Tuesday 12 April 2016


Through the Looking Glass - the Framing of Law through Popular Imagination
Special Issue – GLR 24(3)

[This is an extract from my Introduction to this special issue of the Griffith Law Review 2015]

It’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.
- Alice [1]

It has been 150 years since the first publication of Lewis Carroll’s acclaimed children’s fiction Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and it remains a book that is appreciated widely across culture for its unique representation of the world. Indeed, the enduring quality of both Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, is evident in the way they have inspired creations of art, theatrical performances, judicial decision-making, cinematic portrayals, videogame plot development, and of course, the desire for adventure. The 150th anniversary reminds us of, not only the mesmeric impact of reading Alice’s adventures, but also the cultural ubiquity of ‘wonderland’ within the public imaginary.

Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that.
- Red Queen [2]

When Alice falls through the rabbit hole or steps through the looking glass, she becomes lost in worlds that provoke mystification and the abandonment of common sense. It is a moment of transition, a movement between that which is ‘real’, knowable and explicable, and that which is nonsensical, chaotic and potentially incomprehensible. It is a moment of encounter that requires Alice to abandon traditional assumptions and logic if she is to begin to comprehend the adventure that awaits. The reward for this abandonment is entrance to these bizarre and fascinating worlds, where everything seems to be inverted or refracted from what she once knew – time is personified and made unreliable, decisions precede events, and punishments are served before crimes are committed. As Alice struggles to understand these new constructed existences and orient herself in connection with the constructs of time, space and memory, she discovers that the familiar concepts of logic, predictability, and rationality can be so easily taken for granted.

In her search for meaning, order and reason, it would seem that in both worlds she encounters, law is prima facie absent. However, it is curious to recognize the familiar threads of law, weaved throughout Alice’s encounters within these beautifully chaotic worlds. In the worlds of Wonderland and the Looking Glass, there is an ever present concern about law, represented in the conflict between order and disorder, chaos and predictability, authority and arbitrariness. This concern stems from a fear that law might at times (or even frequently) be arbitrarily administered, or that justice might indeed be illogical, disjointed, or counterintuitive. Lewis Carroll works this anxiety to perfection in Alice’s juxtaposition between reality and the imaginary, and still 150 years later, his work continues to demonstrate the mutually constitutive relationship between law and popular culture.

Give your evidence,’ said the King; `and don’t be nervous, or I’ll have you executed on the spot.’
This did not seem to encourage the witness at all: he kept shifting from one foot to the other, looking uneasily at the Queen, and in his confusion he bit a large piece out of his teacup instead of the bread-and-butter. [3]

Just as Alice contemplated, and then explored, the worlds down the rabbit hole, and on the other side of the looking glass, this Special Issue of the Griffith Law Review (GLR) calls upon us to reflect on and encounter the concepts of law and justice as broadly framed within popular imagination, and to expose the inversions, mirrorings and refractions of law across which we stumble. In seeking to engage critically with contemporary cultural legal studies scholarship, this special issue showcases innovative methodologies and practices that contextualize the role of legal storytelling in the popular imagination. The articles are inter-disciplinary and methodologically diverse – yet each contribute to the greater discussion surrounding the transformation of legal meaning that resonates within the popular imaginary, and in combination, this special issue exhibits an incredibly diverse and rich interaction with law and humanities scholarship.

To read more from my Introduction to the Special Issue click here:

The wonderful contributions to the Special Issue are as follows:

Penny Crofts demonstrates how horror films can function as the cultural window through which to investigate criminal law’s transgressive concept of voluntariness. In a reading of the influential 1970s film The Exorcist, Crofts uses Regan’s transformation through possession as a mechanism by which to interrogate law’s expression and transgression of order.

Thomas Giddens provides a jurisprudential reading of Morrison and McKean's graphic novel Arkham Asylum. In his contribution, Giddens critically analyses the juxtaposition of law’s reason with the ‘madness’ of Arkham, and describes a paradoxical encounter of ‘the meeting of reason and unreason in the context of justice’.

Timothy Peters convinces us to appreciate the complexities of popular cultural narratives that demand a re-reading and re-encountering of legality. In exploring Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight trilogy as a narrative that opens the possibility for a different grounding of trust, law, and justice, Peters reads Batman as a Christological figure that ‘makes strange’ the traditional superhero mythos as well as the narratives they tell of justice, law and legality.

Dale Mitchell provides a thorough and detailed critical examination of the legal and feminist dimensions of She-Hulk. Mitchell argues that, defined by binaries and constructed through real world and imagined patriarchal forces, She-Hulk (as lawyer and ‘hulking green enforcer’) by necessity splinters the law to protect her client's interests, thereby demonstrating her resistance to law’s patriarchal order. Mitchell argues that by embodying the monstrous feminine, Jen represents the promise of a different encounter with law – one that turns rejection by the law into something that challenges it.

Michael Barnett and Cassandra Sharp take their moment of encounter to the world of video games. In analysing the Infamous series, which positions Cole McGrath as the superpowered protagonist in a self-contained post-apocalyptic world that is chaotic, broken and absent of legal sanction and protection, Barnett and Sharp demonstrate that the game (through both mechanic and narrative) reinforces a legal consciousness that requires morality to be fulfilled in the law. Reading both the bifurcated narrative, and ‘moral mechanic’ jurisprudentially, they argue that Infamous reflects a normative privileging of natural law, and that this reinforces understandings of the relationship between power, law and morality. Click here to access this article.

Cassandra Sharp interrogates the way 'revenge' and 'justice' are entwined in the television series Revenge. Just as Alice quickly realises that in a world without meaning, the search for truth and order is misguided and futile, the character of Emily Thorne progressively demonstrates that in a world that values retribution, the search for justice is often atavistic yet pathologised. Using Revenge as case study, Sharp contends that it is the consistent Hollywood apposition of retribution and revenge as divergent forms of ‘justice’ that belies a conspiracy with law to pathologise the human desire for payback. Click here to access this article. 

To check out the full Special Issue click here.

[1] Carroll (1865), Chapter 10: ‘The Lobster Quadrille’.
[2] Carroll (1871), Chapter 2: ‘The Garden of Live Flowers’.
[3] Carroll (1865), Chapter 10: ‘Who Stole the Tarts’.