Table of Contents
The Blackwell Philosophy and Pop Culture Series
Title Page
Copyright Page
Bill and Sookie, Sitting in a Coffin, K-i-s-s-i-n-g
Show Some Respect
Read. My. Lips.
Look Before You Leap
Don’t Force It
Exceptions to the Rule?
Play to Learn, Play to Live
Thresholds and Invitations
Rules: What It Means to Be “Mine”
The Goals of Play
Play Changes the Player
And Justice for All—Human Beings?
How Much Is a Vampire Worth?
Vampires as Higher Life Forms
Human Pets and Cattle
Our Civic Duty
We’re Here. We’re Dead. Get Over It.
This American “Un-Life”
A Vampire’s Right to Life?
The Great Fanged Menace
Vampires Were People, Too
On Coffins and Contracts
Vamp and Camp: Does Out of the Coffin = Out of the Closet?
It’s Utterly Feudal: Reconciling Vampire Politics and Liberalism
What Is It Like to Be a Vampire?
Don’t Sign Me Up for the Fellowship of the Sun—Just Yet!
Past and Present
A New Twist on an Old Narrative
Coming Out of the Coffin
The Blood Is the Life
Vampires as Ideal Consumers
The Politics of Artificiality
“Vampires Are an Unnatural Abomination”
We’re Here, We’re Vampire ... Get Used to It!
Sex and Feeding, Penis and Fangs
Don’t Eat Your Date, Jessica!
Deserving of Equal Rights under the Law
Incendiary Identities
Supernatural Sex
Vocational Values
More Questions than Answers
The Edible Complex
Bon Temps and Its Discontents
Nothing New under the Moon
Sookie’s and Sigmund’s Gift
Love at First Bite
Of Scapegoats, Sausages, and “Eggs”
The Dionysian Pack Mentality
Scapegoats We Can Sink Our Teeth Into
The God Who Comes Forgives
Viruses, Predation, and Evolution
“A Purpose for Everything That God Creates”
Like Lions Who Want to Caress Antelopes
The Problem with Purpose
Supes Aren’t Natural-They’ re Super-Natural!
Unnatural Is Not Automatically Wrong
Doing Bad Things with Good Gifts
“Through the Virtue of Demons”
“We Vampires Aren’t Minions of the Devil”
Disenchanted Vampires
Animating the Dead
The Heart of the Matter
Blood Ties and Freedom
What’s It Like to Hear a Dog-Whistle?
Hunting the Elusive Quale
A Slow Day at Merlotte’s
The Final Nail in the Coffin
Becoming a Vamp: “Vampires Are Not Supposed to Say ‘Uh-Oh.’”
The Bodily Theory: “You’re Alive!”... “Well, Technically, No”
Memory: “What Animates You No Longer Animates Me”
Psychological Continuity: “I Hate Using the Number Keys to Type”
Werewolves and Shapeshifters: “Life Is Just Getting Too Weird Too Fast”
Many Parts to a Single Story: “My Life Sucks!”
Sixteen - Hiding the Light
Deadly Differences and Being Differently Dead
Valuing Difference—Dead or Alive
A Treasure to Be Protected
Seventeen - Arlene’s Dilemma
“We Had Sex. Didn’t We?”
“You Know I Like Kids, Arlene. Donuts, Too.”
“The Only Way to Be Sure That Rene Will Never Pass His Sickness On”
“Two Sovereign Masters”
Consequences and Crystal Balls
Stay Tuned
Eighteen - Confucius Comes to Bon Temps
Your Parents’ Fuckin’ Problems Are Your Fuckin’ Problems
Teach Your Children Well!
Doing Wrong in Order to Do Right
More Than Blood
Walking the Line between Tommy and Sam

The Blackwell Philosophy and Pop Culture Series
Series Editor: William Irwin
South Park and Philosophy
Edited by Robert Arp
Metallica and Philosophy
Edited by William Irwin
Family Guy and Philosophy
Edited by J. Jeremy Wisnewski
The Daily Show and Philosophy
Edited by Jason Holt
Lost and Philosophy
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Batman and Philosophy
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House and Philosophy
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Watchmen and Philosophy
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X-Men and Philosophy
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Terminator and Philosophy
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Heroes and Philosophy
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Twilight and Philosophy
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The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Philosophy
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For the “Supes” We Just Can’t Live Without
Rebecca Housel and George Dunn wish to thank the contributors of this book, as well as Bill Irwin, Connie Santisteban, Ellen Wright, and the entire Wiley team. Our hats also go off to Charlaine Harris, Alan Ball, and the many talented actors who brought True Blood to life.
George wishes to extend a giant thank-you to Bill Irwin, general editor of the series, for his tremendous support and encouragement. Special thanks also to Kevin Corn, who read an early draft of the introduction and whose comments were enormously helpful in making it better; Pamela Milam, who read and commented on some early drafts of chapters in this book; and his coeditor, Rebecca Housel, who taught him much about the process of editing. Most of all, he would like to thank Ariadne Blayde, for everything.
Rebecca wishes to dedicate her editorial work to the memory of her grandmothers, Eva (Masterman) Schwartz (Barson) and Mary Conley Thomas, women who meant as much to Rebecca as Sookie’s Gran meant to her. She also wishes to thank Marguerite Schwartz, Bell Housel, Ethan Schwartz, Naomi Zack, Angela Belli, Monica Weis (SSJ), Michael Schwartz, and Bill Irwin for their many efforts on behalf of the book. Rebecca conveys gratitude to her beloved student-family for their love and support; she also wishes to recognize Gary Housel and Robert Housel for the same (and for putting up with incessant repeat viewings of True Blood episodes every week for the better part of a year). Rebecca’s final appreciation goes out to Peter McLaren Black, MD, PhD; David Korones, MD; and Brett Shulman, MD, without whom she would simply not exist.

