Showing posts with label popular culture. Show all posts
Showing posts with label popular culture. Show all posts

Friday, October 16, 2020

Time travel would warp tort law, attorney imagines

Austin Beast AB (Pixabay)
Tired of earthbound law constrained by the arrow of time?  Attorney, comedian, and comic book fan Adam J. Adler writes an enjoyable column on law for the aptly named Escapist online magazine.  Recently he tackled the implications of time travel in tort law.  Back in August, he considered transporter accident liability.


Time travel in a Groundhog Day-like scenario, Adler observes, would change the moral expectations of the objective reasonable person as he or she acquires additional knowledge about cause and effect through multiple iterations of the timeline.  In the end, Adler offers a theory on why we haven't yet met time travelers.  Check it out, and remember to suspend your disbelief and enjoy.

The article is Adam J. Adler, Time Travel Torts: How Law Gets Dicey When Dealing with Groundhog Day, The Escapist, Oct. 4, 2020.  

And speaking of time travel, Star Trek: Discovery season 3 premiered last night.  Here's the season trailer, if you can stand the excitement!


Thursday, October 8, 2020

Texas indictment surfaces problem of elected prosecutors; First Amendment protects Netflix film

Actor, model, and District Attorney Lucas Babin
(Steve Stewart CC BY 4.0)
A Tyler County, Texas, grand jury has indicted Netflix for lewd depiction of TV girls in the French film, Cuties (2020).  Sadly, the indictment says more about Texas and American criminal justice dysfunction than about Netflix or contemporary media.  

The film plainly is protected by the First Amendment, rendering the indictment more political stunt than serious legal maneuver.  I wasn't going to watch Cuties, but now I feel like I should, so score one for Netflix, nil for District Attorney Lucas Babin.  Or, I should acknowledge, this might be good campaign fodder for an elected D.A. in East Texas, so it's win-win, minus transaction costs.  

Using the criminal justice system as a means to political ends is a deeply disturbing phenomenon; John Oliver featured the issue in 2018 commentary on Last Week.

Besides being an attorney, Babin is himself, or was, an actor and a model.  His father is dentist and U.S. Rep. Brian Babin (R-Tex.).

The September 23 indictment (image from Reason) relies on Texas Penal Code § 43.262, Possession or Promotion of Lewd Visual Material Depicting Child.  The statute reads:

(b) A person commits an offense if the person knowingly possesses, accesses with intent to view, or promotes visual material that:

     (1) depicts the lewd exhibition of the genitals or pubic area of an unclothed, partially clothed, or clothed child who is younger than 18 years of age at the time the visual material was created;

     (2) appeals to the prurient interest in sex;  and

     (3) has no serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.

The latter conjunctive element (3), lacking in serious value, is a typical savings provision meant to bring the law into conformity with the First Amendment, which certainly protects the film.

Promotional image of Cuties French release
Cuties, or Mignonnes in the French original, is a 96-minute drama about a Senegalese-French girl coming of age in contemporary Paris.  She struggles to reconcile her conservative Muslim upbringing with the popular culture of her schoolyard peers in the social-media era.

A Sundance 2020 award winner in dramatic world cinema, the film was written and directed by Parisian born Maïmouna Doucouré, herself of Senegalese heritage.  In a September 15 op-ed in The Washington Post (now behind pay wall), Doucouré wrote:

This film is my own story. All my life, I have juggled two cultures: Senegalese and French. As a result, people often ask me about the oppression of women in more traditional societies. And I always ask: But isn't the objectification of women's bodies in Western Europe and the United States another kind of oppression? When girls feel so judged at such a young age, how much freedom will they ever truly have in life?

The sexualization of the girls in the film is already familiar in the life experience of an 11- or 12-year-old, Doucouré further wrote. Still, a counselor was on set, and French child protection authorities signed off on the film.

Some of the flap over Cuties, and probably precipitating the Texas indictment, was Netflix's initial promotion of the film with an image of the child stars in sexually suggestive outfits and pose (see Bustle).  Netflix apologized publicly and to Doucouré and withdrew the portrayal.

Here is the trailer for Cuties.

The case is State v. Netflix, Inc., No. 13,731 (filed Tex. Dist. Ct. Tyler County Sept. 23, 2020).

