August 31, 2010

Bollywood Film

Michael H. Hoffmeier, University of Mississippi, has published Rule of Law in Bollywood Translations of ‘Devdas’ and ‘Parineeta’ at Florida Entertainment Law Review 81 (2009).

This article discusses transformation of "Devdas" and "Parineeta" narratives in multiple commercial Hindi film adaptations, focusing on changing role of law and lawyers over time.

Download the article from SSRN at the link.

Legal Typography

Derek H. Keirnan-Johnson, University of Colorado Law School, has published Telling Through Type: Typography and Narrative in Legal Briefs, in the Journal of the Association of Legal Writing Directors. Here is the abstract.
Most legal authors today self-publish, using basic word-processing software and letting the software’s default settings determine what their documents will look like when printed. As these settings are not optimized for legal texts, they do so at their peril. The default font Times New Roman, for example, as Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook warns, is "utterly inappropriate for long documents [such as] briefs."

Commentators have started urging a more deliberate approach to legal typography. Their suggestions, however, have been content-neutral, intended for all legal texts and focused on goals such as legibility and readability.

Typography, however, has much greater potential. The shapes, the spacing, of letters and of words can reinforce, compliment, and independently create narrative meaning. Or, intentionally or unintentionally, it can cut against it. It can do its work honestly and ethically, or inappropriately and subversively. This article explores how.

Download the article from SSRN at the link.

August 30, 2010

Some New Books Of Interest To Law and Humanities Scholars

Laurence Grove, Comics in French: The European Bande Dessinee in Context (Berghan Books).

Marlisa Santos, The Dark Mirror: Psychiatry and "Film Noir" (Lexington Books).

Deborah Elizabeth Whaley, Disciplining Women: Alpha Kappa Alpha, Black Counterpublics, and the Cultural Politics of Black Sororities (State University of New York Press).

August 20, 2010

Promises, Promises

Wendy Adams, McGill University Faculty of Law, has published ‘I Made a Promise to a Lady’: Critical Legal Pluralism as Improvised Law in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, in volume 6 of Critical Studies in Improvisation (2010). Here is the abstract.

Given traditional understandings of law, one might be skeptical of a claim that improvisation and justice are not mutually-exclusive concepts. Does not the significance of the rule of law, the requirement that we be governed by rules and not arbitrary, ad hoc discretion, call into question the legitimacy of improvisation in law? To this very lawyerly question, I provide a very lawyerly answer: it depends.

Legal orthodoxy may indeed refuse to acknowledge any role for improvisation in law, but other theories of law, particularly a theory of critical legal pluralism, is likely to be more accommodating. Critical legal pluralism rejects the characterization of law as an external force obeyed by legal subjects. Instead, critical legal pluralism recognizes the improvised nature of law; legal subjects are not law-obeying but rather law-creating, generating their own legal subjectivity and establishing legal order in real time as a knowledge process of creating and maintaining reality.

This article analyzes Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a popular television series, to explore the concept of critical legal pluralism as improvised law. Read jurisprudentially, the series provides numerous examples of the improvised nature of law as the social construction of legal meaning. A particularly compelling example is the character of Spike. True to the traditional (pre-Twilight, pre-True Blood) genre, Spike is an evil vampire, a demon without a soul whose capacity and appetite for violence have earned him the title of William the Bloody. Yet viewers readily accept a character arc in which Spike, motivated by chivalry (the genre of knights-in-armour, not vampires) vows to protect a human being even at the expense of his own existence. As a law-creating legal subject, Spike is bound by his commitment to both genre-hybridism and the improvised legal meaning of his circumstances; he has made a promise to a lady, and such promises must be kept, even by soulless vampires.

Download the article from SSRN at the link.

August 19, 2010

Searching For Charlie Chan

The new book out on Charlie Chan, the fictional detective, is getting good reviews. Author Yunte Huang explores the origins, influence and meaning of Chan in Charlie Chan:
The Untold Story of the Honorable Detective and His Rendezvous with American History
(Norton, 2010).

Charlie Chan was the hero of a number of murder mysteries written by Earl Derr Biggers, and brought to the screen during the 1930s by Warner Oland, Sidney Toler, and Roland Winters. Louisiana-born Mantan Moreland also starred in the Chan films as the detective's chauffeur (although Mr. Moreland was a talented actor who made a number of other movies). Charlie Chan even made it into the Saturday morning cartoon line-up.
For more about Chan see the website and the Charlie Chan Family Home.

Jill Lepore writes about the inspiration for the character in Chan, the Man: On the Trail of the Honorable Detective here for the New Yorker.

