Monday, September 5, 2011

Skepticism in supernatural universes

Spoiler Alert: This post talks about last night's episode of True Blood. Read at your own risk if you haven't watched it yet.

For those of you who don't know, I'm a bit of a True Blood fanatic. It's a guilty pleasure. I love the campiness, the puns, the one liners, the cliff hangers, and all of gratuitous sex and beautiful people (Mmmm Eric, Alcide, and Jessica). All of this entertainment is enough to outweigh the sometimes frustratingly bad plot, Sookie's dues ex machina lightning fingers, and, well, Sookie herself.

But sometimes I overanalyze things, because that's what I do. Like when, in the last season, the hospital claimed Sookie didn't have a blood type. ...You can't not have a blood type! Blood type is determined by antigens on the surface of red blood cells. If you lacked all antigens, you'd just be type O and negative for every other type, like Rh factor. Extremely rare, but not "no blood type." Hell, even if Sookie didn't have any red blood cells, she'd still come up negative on all of the tests.

The thing that stuck out for me during last night's episode was something that I think of more and more when I watch the show. Andy Bellefleur, the town's sheriff, was walking through the woods alone at night. He had been dumped there by his cousin and told to walk home alone because he was sobering up from V - vampire blood - which is a powerful drug in the series. In a poof of light, a beautiful fairy pops in front of him and seduces him in return for him pledging to protect her. And they do it right there in the woods. ...Which thankfully we don't see, because it's Andy.

Me: Come on, would you have sex with some random hot person who just popped up in front of you in the woods?!
Male Friend #1: ...
Male Friend #2: ...Probably
Me: This is so goddamn stereotypical.

That wasn't really my issue, though. When Andy finally gets home, his cousin's wife Arlene asks what took him so long. He recounts the story of how a beautiful woman appeared out of a ball of light and they had sex. Arlene thinks he must be hallucinating because he's coming down from V.

This is the same Arlene who just saw a spirit exorcised from her possessed friend who stole her baby. The same Arlene who was possessed by a maenad into having crazy orgies. The same Arlene who went to a witch to abort her potentially evil baby. The same Arlene who knowingly serves vampires synthetic blood in the bar she works at. The same Arlene who knows her coworker Sookie can read minds.

How can you live in a universe where it's common knowledge that vampires, werewolves, werepanthers, shape shifters, ghosts, telepaths, and witches exist, but a beautiful woman appearing out of a ball of light is obviously a hallucination? If someone recounted that story to me in that universe, my reaction would be "Holy shit! You obviously just banged some new supernatural being we personally don't have any knowledge about, since we keep discovering new supernatural beings all the time! Let's do some investigation on what it could possibly be!"

Because really, skepticism is based on the scientific method, rationality, and logic. If we lived in a universe where we know magic is real and that numerous types of supernatural beings roam the world...well, it wouldn't be "super"natural anymore. It would be natural, and we'd need to figure out where we went wrong with the laws of physics. I'd love to research the biology behind vampires never dying by feeding on other's blood!

But if we lived in such a universe, where would we draw the line? Was Arlene right to still be skeptical about the fairy, even though we, the viewers, know what it is? If we lived in a universe where physics and biology didn't work as we expected, how would we establish between "real" supernatural things and "fake" ones? For example, many characters on the show are very skeptical about religion or God - but what makes angels and deities unbelievable when you have vampires and shifters running around?

...I guess you have physical evidence of the vampires and shifters.

Anyway, what do you think? Is Arlene being a good skeptic, or is she being a little dimwitted? If you lived in a supernatural universe, how would you react to a situation that described a new supernatural creature or event that you personally aren't familiar with?

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