Feminism / TV

‘True Blood’ Asserts a Pro-Choice Reproductive Rights Message

Originally published at Bitch Flicks. | Warning: If you haven’t seen True Blood, Season 5, Episodes 10 and 11, spoilers ahead!!

I’m pretty much hooked on True Blood. A sexy TV show with a female protagonist, female friendship, diverse and complex female characters, dreamy brooding men (eh, vampires) with tortured souls — what’s not to love??

The popular series has long been called an allegory for LGBTQI rights with its phrases “God Hates Fangs” and vampires “coming out of the coffin.”  TV show creator and former showrunner Alan Ball sees True Blood as an analogy for “anyone that’s misunderstood” while author Charlaine Harris envisioned her series of novels which inspired the show as framing the vampires as a minority fighting for equal rights.

But in the last 2 episodes, another parallel has been drawn: the struggle for reproductive rights.

In Season 5, viewers are introduced to the inner machinations of the Authority, a theocratic vampire government. In “Gone, Gone, Gone,” the Authority appoints creepy Elijah (who looks like he stepped out of a bad 80s hair metal band video) as the new Area 5 vampire sheriff in Bon Temps. When he arrives at the vampire bar Fangtasia, he bullies the fabulously sardonic Pam De Beaufort (Kristin Bauer van Straten) and fierce survivor (turned vampire) Tara Thornton (Rutina Wesley)…aka my new favorite female duo. Elijah informs them of the Authority’s new mandate where vampires must create 30 new “baby vamps” in the district.

Hmmm…sound familiar? Not unlike legislative restrictions on abortion access and contraception.

After Elijah leaves, Tara muses to Pam that she will create 2 new vampires as she always wanted kids anyway. But Pam tells her:

“No. We procreate because we want to. Not because some dickhead dipped in afterbirth told us to.”

Later, Tara decides to take a stand. She tricks Elijah into thinking she’s accidentally killed someone while turning them into a vampire, then she swiftly decapitates him. When Pam enters the room, annoyed and exasperated, Tara tells her:

“We’re not running. No one fucks with us in our house.”

 In last week’s episode “Sunset,” Pam fears the repercussions of Elijah’s murder from the oppressive Authority. Pam explains to Tara (who’s never heard of the Authority) how the regime doles out both laws and religious doctrine. Tara replies:

“They can both keep their fucking laws off my body.”

Yes, yes, yes. Just one of the many pro-choice mantras feminists declared protesting the proliferation of heinous anti-choice laws.

But Pam responds:

“No, they can do whatever they want with your body.”

Again, sounds eerily like what conservative anti-choice legislators are trying to do: control women’s bodies any way they can.

Sure, True Blood is a gory, soap opera romp. But underneath the show’s glossy exterior, Tara and Pam’s conversation conveys the dangers and implications of anti-choice legislation.

Ball acknowledged the political undertones as he said in an interview that Season 5 was inspired by the Republican primaries and watching Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum. He started thinking about what it would be like to have a theocracy in America. He also found it “terrifying…how many people agree” with them.  When you stop and think about it, reproductive health is a big part of our lives. Whether we’re using it, talking about it or advocating access. Yet pop culture and media render it almost invisible.

Reproductive rights are too often absent from film and TV. While notable exceptions exist — Maude, Grey’s Anatomy, Roseanne, Dirty Dancing, Private Practice, Friday Night Lights, Greenberg, Vera Drake, Degrassi, Sex and the City, Girls — most movies and TV series don’t show characters having abortions. But it’s not just abortions missing from plotlines. Besides a few examples — Sex and the City, Girls, Knocked Up, The Walking Dead, Lola Versus,The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Sons of Anarchy — pop culture has a “weird silence on birth control” and condoms.

Anti-choicers have launched an all-out war on reproductive justice, demonizing abortion and contraception. And pop culture has remained fairly silent. Now, I’m not saying it’s the job of films and TV shows to educate. But media “reflects and shapes our values and opinions.” It can reinforce tired tropes and stereotypes, perpetuate myths or shed light on a topic and spark dialogue. Media impacts the way we view the world around us.

Besides salacious sex and shocking plot twists, True Blood transcends mere escapist fun. Weaving reproductive rights into its plot, it makes a bold statement about oppressive governments and the repercussions if we don’t fight back.

With the proliferation of legislative attacks on reproductive rights, we contend with a daily battle for our bodily autonomy. It’s nice to see this struggle reflected in mainstream media…even amongst vampires, fairies and werewolves.

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