“If a Tree Falls in the Woods, It’s Still a Tree—Ain’t It?”
When Amy Burley gives Jason Stackhouse a quick tutorial on the “circle of life” (you know, squirrels eating nuts, snakes eating squirrels, and so on), using the decor of Merlotte’s as a visual aid, he exclaims, “Jesus Christ, I want to lick your mind!” Our boy Jason may be better known in Bon Temps for his good looks and “sex abilities,” but it’s phrases like “lick your mind” that draw fans to True Blood’s most earnest, if sometimes tragically misguided, seeker of life’s meaning and purpose (or at least his life’s meaning and purpose). In fact, “lick your mind” perfectly captures the blend of smarts and sensuality in the brilliant, sexually charged HBO series that inspired us to produce the book you hold in your hands, True Blood and Philosophy.
It all started with Charlaine Harris’s Dead until Dark, published in 2001, which launched her series of critically acclaimed, best-selling supernatural mystery novels and introduced the world to a most unlikely sleuth, an attractive Louisiana barmaid and mind reader named Sookie Stackhouse. Harris’s work caught the attention of Alan Ball, the award-winning screen-writer and director, who built his reputation on dark and daring works like American Beauty and Six Feet Under. With a healthy dose of edgy humor and deep compassion for his characters’ frailties and foibles, Ball made a career of boldly delving into taboo subjects like death and transgressive sexuality, creating works that were brazen both in their unabashed carnality and in raising tough questions about the human condition. True Blood, Ball’s adaptation of Harris’s Southern Vampire Mystery novels, takes the same mind-licking approach as those earlier works. In the world of True Blood, as in the pages of Harris’s novels, we encounter a wonderful array of richly drawn characters struggling to make sense of their bewildering world and their own sometimes equally bewildering desires and hungers. For those of us who hunger for insight and understanding, their stories offer a lavish banquet of philosophical morsels into which we can sink our proverbial fangs and from which we can draw both sustenance and delight.
As it turns out, philosophy has a lot in common with True Blood. Like the vampires, shapeshifters, and other supernatural beings that pass through Bon Temps, philosophers are often regarded as deviant characters due to their habit of overturning expectations and tempting us to think outside conventional boundaries. Like True Blood’s mind-reading detective Sookie Stackhouse, philosophers are unafraid to venture into dark corners of the human mind, where they sometimes unearth uncomfortable truths that others prefer to leave buried. And like the indomitable Jason Stackhouse, many philosophers engage in a quest for the meaning of life that often seems quixotic, an interminable pursuit that’s been known to lead us down more than a few blind alleys—as Jason himself can testify. But like True Blood and Harris’s novels, the philosophical quest can also be one of life’s most delectable pleasures. Don’t take our word for it, though. You hold the evidence in your hands.
When you surrender to the lure of True Blood and Philosophy, it won’t cost you a drop of blood, but your perception of reality may be expanded and enriched so dramatically that you’ll wonder whether you somehow ingested V-Juice. Okay, maybe that’s too much to expect. But we are confident that your enjoyment of True Blood will be considerably enhanced by the time you spend with us pondering some of the more perplexing philosophical quandaries raised by the supernatural adventures of Sookie and her paranormal pals. For example, “pro-living” crusaders like the Reverend Steve Newlin denounce vampires as unnatural, but what does that really mean? If it’s just another way of saying that vampires are evil, then why does evil exist in the first place? And can vampires—or any other creatures for that matter—be considered inherently evil?
Beyond these classic questions about the nature of evil, True Blood offers a fresh spin on the vampire genre that opens a rich vein of new philosophical queries. In the world envisioned by Ball and Harris, those conundrums-on-legs we call vampires have “come out of the coffin” and are attempting to live openly alongside human beings. Given the imbalance of power between human beings and vampires (who, in addition to superhuman strength and speed, also have a troubling knack for “glamouring” humans out of their free will), can humans and vampires belong to the same political community and participate in society as equals? Are the plights of gays and other minorities similar to the situation of True Blood’s vampires as they come out of the coffin and claim their place in the sun—um, better make that in the shade? The perennial evils of hatred, bigotry, and scapegoating—those not-so-supernatural scourges of our species—appear in a fresh light when their victims and perpetrators include not only ordinary human beings, but also vampires, shapeshifters, “fang-bangers,” fanatical disciples of the Fellowship of the Sun, and, last but not least, a maenad as beguiling as she is depraved.
And let’s not forget that the same show that stimulates our thinking with such succulent moral and metaphysical quandaries is also a wickedly sexy romp through the perilous precincts of love and lust. Could True Blood possibly have something to teach us about the paths and impediments to erotic fulfillment? Granted, most of us probably have desires considerably tamer than those of the more colorful denizens of Bon Temps, but still ...
We don’t promise that True Blood and Philosophy will supply the conclusive answers to all of these questions—or even to Jason’s classic mindblower, “If a tree falls in the woods, it’s still a tree—ain’t it?” Philosophers have been debating questions like these since long before Godric was a twinkle in his maker’s eye, and every answer has been shadowed by some doubt. It’s the questioning itself that’s mind-licking good. So invite us across your threshold. We want to think bad things with you!