Monday, August 24, 2020

Corcos probes symbiosis of law and pop culture

My colleague at Louisiana State University Christine Corcos has published "Three Ways of Looking at Law and Popular Culture," appearing in Propriete Intellectuelle et Pop Culture: Nouveaux enjeux, nouveaux defis (IRPI 2020) (conference proceedings) (Amazon France).  The full work is not available online at present, but, meanwhile, the abstract from SSRN is a worthy lesson in itself:

In 1989 the Stanford University Law School professor Lawrence Friedman offered a definition of “popular legal culture.” In an often-cited article, he wrote that, “In the first place, legal culture acts as an intervening variable, a mechanism for transforming norms of popular culture into legal dress and shape. In the second place, legal and popular culture, as images of each other, help explicate and illuminate their respective contents”. He notes that law and culture interact in two ways. Law is outward-looking; it depends on and interacts with the society from which it springs. At the same time it shapes that society. We can and do also talk about at least two current and differing uses of law and popular culture in legal education. We can use law and popular culture to teach legal principles. This use makes legal doctrine entertaining and accessible. We can also dig for the messages it gives us about the interaction of law and society. This second method requires us to interact with the texts of both law and popular culture.

Currently in legal education we can and do examine at law and popular culture in both of the ways Friedman identifies. I suggest that we can identify and should examine a third intersection of law and popular culture that scholars have begun to study, that I suggest we should formally acknowledge as a part of law and popular culture studies. This third intersection is the actual trans-formative effect or trans-formative turn that popular culture and law have on each other. I would suggest both that certain types of intellectual property studies and certain types of activity fall into this category. One example is law’s response to the creation of fan fiction and of fan use of copyrighted and trademarked materials that force a response from the rights holders, or force fans to cease a particular activity because the rights holders refuse permission to proceed. We have many examples of the legal responses and changes in norms that illustrate these interactions. What we don’t yet seem to have in the general theory of law and pop culture is a definition for this third intersection. It may be that this third intersection is now most obvious in intellectual property law, perhaps because of the accessibility and spread of technology as well as the overwhelming importance of social media in our lives today. It exists in other a
reas of law as well, for example in family law, in criminal law, in privacy law, and has for some time. I would suggest that this intersection creates the possibility for the working out of the tensions between law and culture, as the public through pop culture identifies how the law works, what the law is, and then reacts to the law, makes demands on the law, and in some cases, forces changes in the law.

Professor Corcos has been my role model for teaching law with popular culture since we met 20 years ago.  Recently she published, as editor and contributor, The Media Method: Teaching Law with Popular Culture (Carolina Academic Press 2019) (Amazon), to which I was fortunate to be able to contribute a chapter on 1L Torts (abstract).

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Colorful CUNY comics teach environmental law, policy, and social justice for all ages

Comic books are not new to legal education, but the Center for Urban Environmental Reform (CUER) at the City University of New York Law School is trailblazing.  Among the fabulous contributions to the recently published The Media Method (CAP), a book about popular culture in legal education, is a chapter by CUNY Law Professor Rebecca Bratspies and her artist-collaborators, including Charlie La Greca.  They are using comic books to reach kids, and, well, me, to talk about environmental conservation and climate change.  They made a video, too, about the project:


When I saw Professor Bratspies at the SEALS conference in July, she gave me a copy of her most recent creation, Book 2 in the Environmental Justice Chronicles!: Bina's Planet.  Suffice to say, it's another hit.  No spoilers, but I was hooked from page one, when heroine-everywoman and high-school-soccer-star-alumna Bina returned to her school-stadium pitch, where, implicitly, young women's soccer reigns supreme.  She goes on to save the day with her colorful cohort, demonstrating en route best practices in youthful social activism à la Greta Thunberg or Xiuhtezcatl Martinez.  I love that Bratspies elevated the tale to the planetary level, making it simultaneously descriptive of the supranational threat and artfully suggestive of trending science fiction by black women writers (see also Terra Nullius).

Bina's Planet is not yet online, but is available in paper from CUER for public education projects.  While you wait for mass dissemination, catch up with Book 1, Mayah's Lot, available to download, or watch and listen online:



Incidentally, for a related CUNY workshop on the Freedom of Information Act in 2018, Bratspies, La Greca, et al., produced a pamphlet-sized special appearance of Mayah on the FOIA.  I have a copy, but cannot find an image in circulation.  I hope they'll put it online in the future.

