Tag Archives: The Sookie Stackhouse novels

Capitalism, Money, and the Sookie Stackhouse Novels

17 Jul

I have written a previous post that mentions the Sookie Stackhouse novels, by Charlaine Harris. Well, the post does more than mention the novels. I actually devote a paragraph-long footnote defending my assertion that characters in the HBO series True Blood are more complex than  their Sookie Stackhouse novel namesakes.

As I said in February, the main exception to the TV Complexity Rule is Sookie’s character. Alan Ball explains why Sookie is more complex in the novels in an HBO sneak preview for season five, saying that the reasons are mostly logistical. The books are entirely narrated from Sookies perspective, but if the TV show tried to replicate this Anna Paquin wouldn’t ever get a chance to rest. By foregrounding other characters and adding subplots, the actress that plays Sookie has time to sleep. I think we can all agree that this is important.

However, one of the things that disappears when we lose Sookie’s narration is her concern with money.

I find Sookie’s interest in money to be one of the most fascinating, most humanizing, and most interesting things about her. In the novels, Sookie Stackhouse is very aware that she did not go to college, she’s a waitress, and she can’t always afford to make payments on things. Her character is loaded with the concerns and insecurities that these facts entail.

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Twilight Does Have Elements of Feminism

13 Mar

I am the Queen of Horror. I love scary movies, sci-fi dramas, crime TV shows, and terrifying novels. There is nothing more satisfying to me than being afraid to sleep at night. It actually gives me a weird sense of pleasure to be unsure about my surroundings, worried about what poltergeists might lurk in the night.

A part of me really believes there are terrifying monsters out there that we know nothing about. That belief is what makes the concept of horror so terrifying for me– monsters can be real.

If this isn't a monster, I don't know what is

But just because I love a good scare doesn’t mean that I disapprove of the creative license many authors use to normalize vampires and werewolves, turning my much beloved, blood-sucking Dracula nightmares into the best boyfriends ever.

I’ve never really understood the need to demonize (har-har) pop-culture creatures of the night. Yeah, they lose pretty much all the classic embodiment-of-the-devil Christian symbolism so apparent in early vampire stories. And sure, modern day vampires lack natural drawbacks designed to make plausible the idea that everyone wouldn’t want to be a vampire. I’ll even grant that it’s pretty creepy that a vampire with a hundred plus years would want to date a seventeen year-old.

Can vampires be arrested for pedophilia?

But these criticisms don’t explain the colossal amount of vampire vitriol out there. Let’s take Twilight, quite possibly the most hated of the teen vampire films/novels around.

There seems to be some sense that the plot is too loose, doesn’t make sense, and has many contradictions, ultimately building “vampires” with abilities that don’t make any sense. Funny or Die takes on this criticism by pointing out that if Edward’s sense of smell is so sharp, he should be tearing Bella apart at least once a month. Cue period jokes.

And of course, there’s the well versed claim that if teenagers are going to be reading, they should be reading something good. Like, the stuff adults tell them to read.

I'm sure kids will enjoy reading these... in school

Probably the most damning evidence, from my perspective, is that the books and movies don’t portray a strong image of female agency and womanhood. But I’m not sure I agree with this criticism.

I wouldn’t say I’m a Twihard or anything; I read the books at 23 after participating in several years of tag-along smack talk, basically touting my wannabe hipster, English major cred. That’s right, I made fun of the books without reading them. I’m not proud of it. I give you permission to frown disapprovingly at me.

Done? Okay. So I read the books really fast (I’m trying to regain your respect, here) while flying home from Kansas. And I actually liked them.

I mean, they weren’t that bad. I had heard crazy amounts of criticism, stuff like, Stephanie Meyers doesn’t know how to use a comma, and,  Oh my god, the writing is Just. So. Bad! 

But I didn’t think they were that bad. Sure, it wasn’t Shakespeare, but it wasn’t the worst thing I’ve ever read. It wasn’t, for example, The Lightening Thief or a Dan Brown novel. Or The Hunger Games. Or The Sookie Stackhouse novels.

There were no hackneyed phrases that made me cringe, which is really rare. Even Philip Pullman used the drink Chocolatl so often it was like an irritating tick. There were also no really glaring plot-holes that I couldn’t look past– although perhaps my sense of disbelief was already so suspended that something sneaked by.

What did strike me about the novels is how poignantly they portrayed the anguish of a first romance, the crazy roller coaster of teenage hormones, and the fear felt by scared-out-of-their-mind parents. That seemed pretty well done to me. And many ladies I know feel that Twilight accurately depicts those tumultuous years.

Moreover, in the final book of Twilight, Bella wins. She is stronger than Edward, more confident than Edward, and willing to fight. And interestingly, it wasn’t even getting her man that made Bella so awesome– in other words, her success didn’t hinge on her marrying Edward. It was only when Bella gained supernatural powers, powers she had been begging for since book one, that she came into her own.