More on Asian image and portrayals on film in Gina Marchetti, Romance and the "yellow peril" : race, sex, and discursive strategies in Hollywood fiction (University of California Press, 1993).

August 17, 2010

Soap, Soap, Soap, Soap, Soap, Soap, Soap, Soap, Soap....

From the Atlantic Monthly: the lingering effects of the soap opera, even as soap operas bite the dust. All those dasterdly evil twins! All those lawsuits! All those plots to murder someone! All that passion! Where did it go? Reality shows. And movies about soap operas--sorry, daytime dramas. Think Tootsie, and Soapdish.

Reasoning From Literature

Jessica M. Silbey, Suffolk University Law School, has published Introduction to Symposium: Reasoning from Literature, at 22 Yale Journal of Law and the Humanities 339 (2010). Here is the abstract.

The “literary turn” in legal studies manifests in many ways in our legal discipline and practice. Be it with the birth of the study of law and literature in the 1980s, the growing attention to narrative theory and storytelling in the law in the 1990s, or the “cultural turn” in legal studies in the 21st century (as some scholars have called the cultural analysis of law), reasoning from literature seems commonplace. And yet it is still marginalized in legal studies as interdisciplinary, not “really law,” and lacking the core persuasive power that legal argumentation and doctrinal analysis do. This Symposium was put together to wrestle with what it means to “reason from literature” and to contest the boundaries between legal reasoning and literary logic. Jessica Silbey was the Symposium organizer and wrote the introduction to the volume, entitled “Reasoning from Literature.” Other contributors to the volume include Peter Brooks, Laura Heymann, Bernadette Meyler Carol Rose and Kenji Yoshino.

Download the article from SSRN at the link.

Archetypes In Legal Storytelling

Linda Edwards, UNLV School of Law, has published Once Upon a Time in Law: Myth, Metaphor, and Authority as UNLV William S. Boyd School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 10-02. Here is the abstract.

We have long accepted the role of narrative in fact statements and jury arguments, but in the inner sanctum of analyzing legal authority? Surely not. Yet cases, statutes, rules, and doctrines all have stories of their own. When we talk about legal authority, using our best formal logic, we are actually swimming in a sea of narrative, oblivious to the water around us. As the old Buddhist saying goes, "We don’t know who discovered the ocean, but it probably wasn't a fish."

This article teases out several familiar archetypes hidden in discussions of cases and statutes. In the midst of seemingly routine law talk are stories of birth and death, battle and betrayal, tricksters and champions. These stories are simultaneously true and false, world-shaping yet always incomplete. Their unnoticed influence over the law's development can be powerful. But we so seldom question familiar narratives, and these archetypes practically run in our veins. We should learn to recognize and interrogate these stories, attuned to their truths, alert to their limitations, and ready when necessary to seek other more accurate and complete stories for the law.

Download the paper from SSRN at the link.

Leopold and Leob in History and Popular Culture

Edward Larson, Pepperdine University School of Law, has published An American Tragedy: Retelling the Leopold-Loeb Story in Popular Culture, at 50 American Journal of Legal History 119-156 (April 2008/2010). Here is the abstract.
This Article scans the cultural history of an American tragedy: the Leopold and Loeb murder case. In what has widely been referred to as "the crime of the century," teenagers Richard Loeb and Nathan F. Leopold, Jr., under the counsel of the experienced and successful defense attorney Clarence Darrow, pled guilty to the 1924 abduction and murder of Bobby Franks, a child of a wealthy Chicago family. Due to Darrow's advocacy, both defendants were spared the death penalty, and given life sentences instead. Sensational details about the crime, the suspects, and the criminal proceedings were enthusiastically reported by the six daily newspapers published in Chicago during this time.

This Articles focuses on the evolution of several distinct personas of the suspected killers, three of which were created by the print media as they covered the story from confession to sentencing. One of the personas developed by newspaper articles was that of both suspects, but particularly Leopold, as self-conceived Nietzschean supermen, exempt from normal moral, ethical, and legal standards. Later, this persona was more fully developed in popular novels and major motion pictures based on the Leopold and Loeb story. The second persona developed by the print media is that of the precocious teenage thrill-seekers. This persona, which was seen to exemplify the indulged, immoral youth culture of the 1920s that was enjoyed by wealthy young men, was also later developed in artistic interpretations of the story of the crime. The print media also presented a third persona in its stories about the criminal proceedings against Leopold and Loeb. With the assistance of East Coast alienists who adopted a Freudian approach to psychology, as well as two physicians, defense attorney Darrow created and developed this third persona during the hearing - that of deeply disturbed youth who were emotionally unable to control their actions. Darrow used this image of Leopold and Loeb as deeply troubled boys to persuade the judge to not sentence the defendants to death. It has reappeared in later artistic presentations of the episode.

