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'True Blood' Draws New Blood in Vampire Myth

08/29/2012 01:06 pm ET | Updated Oct 29, 2012

Even after five seasons, it's still clear why "True Blood" is popular. It's the sex, the blood, the social commentary -- and the sex.

But in a show that's never shied away from commentary on religion and politics, this season has been particularly charged. In particular, there was the introduction of the character Roman, a true believer in a moral code of human-vampire coexistence and heads the Vampire Authority.

In an interview with Religion News Service at the beginning of the season, the show's creator Alan Bell made note of this:

We wanted to play with the politics/religion angle, since that seems to be something that never stops," creator Alan Ball says. "Some of the things being said by some people during the Republican primary were so horrifying to me that I thought, 'What if vampires wanted a theocracy? What would that look like?' Whenever anybody thinks they know what God wants and wants to apply that to government, whether Americans or the Taliban, it's kind of a terrifying thing.

Not that this focus on religion is anything new. Previous seasons have dealt with voodoo, Greek mythology and Christian fundamentalists (depicted as "The Fellowship of the Sun," they operate in a megachurch and whose goal is to eliminate vampires).

The idea of the vampire has changed over time. The earliest myths of vampires come from ancient Egypt where they were seen as humans who had become possessed by evil spirits, according to Mark Jenkins in "Vampire Forensics." In those myths. The myth transformed as it passed through cultures, people groups and history.

By the time vampirism reappeared in Bram Stroker's "Dracula," the vampire is still possessed by a demon and also breaks a host of cultural taboos: the vampire misuses the hospitality offered by the host, is overtly sexual and could be described cannibalistic (in that Dracula drinks blood, perhaps that's more of a gateway drug into cannibalism).

What is so brilliant about "True Blood" is the ways in which the shows writers have kept the key element of vampirism as breaking cultural taboos and turned it on it's head.

As opposed to a demonic possession, vampires in "True Blood" are a mistreated/misunderstood people group -- yet a group not without faults. At the same time, the depictions of humans in the show (who are quickly being outnumbered as the show introduces werewolves, fairys, shape-shifters and witches) are shown as being just as capable of the cruelty and vicious behavior that viewers would expect from vampires.

This idea of "vampires as social group" was perhaps first an idea that arose from "Interview with a Vampire" by Anne Rice. Many readers saw her vampires in the Vampire Chronicles as allegorical to the gay community -- to which she responded that "Interview with a Vampire" was "bigger than any gay allegory, and so is any gay allegory."

Huh? She explains:

Gender influences everything but determines nothing! Vampires transcend gender. We as a modern people transcend gender, though we can never escape it. Ours is a time for which there are no precedents with regard to gender and freedom. Look in vain to ancient Rome. Look in vain to the Middle Ages. There has never been so much affluence, scientific knowledge and so much common awareness of violence and injustice. There has never been so much real wealth for so many, combined with instantaneous media confrontation of poverty and suffering. Some of us see life as a horror story, but a horror story with great, great meaning.

And in a similar manner we can see "True Blood." It's life as a horror story, but with great meaning.