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When the Great Day Dawns: Inuit and True Blood (part 7)

September 19, 2011

(part one, part two, part three, part four, part five, part six, part seven)

When the Great Day Dawns: Inuit and the Politics of Difference in True Blood (continued…)

Of course, the Inuit are not strangers to cultural appropriation and the appropriation of voice. In 2009, Jobie Weetaluktuk created a film short in which he explores the use of the “inukshuk” (a figure, sometimes human in appearance, made of stones) in Canadian popular culture. In his film, “Inukshop,” Weetaluktuk places historical images of inuksuit (which, in the land of the Inuit, are used to guide people in the landscape, herd caribou to easily accessible hunting areas, locate good fishing spots, or mark grave sites) out on the land to mass produced figures sold to tourists and large scale reproductions put in public spaces in Toronto and other southern Canadian cities. He asks his viewers to think about what it means to decontextualize a cultural object and make it widely available to an audience that is not familiar with the specificities of its creation. While the public display and consumption of the inuksuit help keep the Inuit in the public sphere (it is not so easy to claim a people as “disappeared” if they are continually in your gaze), he asks what is the price of remaining in sight for determining other ways of being Inuit?

I bring this into the discussion as I see its relevance in the form of what it means to be part of the “lesser religions” that Lafayette invokes. I would like to understand this claim as the bridging of the marginalized into a political force that recognizes the death at the center of the master narrative, seen as the figure of Russell Edgington, the Mississippi Vampire King who sits in his manor house in the middle of a grand antebellum plantation. At the center is death, and on the margins is the living: Lafayette who is African-American and gay, Tara who is African American and a woman, Sookie who is marginalized as crazy, her brother as mentally deficient, and a whole host of other characters who do not have access to economic or political power either through race, gender, economic status, intelligence or some freaky ability they must keep hidden. Using the term “Inuit” is a case in point. Until the Inuit gained enough political power to make a bid for their own territory in Canada (Nunavut, created in 1999), the people previously called Eskimo were variously harbored in other First Nations’ legal codes. Inuit, of course, is still a problematic term and more situates a political imaginary than a cultural identity. In Alaska, Yup’ik and Inupiat people have accessed the name “Inuit” for international political recognition even as each group staunchly defends not being subsumed under the umbrella term for their own political recognition within the state of Alaska and the nation of the United States. To call “that shit” Inuit is to both recognize the political gains of the people of Nunavut, even as it somewhat elides cultural and historical specificity.

I am uncomfortable with the change in narrative thrust from the gothic excess that explores the power of images related to race in the United States to the dialectical dead-end of a battle between lightness and darkness. Claudine tells Sookie in her unconscious dream that “the dark approaches” as she urges all the fairies to hurry “home” (can we think of this “home” as the “hut” of the song, as a place to return to from out journeying?). She warns that Bill will try and steal Sookie’s light and to not let him at all costs. The series has been built on racial and sexual substitutions, vampires replace African-Americans and homosexuals in the discourses of hate and racial epithets that make up American histories of difference. However, the older images and their affective resonances persist: Lafayette in chains, Tara running across a plantation lawn chased by werewolves (read dogs), Tara’s name tout court, and the church sign in the opening credits that reads “God Hates Fa(n)gs.” The viewer is able to examine and reflect on these images of racial and sexual violence under the safety net that is their displacement, because the new racial and sexual victims are vampires, who one can hardly cast in the light of victim due to their superior strength and wealth. The power of the program is just that, the images of American racism, sexism and homophobia are all displayed over and over again (they will not be silent, they cannot die), but in terms that do not lead simply to either apathy or paralyzing guilt.

But why an Inuit poem? I would hazard the guess that it is sufficiently exotic to the world of True Blood, to American racial politics, that it can once again bridge the gap between the old story of black vs. white to the new (still old) story of light vs. dark. Unfortunately, all that was edgy and radical, progressive and potentially liberating in the series has been undermined in the move of once again de-specifying a culture for the use of an exotic flair. Lafayette is a purveyor of other cultures and other modes of being in the world. He is a connoisseur of mind-altering substances and global spiritualism. Jesus has a particular interest at stake, a history of violence even, with the images of the Mexican saints he sees in Lafayette’s house. However, he teaches Lafayette, if not a politics, than a mode of attention that brings the individual in contact with the difference at the heart of the icons. What once was rapidly consumable as globalized culture, or another iteration of the same, becomes specified and locatable as different, as difference. The great day can always dawn, but allowing the darkness to remain is another beast entirely.

From → Literature, Poems

  1. Hi – I think you might have misinterpreted the quote with which Lafayette presents the poem. He says “that shit is Inuit, and we all is used to lesser religions”; the implication being that the more popular religions (such as Christianity) are “lesser” in comparison to Inuit beliefs.

    • Thank you for clearing up for me what Lafayette says about “lesser religions.” As I stated in the first post of this series, I didn’t quite catch what Lafayette said. I do think it adds greater depth to his invocation, especially in the context of the first season’s introduction to all the supernatural creatures that live on and with a different spiritual existence. However, I do not think it invalidates my argument about the use of the edited version of the poem that takes out all specific markers of Inuit-ness. I would like to read more of your thoughts about the use of the edited poem and it’s relation to the world of True Blood.

    • Casi Newell permalink

      That’s really interesting–I managed to interpret it as “we were all used to ‘lesser’ religions”, meaning that we originate from “lesser” religions predating Christianity, where “lesser” is used ironically, considering the power of the poem in the moment. I think your version is the intended one (and the one that was actually said), but I’m kind of partial to mine 🙂

      • This is exactly what I love about the poem in all its versions and how well it works with Lafayette’s character, so many interpretations, ways to think about it, and conversations to be had about this topic! I think the first several seasons of True Blood had a lot more of these interesting and potent cultural meeting points. What do you think?

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. When the Great Day Dawns: Inuit and True Blood (part 1) « arcticisms
  2. When the Great Day Dawns: Inuit and True Blood (part 2) « arcticisms
  3. When the Great Day Dawns: Inuit and True Blood (part 4) « arcticisms
  4. When the Great Day Dawns: Inuit and True Blood (part 3) « arcticisms
  5. When the Great Day Dawns: Inuit and True Blood (part 5) « arcticisms
  6. When the Great Day Dawns: Inuit and True Blood (part 6) « arcticisms

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