The Ethics of Making Vampires
Christopher Robichaud
Lorena: What more can I give? What is it you want from me?
Bill: Choice.1
Sookie Stackhouse loves Bill Compton. And he loves her. The trouble is, Bill is a vampire and Sookie is human. Well, not quite, but she’s not immortal either.2 That means that as Sookie ages, Bill won’t. Let’s suppose that despite her fairy blood, Sookie can become a vampire. Would it be morally permissible for Bill to turn her into one? This question lies at the, um, heart of the issue we’ll be looking at in this chapter. The “unlife” of a vampire is often understood as something a person is condemned to. Many see Bill, for instance, as being damned to exist as a bloodthirsty creature of the night. Such an existence sure doesn’t sound like the kind of thing it would be nice to bestow on another. This is one of the reasons we’re tempted to say that Bill acted wrongly when he forced Jessica Hamby to abandon her normal life and replace it with an unlife of drinking blood—or at least, of drinking TruBlood—and shunning the daylight.

Bill and Sookie, Sitting in a Coffin, K-i-s-s-i-n-g

There’s an important difference between Jessica’s being turned into a vampire and the possibility of Sookie’s being turned into one. Jessica didn’t give Bill her permission, her consent. In fact, she was quite vocal in communicating just how much she did not want to become a vampire. In contrast, it’s likely that Sookie would be prepared to give her consent. (This may not be an entirely fair supposition, but it’s not absurd, either. After all, at the end of the second season of True Blood, she does decide to accept Bill’s marriage proposal.)3 This particular difference between Jessica and Sookie seems morally relevant. Whether it’s permissible for Bill to turn Sookie into a vampire—and, more generally, whether it’s permissible for vampires to turn the living into the undead—seems to hinge on consent. By this way of thinking, a vampire can turn a living person into an undead one only if the person to be turned has given consent.
So there appears to be a fairly straightforward answer to the question of whether Bill is permitted to turn Sookie into a vampire. He’s allowed to do so only if she gives him her consent. But like so much else in moral philosophy, this answer, even if correct, just scratches the surface of the issue.

Show Some Respect

Consent seems to be a necessary condition for the permissibility of Bill’s turning Sookie into a vampire. But can we say more than this? Absolutely. The importance of consent in determining how we’re allowed to treat others is a popular idea in moral philosophy and can be defended from several different perspectives. The one we’ll focus on comes from one of the most famous philosophers of all time, Immanuel Kant (1724—1804). In his Groundwork on the Metaphysics of Morals, Kant presents a supreme moral principle, the categorical imperative, from which he thinks we can derive all of the more specific moral obligations that we have.4 Kant provides several different formulations of this principle, perhaps the most popular one being the Formula of the End in Itself (also known as the Formula of Respect for Persons): “Act in such a way that you always treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never simply as a means, but always at the same time as an end.”5
For Kant, we must treat persons this way—always as ends in themselves and never as mere means—because of their absolute, intrinsic value as agents who are capable of deliberating on their choices and setting their own goals. Our rational capacities are what make us distinct, claims Kant, and they ultimately ground the demands of morality. And so to respect the unconditional worth that all persons have as autonomous rational beings is to avoid using others to pursue our goals without their taking up those goals as their own. Let’s suppose Bill wants to turn Sookie into a vampire so that they can spend eternity together. That’s what Bill desires. And his desire leads him to adopt a goal: turn Sookie into a vampire. Now, it’s likely that Bill is capable of doing this without so much as broaching the topic with Sookie, as we see him do with Jessica. But if he went about it in this way, he’d be doing something morally impermissible because it would violate the categorical imperative. Bill would be treating Sookie as a mere means to achieving his goal of turning her into a vampire. He’d be treating her as a mere means because he didn’t allow her to take up his goal as her own—he didn’t give her the respect she’s owed as a rational person. To show Sookie proper respect, Bill would have to set aside his desire to turn her into a vampire until she consented to it.
According to this way of thinking, getting consent to perform certain actions is morally important because it’s how we avoid treating people as mere means; it allows us, in other words, to have our actions conform to the categorical imperative. This isn’t the only reason consent is important, but it’s a compelling reason that stems from an appealing moral principle—the categorical imperative—and that acquires its force from an equally appealing idea—that people should be respected because of the unconditional worth they possess.

