HBO’s True Blood Libel
This week, the popular vampire series finally incorporated a Jewish theme—and played into a centuries-old slur
The premise of the show is that vampires could finally come out of the coffin once the Japanese developed a synthetic blood substitute. Unfortunately, in real life, we Jews lacked such a simple, clear signal that it was safe to come out as Jews. One could argue that the lesson of Jewish history, much like that of a horror movie, is that once you think the danger’s past, something horrible leaps out of the dark. Unintentionally, perhaps, invoking blood libel and Hebrew prayer is a reminder that we’re more Other than some of us would like to think.
Of course, I realize that this is a campy TV show. But I wonder whether part of the problem is how relentlessly goyish this show has always been. If there had been any Jewish characters (uh, ever, in five seasons) to counter the portrayal we saw this week, it might feel less opportunistically creepy. I know that the fictional, swampy town of Bon Temps, La., where the show is set, is unlikely to have a shul. But the vampire bar Fangtasia is in nearby Shreveport, a real live place with real live Jews. Shreveport has had three Jewish mayors! (I read it on Wikipedia.) And Fangtasia is a very popular vampire bar, so you’d think it would have a Jewish accountant. Or a Jewish lawyer, what with all the people getting their blood drained in the parking lot and beaten up by “God hates fangs” protesters outside.
But not only has this show not had any Jewish characters, it’s barely had any Jewish actors. Only two major characters were portrayed by Jews: Lizzy Caplan played Amy, Jason Stackhouse’s privileged, slumming, vampire-blood-addicted girlfriend, and Evan Rachel Wood played Sophie-Anne, the crazy-eyed Vampire Queen of Louisiana. But those characters are dead, and guess what: While there have been 169 actors who have appeared in the credits of this show (I’m nearly as good with IMDb as I am with Wikipedia), only a handful—Lauren Weedman, Andrew Rothenberg, Dahlia Weingort—have names that suggest they might be members of the tribe. Star Trek had more Jews, and it was set in outer space.
There was even a joke about the show’s goyishness in the first episode of this season. When hot Nordic blond vampire Eric got his emergency fake-ID papers (if you’re not a watcher of this show, just go with it), he discovered that his new name was Ike Applebaum. This Jewish-sounding name prompted him to raise his eyebrow sardonically. Oh, ho ho. When hot Nordic blond vampire Eric was promptly captured by the Vampire Authority, it became clear that there would be no “Ike Applebaum, Vampire CPA” plotline. But what if there had been? What if the show were to explore, sympathetically, the inner lives of the Jewish undead?
It’s a shame the show had to other-ify us so harshly on Sunday when it could have drawn a far more sympathetic (and nuanced, and interesting) parallel between Jews and vampires. You know, more like the one it’s been drawing between vampires and gays for five seasons. Maybe it’s time to add a non-caricatured, non-cartoonishly evil Jewish character to the mix. Maybe a confused Chabadnik who comes to Bon Temps to recruit and discovers that he’s a shapeshifter? Or a tortured Golem yearning for a father, brought forth from the boggy soil of the bayou? I’m not saying the show has to treat Jews seriously—not when it’s teeming with over-the-top portrayals of Maenads, werewolves, witches, fairies, and brujos. But maybe in the future it can avoid invoking real hatred and misunderstanding that caused the deaths of so many actual people and treat us with the same kind of non-invisibility with which it treats its non-humans.
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As Twitter and text messages force linguistic brevity, English starts to look more like vowel-free Hebrew