The South is to True Blood as Olympus was to the Greek gods, or the enchanted forest was to A Midsummer Night's Dream. In his introduction for The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture, Charles Reagan Wilson points out that "few topics are more important than mythology in understanding the origin and development of the American South as a distinctive place."
This mythical presence always threatens to appear at a moment's notice in Southern stories, and that is an integral part of the show. Alongside the South's traditional mythology—remembering the good fight and carefree antebellum living—the supernatural world slips right in.
Different versions of the South make appearances. Even with the majority of filming done in Los Angeles, the set is distinctly Southern. (It helps that it looks as if producers have trucked in tons of Spanish moss and coated every tree in sight.) There is a sense of a tight community, and even a bar where everybody does know your name.
One of the main characters, Bill Compton, the vampire king of Louisiana and a former Confederate soldier who didn't lose any of his manners when he was turned into a vampire, is the old South personified. A more contemporary example is last season's hookup between a good old Southern boy and another vampire in the back of a pickup truck with a planation-style mansion in the background. A pack of werewolves that seem to love their Harleys as much as they love howling at the moon is another example of the current South. At every turn, the South, as a state of mind and a place, fills characters with their essence or sets the scene to illuminate them.
The family dynasties of the South are mirrored in the close relationships between older vampires and the younger vampires they created. The old class system rears its head in the aristocracy of the vampires compared with the packs of werewolves, who are hicks in comparison, much like the so-called "white trash" of the old South. In a clever twist on history, the humans in True Blood are meals, in much the same way that slaves were often regarded as less than human. It's also not a stretch to see the hypnotism the vampires love to do as an example of the widespread delusion that developed after the Civil War that the South will rise again.
Ball's previous entry into television, the critics' darling Six Feet Under, applied a similar storytelling device. Six Feet Under had death as a character, making it a constant presence, as the recently departed continued interacting with the living to push each episode along. Death or the fear of it is a common theme in stories. By making death so routine and have characters desensitized to it, Ball made viewers confront death differently, too.
Since so many of the characters in True Blood are already dead, however, this trick would have been stale if it weren't reinvented. So Ball took something as abstract as a culture and made it work in his storytelling trick of seeing something familiar in a new way. People tend to form strong opinions about the South, either good (home and heritage) or bad (closed-minded and xenophobic). Ball, with all the positives and pitfalls in the show, makes it clear the land of Dixie is neither entirely here nor there.