Honours students at the Griffith Law School have the opportunity to complete a designated Cultural Legal Studies elective that introduces students to the theories and methods of law and humanities scholarship. As part of the course, students engage in an intertextual analysis of law and a text of their choosing, including novels, poems, films, television shows, music videos, and graphic novels, asking how popular culture engages with and ‘renders strange'[note]Tim Peters, ‘Reading the Law Made Strange: Cultural Legal Studies, Theology and Speculative Fiction’ (2016) in Cultural Legal Studies: Law’s Popular Cultures and the Metamorphosis of Law (pp. 252–273)[/note] our notions of law, power, authority and justice. This blog series provides a snapshot of some of their work.
This article is merely a summary of a significantly more in-depth discussion of True Detective which is nearing completion. Bearing in mind the truncated nature of this piece the author welcomes constructive feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org
Nothing in HBO’s True Detective (season 1) is as it seems. We begin with dark imagery of a field and curious arrangements of branches but are whisked away, pausing only for a moment to look back on a crime scene that is now so distant that we can make out none of its detail. Whilst working with the tropes of a familiar genre, the detective story, Director Nic Pizzolato sets us adrift on a sea of time, places, beliefs and realities. Instead of beginning at a crime scene, we begin at what appears to be the story’s end. This immediate upheaval of the standard crime narrative demands our full attention as viewers. We are watching an investigation of the investigation itself. What unfolds throughout season 1 is a series of conversations that cycle forward and backward through time, and on into the present day. The speakers change, the setting changes, but two constants remain: the murder of Dora Lange (played by Amanda Rose Batze) and the activity of conversation.
When Detective Hart (played by Woody Harrelson) refers to one of the perpetrators as ‘Nietzsche’, we are reminded of a conversation that has happened many times before. We see the desolation of the poor and devout juxtaposed with Nihilism in its extreme form. We see the eternal return of the same and the hopelessness of the law – there is always crime to solve. We watch the interplay between religion, the law, and state power and are reminded that none of these can be properly separated. We see the importance of the slow and methodical evaluation and the violence of the law in use, misuse and action. At the same time we are confronted by the many ways the law of the law seems to render it ineffective.
When Detective Cohle (played by Matthew McConaughey) is asked to ‘take off [his] mask’ (in episode 8) we too are invited to look behind the mask of these institutions we take for granted. We are asked to re-evaluate the distribution of violence and power within our society, and are offered no answers. Instead, through the art of conversation, we are left to explore it on our own.
The story unfolds in a desolate town filled with people on the fringe of a society where faith and religion have offered nothing more than a moral-optical illusion of hope to the otherwise condemned.[note]Marianne Constable, ‘Genealogy And Jurisprudence: Nietzsche, Nihilism, And The Social Scientification Of Law’ (1994) 19 Law & Social Inquiry 551, 557.[/note]. They are valueless, both included in and yet abandoned by the law, existing in a dystopic aftermath of an event no one seems to remember, and which only Cohle can