True Blood’s Paranormal Politics
SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t caught up on “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” or The Origin of Alliances, you should do so now.
NERD ALERT: Two IR majors (thanks, Constantine!) had too much time and wrote the following essay.
For five seasons now True Blood has given us a look inside the politics of the paranormal, from wolf packs to witch covens, and even trans-dimensional fairy nightclubs. Yet none of these supernatural communities have come close to the global power and immense prestige of the Authority. Whether we hear its name in oaths of fealty or hushed whispers in the shadows, one thing is clear: the “One, True Vampire Authority” is in control and wants to stay that way.
While humans only know about the Authority’s public face (ie: The American Vampire League) and spokespeople such as Nan Flannigan and Steve Newlin, the true Authority’s ranks include such famous and powerful figures as Louis Pasteur and the infamous Salome (who after an unpleasant incident 2,000 years ago was never again invited to John the Baptist’s Seders).
While these tidbits and lore are entertaining, the question remains: what exactly is the Authority? As the story goes, the Authority was originally created by the progeny of Lilith (the vampire deity) upon her death at the hands of humans. Her blood was collected and along with the Vampire Testament of the Bible quickly became the central symbol of the vampire religion. The Authority is said to have guarded it ever since, and it is from this that the Authority claims its political and religious legitimacy. While this makes for an entertaining bedtime story, Eric Northman reveals in an earlier season that the Authority has only existed for roughly five centuries, thus casting doubt on the nature of its origins. Since the average age of vampires in the series seems to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 700 years, it is no surprise that the Authority feels slightly uneasy about its claims of legitimacy.
Seen in this light, the Authority is more easily classified as an authoritarian theocracy that uses force to maintain its tenuous hold on power. The Guardian of the Blood serves as the religious head and chief executive of vampire government. This position was held by Roman Zimojic for the past 400 years, during which time, using state-of-the-art technology and a secret police, he was able to acquire absolute power over the entire vampire race. Along with his council of eight chancellors, Roman and the Authority sit atop the vampire feudal pyramid. While it is unclear how local vampire politics are governed overseas, the Authority has total control over the American vampire monarchs and will depose any ruler who falls out of their favor.
On an international level, the Authority influences events through the help of human legislators and celebrities. Using bribes, threats, or glamour (a vampire’s ultimate soft power), the vampire agenda is subtly or explicitly (after vampires “came out of the coffin”) sold to the human race. Locally, each U.S. state has a monarch who is responsible for administering the laws of the Authority and governs at the Authority’s pleasure. So long as the King/Queen behaves, the monarch is allowed to exercise autonomy in local matters. Each region within a kingdom is overseen by a sheriff who merely enforces the laws. At each level, the vampires swear oaths of fealty to their monarchs and the “One, True, Vampire Authority.” Across the world, vampires follow their superiors’ orders and in many cases even fear the judgments of officials such as the Magister or the wrath of the chancellors.
In a world where most vampires can remember a time before the Authority, and where even the Guardian himself believes the religious rituals to be nothing more than a story meant to keep vampires in line, the question remains: why does the feudal system work?
Vampires who are hundreds if not thousands of years older than most agents of the Authority either work for them or obediently follow orders when they could easily band together and declare themselves independent or even overthrow their monarch or the Authority itself. While deterrence may be a factor in maintaining the loyalty of babyvamps, it does not explain why the world’s stronger vampires seem so willing to play nice. Since in a feudal system, legitimacy and authority rest on the acceptance of the governed, the political system stands as an example of a perfectly Constructivist model. Vampires across the world place value in the institutions, ideas, and norms of their society above their own strength or power, and it is from this that the Authority gains its legitimacy.
With this in mind let’s examine the coup d’état that has shaken the vampire world. Beneath the streets of what appears to be New Orleans; Salome, Russell, and Norah assassinated Roman in full view of the other Chancellors. The few loyalists to the old regime were quickly shown the True Death and the rest were co-opted. What is bizarre about this coup is that no one seems to have noticed.
The passing of the old Guardian and the radical shift in policy seem to have caused no shockwaves nor raised any eyebrows that we know of amongst the monarchs. In fact, Bon Temps’ new sheriff declared that the monarchs have lifted the long-standing ban on public feeding, seemingly overnight. This strange turn of events can only be explained by the Constructivist nature of vampire society. The kings and queens dutifully follow their orders and do not question the Authority’s wisdom. Salome herself brought in Russell Edgington not only because of his formidable strength and political power, but because she was unable to kill Roman herself due to her beliefs. Vampire Constructivism is revealed in its purest form when Salome says “Despite Roman’s blasphemy the blood of the Guardian is sacrosanct and I could not spill it myself.”
