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What’s With True Blood’s Concentration Camp?

HBO’s racy vampire drama went too far evoking a gassing and a lynching

Marjorie Ingall
July 02, 2013
Rutina Wesley, Anna Paquin, Lucy Griffiths in a still from True Blood Season 6, episode 1.(John P. Johnson/HBO)
Rutina Wesley, Anna Paquin, Lucy Griffiths in a still from True Blood Season 6, episode 1.(John P. Johnson/HBO)

Oh True Blood, are you freaking KIDDING ME?

OK, I’ll admit I got some stuff wrong the last time I wrote about True Blood for Tablet. Yes, I thought those vampire leaders in Season 5 were chanting in bastardized vampire-inflected Hebrew while sucking down some corpuscles, deliberately and provocatively invoking the imagery of blood libel. (As it turned out, they were speaking Aramaic. Whoops. I’d gone off half-cocked. Which triggered the most Liel-Leibovitz-esque “you freaking moron, you should not be allowed to write for a Shop Rite flyer” commentary of anything I’ve written for Tablet, except for, oh, everything I’ve ever written about Israel.)

But now I feel as redeemed as Alfred Dreyfus’s reputation! In the second episode of Season 6, True Blood really did do something creepily Bad for the Jews! It deliberately evoked the optics of concentration camp gassing—and lynching, too—thus insulting two different historically oppressed groups in one scene! Vampire Bill, who merged with the demon Lilith last season, now can see the future, and what he sees is a future of terrible vampire oppression. First he has a flash of a vampire being dragged behind a truck filled with hooting, hollering Southern yokels. Then he sees his daughter and some of the other vampire characters wearing matching drab uniforms, all standing crammed together in a room with cement floor and a giant drain in the middle. The cinematography is colorless, grayed-out, with the feel of vintage footage. Suddenly there’s a noise, and all the vampires look up, and sunlight pours from the ceiling and they begin to scream as they’re murdered.

Aw jeez, HBO! You do not get to play with two of the most disgusting events in American history to sell us your Grand Guignol vampire sex drama. (And I say this as someone who enjoys Grand Guignol vampire sex drama.) I don’t think any topic is untouchable from a pop-cultural or literary standpoint, but you have to show some sensitivity and not just toss in iconic images deliberately calling back to very real historical suffering alongside all your fairy childbirths involving multiple orgasms, consensual vampire doings in bathtubs and incredibly buff werewolves ripping off their shirts at the slightest provocation. (Not that I am telling you to stop those last three things, you understand.)

In the episode last Sunday, we got no further concentration camp visuals, but we did meet a Mengele-like doctor preparing to experiment on a captured vampire and hear from the daughter of the local (human) governor say that her dad had used state funds to “build a camp; it’s part prison and part research facility…the vampires they’re arresting—they’re not taking them to jail. They’re studying y’all.” We also got to know a new fairy (aka fey) character a little better–Ben Flynn, played by Robert Kazinsky. Ben is mysterious and dimply and congenitally unable to button his shirt. (It made sense last week, because he’d just been attacked by a vampire, so I guess the shirt might have opened when he was rolling around moaning attractively in the dirt. But this week’s episode takes place the following day. WHY IS HIS SHIRT STILL UNBUTTONED.)

On the bright side, Kazinsky looks good with his shirt unbuttoned. And according to IMDB, dude is actually a British Jew who reportedly speaks fluent Hebrew (and appeared in advertisements in Israel, though my attempt to track down a mobile phone commercial he appeared in back in the Holy Land went nowhere). That’s a good thing. However, the fact that he was reportedly suspended from his last British TV show, EastEnders, for texting a crap-ton of porny talk and obscene pictures to a model does not sound very menschy.

Come on, True Blood. Keep the Southern sex comedy and hot supernatural writhing coming. Do not use historical trauma as fodder. And please have the new fairy trot out some non-sexual-harrassment-y Hebrew.

Love, Marjorie

Related: HBO’s True Blood Libel [Tablet Magazine]

Marjorie Ingall is a former columnist for Tablet, the author of Mamaleh Knows Best, and a frequent contributor to the New York Times Book Review.