Read. My. Lips.

So Bill needs to get Sookie’s consent before it’s permissible for him to turn her into a vampire. But that’s not the end of the story. One immediate question we need to answer is whether he needs to get her explicit consent. After all, there are plenty of cases where it seems that tacit or implicit consent is sufficient to guarantee that we aren’t using people as a mere means and failing to give them the respect they’re owed. Consider Sam Merlotte. As the owner and operator of Merlotte’s Bar and Grill in Bon Temps, Sam is used all the time by customers to get what they want, typically food and drinks. They don’t ask Sam’s permission to do so, either. Yet it would be absurd to think that the Bon Temps community is doing something morally wrong by treating Sam in this way (although using Sam as a sacrifice to summon the “God Who Comes” is another story). It’s reasonable for Sam’s patrons to assume that he has tacitly consented to serving them food and drinks, since he freely established Merlotte’s for just this purpose and, after all, he does take their money.
The point is that we use people all the time as a means to getting what we want, and there’s usually nothing wrong with that. Problems arise only when we use them as mere means to our ends, when we use them without their consent. Often, tacit consent is sufficient to ensure that we’re not going wrong in this way. In this light, should Bill presume that Sookie has tacitly consented to being turned into vampire if she agrees to marry him? The answer is no. Although there are many occasions where tacit consent is enough to ensure that we aren’t treating people as a mere means, there are also plenty of times when explicit consent is needed. As a good rule of thumb, the more serious the action that’s being considered, the less likely it is that tacit consent is enough.
Indeed, if we’re looking for moral guidance, it seems like a very good idea to get explicit consent whenever there could be reasonable doubt about whether individuals are willing to take up our ends as their own. That’s because even though there are many instances where tacit consent is given, there are also many cases where it assuredly is not. Certain men have claimed, for instance, that because a woman flirted with them while drinking, she tacitly consented to having sex with them, and so, when later in the evening she was found passed out on a bed, they were morally permitted to have sex with her. No way. Flirting with someone is absolutely not tacitly consenting to sex. And saying yes to a marriage proposal is not tacitly consenting to being turned into a vampire. We can make an even stronger statement: since the stakes are so high (pardon the pun) when it comes to becoming one of the undead, it seems plausible that tacit consent, even if present, is never sufficient to give a vampire permission to turn a living person into a creature of the night. If Bill wants to turn Sookie into a vampire, he needs to ask her directly and to hear “Yes” from her lips.

Look Before You Leap

But even this might not be enough. There’s good reason to think that consent is going to do the moral work that we need it to do only if it is informed consent. Fangtasia is filled with vampire wannabes, folks whose heads are likely filled with one too many undead romance stories. Wanting to be creatures of the night, to Fangtasia they go. Happily, we know the sheriff of Area 5, Eric Northman, well enough to feel confident that he won’t be granting any of them their wishes anytime soon. For Eric, it’s doubtless because he loathes such people, and that’s enough to keep him from even considering adding them to the vampire ranks. Whether he acknowledges it or not, however, Eric also has a good moral reason not to indulge their desires. That’s because even though they’ve consented to being turned—quite often explicitly—they don’t really know what they’re consenting to. This robs the permission they give of its moral force. If their knowledge of vampires is based on flights of fancy rather than on the cold hard facts about existence as a bloodsucker, their uninformed verbal permission to be turned doesn’t give Eric moral permission to turn them, whether he wants to or not.
Why? Recall the reason that consent is morally important. It’s a way of making sure we’re complying with the categorical imperative by helping us avoid treating persons as mere means to an end. Getting consent to do certain things to others is a way for us to give them the respect they deserve as rational agents. But we’re not respecting their autonomy if their consent is given, as it were, “in the dark,” regardless of whether we put them in the dark by deliberately deceiving them or they got there on their own. Accepting others’ permission to do things to them while knowing full well that they don’t have the relevant facts at hand is not respecting persons—it’s manipulating them.
But even if we think this line of reasoning applies perfectly well to many of the patrons of Fangtasia, we might not think it applies to Bill and Sookie. After all, Sookie seems to have a grip on what the night-to-night ins and outs of being a vampire are all about. She’s sleeping with one, for goodness’ sake. More than that, she’s been repeatedly drawn into the greater vampire community and exposed to how it operates. So it seems that if Sookie gives Bill her consent to be turned into a vampire, he needn’t worry that it’s uninformed.
Maybe. A problem with this way of seeing things arises when we acknowledge that there’s some information we can’t possess without experiencing it firsthand. For example, we can come to know lots of facts about free-falling by learning them from an instructor or a book, but we learn something new when we actually skydive. No matter how smart we are, we can’t learn what it’s like to free-fall out of a plane until we actually jump. Similarly, Sookie can’t learn what it’s like to be a vampire—to burn in daylight, to thirst for blood, to see the world through undead eyes—until she actually becomes one. So our worry is that Sookie’s consent to be turned into a vampire won’t have moral force unless it’s informed, which would include knowing what it’s like to be a vampire in this experiential sense. But she can’t know that without already being a creature of the night! Hence, she can’t give informed consent, and thus Bill doesn’t have permission to turn her into a vampire.
The response to this line of reasoning is fairly obvious. It’s too strong a condition to insist that the knowledge we possess be firsthand in order for our consent to morally count. If that were the case, wannabe skydivers would never end up sky-diving, because no instructor would ever be permitted to let them jump out of a plane, even after lots of pre-jump training—their informed consent could never be informed enough. That seems silly. Similarly, what counts as informed consent with regard to being turned into a vampire clearly falls somewhere between the wide-eyed romantic ignorance of the wannabes at Fangtasia and the unlife lessons learned from a century or more of existing as a vampire. Given Sookie’s various connections to the vampire community, her consent to being turned may very well have enough knowledge behind it to be morally significant.