Monday, August 19, 2019

'The Media Method': Pop culture-oriented teaching book hits shelves (discount code for 2019 buyers!)

The Media Method: Teaching Law With Popular Culture has hit the shelf at Carolina Academic Press.  I contributed a chapter on pop-culture audiovisuals in 1L Torts to this rich volume conceived, compiled, and edited by pop-culture-in-law maven Christine A. Corcos, the Richard C. Cadwallader Associate Professor of Law at Louisiana State University.  Authors discussed the project recently at the annual meeting of the Southeastern Association of Law Schools (SEALS).  Here is the publisher's description:


Many law professors now teach courses by using examples from popular culture, but there is no comprehensive overview of ways to integrate non-law materials into the legal curriculum. In this text, more than two dozen law professors from the United States, Canada, and Australia demonstrate how to integrate fiction, poetry, comic books, film, television, music, and other media through the first year curriculum traditionally offered in U.S. law schools as well as a number of advanced courses in many subjects. The heavily illustrated book also includes best practices as well as pedagogical justifications for the use of such methods.

The front-matter online includes the table of contents.  Chapter 10 is my Torts Through the Looking-Glass.  Here is the first paragraph (footnotes omitted).


Students today view the world relative to its representations in digital media.  This digital looking glass, or mirror, of reality incorporates fact and fiction and has itself come to define our popular culture.  Accordingly, today’s students benefit from the examination and analysis of challenging subject matter in the real world relative to its digital imaginings.  Instructors in torts can promote learning by bringing into the classroom popular cultural expressions extracted from the vast audiovisual libraries of the Internet.  These demonstrative exhibits can be used to support problem analysis, to explore policy and theory, to bridge study and practice, and to raise issues in professionalism.  This chapter demonstrates the range of multimedia material available in popular culture today with relevance to torts.  My aim is to encourage instructors to build their own libraries of materials and to enhance student learning by holding up torts to the looking glass.
Use code TEACH19 for 25% off in 2019!



Wednesday, August 14, 2019

My Summer Book Report


I squeezed in some leisure reads this summer:

  • Yuval Noah Harari, Homo Deus.  Yes, I drank the Harari Kool-Aid.  I am a true believer. Frightfully enjoyable stuff.  Sapiens is on my desk now.
  • Ian McEwan, Machines Like Me.  Poor Ian McEwan (Atonement) has taken it on the chin from scifi fans for daring to dabble in the genre in this thought-provoking book that I quite adore.  Sure, the basic question of "Data"'s humanity (cf. ST:TNG) is trodden territory, but give a guy some credit for doing his homework and bringing his signature writing flair to the table in this page turner.  It's a far better book than Solar.  We don't talk about that.
  • David Sedaris, Calypso.  Unfathomable how his books go from best to even better.  You must have David read you his audiobooks. 
  • Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption.  Essential reading for the legally inclined.  Can’t wait for the movie.  Three words: Michael. B. Jordan!
  • Luis Alberto Urrea, The House of Broken Angels.  For my fellow book group member who’s a LatAm aficionado, I am willing to revisit the trippy genre of my undergrad lit major once per year.  It’s always a, um, magic carpet ride, if you will.

And here is the most interesting stuff I read this summer, professional edition.  These are the categories!
·         Torts
·         Legal Education
·         Popular Culture
·         Self-Improvement

Torts

Kenneth S. Abraham & Leslie Kendrick, There’s No Such Thing as Affirmative Duty, Virginia Public Law and Legal Theory Research Paper No. 2018-59 (on SSRN).  OK, so maybe I didn’t actually read this 65-page paper.  Instead I read about it, and who could do otherwise?, when Anthony Sebok at Cardozo Law wrote such a great review for JOTWELL.  Abraham and Kendrick call for abandoning the Restatements’ wearisome struggle to chart the contours of affirmative duty.  Instead they would take what I would describe as a more European approach, looking at duty, affirmative or otherwise, as a function of risk creation.  I do think this approach has a bead on the doctrinally drifting direction of duty from the Second to Third Restatements, so maybe this is the future.  Sebok aptly observes that this kind of thinking jives with Stephen Sugarman’s proposed merger of intent and negligence.  Fortunately I’m less than 20 years from retirement, because I fear that by that time, torts will just be a squishy blob of relativistic uncertainty not unlike the inside of an atom.  Teaching that will be for younger minds.

