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Thursday, December 3, 2020

The contradictory vegan character in vampire series True Blood

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True Blood depicted a character who talked of being a spiritual, “organic” vegan, but had a twisted morality when it came to using vampires.

True Blood was a popular horror drama series, full of dark comedy, romance, sex and violence, with some social commentary touching on racism and homophobia. For example, humans’ suspicions and issues with vampires “coming out of the coffin” being a play on words in reference to gay people “coming out of the closet”.

It was created, written and produced by Alan Ball, who was a well-established writer and producer by the time True Blood debuted. Having written the Oscar-winning American Beauty, he was also the creator, writer and executive producer of Six Feet Under.

He’d established a style of telling, and when he wasn’t writing, overseeing the production of darkly comic dramatic stories, detailed character studies, reflections on suburban life and dysfunctional family dynamics, with various, often complex or disturbed non-family members woven in and out of the family’s lives.

Lizzy Caplan, in an interview with The Trades, said about her True Blood character, Amy Burley: “She’s really twisted and screwed up, but she’s actually sort of a hippie. She loves nature and thinks everything is connected and that there is so much beauty in the world. But she’s actually kind of tweaked in the head.”

Burley is an addict, addicted to ‘V’: vampire blood. For humans in the world of True Blood, just a tiny dab of V takes you on a deep hallucinogenic trip. The brother of lead character Sookie, Jason Stackhouse, has also gotten hooked on V, initially more focused on getting a fix than the spiritual things Burley is saying, when they first meet at vampire bar Fangtasia.

Stackhouse has been established and referred to as a “man slut” by this point in the first series, having had flings with various local women, but he soon discovers something meaningful in his relationship with Burley. “We honor Gaia, and seek the deepest relationship to her. By taking the blood of the night into our bodies we water the flowers of our souls. Nothing is real, Everything is permitted,” Burley told Stackhouse before doing V.

She espouses this earth-mother spirituality, but her addiction blackens her soul: “Sophomore year of college, I walked away from an academic scholarship so I could go to this Guatemalan village, help build their first irrigation system so they could have fresh water, crops that didn’t give them dysentery. So don’t you dare get morally superior on me. I am an organic vegan, and my carbon footprint is miniscule. Because I know that, ultimately, we’re all just a single living being. But you are not.”

She spits out that last line in a rather barbed aggressive tone of voice. Fans describe her as talking “at length about how everything was inter-connected and that all living things shared the same energy. This is how she justified killing a vampire, claiming that they were not living creatures and were therefore wasting energy.”

PopMatters describes her as “a libertine and sensualist at heart”, adding: “Amy’s dark side is totally dependent on vampire blood to maintain her lofty visions of hedonistic grandeur. Without it, she’s short-tempered and capable of very scary pursuits. Her character is quite paradoxical indeed, leaving her torn between the lines of a corrupt hipster and a conscious preacher of environmental sustainability.”

true blood amy burley
Photo: Warner Bros.

She is a contradiction in terms, her addiction leading to manipulation. Although Stackhouse is not that hard to manipulate, as he’s quite easily led by his addiction to sex and V, he has deeper levels to him; he cares deeply when he falls in love.

But Burley’s addiction leads on to destruction: not just the death of a harmless old gay vampire Jason was friends with — who she instigates kidnapping, restraining and draining to get the V — but her own death too, murdered whilst tripping on V.

In the real world, she could be compared to a vegan who takes Class A drugs, like cocaine, the production of which involves human suffering, death and environmental damage.

She could also be compared to the eco-conscious woman referred to in Jack Whitehall’s recent standup show, whom he’s incensed by: on the one hand, she goes on about having a reusable coffee and water cup carried in her eco-friendly grocery bag, but she’s driving a Hummer to meet him.

True Blood’s Burley is a contradictory vegan. It’s the core of her character; she’s made a decision of what qualifies as her morality, drawing Stackhouse into her twisted world. Even after she kills his vampire friend — whom he was trying to free — because she was starting to lose control of the situation, she is still able to manipulate him to join her on what turns out to be their final V trip together.

The depiction of this True Blood character wasn’t necessarily critical of veganism in and of itself, but rather an aspect of the light versus the dark within her, a theme that runs throughout the show, and throughout real life too. There’s no such thing as a perfect vegan.

Aside from this fictional depiction of a disturbed vegan, True Blood’s bloody violence has in fact disturbed fans into going vegan, and inspired one fan to veganise the True Blood tie-in cookbook. In addition, the cast featured real-life vegetarian Anna Paquin, who played Sookie Stackhouse, and vegan activist Kristen Bauer van Straten, who played vampire Pam Swynford De Beaufort. Van Straten lives in an eco-friendly house full of rescued animals.

On her support of the charity Best Friends Animal Society, which, for over 30 years, has run the US’s largest no-kill sanctuary for companion animals, van Straten said: “Animals have given selflessly to me my entire life, given so much more than I could ever give back — they are the ambassadors of unconditional love. I am happy to help the real heroes that protect their right to choose, every day. Best Friends are pioneers of true kindness. They have done what has never been done on this scale and with such success. We are so lucky to have them.”

Van Straten also supports a number of campaigns on her social media, and made this video for No Kill LA, a campaign to make all of LA’s animal shelters adopt a no-kill policy.

Read our story about the representation of vegans in TV and cinema.

Jessica
Jessica Fox
Jessica has been vegan for nearly 20 years; over the past 8 years, she has been actively involved in the London vegan community, organising and hosting a variety of vegan events.She also regularly hosts walks, potlucks, and art/creative writing workshops. Jessica is an artist, writer, and genealogist; she loves photography, swimming, and walking in the countryside and seaside.