thoughts?

~ Rachel

Transcription credits to Fangs, Wands & Fairy Dust

References

Noble, V. (1991). Shakti woman: Feeling our fire, healing our world. The new female shamanism. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco.

Razak, A. (1991). Toward a Womanist Analysis of Birth. In Orenstein, G.F. (Eds.), Reweaving the world: The emergence of ecofeminism. (pp. 165-172). San Francisco: Sierra Club Books.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

I am your daddy and I'm gonna teach you how to hunt, shoot, trap and fish and…and how to take clothes out of the dryer

So a bathrobed Terry Bellefleur promised the baby boy he cradled in his arms in I'm Alive and On Fire. Contrast his words with Melinda Mickens’ to her prodigal son Tommy when they were reunited after a time apart: “Don’t you cry too, you’ve gotta be the man”.

Do you see a difference in terms of the image of manhood and masculinity; what it means to grow up and be male in our culture conveyed by these scenes? I do. 

On the one hand, we've got a sensitive father figure imagining aloud his future as a male role model for his wife's son Mikey who, although not his child biologically, he is raising as his own. They'll do all kinds of typical red-blooded American outdoorsy guy stuff together, and yeah, he'll show his boy how to do things that until recently were reserved for the domestic womanly sphere, too.

And on the other, we've got a [conniving and manipulative in her own right] mother trapped in an abusive patriarchal marriage encouraging her son to adhere to more retro-rigid models of masculinity and repress his emotions. 

We need different – more like new - images of maleness and masculinity to replace the ones that reassert the genderized ethos of domination, as Tommy’s mom does when she entreats him to bottle up his feelings, dry up his tears.

In the words of womanist midwife (and professor of women’s studies at my alma mater, the California Institute of Integral StudiesArisika Razak:
The last time I checked, men had tear ducts. They had arms for holding babies.They cared about their children. And they cried at births. (1991, p. 172)
Maybe she was checking Season 4 of True Blood!

tear ducts - check!

arms for holding babies - check!

caring about children - check!

The current season of True Blood - and the episode I'm Alive and On Fire specifically - have delivered several such images that run counter to our culture's image of male heroes as warriors, conquerors of women and nature; a picture of masculinity a growing number of men are increasingly uncomfortable with.

Take Eric, for instance.
No, no no - not that Eric....



...the new Eric.
Nope, wrong again! Not the jogging suited Eric of Season 2 who showed up freshly shorn at the Forever 21-esque boutique where Bill was shopping for Jessica, declaring, "it's the new me".
I'm talking about the new-new Eric. Amnesia Eric. He's contemplative. Playful. Vulnerable, even. And seemingly contrite for the sins of his [distant & more recent] past. Sookie sees the change, noticing out loud to Eric, "It's just that you weren't always like this; gentle, sweet, but it suits you.” (S4E5 Me and the Devil)

Indeed, this [perhaps temporary] version of the Viking, Eric 2.0 seems light years away from the swaggering, coldly calculating, at-times viciously cruel (or as Sookie said in last week's episode, the "smug sarcastic ass") side of the vampire sheriff we have come to know best.
YOU LIKE?
*Sorry, couldn't resist adding that in - truebies will get the reference!.
Sookie certainly seems to. Yet despite her obvious warming to him, Eric doubts himself. Something deep within him knows that he has drifted from society's expectations of an [alpha] male and he fears Sookie will reject him for it.

In the I'm Alive and on Fire scene below, Sookie climbs down into her basement cubby to rouse the uncharacteristically [for the Eric she thinks she knows] morose vampire moping there. She comments that the "real" Eric would not be so down. He begs to differ, replying in protest, "I AM real".  
This exchange is particularly relevant to the point I'm trying to make about True Blood offering up new, more expansive images of masculinity:

Eric: You think I'm weak.
Sookie: No.
Eric: You want the Eric that doesn't feel.
Sookie: It's not that.

Feminist scholar and CIIS professor Carol Christ (1997, p. 161) writes:
Rooted in the ethos of the warrior, modern societies have been described as "dominator cultures" by cultural historian (also on the CIIS faculty) Riane Eisler. The ethos of dominator cultures states that power stems from control. Dominators are taught to control women, nature, children, animals, other men, their own bodies, and their feelings and sensations. The ethos of domination denies or disparages human embodiment, relationship, and interdependence. In the ethos of dominator cultures, finitude, vulnerability, and limitation are called weaknesses.  
We've seen Eric's emotional side before; with Godric, Pam, even with Sookie. But this new openness to feeling, this often being lost in emotive reverie stuff would likely not have jived too well with his human life as a Nordic warrior - or with his present duties as a figure of considerable authority amidst the shifting sands of the cutthroat vampire hierarchy.