Don’t Force It

We’ve seen that for consent to count morally it needs to be explicit and it needs to be informed. That’s not all, however. It also can’t be coerced. Consent given under duress doesn’t carry any moral weight. Recall again that consent is important because it helps us make sure that we’re giving persons the respect they are owed. Needless to say, we can’t accomplish that by forcing people to give us permission to treat them in ways we want but they don’t.
Some of the ways that consent can be coerced are not obvious. Consider the situation in which Lafayette Reynolds finds himself at the hands of Eric at the beginning of the second season of True Blood. Eric wasn’t looking to turn Lafayette into a vampire, but if he had been, he didn’t get permission to do so when Lafayette asked—begged, really—him for it. Lafayette by that point was under considerable emotional and physical duress. This is a straightforward example of an instance in which consent doesn’t have moral force. But forced consent, or consent under duress, doesn’t always look like the situation Lafayette was in. A situation of forced consent might not be traumatic at all; indeed, it might be anything but. One of the more interesting powers that vampires have is the ability to glamour persons—a powerful ability to charm them in a way that more or less forces the glamoured person to do anything the vampire wants. Sookie is immune to glamouring, so there’s no worry that Bill would acquire her consent to be turned into a vampire by doing that to her. But Sookie is the exception. Would consent procured through glamouring carry moral weight? Clearly not, anymore than consent through hypnotism would. Part of why consent packs a moral punch is that it is given freely. We respect persons properly when we allow them to freely take up our ends as their own. But surely a necessary condition for genuine consent is that the person giving consent is not under the mental control of another. So vampires can’t circumvent the moral demands of genuine consent by glamouring someone into providing it.

Exceptions to the Rule?