Free Speech, Freedom of Information, and Privacy

Enrico Bonadio & Nicola Lucchi, Copyright and Pornography, in Non-Conventional Copyright: Do New and Non-Traditional Works Deserve Protection? 418 (Enrico Bonadio & Nicola Lucchi eds. 2018) (SSRN).  Copyright.  Pornography.  You do the math.  Seriously, worth a read, and informative multinational perspective.

Adam Candeub, Nakedness and Publicity, ___ Iowa L. Rev. ___ (forthcoming 2019) (SSRN).  Adam Candeub at Michigan State Law explores the right of publicity as a revenge-porn remedy.  And why not?  Tort and IP’s disfigured offspring does so much else….

Megan Deitz, Note, A Crime Remembered: The Possible Impact of the “Right to be Forgotten” in the United States for Crime Victims, Criminal Defendants, and the Convicted, 9 Ala. C.R. & C.L. L. Rev. 197 (2018).  Kudos, Megan Deitz, J.D. U. Ala. ’18.  This is what I was talking about.  Ban the box is great, but it’s not going to get us there.  And to think that I found this article through an AEJMC newsletter…  heresy!

Anthony L. Fargo, Protecting Journalists’ Sources Without a Shield: Four Proposals, 24 Comm. L. & Pol’y 145 (2019) (abstract at T&F).  Tony Fargo at Indiana University-Bloomington has pursued a range of interests in his career—he’s the founding director of the Center for International Media Law and Policy Studies—but all the while remained the national authority on reporter’s privilege.  With a federal shield law a long time not coming, this articles explores alternatives in (1) whistleblower protection, (2) government transparency to disincentivize leaking, (3) legal protection for anonymous sources, and (4) encryption tech.

Giovanni De Gregorio, Secret Filming and the Right to Inform Under an European Constitutional Perspective: The Case of Alpha Doryforiki v. Greece, 2:2 Rivista di Diritto dei Media 410 (2018) (SSRN).  I’m a fan of European privacy law, but even the most committed fan has to admit that it has generated some absurd results.  Count among them the notion that investigative journalists secretly recording corruption run the risk of violating politicians’ privacy rights.  Giovanni De Gregorio reviews the latest case law.  For heaven’s sake, no one tell the bureaucrats in Texas (see Texas v. Doyle, infra).

Thomas Healy, Anxiety and Influence: Learned Hand and the Making of a Free Speech Dissent, 50 Ariz. St. L.J. 803 (2018) (SSRN).  The relationship between Judges Hand and Holmes, and especially Hand’s slow-cooking influence on modern First Amendment jurisprudence as a result, has been the intriguing study of many writings before, Healy’s included.  Nevertheless, in this compelling essay, Thomas Healy at Seton Hall Law here revisits the subject for a close look, laying out the timeline and examining exactly what Holmes’s evolving position took and did not take from Hand’s earnest offerings.

Matteo Monti, Automated Journalism and Freedom of Information: Ethical and Juridical Problems Related to AI in the Press Field, 1:1 Opinio Juris in Comparatione: Studies in Comparative and National Law (2018) (SSRN).  I am not a fan of the trend that puts “and AI” after everything, and voila!, new article, new theory, new field of law, new main dish.  All the same, this article on AI implications for journalism, with an especial eye to the problem of tort liability, is a neat, thoughtful, and very readable roundup from an unexpected source.  Don’t be confused by the title: in American parlance, this is more about free speech, or free flow of information, not FOI in the access sense.  Matteo Monti is a Ph.D. candidate at the Institute of Law, Politics, and Development of the Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna, a public university in Pisa.