Another reason the monarchs may be willing to continue as though the coup never happened is because the policies of Salome (the new Guardian) provide them with more autonomy in their regions and states. With the public feeding ban lifted, millions of vampires are freed from the specter of the True Death and monarchs are able to flex more local muscle.
Even Bill’s decisions seem to be motivated in part by his political position. Despite his being held in Authority headquarters against his will, Bill appears to still be the king of Louisiana with all of his powers and legitimacy. His mansion has not been attacked and Jessica is still loyally protected by the royal guards (both human and vampire). This suggests the Bill appointed Elijah as the new sheriff and lifted the feeding ban himself. While Bill may still be motivated by his love for Sookie and his paternal instincts towards Jessica, he is still exercising his power as monarch and advancing his political career.
In fact, Bill’s political maneuvering is far from passive. While Eric spends the majority of “Everyone Wants to Rule the World” and the previous episode nodding along and unenthusiastically proclaiming “Praise Lilith!”, Bill masterminds the Tru Blood factories’ bombings. Two vampires—both with political power and the same romantic interest to protect—suddenly diverge when faced with a decision: join the Authority’s new mission to subjugate the human race, or reject it.
While Bill and Eric are not states in the international system, IR theory on alliance formation helps to model their differing positions. In the words of Steve Walt (who uses the terms of Kenneth Waltz, who credits the coining to Stephen Van Evera) Bill is bandwagoning with the Authority, while Eric (attempts to) balance against them. As Walt describes in The Origins of Alliances, states either ally with others against an external threat (balancing) or they align with the source of danger (bandwagoining). What is shocking about Bill’s alignment with the Authority (his compassion for humans aside) is that Walt determines that balancing is the dominant tendency, while bandwagoning is merely an “opportunistic exception.”
A look into alliance theory provides two explanations for Bill’s bandwagoning with the Authority. First, the possibility that Bill underwent a true religious awakening—he really does believe in the Sanguinista’s version of Lilith—means that the Authority is no longer a threat to him. With a new creed, Bill would be pursing the same interests as the Authority. But this answer seems unlikely. Bill has repetitively shown compassion for humans, and he still loves Sookie, who is mostly human and certainly not vampire.
The second possibility is that Bill has some political motivation that is yet to be revealed. Actors will often bandwagon when allies are unavailable, but Eric made it obvious that he would join with Bill to escape and combat the Authority. Until the end of the episode, Eric believed that Bill was working with him to escape the Authority.
Walt even argues that aggressive actors provoke others to balance against them. To call the night-club massacring, blood-splattering Authority “aggressive” is an understatement. Instead of teaming up with Eric to escape the new Authority while the coup is young, Bill jumps right aboard the agenda, creating and spearheading their efforts to bomb the Tru Blood factories and starve the entire vampire population of their ethical nourishment. He must have some unknown motive, which will hopefully be explained tonight, or at least by the end of this season.
Even now that Bill seems to be on the Authority’s side, trouble is brewing in the vampire political community. Vampire society seems to be as fractured, if not more so than our own. Part of the problem is that there appears to be no middle ground, no moderate voices left to provide a soothing voice or a dash of sanity to the masses.
On one hand there is the party of the mainstreamers who disregard the beliefs of many vampires (if not the majority of vampires) and force their policies through the apparatus of government, and bring the True Death on whomever may disagree. On the other hand stands the Sanguinista party. These religious fundamentalists interpret the Vampire Bible literally and believe that their slaughter of humans as though they were cattle is for the greater glory of God; and mirrors groups such as the KKK and the supernatural hate group led by Sheriff Dearborn and the Dragon.
Extremists find themselves pulled up the ranks within their respective camps, while moderate, and even progressive voices are ignored or even snuffed out. While the Romans and Russells of the vampire world pull the strings, the enlightened Godric was driven to the point of suicide by the violence and savagery around him.
The vampire who preached about peace and harmony held no great political aspirations and merely governed Dallas Texas as sheriff under a much younger and weaker monarch. During a confrontation with Bill’s maker Lorena, Godric condemns her behavior by saying “You’ve had hundreds of years to better yourself, yet you are still a savage. I fear for us all. Humans and vampires, if this behavior persists.” And this coup is the realization of his greatest fear. While Eric and Sookie hold Godric in the highest esteem, most other vampires believe him to be an old cook, even his daughter Nora.
These two IR nerds are looking forward to tonight’s episode, but what we would really look forward to is an all-out vampire civil war. Bill has brought state terrorism into the mix by orchestrating the Tru Blood factory bombings, poising the Authority to attack its own subjects on a completely different scale than it once had. The coup simply cannot be so easy. This new Authority cannot stay in power with such radically different political aims without some resistance. And personally, I’d like to see that resistance led by Eric.
GIFs from truebloodgifs.tumblr.com and mybloodistrue.tumblr.com
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