Maybe we’re being too restrictive. Are there perhaps situations in which a vampire would be morally permitted to forgo getting explicit, informed, noncoercive consent before turning a living person into a vampire? From our reasoning so far, it sure seems like the answer is no. But that may burden us with some results that are hard to live with. One involves Jessica. Jessica vehemently resisted Bill’s turning her into a vampire. But it’s not entirely crazy to think that Jessica is better off existing as an undead creature of the night than she would have been had she continued living the life she was born into. After all, vampirism has empowered Jessica in a way that her family was never able to. Let’s suppose, for the sake of argument, that Jessica is in fact better off now than she would have been and also that only by becoming a vampire could she be better off. If we’re serious about the moral importance of consent, we’re committed to saying that Bill shouldn’t have made Jessica better off. And that sure seems troubling on the surface of things. But only on the surface.
Although we have a moral obligation to make people better off, we don’t have a moral obligation to make them better off no matter what. The no matter what in this case involves treating Jessica as a mere means. Ultimately, where we come down on this depends on how strongly we take the moral mandate to give people the respect owed to them. If we think this mandate isn’t nearly as absolute as Kant thought it was, then perhaps it will matter to us that Jessica would have been worse off had Bill not chosen to use her as a mere means to his own ends. But if we share Kant’s conviction that we have an overriding duty to respect the autonomy of others, then we’ll be more comfortable accepting that sometimes making someone better off, while certainly a good thing, is nevertheless not what morally ought to be done. In the case of Jessica, we might present our reasoning this way. Granted that she’s better off as a vampire than as a human being, she nevertheless expressed her desire to remain mortal. Bill should have respected her right, as a rational agent, to make her own decisions, even if they may be bad ones. And, besides, no attempt was made to present her with facts that might have persuaded her to embrace an unlife. No one gave her an opportunity to deliberate, nor did anyone take her lack of consent seriously. For these reasons (and more), what Bill did was wrong, regardless of whether Jessica gained a better existence than what she had before.
It would be convenient to leave things right there and conclude by saying that Jessica’s case shows that consent is always needed. But we wouldn’t be doing serious moral philosophy if we didn’t go a little further and end by muddying the waters a bit. One thing that makes the reasoning just presented persuasive is that Jessica was never given a chance to deliberate adequately on becoming a vampire. But what if there’s no such chance to give? What if a vampire faces the choice of turning someone or letting him die right then and there? The obvious example that comes to mind is Eric and his sire, Godric.6 Godric had his eye on Eric for quite some time but turned him only after Eric had suffered a fatal wound on the battlefield. For a variety of reasons, it’s reasonable to assume that Eric was in no condition to give adequate consent to being turned into a vampire. It’s also reasonable to assume that Eric is better off continuing to exist as a vampire than he would have been dying on the battlefield. Did Godric still do something wrong?
Here we may have room to suggest that he didn’t. The general thought process is as follows: If explicit consent at a certain time can’t be given, but it is reasonable to conclude that it would have been given had there been the opportunity, then, everything else being equal, you haven’t failed to treat a person with the appropriate moral respect by acting as if consent were given. We use this principle when, for example, we allow loved ones to make certain medical decisions for a patient who’s unable to make decisions for himself. For this principle to apply to Godric, he must reasonably believe that Eric would have given the appropriate sort of consent had he been able to do so. Did Godric have good grounds to believe this? We can’t really know. But it’s not too hard to give him the benefit of the doubt. He is, after all, an ancient vampire who’s genuinely sympathetic to the human condition.
Except in such rare circumstances, though, vampires need explicit, informed, noncoercive consent before they’re permitted to turn the living into the undead. Bill must get this kind of permission from Sookie before having her join him in a state of undeath. And he ought to atone somehow for making Jessica into a creature of the night without her consent. Bill has a lot to do and a lot to think about. But then he always does. He has set himself upon the path of being a morally upright vampire—not the easiest course, to say the least.


1 Episode 207, “Release Me.”
2 The first two seasons of True Blood hint that Sookie isn’t human. We learn from Charlaine Harris’s Southern Vampire Mysteries that Sookie has fairy blood in her veins.
3 In Harris’s novels, Sookie’s relationship with Bill doesn’t develop quite so nicely, especially after Bill reveals to her that he initially wooed her on orders from the queen of Louisiana.
4 Immanuel Kant., The Moral Law: Groundwork on the Metaphysics of Morals, trans. Hiram Paton (New York: Routledge, 2005).
5 Ibid., p. 66.
6 Godric is Eric’s sire only in the True Blood television series, not in Charlaine Harris’s novels, from which the series was adapted.

Vampire Assimilation in the Human Playground
Jennifer Culver
“Sookie, you have to understand that for hundreds, thousands of years we [vampires] have considered ourselves better than humans, separate from humans.” He thought for a second. “Very much in the same relationship to humans as humans have to, say, cows. Edible like cows, but cute, too.” I was knocked speechless. I had sensed this, of course, but to have it spelled out was just ... nauseating. Food that walked and talked, that was us. McPeople.
—Eric to Sookie1
Leave it to Eric Northman to tell it like it is. Smart humans in the world of the Southern Vampire Mysteries and True Blood, its HBO incarnation, never forget for a moment that when vampires are “mainstreaming,” they are at play, playing at being human. To create a more even playground, vampires perpetuate certain myths, such as their supposed adverse reactions to crucifixes and their inability to be photographed, in order to appear weaker than they really are. Through play, vampires who desire to mainstream learn the ins and outs of human society. Meanwhile, humans gain a less threatening, less fearful impression of vampires. In the realm of play, vampires who don’t follow the rules of mainstreaming (we’ll call them spoilsports) threaten the fragile boundaries of a society where human beings and vampires (and shifters, too) interact.
When vampires announced their existence to the world, crossing the boundary from myth to reality, their strategy was to appeal to human beings as much as possible by appearing to be nonthreatening. Spokespersons were chosen for their attractiveness, their humanlike mannerisms, and their general appeal. The “virus” explanation for the unique attributes of vampires encourages human beings to be less afraid of their undead neighbors. Because vampires want to live with human beings rather than looming menacingly over them, success depends on their ability to play human.

