Lessons in Democracy, Courtesy of 'True Blood'

The vampire show's exploration of power structures is like a mini government text book, wrapped up in blood and fairy dust

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HBO


Aside from all the sex and supernatural species, one of the most interesting elements of True Blood is its power structures—the vampire governmental structures, not the I've-got-sharp-teeth-and-you-don't power structures. Power relies on the memories of the people governing and being governed, and their ability to believe that it has been this way pretty much forever. Even on July 4th, celebrating Independence Day, Americans are all too young to remember the monarchy they broke free of, and so the fireworks and slogans are all celebrating a way of life that is already cemented into being. The people who seriously believe America is in imminent danger tend live in the hills with an unhealthy amount of ammunition and are generally considered to be out of touch with reality.

But vampires are older, and the majority of them started life in feudal relationships and monarchical structures—and they continue to use them, regardless of what the young human societies get up to. Though vampires have pushed to continue scientific progress through the ages, with vampire Pasteur inventing True Blood (and here it is clear that vampires are a bit unused to modern PR strategies as well—a campaign featuring the lifesaving Pasteur as a vampire seems like it would be such a brilliant coup), they use their existing system of government rather than build a new one. Bill and his fellow believers in humane harvesting of blood infiltrated the monarchies, but it doesn't appear they intend to change the structures themselves, or even change their original uses very much. In fact, it is unclear which is having more effect on the other—Bill on the power structure, or the power structure on Bill.

With their long-held feudal mindset, it would naturally be difficult for the vampires to understand how galling requiring a "protector" would be to Sookie. Plus, the idea of regular women being independent is still just the latest fad to someone as old as most of these vampires. Sookie has lived her whole life in a society without feudalism, whereas the vampires see those relationships as standard good sense, like starting your 401 K or shelling out for health insurance. As Pam points out, Eric is her maker, therefore she could never be expected to go against his wishes; Eric, much as it irritates him, follows Bill's orders because Bill is now King of Louisiana. With this in mind, Eric's nonsensical notion that the deed to a house includes the people in it begins to have some internal logic after all—it's more or less how things worked for most of his existence.

Times are changing, though, hastened on by technology—terrorizing a crowd quickly gets complicated if it is being widely broadcast. As Pam says, and many leaders can probably sympathize with, everyone is having to get used to allowing "these good people practice their constitutional right to be fucking idiots"—at least while the cameras are rolling. With no cameras present, Eric's dealings with the budding necromancers are decidedly undemocratic... and then someone stronger comes along. It's like a mini-government text book, wrapped up in blood and fairy dust to increase the appeal.

Happy Independence Day.

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Clarissa Matthews contributes to TheAtlantic.com, mostly in the form of product management. She is a graduate of Swarthmore College and Columbia University's Publishing Institute and lives in Washington, D.C.

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