It must feel strange and unsettling to Eric; like weakness. On the contrary, in the new Eric I see an image of masculinity that's a step towards changing the patterns of domination that govern our lives and society.
"In a society that wishes us to see men as devoid of feelings,
let us hold an image of men as nurturers (Razak, 1991, p. 172)
And then, we've got Terry who - as we wrote on our Forum's Scope page - describes himself as "a nurturer". This seems an odd juxtaposition with his military background, since the military identity tends to be traditionally hypermasculine in the U.S.  
In Christ's thinking, military training figures prominently in the indoctrination into dominator cultures; into the way such social systems define masculinity and power. "Manhood" is equated with the denial of Eros (defined as a transformative force of intelligent, embodied love which connects us to each other and the web of life) and its replacement with violence. Feminist political scientist Judith Hicks Stieham's quote underscores her point:
The appeal to manhood is very much part of military training...the familiar "This is my rifle, this is my gun [pointing to the penis], one is for killing, one is for fun." (1997, p.162)
The ethos of this institution that breaks down young men's defenses (that which connects them with others) in order to turn "boys" into "men" who readily submit to authority and are prepared to kill has permeated the whole of our culture. In the rituals of daily life we reenact its basic training.

Christ ponders, what would happen if all the energy and resources (money and human capital) spent on war and the cost of repairing its damages were instead devoted to the nurturing of life?

Razak (1991) proposes that new images can be created by men who participate in childbirth and affirm themselves as nurturers of life. Could Terry as a wounded warrior/ wounded healer - someone who [usually, except for that whole Arlene pregnancy thing] responds well to the emotions needs of others, doesn't shy away from holding another wounded man in his embrace, and finds fulfillment in nurturing family life - be seen as positing a new model of maleness? And a particularly potent image of masculinity for our times, at that, given that scores of battle-worn soldiers will soon be returning to our shores from the Iraq and Afghanistan fronts? 

And finally, there's everyone's favorite shape-shifting bar owner, Sam Merlotte. Sure, he's interested in pursuing a romantic relationship with Luna, so getting on her daughter's good side just makes good sense. But did you notice that initially, Luna seemed hesitant to even let Sam know she had a daughter; much less let him meet or get close to her?

Luna's shady behavior when he showed up at her door to return her seducing favor almost led me to believe that she was harboring not a pint-sized dynamo of a kid, but another man inside. Her leeriness to allow a strange man into her daughter's life is perfectly understandable; she's instinctively protecting her child, and part of her probably thought Sam would bolt at the sight of such "baggage".

But he proved her wrong! Sam was immediately at ease with Luna's daughter, crouching down to ask her, "which Barbie doll do I get, I hope she has a bunch of pretty dresses." If a rugged, scruffy-sexy guy sitting on the floor playing with Barbies isn't masculinity stereotype busting, I don't know what is!
Children are usually pretty adept judges of character; from the image to the right, it appears as though Luna's daughter has given Sam her stamp of approval. She can probably sense his genuine vibe.
Men in our culture are not raised to see themselves as relational; they have long been socialized to accept the model of the linear hero’s journey in which others he meets along the path are seen as either assets or barriers to his achieving his purpose.

As Christ writes, many thinkers have portrayed “man” as an isolated rational and moral individual – an island, if you will – and have posited an intrinsic opposition between the self and others who are perceived as impinging upon the freedom of the self. This ideal “independent self” of traditional philosophies and theologies can be seen as a fiction.

Theologian Martin Buber says, there is no “I” without a “Thou”, no self that is not created in relationship with others.

The basic word I-You can only be spoken with one’s whole being. The concentration and fusion into a whole being can never be accomplished by me, can never be accomplished without me. I require a You to become, becoming I, I say You. All actual life is encounter. (Christ, 1997, p. 137)
Buber states further that it is wrong to say that first we “are” and then we “enter into” relationships. "Rather, the longing for relation is primary, the cupped hand into which the being that confronts us nestles…In the beginning is the relation – as the category of being, as readiness, as a form that reaches out to be filled" (Christ, 1997, p. 137).

Too often, the models for being extended to men are more accurately represented by a closed fist than by an open hand reaching out to clasp with another. 

The men of True Blood profiled here - at least in their current incarnations - seem to have hands open and outstretched; they seem ready for relationship, for conceiving of themselves as relational. 

