Kristina Busse

Abstract for I Don't Hate the South: Familial Blood and the Southern Vampire in True Blood and The Vampire Diaries

SCMS (March 2012)

This paper looks at two current vampire shows set in the South, The Vampire Diaries (CW 2009-) and True Blood (HBO 1998-), analyzes the ways in which both shows reflect the history of the South, and examines where and when they fail to do so. History is ever-present in vampire narratives: the putative immortality assures an eternal and reassuringly static characterization for the vampire protagonists and their rivals while story lines can move through various historical eras. As True Blood and The Vampire Diaries foreground the familial and the Other, continuously negotiating death and blood and history, both series offer an ideal canvas on which to play out contemporary reactions to and comments upon the past that has shaped them. Throughout, the shows use shorthand to evoke the Civil War and its lasting effects on the region. Yet, both shows purposely and consistently avoid this defining moment of Southern history. This is particularly puzzling given the function of the vampire as a symbolic extension of history and Otherness, and given that art, particularly metaphoric and abstract forms, are often more effective than theory for confronting traumatic themes.

True Blood and The Vampire Diaries both feature male protagonists raised in the antebellum American South and transformed into vampires during the Civil War. These characters have personal and specific connections to the South and to its racist past and also embody the vampiric potential of 150 years of tumultuous events and historic changes. Indeed, True Blood initially promise a complex treatment of the South via its opening credits yet, in practice, rarely addresses issues of race, sexism, or homophobia either within the text or in relation to its Black, female, and gay characters. In contrast, The Vampire Diaries does not lay claim to large social justice topics; yet the choice to change the main characters' origins from the Renaissance Italy of the books the show was based on to the plantation-owning antebellum South certainly begs a more specific engagement with that time period and its continuing effects. Even as the vampire characters invite analogies of passing and fitting in—whether via the turmoils of coming of age or through the characters of color and the gay characters in the texts—the shows ultimately refuse to engage with dynamics of Otherness.