Let's burn some books, Dark Ages style! And maybe a philosopher, too.
(Metropolitan Museum of Art, c.1515–27, Purchase, Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, 1917.)
Ada Palmer, How #Article13 is Like the Inquisition: John Milton Against the EU #CopyrightDirective, BoingBoing, Mar. 24, 2019.  This.  Is.  Brilliant.  This short essay should be required reading for every human being with an internet connection.  Don’t let the title’s narrow references to copyright and the EU throw you off; the implications of this piece are breathtaking.  Ada Palmer, University of Chicago history professor and science fiction writer, analogizes internet content filtering—the kind that everyone now is clamoring for Google, Facebook, and Twitter to double down on—to the very press licensing that earned John Milton’s critical condemnation in the Areopagitica, circa 1644.  It’s a downright terrifying proposition that leaves me wondering whether our best intentions are not already about the industry of turning the internet into the most repressive thought regime in the history of human civilization.  Best not read just before bed.

Texas v. Doyle, No. PD-0254-18 (Tex. Ct. Crim. App. Feb. 27, 2019) (via Texas Tribune).  I’m just going to say it, because we’re all thinking it, and something needs to be done: there’s something wrong with the water in Texas.  This case is the latest in what’s going on a decades-long saga of First Amendment challenges to the Texas Open Meetings Act (OMA).  You read that right: public officials are claiming that the open meetings act violates their First Amendment rights.  It would be funny, except they won.

Admittedly and rightly, the First Amendment calls for heightened scrutiny of criminal laws (and tort law) when violation is accomplished only by First Amendment-protected activity, such as speech.  Texas officials have long and fruitfully argued that the criminal-enforcement provisions of the OMA deprive them of their First Amendment right to communicate with one another.  Specifically, they contest the vagueness of applying the OMA to “meetings”—such as serial, or “daisy chain,” communications—alleged to subvert the OMA.

First Amendment problems in criminal law are often overcome by mere scienter; ask Michelle Carter’s counsel about that.  But it’s famously difficult to prove intent to subvert a freedom of information act, so transparency advocates have fought for enforcement mechanisms that operate shy of criminal intent.  I honestly don’t know whether this problem in Texas resulted from overzealous enforcement or opportunistic politicians in smoke-filled rooms, but the nonsense has got to stop.  I’ve seen OMA violations in other states, and I’ve seen innocent non-compliance, and I’ve never been confused about the difference between the two.

Legal Education

Lawrence J. Trautman, The Value of Legal Writing, Law Review, and Publication, 51 Ind. L. Rev. 693 (2018) (SSRN).  A business law professor at Western Carolina University, Lawrence Trautman capably offers this hefty opus, the latest entry in the legal-scholarship-matters genre.  The addition is welcome, as if more evidence should be needed to refute the snarky, anti-intellectual, and ultimately counter-factual rhetoric about the uselessness of legal scholarship (much less legal writing).  (See my own missive of some years ago for background, hat tip at UMass Law Review and Steve Zoni.)  In his abstract, Trautman “hope[s] this Article may become a required reading as one of the first assignments for all incoming first-year law students, or even before any classes begin.”  I’m down with that, but we might need an abbreviated version.

Popular Culture

Charles Duhigg, The Real Roots of American Rage, The Atlantic, Jan./Feb. 2019.  It goes without saying that everything in The Atlantic, my favorite magazine, is worth reading.  But my wife thought to point out this article to me.  I’m trying not to read too much into that.  Pulitzer-Prize winner Charles Duhigg takes a deep dive into outrage in our present social and political environment—newly salient upon the Dayton and El Paso shootings.  Building out from some groundwork in psychology by UMass Amherst’s James Averill, Duhigg establishes that ignoring our social anger or suppressing it is maybe the worst thing we could do.  He explores research that shows instead a possible way forward.

Self-Improvement

Jon Acuff, Do Over: Make Today the First Day of Your New Career (2015).  Just a couple years ago, I discovered Jon Acuff.  Yeah, I know, I got there late.  Anyway, I read the free preview, chapter 1, of his 2015 book, Do Over.  You can too.  I’m not going to read the rest, because I more or less like my job (underpaid), and I’m not really the self-help-reading sort.  Nevertheless, I liked this, as I seem to like just about everything Jon Acuff writes and says.  He makes me smile.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Profs talk pop culture at law school conference

At the annual meeting of the Southeastern Association of Law Schools in the last week of July, colleagues and I had the opportunity to share ideas about teaching law with popular culture. I learned a great deal at that session (and others).  I was able to share about my own use of audiovisual content as it's changed over the years.  I'll say more as we near publication of our book project, The Media Method.  Meanwhile, this teaser ....