We absolutely need new images, integral models of maleness and masculinity, but, as Razak (1991, p. 165) writes, we must also answer "the critical need our society has to make a new model for human interaction". My eyes are glued to True Blood for what I hope will be a continuing stream of alternative images that can add to the discourse in this regard.

~ Rachel    
References
Christ, C.(1997) Rebirth of the goddess.  New York: Routledge.

Razak, A. (1991). Toward a Womanist analysis of birth. In Diamond, I. & Orenstein, G.F. (Eds.), Reweaving the world: The emergence of ecofeminism. (pp. 165-172). San Francisco: Sierra Club Books. 

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Not 'cause some mean man shoves you in a shed and says you got to...

Jason's Hot Shot ordeal was absolutely horrific.

In Body Matters: Essays on the Sociology of the Body, editors David Morgan and Sue Scott write, "Historically, women have been defined by their 'biological potentiality' (1993, p. 11). Indeed, the same could be said of Jason's recent predicament - strapped down to a filthy cot and forced to be Ghost Daddy stud to the females of the compound, each one having been programmed to obediently and dutifully fulfill her "reproductive destiny" (Sanchez-Grant, 2008, p. 78).

Crystal to Jason, "I got a duty to my kinfolk to propagate the bloodline" S4E2 You Smell Like Dinner


Becky to Jason, “Uncle Felton says I'm old enough and you'd better give me a cub!” S4E4 I'm Alive and On Fire

Bound and nearly helpless himself, Jason was valiant in his determination to have the young Becky spared from such a debasing and dehumanizing fate, displaying the generosity of spirit his captor Crystal lauded him for earlier.

To recap:

Jason, horrified upon seeing Becky approach him from the rear of the breeding shed, shouts out to anyone in earshot: “Oh no, hey she's just a little girl!”. 

Old man Luthor, looking in, yells: "Never you mind, breed Ghost Daddy, breed."

Jason tries to reason with Becky, whose sense of duty to her clan and overriding fear of Felton compelled her to take her place on the breeding line: 

Jason:  “You ever do sex before?”
Becky: “Sure, lots of times...No, but I ain’t scared.”
Jason: “This ain’t the way it should be, your first time. It should be special. With a boy you really like, who brings you presents and candy.”
Becky: “Boys do that?!”
Jason: “They sure do. And, hey, you make love with him cause it’s the right time. Not ‘cause some mean man shoves you in a shed and say you gotta.”

Becky: “I don’t wanna do this with you, I don’t wanna do this at all.”
Jason: “Then cut me loose.”


And she does, exhibiting the bravery and decency that not a one of her kinfolk would, or could. But not before Jason's and many of the women of Hot Shot's bodies were bent to the will of others; their spirits trampled, their humanity utterly violated.

Jason was undoubtedly used, abused, and traumatized at Hot Shot, but so too were the women in the breeding line. The women queuing up to be recepticals for Ghost Daddy's seed have been been manipulated, bullied and exploited by their men; forced to do the bidding of a small number (perhaps only one, truly - Felton) who sit atop the werepanther social heap.


Here's an interesting angle on this.

In their article "'Katrina That Bitch!' Hegemonic Representations of Women's Sexuality on Hurricane Katrina Souvenir T-Shirts", Kris Macomber, Christine Mallison and Elizabeth Seale (2011, p. 529)point out that within the framework of androcentric cultural production, far more derogatory terms exist in English for women than for men [and] sexual slang terms that insult men often simultaneously insult women (e.g. son of a bitch). Applied to the context of the Hot Shot breeding mill, a torment that insults and injures a man also insults and injures many women.

Take for instance the woman who, grunting in frustration as she rides an unwilling Jason, works in vain to reach the orgasm she has been denied her entire married life.


Jason: “Come on now...Get off me!"
Woman: “I ain’t done yet.”
He repeats it, shouting and rocking from side to side, unbalancing her so she is forced off. She starts crying.
Jason: “I don’t know why you’re crying, I’m the one what getting raped.”
Woman: “My brother husband, he just bites the back of my neck, and he holds me down 'til it’s over. You’re the best I ever had.
She pads off, slumping as she yells, “Next!”

Heartbreaking. Jason's rape is unforgivable, but so is the tragedy of a woman's sexuality blunted; pleasurable physical intimacy and the warmth of a loving relationship denied her.