This is significant because Bella’s desire for unearthly, demonic power strongly contrasts with belles from other vampire dramas. Sookie in True Blood wants more than anything to stay a normal, delicate human so she can sunbathe and have babies. Elena in The Vampire Diaries feels the same way– she even lets her father die to save her from the horrific fate of being a super strong, super fast, immortal being.

It kind of seems like all those Twilight haters are a little bit freaked by a lady who wants some power at the expense of kids, her family, and humanity.

Is True Blood’s Lafayette Punished for Being Gay?

17 Feb

By now you all know my love for political discourse and vampire TV, so I decided to tackle a project that I’ve been thinking about for a long while.

I started watching True Blood last year, late after the show’s birth, and I had to get caught up quickly in order to join in on the screening parties several of my friends were having every Sunday. More interesting than the nasty blood and sex scenes, though, were the complicated representations of racial and political discourse in the deep South.

It’s clear that the show’s creators made a conscious decision to create complex characters highly influenced by an intricate social community. The books, which I finished reading last summer, are not quite so nuanced.

Plots in the Sookie Stackhouse novels mainly revolve around everyone trying to kill Sookie and lots of men-folk saving her.* After the third book (I think), the plots consist of Debbie Pelt and her family members coming up with more and more complicated and unlikely plans to kill Sookie, all of which require near constant protection by –you guessed it– men-folk. This gets pretty boring seeing as there are like 13 books, as of right now.**

One thing the books lack is Lafayette,  perhaps the TV show’s most beloved and most discussed character. By season 4, Lafayette has a love interest and super power of his own. In the novels, LaFayette is killed off in book 2, Living Dead in Dallas, in a scene that closely resembles the death of Miss Jeanette in episode 12 of True Blood.

"Lafayette, the cook for one shift at Merlotte's, had been shoved in the backseat. He was naked. It was Lafayette's thin brown foot, its toenails painted a deep crimson, that had kept the door from shutting, and it was Lafayette's corpse that smelled to high heaven." From page 7 of Living Dead in Dallas.

According to Nelsan Ellis, the actor who plays Lafayette, Alan Ball decided to keep the character alive after seeing the pilot episode. Ellis explained in an interview that Ball had the vision for Lafayette’s character, imagining him to be “a myriad of things.”

And Lafayette is a myriad of things, at least the way Ellis plays him. He represents several communities– he’s gay, he’s black, he’s a prostitute, he’s got three jobs and he lives in a back country town in Louisiana. And I absolutely praise Ball and Ellis for creating such a complex and real character.

HOWEVER– I started rewatching the series this week, and I realized that the Lafayette we see in season four is dramatically different from season one’s flamboyant drag queen, and I think there’s something up with that.

In season 1 Lafayette doesn’t take any shit and he is highly protective of his identity as a gay man. There are several incidents when Lafayette plays the activist, fighting for his right to dress and act however he damn well pleases. In one episode, Tara and Arlene walk in on Lafayette in the ladies room. When Arlene implies that he belongs in the men’s room, Lafayette questions her definition of “lady.”

Arlene: “Excuse you, it says Ladies on the door!

Lafayette: “So, what you skank hos doing in here?”

Tara: “Watch ya self Bitch!”

Lafayette: [looking into the mirror] ” I am and I is Gorgeous!”

Although this might not seem political, Lafayette more explicitly defends his lifestyle in earlier scenes. In season 1, Lafayette risks losing his job as a cook at Merlotte’s in order to confront some homophobic “red necks” who refuse to eat his burger because it “has aids.”

His most memorable line sounds distinctly like Tina Fey’s apology for Tracy Morgan’s homophobic remarks— lots of people are gay and always have been, and anyone who won’t accept that fact is living in the past.

Redneck: “Yeah, I’m an American and I got say in who makes my food.”

Lafayette: “Well baby, it’s too late for that. Faggots been breeding your cows, raising your chickens, even brewing your beer alone even before I walked my sexy ass up in this mother fucker. Everything on your god damned table got AIDS.”

Tina Fey: “I hope for his sake that Tracy’s apology will be accepted as sincere by his gay and lesbian coworkers at 30 Rock, without whom Tracy would not have lines to say, clothes to wear, sets to stand on, scene partners to act with, or a printed-out paycheck from accounting to put in his pocket.”

Of course, Lafayette’s speech is more aggressive and confrontational than Fey’s– and less politically correct. However, later in the season Lafayette shows his ability to play nice when he confronts a senator who libels homosexuality on TV.

Lafayette misses work, puts on a suit, and goes to visit the senator at a fundraising event. The senator is distinctly uncomfortable, and is obviously threatened by Lafayette’s homosexual presence in the political arena. Rather than back down, Lafayette displays his power. In front of the everyone he shakes the senator’s hand and warns about hypocrisy, inserting a veiled threat to expose the senator’s homosexuality.