Play to Learn, Play to Live

It was so normal! I beamed with pride. When Bill first started coming into Merlotte’s, the atmosphere had been on the strained side. Now, people came and went casually, speaking to Bill or only nodding, but not making a big issue of it either way.
Bill Compton’s acceptance depends on an act of play: he must pretend to be human to be accepted by human beings. Beneath the surface, both vampires and human beings know the truth. Vampires are incredibly strong and ferocious, and they have the power to glamour. Humans, by contrast, have strong emotions, vitality, and the much-desired blood. Even with the availability of synthetic blood, human blood continues to tempt the vampires, especially when they’re very hungry or in a heightened state of arousal. For mainstreaming to work, both sides must be willing to put aside disturbing differences and treat one another as equals.
To see how this can work, let’s consider a definition of play offered by the philosopher John Huizinga (1872—1945). Play, he said, “is a voluntary activity or occupation occurring within certain fixed limits of time and place, according to rules freely accepted but absolutely binding, having its aim in itself and accompanied by a feeling of tension, joy, and the consciousness that it is ‘different’ from ‘ordinary life.’ ”3 Successful mainstreaming for vampires depends on how well they can play the game of being human. This is why Bill orders red wine his first night in Merlotte’s when he learns that Sam Merlotte hadn’t yet stocked synthetic blood. He understands that a person should be seen drinking when in a bar.
Vampires don’t just play when they’re mainstreaming. Vampire culture actually revolves around “courtesy and custom,” according to Bill, even when vampires are the only ones present. Because they “have to live together for centuries,” the rules and traditions vampires create help maintain a sense of structure, keeping the vampire world secure and familiar even as the outside world continues to change. These courtesies and customs represent the “crystallized” and residual elements of the acts of play that helped shape the culture in the first place.4 For their rules and traditions to carry any weight, vampires must agree to perpetuate them. As Sookie Stackhouse enters the vampire world more deeply, she finds herself learning about sheriffs, queens, and kings. In Club Dead, the third book of the Southern Vampire Mysteries, Sookie’s heart breaks as she learns that the rules of that world dictate that Bill must leave her to answer the call of his maker.
Do all vampires play by the rules? Of course not. Some vampires cheat, just like some human beings. Others act as “spoilsports,” a term Huizinga uses for a figure who “shatters the play-world itself” by revealing the “relativity and fragility of the play-world in which he had temporarily shut himself with others.”5 Some call this “going rogue.” Mickey in Dead as a Doornail, the fifth book of the Southern Vampire Mysteries, is a prime example of a rogue vampire. Vampires discourage going rogue by punishing the spoilsport or leaving him unprotected from other vampires and creatures of the night. Safety lies in the hierarchy and courtesies of vampire culture, in playing the game.
Engaging in play has certain requirements: boundaries that mark off the arena of play in space and time, rules to create a sense of order, and specific goals to accomplish. Participation in play forges a bond between players. As all leave the playing field, they carry away a private shared experience, for no one outside the play will truly understand the inner workings of the game. Consequently, whether a vampire wants to mainstream or make an appearance at Fangtasia, he had better know the rules of each play-world. And the first rule is to know the boundaries.

Thresholds and Invitations

I was going to have to rescind his invitation to enter. What had stopped me from that drastic step before—what stopped me now—was the idea that if I ever needed help, and he couldn’t enter, I might be dead before I could yell, “Come in!”
Just because a vampire wants to mainstream, that doesn’t mean that he acts human all the time. To the contrary, the mainstreaming vampire knows the appropriate behavior for each human encounter. This just makes sense since not all humans expect the same things from a vampire interaction. The fang-bangers at the bars want to be a little scared and a little wowed by the vampire experience, which is why Eric requires vampires in his area to appear at the bar in shifts. Other humans, like patrons at Merlotte’s, prefer their vampires to behave as humanly as possible. In either case, the vampire must adjust his behavior accordingly when crossing the boundary into human territory.
In play theory, the boundary sets the limits for play in time and place. Like a ritual, which Huizinga regards as a sacred act of play, the boundary creates hallowed space and is a “temporary world” dedicated to the performative act. Huizinga lists several types of boundaries, including a stage, a tennis court, and a court of law.7 Crossing the boundary line indicates a willingness to participate in play for a specified time in that space. Even a gameboard can reflect a boundary, as the rules apply only to the time and place of the game played on it.
In Sookie’s world the actual threshold of a human being’s home serves as one of the most powerful boundary markers between the human and vampire worlds. Vampires can enter public places at will, but only an invitation from the owner can admit a vampire into the home. Sookie learns this early on and uses this knowledge to her advantage throughout the series. When weary of vampire politics and posturing in Club Dead, she rescinds Bill’s and Eric’s invitations into her home, forcing them to walk backward out the door against their will. Realizing that she was finally at peace and that the deadly vampires were trapped outside her door, Sookie reports that she “hadn’t laughed so hard in weeks.” In Dead as a Doornail Sookie rescinds the invitation of the rogue vampire Mickey. This time, however, it’s not for amusement but to save her life. With Eric hurt and unable to help, Sookie realizes the only way to save herself and her friend Tara Thornton is to force Mickey to leave.
In the vampire world, kings, queens, and sheriffs rule over certain territories with clear boundaries. Vampire officials can be quite territorial and expect to be informed of all vampire activity in the area. That’s why in Living Dead in Dallas and Club Dead, the second and third books of the Southern Vampire Mysteries, Eric dons a disguise to keep an eye on Sookie in Dallas and Jackson when he sends her on missions to those cities (she is his property, after all). Had he entered Dallas or Jackson uninvited as Eric Northman, the sheriffs and others in those regions might have taken the action as an insult or, even worse, as an act of aggression. In the language of Huizinga’s play theory, Eric’s impersonation constitutes cheating, an attempt to skirt the rules, which is nonetheless different from being a spoilsport like Mickey. At least the cheater acknowledges that rules and boundaries are in place. He treats the boundaries as real and significant, even as he crosses over them. Wearing his disguise, Eric pretends to be playing the game and honoring the boundary markers. At no time do the vampires in Dallas or Jackson realize that their boundaries were breached by the sheriff of Area 5.