In addition to the three personas developed in the print media, the Article also discusses two other personas that have evolved since the original events took place in 1924. Toward the end of the twentieth century, the sexual aspect of Leopold's and Loeb's relationship was subject to increased scrutiny. With this came the development, through plays, movies and other artistic portrayals of the events leading up to the crime, of a gay persona for both Leopold and Loeb; particularly, a persona of repressed lovers. Finally, Leopold himself, in telling his own story through magazine articles and a popular autobiography, created for himself a new persona: that of a model prisoner who deserved parole.

The highly publicized crime, prosecution, and punishment of Leopold and Loeb have served as a seemingly endless source of material and inspiration for American writers, dramatists, and social commentators. Because of continued interest in these events, they, together with attorney Clarence Darrow, have remained celebrities whose stories have inspired novelists, playwrights, poets, essayist and artists well into the new century. Perhaps more than any other trial in American history, the Leopold and Loeb case has served as an ongoing inspiration for the American imagination.

Download the article from SSRN at the link.

August 16, 2010

Racial Norms and Legal Classifications

SpearIt, Saint Louis University School of Law, has published Enslaved by Words: Limits and Liminalities of 'Post-Racial' Language. Here is the abstract.
This article examines racial language in the legal institutions of the United States to show how the law is instrumental in establishing linguistic norms about race. By examining federal and state constitutions, Supreme Court opinions, and government surveys like the U.S. Census, the article unveils a hidden transcript embedded in normative language and attempts to describe how legal classifications work to subordinate minority groups. Racial language is legalized and normalized in society by the force of law, which has institutionalized words like “Indian,” “colored,” and other seemingly innocuous terms like “black” and “white.” Yet, despite their politically correct appeal, these terms effectively subordinate groups, create false binaries, and reinforce racial hierarchies like the “one drop rule.” They are words of everyday parlance that exert an invisible, yet powerful, negative force on minorities. In this census year, for example, who is formally “Hispanic,” “Latino,” or “Spanish” can be people whose “origin” derives from Cuba, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Spain and a whole host of other countries, yet determining the principles which guide the U.S. Census in combining these nationalities under a single banner is a more daunting task. Even more challenging is trying to determine how a “Latino” must then pick between “white” and “black” on the census survey to describe “race” since “Latino” is not a race, but “black” and “white” are. The logic of these divisions is puzzling, yet their negative effects are clear; racial language is never “only words,” but instead can become a conceptual building block of slavery, colonialism, and other forms of subjugation. Terms of today’s common speech can embody the very epitome of discrimination - hegemonic words of the slave master that are still alive and captivate minds in the present. To remedy these iniquities, the article concludes by offering a set of ideas to move beyond the trappings of contemporary racial language and closer to
true freedom of speech.

The full text is not available from SSRN.

August 11, 2010

Shakespeare and Imperfect Justice

Roberta Linciano, University of Salento, has published Musing Upon the Imperfect Justice of Shakespeare's Measure for Measure. Here is the abstract.
Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure can be read as an inquiry into the themes of government and judgement. How do we make people obey the law? By exercising freedom or restraint? Should justice be administered with mercy or with equity? Who is the honest judge? The one who considers every situation impartially or the one who punishes in accordance with the circumstances of the case? Shakespeare shows how all the drama’s principal characters – Duke Vincentio, Angelo and Isabella – deal with such issues by delegating the role of decision-making to a third entity represented by the Deputy, the Rule and the Word, respectively. If, on the one hand, the act of attributing the burden of their personal responsibility to someone else irremediably compromises their proclaimed perfection, on the other, it triggers a process of self/other knowledge which will gradually lead them to recognize and accept the paradoxical nature of human law as well as their flaws.

What I will point out through the analysis of the final trial scene is the Bard’s belief that human justice will always live the irresolvable tension between the respect for general principles and the sensitivity towards the individual’s unique narrative. Vincentio’s unexpected and disappointing verdict is far from being a gratuitous act of forgiveness. It is an attempt to confront the “war ’twixt will and will not” (2.2.33) which is every judge’s and every man’s major challenge.

