Sunday, July 15, 2012

Notes on Episode 5


The Scene between Sookie and Alcide

by Carissa House-Dunphy
True Blood's opening scene of episode five: "Let's Boot and Rally," disturbed me. Episode four ended with Sookie, who admits to being really drunk, kissing Alcide and straddling his lap. At the beginning of episode five, they are still kissing all hot and heavy when Alcide picks Sookie up and carries her to her bedroom. Sookie helps him remove his shirt before sinking to her knees, and Alcide removes his belt, lustily tells Sookie that he's "waited so long for this," and then watches Sookie puke all over his shoes. Eric and Bill show up, and hilarity ensues.
Let me begin by saying that I do not believe in any way that the writers, directors, or creator of True Blood had any intention of depicting sexual assault. I don’t believe that there were any intentionally bad messages in the scene, simply irresponsible ones. While I’ve never been a big fan of Alcide’s character, let me assure you that I would have been just as upset if this scene had occurred between any other two characters on any television show, movie, book, or magazine. The reason it upset me so much in this scene is because True Blood has intentionally created a “good guy” persona for Alcide, and then put him in this scene. If you’re going to portray Alcide as a “good guy” who’s “good for Sookie,” have him ask her explicitly if she’s sure she wants to have sex with him while she’s this drunk or even have him talk her into waiting until she’s sober enough to make the decision. If you’re going to write a scene in which a male character is content to try to take advantage of a woman when she’s drunk, your character can no longer be promoted as “the good guy.”

The larger reason this upsets me so much is because the issue that it touches on is entirely too large to be ignored or trivialized in any way. One out of four women will be victims of sexual assault at some time in their lives (RAINN: Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network 2009). Sexual assault is a difficult crime to document and measure, because studies estimate that fifty-four percent of sexual assaults go unreported (RAINN: Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network 2009). While the myth of “stranger rape” is still widely disseminated among the American public, statistics also show that seventy-four percent of sexual assaults occur between a victim and someone the victim knows: an intimate partner, a family member, a friend, a neighbor, or any other acquaintance (Crisis Connection 2012). These rapes, the most common form, can be defined as date rape.  Date rape is the “rape of a woman by a man with whom she is acquainted. The rapist is usually the woman's ‘date‘” ( 2012).  Usually, but not always.  Those most at risk of becoming victims of date rape are women between the ages of eighteen to twenty-four, which isn’t to imply that date rape doesn’t happen to older or younger women, because it does, or that it doesn’t happen to men, because it does ( 2012). I included this statistic because it directly correlates with a segment of True Blood’s target demographic and highest percentage of viewers: women between the ages of eighteen to forty-nine.  In other words, True Blood is watched most often by those most in need of protection from sexual assault, which can be promoted by our cultural media by portraying only positive images of sexual consent.

The definition of consent has also recently been widely debated, but a few criteria are pretty much accepted without question: consent is active, not passive; consent must be freely given, it cannot be coerced; consent should be enthusiastically expressed, it cannot be given hesitantly, and most importantly in this context, consent cannot be given by someone who isn’t capable of giving consent, such as a person who is severely mentally handicapped or unconscious. I argue that consent cannot be given by someone who is too drunk to know what they are doing, which is of course going to inspire the question, “How is one supposed to know if their partner is too drunk to give consent? Are we supposed to carry a breathalyzer out on dates with us?” My answer to this should effectively end any confusion in this area: if you’re in doubt, men, stop.  If you don’t know if she’s “too drunk” to legally consent to having sex with you, don’t proceed. You shouldn’t want to have sex with any woman if you’re unsure whether or not she’s expressing true consent. Despite ages of belief in the myth that men are less able to stop a sexual encounter once it’s begun, men are equally capable and should be held accountable when they fail to do so. And I say “men” because ninety-eight percent of sexual assaults are perpetrated by men, and most often against women (Truth About Rape 2012).

Now I’m not saying that True Blood has been consistently responsible in their portrayal of sexual relationships. The image of Jason in the very first episode, having sex with Maudette Pickens while she was suspended from the ceiling, and subsequently choking her during sex until he thought he killed her was worrisome and, in my opinion, a harmful and irresponsible sex scene, but Jason wasn't really the good guy back then, was he? Jason's only begun to understand these things about himself in season five. True Blood has been very conscious of hot-button issues throughout the show’s run and have been careful to address those issues responsibly: they’ve effectively introduced the more inane and prejudicial justifications for condemning homosexuality and opposing same-sex marriage; they’ve touched on issues of racism and, specifically, racial profiling; they’ve explored some of the ill effects that organized religion has on our nation and our government; they were even abundantly responsible in a scene that included dog fighting, for which I highly commended them. Because of this, I don’t believe that no one over at True Blood knows anything about the prevalence of date rape, and I don’t believe that the decades-long argument that drunken consent should never be considered legal consent has somehow passed by all of these socially-conscious people responsible for what is portrayed on-screen during the show.  And what was portrayed was Alcide believing that it was totally okay to have sex with Sookie while she was so drunk that she eventually threw up on his shoes.

