Monday, May 10, 2010

True Blood title sequence: sexual consumption and intolerance of the Other

The beginning title sequence of True Blood effectively sets the location and space in which the narrative will unfold while alluding to racial tensions and overt themes of sex and consumption. In a recent interview, design house Digital Kitchen’s Shawn Fedorchuk, one of the main creatives behind the storyboarding of the True Blood title sequence, alleged he wanted the credits to take on “a point of view of a supernatural, predatory creature observing human beings from the shadows, almost stalking them” [1]. The sequence begins underwater with the camera tilting up from a menacing, amphibious creature lurking in the depths, immediately cutting to the eye of a crocodile that stares unblinking at the camera. The following shots pan across deserted swamplands, simultaneously locating the action in the Southern state of Louisiana (well-known for its alluvial topography) while also insinuating that the actions to unfold will deal with “creatures” literally hidden beneath the surface of society, important both symbolically and literally as vampires sleep underground.

As the camera takes the viewer away from the swamplands and along the streets of a town lined with picaresque houses and Mom and Pop liquor stores, we get our first clear glimpse of some of the people who inhabit this Louisiana town: black women in their Sunday best, singing and clapping their hands in a church choir. As the camera continues to move along the sleepy storefront of a liquor store, there is a cut to archival black and white footage of civil unrest between black and white folks with an intervention by police officers. The archival footage has most likely been taken from a Civil Rights protest in the 1960s, hinting to the viewer that similar struggles for civil rights will unfold during the course of the program’s narrative, in this case contextualized with the Vampire Rights Movement. The choice to show these black faces after images of the creatures that inhabit the literal underbelly of the swamplands might be an attempt to prepare the audience for the depiction of a Southern state that still positions minorities against the hegemonic norm of whiteness, a town in which white (in this case white human) authority is bureaucratically superior and minorities still maintain their traditional Southern role of persecution.

The next several bodies that we see are white and evoke some reference – both indirect and directly – to either sexuality or violence: the black lingerie-clad body of a blond woman on a bed; the youthful, blank face of a tiny, hood-adorned Ku Klux Klan member; two young boys smearing a pulverized strawberry across their mouths and chins. After the shot of the half-naked white body, the audience is privy to the slow-motion shot of a snake preparing to strike an unseen victim that might just be the unassuming white woman. If we are to link the black, minority bodies to their introduction by gruesome yet inactive swamp creatures, then the same connection can be made for the relationship between the predatory snake and the violent and sexualized white bodies: in this narrative, white men are the main purveyors of violence who are able to comfortably and openly speak about killing the minority vampire figures.

As the title sequence moves on, we see several female bodies juxtaposed with dead or dying animals: an image of a white, half-naked woman lying down just before a shot of a flattened, bloody possum; in another sequence, a woman sits on the edge of a pool table, wrapping her legs around a man’s waist, an image in contrast with a frog being consumed by a Venus Flytrap. By equating these sexual bodies with dead animals and creatures capable of consumption, the title sequence attempts to align sexuality with nonhuman creatures in a way that foreshadows the miscegenation between humans and the undead that is to occur in the program's narrative. The Venus Flytrap functions as a visual play on the vagina dentata, a male fear of the female sex organ as a possible castrator due to the female’s “lack” of a phallus [2] that can be said to serve as a comment on Jason Stackhouse's fear of having sex with both vampires and women who have copulated with vampires. The dead, bloody possum juxtaposed with the white, half-naked female body serves as a reference to “meat” available for consumption by whatever creature intends to feed on it. As the song “Bad Things” by Jace Everett plays to its end, the sequence culminates with convulsing black bodies in a Baptist church and two white men baptizing a white woman in a lake. The intense religious imagery, including a brief shot of a cross bursting into flames and two white women praying and crying, notifies the viewer of the religiously-informed position of most of the people in this small Southern town. If the brief shot in this title sequence of a church sign reading "God Hates Fangs" didn't do enough to convince the audience that this town is filled with intolerance of the Other - even an Other who looks so much like them as humans - the events that unfold on the show will convincingly depict this atmosphere of religiously- and socially-formed intolerance in due time.

[1] Shawn Fedorchuk. Qtd in “Doing Baptisms, Bars and Bloodlust.” Red Orbit, 10 September 2008.

[2] Discussed in Barbara Creed. The Monstrous-Feminine: Film, Feminism and Psychoanalysis. New York: Routldge, 1993. 105 - 121.

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