Rules: What It Means to Be “Mine”

“I seem to be having sex with you in a closet,” Bill said in a subdued voice. “Did you, ah, volunteer?”
Within the boundaries lie specific rules for play. Breaking a rule means the collapse of play until order is restored. When the twentieth-century philosopher Roger Callois expanded on Huizinga’s theory of play, he explained that even playing make-believe implies rules, the main rule being that all will agree to act as if this make-believe world were real.9 The main rule that must be followed for vampire mainstreaming to be successful is the same rule that governs all make-believe play: vampires must act as if they are human. What’s so hard about that? Vampires were once human, right? Let’s consider this notion of being human.
“Human” in this case is more than a biological designation. To be human in our sense of the term requires participation in a way of life shaped by the rules of human society. Vampires are expected to mimic the customs, manners, emotions, and behaviors of the human beings around them. As human culture changes over time, vampires must adjust. In Dead until Dark, the first book of the Southern Vampire Mysteries, Bill learns from Arlene’s children that a true boyfriend would bring Sookie flowers. Throughout their courtship, Sookie attempts to reconcile Bill’s actions, including his protectiveness and his habit of treating her like a “kept woman,” with how she believes a boyfriend should act. More than once in the novels, Sookie notes that Bill has never proposed, as if even this gesture, empty as it would be since vampires and humans cannot marry (this is true in the novels, but not in the HBO series), reflects her conception of what a romantic relationship should be like. Elsewhere in the novels, Eric expresses his belief that Jason Stackhouse should be more protective of his sister, Sookie, citing older ideas about gender roles and family duty. Keeping up with the times must be hard for vampires.
Age equals power for vampires, but age also presents problems for vampires who want to play human. Bill reports that the longer he remains a vampire, the harder it is for him to remember what it was like to be human. Vampires like Eric, who are even older than Bill, seem to lack what most of us would consider humanity in any form. In Dead as a Doornail, for example, Sookie has to explain to Eric why he should care about Tara’s enslavement to Mickey. Many of the healings Sookie receives from the vampires occur purely as reciprocation for services she has rendered or risks she has taken on their behalf, not because the vampires (with the exception of Bill) feel any real sense of caring for her.
For a vampire to refuse to act human in a human setting is the act of a spoilsport. The spoilsport ruins play because he shatters the illusion, not just by breaking the rules but by reminding everyone that the experience isn’t real but is just play. In an early episode of True Blood, the roguish vampire Malcolm calls Bill “everyone’s favorite buzz kill,” on account of his mainstreaming goals, and Diane reminds him that “not everyone wants to dress up and play human.”10 Malcolm and Diane live in a vampire nest, a group of vampires who may live together for centuries and become unusually close. Nested vampires often call one another “brother” or “sister” and reject mainstreaming. When Malcolm, Diane, and Liam (the other vampire in their nest) show up at Merlotte’s, they menace and offend the patrons of the bar, pretty much just by acting like vampires and treating the human beings in the bar as part of a lower order of creature. Their actions make it harder for the patrons to accept Bill, despite his effort to keep the peace, because their actions confirm their worst stereotypes and fears about vampires.
Spoilsports exist on the human side as well. The Fellowship of the Sun is an organization of spoilsports, human beings who don’t believe that vampire mainstreaming, not to mention the very existence of vampires, is a good idea. Their opposition is so zealous that they are willing to kill Sookie because of her association with vampires. Many of Merlotte’s patrons also look down on Sookie for dating a vampire, believing that a good girl wouldn’t act that way. (But, with the exception of the mentally unhinged Rene Lenier, none of them are necessarily ready to kill her for that indiscretion.) On a larger scale, spoilsports are responsible for laws that forbid vampires and humans to marry each other (except in Vermont, according to the show), although vampires have achieved some rights since they “came out of the coffin.”
Vampires live under a strict code of rules in their own world as well, as Sookie glimpses when, for her own safety, Bill announces to the other vampires that “she’s mine.” This designation shields Sookie from the designs of other vampires, regardless of whether she lets Bill actually drink from her. In return for her safety, she must endure being regarded as a possession, even to the point of being called Bill’s pet by some of his vampire associates.
Club Dead,