Carolina Academic Press mocked up a display copy of the forthcoming Media Method.

Contributors to The Media Method include Professor DeLeith Duke Gossett at Texas Tech School of Law. Presenting at center here, DeLeith is a former student of mine. Teachers will understand the giddy pride induced by collaborating with such a colleague.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

'Lights, Camera, Execution!': Political scientist Helen Knowles co-authors new book on capital punishment and popular culture

A new book by poli sci prof and legal researcher extraordinaire Dr. Helen Knowles, SUNY Oswego, has hit the shelf.  It explores the dark edge of the border where popular culture and criminal justice meet.  In this sense it is partly reminiscent of John D. Bessler's unsettling Death in the Dark: Midnight Executions in America (Northeastern 1997) (Amazon).  Supreme Court followers will remember Dr. Knowles for her landmark study of Justice Kennedy in The Tie Goes to Freedom (2009 & updated 2018) (Amazon).

In Lights!, Camera!, Execution!: Cinematic Portrayals of Capital Punishment (Lexington Books 2019) (Amazon), Knowles and co-authors Bruce E. Altschuler and Jaclyn Schildkraut explore the interplay of popular portrayal of the death penalty with the real thing, considering the implications of mass media for policy-making when, literally, lives are on the line.  Here is the publisher's abstract:
 
Lights, Camera, Execution!: Cinematic Portrayals of Capital Punishment fills a prominent void in the existing film studies and death penalty literature. Each chapter focuses on a particular cinematic portrayal of the death penalty in the United States. Some of the analyzed films are well-known Hollywood blockbusters, such as Dead Man Walking (1995); others are more obscure, such as the made-for-television movie Murder in Coweta County (1983). By contrasting different portrayals where appropriate and identifying themes common to many of the studied films – such as the concept of dignity and the role of race (and racial discrimination) – the volume strengthens the reader’s ability to engage in comparative analysis of topics, stories, and cinematic techniques.Written by three professors with extensive experience teaching, and writing about the death penalty, film studies, and criminal justice, Lights, Camera, Execution! is deliberately designed for both classroom use and general readership.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Teachable moment in Torts:
'Complaint alleges mom with dementia dumped outside Long Beach healthcare facility'

National media this week picked up this story from CBS Los Angeles about a woman suffering from dementia who wound up on the street after what looks like a botched transfer between a hospital and her residential facility.  The victim's daughter filed a complaint with regulatory authorities, but so far has said she will not file suit.  As advanced or two-semester classes in U.S. tort law wade into the deep end of the pool this spring, this story invites analysis on a number of fronts.  Here are some questions to get the discussion going.



1. Does the victim, through her daughter, have any cause of action in common law tort?  Can the injury requirement be met for the general negligence tort? for recklessness?

2. Is there a breach of duty here that can support a business tort?  Are there damages recoverable in business torts?

3. Could this be actionable "negligent infliction of emotional distress" (NIED)? in some states?  Can you demonstrate balance in the elements of negligence to persuade a court that NIED here will not open the floodgates?

4. How does the victim's dementia affect the torts case?  Is she an eggshell plaintiff?  Could she have been contributorily negligent?  Can she have been both at the same time?

5. Could the outcome of the regulatory investigation affect proof or liability in a tort case?

6. Does any tort theory rest in the daughter as plaintiff on her own behalf?  Is there any way to plaintiff-bystander liability?

7. Low temperatures in Los Angeles in the last week were only in the 50s (F), but northern cities have been in the grip of below-zero record lows.  Suppose the victim had been outside in Chicago and suffered frostbite.  How does that change the disposition of her tort claims? her daughter's?

8. Further entertaining the idea that the victim suffered physical injury, can the defendant make dispositive arguments on duty? on causation?  What's the difference?  Could there be a "scope of liability" problem in the terms of the Third Restatement?

9. There are two healthcare facilities involved.  Could both be defendants?  Would both be liable?  Would liability be joint or several? apportioned? to what effect?



🌠 Coming this June from Carolina Academic Press!
The Media Method:
Teaching Law with Popular Culture

Edited by LSU Law Prof. Christine A. Corcos, @LpcProf, Media Law Prof Blog
With contribution on torts by yours truly