Clearly, in season 1 Lafayette uses his power (both physical and intellectual) to secure respect for his personal lifestyle and for the gay community. But in season 2, there is a distinct shift and Lafayette is punished for his lifestyle, never fully recovering his flamboyant nature or his power.

In season 2 Eric kidnaps Lafayette for selling V, locking him in a dungeon for close to 3 weeks with no explanation. On his release, Lafayette’s character completely changes. In addition to his PTSD, Lafayette loses his desire to live flamboyantly, preferring to lay low in order to avoid notice.

On his return to work, Sam is confused by Lafayette’s meekness. Andy Bellefleur doesn’t believe the “gay cruise” story Lafayette puts out, either. Andy speaks for the viewer when he incredulously remarks on Lafayette’s  lost  “pizzazz.”

We no longer see Lafayette trading sex for money, doing drugs, or selling them. But interestingly, we also don’t see him stand up for himself or his communities again. Sufficiently punished for his lifestyle, Lafayette becomes Tara-like in his response to implied insults– and by that I mean he no longer attempts to convert people. After Egg’s death, Arlene says something racist and Lafayette drags Tara away, telling her to keep her mouth shut.

Later, while selling V for Eric, a group at Hot Shots tells Lafayette they don’t accept “your kind,” whatever that means. Rather than challenging them, Lafayette backs away and it’s up to Eric to rescue him from a severe beating. In the car, Eric advises Lafayette to hide his flamboyancy and to adapt his personality according to different situations.

Something about this situation makes me feel uncomfortable. It’s almost like Lafayette is being punished for embracing his homosexuality and for forcing others to accept it, or at least forcing them to keep their mouths shut.

Now, Hall might have simply been trying to complicate Lafayette’s character in the second season– an admirable act. But it definitely seems like Lafayette’s character is being purposefully toned down as a result of his confrontational approach to bigotry. Sure, Lafayette is still openly gay. But he no longer forces everyone in the community to face and accept homosexuality. He has been effectively subdued.

Ellis talks about the change in Lafayette’s character in an interview and seems to believe that a little humbling might be good for Lafayette.

How will the experience of being locked in a dungeon and almost dying change Lafayette this season?

ELLIS: It certainly humbles him. It shows him there are some situations he just can’t get himself out of no matter how slick he is. He’s going to have to suffer the consequences of what he’s done. And I think he reflects back on his behavior and maybe for a second thinks about changing.

And what has Lafayette done? This might be a reflection on his drug dealing, but considering we learn that he works three jobs to keep his insane mother in an expensive intensive care unit, it doesn’t seem like he’s being punished for unethical capitalism. Moreover, Lafayette continues to sell drugs throughout season 2, so apparently all Lafayette’s humbling has taught him is that if you think you have power– you don’t.

Lafayette’s loss of agency and power is eerie to me, as it seems to reflect a growing trend in TV where gay men are intentionally depicted as wholly nonthreatening. Consider Modern Family, where the only gay characters are completely domestic. Even the two gay men in Glee are a “smug married couple” (excuse my Bridget Jones).***

Kurt and Blaine aren't married, but they sure act smug on their friend date with Mercedes

This follows the castration of female agency on television, where characters like Santana from Glee aren’t allowed to have sex outside of relationships without eventually being forced into a love attachment, no matter how unlikely.

There’s something about female sexuality that TV feels the need to tie down into some form of a respectable relationship, and I see the same thing happening to Lafayette and other gay characters on TV.


*Although Sookie needs a lot of saving in the TV show, many of her attackers aren’t out to get her specifically– mostly she’s just in the way by accident or coincidence. In the novels Sookie is pretty much the center of the universe and everyone seems to be gunning for her specifically. I appreciate how Ball creates other central characters and plots, something the books lack entirely.

**I will say that the Sookie Stackhouse novels are interesting, but not for the same reasons as the HBO show. In the novels, Sookie is a more realistic and complex character whose very real concerns about money, privacy, and heritage create a nuanced depiction of a Southern Belle. She’s quite articulate and stands up for herself verbally, but is unable to have real agency due to serious plot holes in the novels.  There’s also a wider gay community in the novels, with less of a focus on Black and Redneck characters. It wouldn’t be a far leap to say that the “coming out of the coffin” allegory has a one-to-one correlation with homosexuality in the books. In the TV show that connection is much more complicated, with blurry lines drawn to race, homosexuality, and capitalism. The novels are also interesting in their concern with Katrina. In fact, there’s so much to say about these novels I think I better save it for another blog post.

***I haven’t watched the most recent Glee episodes, so this might not be true anymore. If you know, I would be happy to be corrected!

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