August 8, 2010

Richard Nixon, Watergate and Pop Culture

On this day in 1974, Richard M. Nixon became the first U.S. President to resign, unable to overcome the rather deleterious effects of the Watergate coverup (and the vote to impeach him) on his administration. Mr. Nixon and the Watergate period have been immortalized in popular culture in such films and tv mini-series and books as

Frost/Nixon (2008), a film dramatizing the David Frost interviews with Mr. Nixon, directed by Ron Howard, whose own career began during the period during which the politican was Vice-President (and check out a blog post from the Daily Telegrapht about Nixon's representation in movies here)

Nixon (1995), a film directed by Oliver Stone, starring Anthony Hopkins

All the President's Men (1976), based on the Woodward/Bernstein book (1974) in which Nixon barely appears, but which he dominates

Mark Feeney discusses Hollywood's love/hate relationship with Mr. Nixon in Nixon at the Movies (University of Chicago Press, 2004)

David Greenberg analyzes the impact of that five-o-clock beard in Nixon's Shadow: The History of an Image (W. W. Norton, 2004)

Mr. Nixon even turns up in music: think John Adams (great name) Nixon in China (1987), and recorded in 1988.

Perhaps the greatest legacy of Watergate for lawyers and law students? That pesky course in legal ethics and all those tv shows and movies that highlight attorney bad behavior. Every non-lawyer loves trying to identify it and writing about it has become a cottage industry. Here's one example.

A complete Watergate bibliography might be impossible, but here's one from 2000. Here's one on Richard Nixon.

August 6, 2010

Hanging Around "Hung"

If you've been wondering what the television drama Hung (HBO) is really about, the New York Times' Ginia Bellafante explains it all for you here. Watch it without shame, and deconstruct it seriously.

August 4, 2010

A Definition of Critical Legal Studies

Pierre Schlag, University of Colorado Law School, has published Critical Legal Studies, in 295 The Oxford International Encyclopedia of Legal History (Stanley N. Katz ed., 2009). Here is the abstract.

This brief encyclopedia entry, written for the Oxford International Encyclopedia of Legal History, discusses the origins and implications of critical legal studies as a political movement and an intellectual tendency. The entry attempts to chart the intellectual forerunners, the intellectual contributions, the politics, and the legacies of critical legal studies. It also describes the attacks on cls and the anti-intellectual consequences of these attacks for the American legal academy.

Download the entry from SSRN at the link.

Interpreting the Effects of Jim Crow

Brando Simeo Starkey, Harvard Law School Research Fellow; Equal Justice Society, has published Jim Crow and the Birth of Uncle Tom: Law’s Impact on Black Culture . Here is the abstract.

Uncle Tom has grown into the most injurious pejorative that blacks can hurl at one another. That it occupies such a 'lofty' status is due to segregation. During Jim Crow, law and legal institutions vehemently reflected America’s racist priorities. All three branches of the federal government subordinated blacks. State and local governments, meanwhile, disfranchised blacks and required their segregation from mainstream life. The biggest reminder to blacks of their second-class citizenship was segregation. In response, many blacks realized the need to unify to repel the onslaught of Jim Crow. Some blacks, however, might either retreat from the daunting struggle or be co-opted by the majority and become double agents hindering the race’s ability to fight American apartheid. To prevent potential turncoats, blacks needed to enforce loyalty. Many sketched the contours of acceptable behavior; that blacks must both resist their subordination and refuse enlisting for the opposition. Deserters would be denounced with the most opprobrious epithet of which blacks could conceive: Uncle Tom. This paper argues that law frequently steers and directs black culture and that it does is best seen through the community’s use of Uncle Tom in the context of segregation.

Download the paper from SSRN at the link.

August 2, 2010

Anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising

A friend at the University of Lodz sent this trailer for a digital film which commemorates the 60th Anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising of 1944. The Warsaw Rising Museum (English description here)commemorates the event, which began against the Soviet Army August 1, 1944 and lasted until October 2, 1944. When the Soviets finally entered the city in January 1945, over 85 percent of the city was in ruins. While the number of civilian deaths is unknown, estimates range up to 200,000. August 1 is now a Polish national holiday.

More about the film's premiere here.

Thanks to Dr. Marek Tracz-Tryniecki, University of Lodz, for alerting me to news of the film.

The Law in "Deadwood"

Rebecca Johnson, University of Victoria, Faculty of Law, has published "Living Deadwood: Imagination, Affect, and the Persistence of the Past," in volume 42 of the Suffolk University Law Review (2009). Here is the abstract.
In this article, I take inspiration from Edward Said's comments that we should look to tales about the past for insight into cultural attitudes of the present. Here, I look to the HBO series "Deadwood" to consider what it can tell us about our emotional investments in certain ways of understanding law, order, and the economy.

Download the article from SSRN at the link.