Scholars have long argued that our cultural media has a great effect on our perceptions. We don’t learn everything about right or wrong from our parents, our churches, or our schools; we also learn lessons about what is right or wrong, socially acceptable or socially unacceptable, from the images we see on television, read in books, watch in movies, or hear in the lyrics of songs.  No one would argue that the extremely misogynistic lyrics in popular music from the past twenty years have had no effect on gender relations or a negative perception of women. How can you not then argue that this scene also has a negative effect because it contributes to the normalization of sex without true consent when it portrays a “good guy” character wanting to have sex with a woman who’s too drunk to speak rationally and who can barely stand (she sank to her knees when he stood her on her feet), and is in fact so drunk that the questionable sexual encounter only ends when the heroine proves so drunk that she vomits?

The most infuriating aspect, to me, is that this scene could have been a responsible portrayal of sexual consent and contributed to the popularity of Alcide’s character by changing only one line.
 The script probably went something like this:

Sookie sinks to her knees while Alcide removes his belt.

Alcide: I’ve waited so long for this.

Sookie: Alcide…(bends over and throws up on Alcide’s shoes).

Eric (off-screen): Alcide…

Flash to Eric and Bill standing in the doorway to Sookie’s bedroom.

Eric: (tauntingly: …you sure know how to treat a lady.

Now imagine the scene scripted this way:

Sookie sinks to her knees while Alcide removes his belt.

Alcide: You’re really drunk. Are you sure you’re up to this?

Sookie: Alcide…(bends over and throws up on Alcide’s shoes).

Eric (off-screen): Alcide…

Flash to Eric and Bill standing in the doorway to Sookie’s bedroom.

Eric: (tauntingly): …you sure know how to treat a lady.

The scene would’ve still been funny because of the interruption by Eric and Bill.  We would’ve still understood that Alcide really wanted Sookie (which is what his deleted line “I’ve waited so long for this,” was supposed to get across to us, because of course we don’t understand that a sober Alcide is excited, breathing hard, and taking off his belt in Sookie’s bedroom because he really wants to have sex with her). But changing that one line creates a positive image of what consent looks like, while the other does the opposite. The second script normalizes what a man should do before having sex and the first is an perfect example of what a man should not do. Female viewers should be upset by this because of the implication that it isn’t real rape if a man has sex with you when you are too impaired to make a rational decision if you were kissing him before.  Male viewers should be upset because of the larger implication that a good man is incapable of and is not accountable for not stopping a questionable sexual encounter and in fact should be more than willing to have sex when consent is debatable, because the real “good guys” know that this is not true. Fans of Joe Manganiello and Alcide’s character should be upset because the integrity of a character they had previously enjoyed and been led to believe was a good guy has been destroyed.  Fans of True Blood should demand that the issue be addressed, because I adamantly believe that our cultural media has a responsibility to address the issue of sexual assault in a way that does not contribute to a culture that accepts it.

For more information on sexual assault, please visit the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network at  If you or a loved one has been the victim of sexual assault, please call The National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE.

For more readings on this subject, please see:

“People don’t think that women are supposed to enjoy sex, and be enthusiastic about it when it occurs. And they expect men to lack the most basic empathy for other human beings when it comes to sexuality.”
“...turn our focus to the actions of someone who presses on with sex while knowing that the other person is sufficiently drunk that their consent may be unclear, or that they themselves are sufficiently drunk that they may miss often-implicit signals of non-consent.”
“A person who is intoxicated cannot legally give consent. If you’re too drunk to make decisions and communicate with your partner, you’re too drunk to consent.”
“seventy-seven percent of rapes are committed by “non-strangers” or people whom the victims know; a woman is four times more likely to be raped by someone she knows than by a stranger”
Men don't physically need to have sex after becoming aroused any more than women do. Moreover, men are still able to control themselves even after becoming sexually excited.



Crisis Connection. 2012. (accessed July 15, 2012). 2012. (accessed July 15, 2012).

RAINN: Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network. 2009. (accessed July 15, 2012). 2012. (accessed July 15, 2012).

Truth About Rape. 2012. (accessed July 15, 2012).

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