Thursday, August 19, 2010

True Blood Rolling Stone Cover- Possible Interpretations

My first reaction when I saw coverage of the bloody, naked Rolling Stone cover featuring three True Blood stars was that True Blood was once again combining sex and violence in a really disturbing way. I hadn’t watched the show until this season, but after seeing a really graphic rape scene and other, subtler sexist elements that fetishized violence against women I was disgusted. I realize it is a vampire show and some amount of sex intermingled with violence is inevitable. However, the violence was almost always erotic when committed against women and not nearly as often when committed against men.

So like I was saying, seeing the True Blood cast naked and drenched in blood just seemed like another instance of sexualizing violence. But Stephanie at Ms. Magazine’s blog has another,
more interesting take on the cover.

By mixing sexy bodies with blood, Stephanie argues, that the cover serves to remove some of the taboo surrounding menstruation and “period sex.”

Most often in popular culture, the only images of naked people we see are in sexual situations (other possibilities include naked people bathing and as babies). And because sex + menstrual blood = an absolute no-no for mainstream media, then blood and naked bodies–especially women’s naked, bloody bodies–are not likely to appear together.

So when I saw the True Blood cover I was surprised and a little thrilled. I knew I was supposed to be seeing sexy vampire stuff, but immediately I started to think about other situations in which you might be naked and bloody. And what did I come up with? Period sex. Which is an even bigger taboo than menstruation itself.

And that brings me to why I think this cover is so fantastic. Though Anna Paquin (likely) isn’t menstruating in this photo, we are seeing blood, sex and bodies in the same frame, forcing us to consider the mingling, seeping and blending of these very human things. If we can look at these sexy, naked actors covered in blood and still think they’re damn fine, we’re one step closer to getting over the menstrual
taboo and taking part in the joys of loving our girlfriends while they’re bleeding.

Frankly, I still stick by my first analysis of the cover though I think Stephanie’s thoughts are really interesting. So what do you all think? Does the cover fetishize violence the way many True Blood episodes have, is it a celebration of menstruation, or something else?


Amelia said...

Gut reaction: "" to the whole period sex idea.

I have only seen a couple episodes of True Blood, so I can't speak of the particulars of the show. However, seeing the image and knowing only that True Blood is a "vampire show," my first reaction is that it definitely looks like the photographer was going for the sexy sexy vampire motif. To be honest, Stephanie's reading of this image comes off as just plain wishful thinking to me. Good for her. I'm happy she was able to make something positive out of it, but to be honest, I feel like most people would not be taken with her ideas about it, not even because the idea of period sex is taboo, but because it just seems...absurd.

I think it's kind of odd to think naked woman + blood = period when you mention rape and sexism, because a naked, bloody picture of actors from a show like that makes my mind go to darker places (like sexualized violence against women).

I don't want to belittle her ideas. An image of a naked, bleeding woman could indeed be intended to evoke ideas about menstruation, but with this particular image and the context in which it is being viewed, I feel like that reading holds little water.

Amelia said...

Not to mention the way the guy on the right (at a loss for his name) is grabbing Anna's breast to cover her up. Not exactly a female-empowering pose if you ask me. Agh.

Stephanie said...

Thanks for the feedback! I really enjoyed your article. I totally agree that this image is drawing on notions of sexualized violence against women, especially given the nature of the show. I wanted to engage in a bit of intellectual play in the blog post though, and discuss some more empowering ways that we could read this image. Obviously it's not about menstruation. But given the social history of repulsion towards blood/bodies/sex/HIV the photograph indicates a significant social shift.

I'm glad we can have this conversation!!

Amelia said...

I can definitely appreciate what you are trying to do with the reading of this image, Stephanie. Glad you stopped by. :)

Anonymous said...

I think calling it a "celebration of menstruation" is reaching, in a really, really big way.

It's a vampire show. I've never seen it, but in general, vampires like blood. It's their thing. Since it's largely directed at women, the vampires tend to also have to be "sexy".

Attempting to somehow connect menstruation into that is pretty far-fetched.

"grabbing Anna's breast to cover her up. Not exactly a female-empowering pose if you ask me. Agh."

Not everything in life has to be "female empowering".

Amelia said...

Right, Anon, and we should totally just accept that men having their hands all over women whenever they want is just A-OK. Wevs.

Anyway, I made that comment because the reading suggested by Stephanie is meant to empower females by possibly shedding some of the taboo held by menstruation, a taboo that is restrictive to women who are meant to hide it, feel uncomfortable, etc.

Victoria said...

Stephanie- thanks for the clarification! I am so glad there is a feminist out there who is making lemonade out of lemons. We're taking back the media (not that we ever had it in the first place, but you get my point!)