Where does healing begin? For Jason, maybe through the bonds of friendship. In Sunday's episode we witnessed Jason share his pain and suffering with Hoyt. His openness is surprising - but encouraging - given that statistics show male survivors of sexual assault or intimate partner violence are slow to report such crimes or even talk about them at all when their attacker is female. I'm guessing few men [and boys] relish the thought of being re-traumatized, as they will likely be shamed and made to feel less of a man for being victimized by a female. For the women of Hot Shot, now under the paw of Crystal "Big Mama Kitty" Norris, who knows... 

On a larger, systems level, we've got to recognize that sexual violence and exploitation is deeply entwined with the prevailing culture of violence; the ethos of domination. As feminist scholar Carol Christ (1997, p. 158) writes:

To transform the cycle of violence, we must proceed simultaneously on several levels: We must change ourselves and our intimate relationships, especially those with our children, we must transform the deepest values of our culture, and we must reconstruct our social institutions.
We need sweeping paradigmatic change, and it it really does start with us - our own ways of thinking and being, the way we move through the world. Integral thinkers agree that the point at which to leverage the greatest potential for change within a system is at the level of mindset.

When a show like True Blood presents - or perhaps the better word is confronts us - with images of that which is abhorrent, (i.e. Jason's ordeal), it can catalyze within its audience deeper reflection upon the way things are and get us to think and talk about how they might be different. And, maybe unseat some taken-for-granted assumptions and habits of mind along the way. Not a bad place to start, if you ask me!       

Transcription credits: Fangs, Wands & Fairydust

~ Rachel

References

Christ, C. (1997). Rebirth of the Goddess. New York: Routledge.


Macomber, K. Mallinson, C. & Seale, E. (2011). "'Katrina That Bitch!' Representations of Women's Sexuality on Hurricane Katrina Souvenir T-Shirts". The Journal of Popular Culture. (525-544). Vol. 44, #3.

Morgan, D. & Scott, S. (1993).  "Bodies in a Social Landscape. In Body Matters: Essays on the Sociology of the Body by Morgan, D. & Scott, S. (Eds.). pp. 1-22, London: The Falmer Press.

Sanchez-Grant, S. (2008). The Female Body in Margaret Atwood's The Edible Woman and Lady Oracle. Journal of International Women's Studies, Vol. 9, #2.

Monday, July 25, 2011

You aren't supposed to think, you're supposed to follow protocol!

So said King Compton to his [grudging] subject Pam in S4E4 I'm Alive and On Fire
This quote speaks well to a major theme I detected in that episode: hierarchical, authoritarian power & control

IN THE FAMILY

Joe Lee has a choke hold on Tommy and Melinda Mickens 
IN THE COMMUNITY

Crystal: "I'm big mama kitty now, finally. Everyone gonna do what I say"

AND IN THE NATION

the newly crowned vampire king of Louisiana


How is such autocratic rule achieved? How is it maintained? Is it legitimate? Effective? Do we have any alternatives? How can we throw it off?

If we are to organize ourselves and act to get out from under oppressive rule, we've got to be able to determine who's really in charge.

For example, Bill looks rather more presidential than kingly here, no?


In countries where there are both royalty and systems of representative government, the royals are generally seen more as figure heads than politicians; that label being reserved for those in elected office. Interestingly, Bill is being portrayed as the later. 

And he certainly seems to be more involved with matters of state than the two other vampire monarchs we have met thus far on True Blood,  Russell & Sophie-Ann, ever were. Yet, it seems someone else is really in charge.



Now, we all know that at least in this country, there is [supposed to be] balance of power. The executive branch of government is not omnipotent; the president must answer to the congress, etc.

On the surface, at least, this appears not be the case in the vampire nation.

So far this season, King Bill's power seems rather absolute and iron-fisted. Pam's telling him she wouldn't risk lying about Eric's whereabouts because word of Bill's ruthlessness as king has travelled far and wide is seemingly evidence of that. And then there's his condemning the vampire caught on YouTube feeding on a human to the true death without benefit of a trial (I want to take this case to the Authority!" Bill: "I am the Authority, you idiot !"). S4E3 If you Love Me, Why Am I Dyin'

But in this week's episode, we found out that things aren't so simple.

With Bill cast as somewhat of Nan's puppet - his distaste for power wielded unilaterally & unjustly made clear by his sarcasm when she inquird about the execution - could this be a critique of the U.S. system of government? Is True Blood suggesting that our elected officials from the school board to the Commander-In-Chief aren't really holding the reigns, the [fill in the blank - multinational corporations, shadowy interest groups, others in government, etc.] are?

Hhmmm...

Thoughts? Please share below.

~ Rachel