'True Blood': A guy show for chicks?

June 16, 2009

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Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin) and Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer) can't avert their transfixed gaze in HBO's True Blood.

Sunday night's season premiere of HBO's True Blood (which I found to be somewhat lacking, because it seemed mostly about reintroducing everything and everyone while laying groundwork for upcoming episodes rather than being compelling in its own right) got me thinking about the nature of gender demographics and targeted marketing and certain assumptions we tend to take for granted in popular entertainment.

True Blood in general is a cheekily entertaining if fundamentally ludicrous show. While the show has its "serious" aspirations and character arcs, it certainly doesn't go out of its way to take those serious aspirations very seriously. Its focus on cheap thrills and exploitation reaffirms that the term "potboiler" was invented for this show. (Every episode ends on an over-the-top cliffhanger.)

But I also can't help but think of this series as something of a "chick show." Or perhaps a "guy show" made for chicks.

Bear with me here as I employ the usual stereotypes about "guy movies" and "chick flicks." True Blood is a guy show in that it features hot chicks who aren't shy about getting naked, a fair amount of graphic sex, an abundance of blood and gore (scenes of vampires who get staked through the heart and dissolve into gallons of goo, heads severed with shovels, etc.), dialog that is shamelessly crude and profane, and other various trappings of your genre film for genre-philes, all set in the low-income southern grittiness of a Louisiana swampland town.

But it's a chick show in that it stars an innocent (at the beginning of the series, anyway) and plucky protagonist who is mostly sweet and good (and never, God forbid, uses four-letter words!), features key friendships between strong-willed women, has a myriad of handsome guys showing off their six-pack abs, frequently traffics in love triangles for the sake of drama, and is unabashedly melodramatically passionate in its romance-novel scenes between its star-crossed-lover leads. ("Damn it, Bill Compton! I LOVE YOU!" [Passionate embrace.])

And, of course, because it's about vampires. Vampires, as a rule, equals chick flick. (Even Underworld, with its strong female lead, seems to kinda follow the rule, although Blade admittedly does not.) Am I wrong?

Hey, I might be wrong. To be honest, this is all rhetorical and for fun. I haven't really thought it through logically or looked deeply for counter-evidence to the argument. And there is a strong case for simply calling True Blood an HBO series looking to appeal to anyone who wants a thrill ride.

But, really, when was the last well-known vampire novel written by a man? Anne Rice, Charlaine Harris — these books are by women for women. My mom reads these books. My dad, not so much.

And look no farther than Twilight, which is apparently going to be the franchise of all chick flicks. Name a guy who saw that movie who wasn't dragged there by his girlfriend/fiancee/wife, and I'll name you a woman who was counting down the days until Star Trek. Which is to say, I know they exist, but not in my immediate realm.

For that matter, how did I get into True Blood? Because my girlfriend likes the show and hooked me on it last summer, that's how.

I wonder how all these assumptions about guy movies and chick flicks, and what women/men want, got drilled into our heads and gradually accepted as fact. I know they're not absolute, and that there's crossover in all forms of entertainment (True Blood is solid proof of that), but the stereotypes still exist, and are often followed. And then, of course, there are people like me, who shine a spotlight on them for blog fodder. Hey, I'm here for you, bringing you real sociological insights that matter. You're welcome.

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12 comments on this post

    A friend of mine bailed on seeing The Hangover with a group of us to watch this show. We went to his house after and yelled "paging Dr. ******!" into the window. (Hangover reference)

    I'm a single dude and I like True Blood. Good, not great. The only other person that I know that watches it regularly is a friend's girlfriend though.

    It helps that there isn't much else I'm interested on TV right now, particularly since baseball isn't a sport I follow.

    I'm a woman who was counting down the days to "Star Trek" and, indeed, saw it with my mom as our Mother's Day outing. I also saw "The Hangover" opening weekend. So there. :) I suspect a lot of women did. It is my observation that quite a healthy number of women enjoy, and happily admit to enjoying, "guy" movies, but guys seem to think it's a threat to their masculinity to admit they liked a "chick flick."

    Take that as a statement on masculine image and its role in marketing. Not that crappy romantic comedies don't aim at women in the same way, but at least action movies (marketed by people who are smart, at least) don't make women feel bad for enjoying them.

    I wouldn't say vampires equal chick flick just based on those few examples. Even just Lost Boys, as a horror/comedy or it's more gory sequel (with vampire head soccer) or Buffy or Dusk Til Dawn to name a few more show it exists in a variety of different styles (even as vampre-esque creatures like the Wraith on Stargate Atlantis or The Hamiltons). On the other hand I didn't go see Twilight at the cinema but I enjoyed watching it on DVD mainly because the ad showed a dude flying with a chick THROUGH a window! (well, it looked that way to me, so what). And I enjoy watching True Blood (through torrents) but as a guy the thing I like most is the relationship between and the strangeness of sookie and bill and although i can appreciate how it's supposed to be showing the mundane/normalcy of regular life contrasted with the supposed fantastical vampires watching ryan kwanten frak and frak and frak ain't like how ron moore did it much better with EJO just shaving his mo! But then he's EJO. ;-)

    True Blood does seem to have a little bit of everything and that is a huge part of why I like it. Vampires (and humans for that matter) are scary, but also so ridiculous too, and everything else: romantic, serious, funny, pathetic, disgusting, compassionate, etc. This show really has taken the concept of "Vampires come out" and run with it down so many different avenues, not content to focus too much on one aspect or another, but throwing it all together in a way that works and feels like a full and real picture. It glorifies vampires (and again humans), but then turns around and laughs at them in the next breath.

    And yeah, the show isn't perfect, but it has never failed to be enjoyable to me, which is what I want out of a TV show in the end :)

    Pretty good. I've got seasons 1 through 4 currently posted at http://www.jammersreviews.com/st-tng/

    Maybe I'm a chick, because I loved Buffy, and I'm interested in watching True Blood. Although my excuse is that there is a lot of sex. And we guys love sex. :D

    Cool. Waiting for your reviews is kind of like the year we all had to wait for Best of Both Worlds II based on the rumor that Patrick Stewart was leaving. Only this time it's like 2 years. I know I've been waiting with baited breath.

    You are in serious need of well rounded girl friends. :) But I know we are few and far between. I, like Sarah and her mom, was counting the days to Star Trek.
    I watch True Blood and try not to spoil it for my husband who does not read the novels they are based on. We were talking about your post and we came to the conclusion that stories about vampires can be targeted toward any gender. It depends on the story. Just like war movies can be 'chick or 'guy' based on the story. Examples - Saving Private Ryan and Pearl Harbor. Vampires, like war, are just a storytelling subject.

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