Thursday, February 09, 2006

Law & Order: Special Valentines Unit. It was apparently featured on BoingBoing some time ago, but I have only just discovered Californian artist Brandon Bird's series of Valentines. You might recognise Bird from illustrations he's done for The Believer. He was selling these as cards but apparently has run out.

My favourite is the middle one. Perfect for the hipster in your love life this Corporate Love Day. But while at first glance this is the typical sort of cute pop-culture idea that always seems to get a run on BoingBoing, and the internet in general, I think the cards are much more ambivalent and disturbing. They take the show's dark musings on love, loyalty, sex, violence, death and vengeance, and turn them into slogans so flippant that we stop being entertained and titillated and realise what a fucked-up show it is. Take this one featuring Detective Olivia Benson:

Isn't this card twisted? It binds together a number of overlapping ideas within the series, and within criminology more generally. That raped and bashed women stay in the situation because their abusers tells them they're 'special'; that stalkers single out and pursue their female victims by sending them creepy cards like this one; that when the cops intervene, they reassure the victim that she's a worthy human being despite the degradation she's suffered. Benson's role in the series always seems to be this kind of comforter. But she is also an ambivalent figure too, because if my memory serves me correctly, she was a child of rape herself, and she's been stalked, and there have been moments of breakdown where these competing personal motivations override her regard for procedural justice, and she avenges victims by killing or brutalising their rapists.

Likewise, the series is always suggesting that her partner, Stabler, is not so far from being a sex offender himself. I watched last Sunday's episode at Jeremy's house; unexpectedly, because I haven't watched any of the Law & Orders regularly since the Donald Street years. It was the most morally dubious plotline I've ever seen on a series that specialises in portraying the ways the law is twisted in order to achieve the protagonists' subjective notions of 'justice'.

The episode began with the usual red herring: some chick was raped, and they suspected this guy, craggily played by Robert Patrick (at one point Jeremy said, "Why doesn't he just turn into mercury and escape?"), who had just got out of jail that day. So the rest of the episode was dedicated to this complicated sting operation in which Stabler has to go undercover as a paroled sex offender, including attending group therapy and talking about the 'offence' that'd landed him in Attica, in order to win the Terminator's trust and see if he'd confess. But by the end of the episode, they're completely not interested in finding the initial rapist; they've become consumed by this increasingly elaborate entrapment scam.

Naturally, he finds it easy to get the Terminator's trust. Because of his sublimated desire for statch-rape, natch. They end up crusing for punani in a black van that screams rapemobile (their phrase, not mine!!). Late in the episode, the Terminator gives Stabler one of those "We're not so different, you and I" speeches at gunpoint. And the parole shrink, who doesn't know Stabler's undercover, is concerned about his (ongoing) anger management issues. The episode ends with Stabler casually telling the assembled cops that the Terminator "might need an ambulance". How unbelievably amoral is that?

As a total aside, I think I heart Brandon Bird. Here is a picture of him in which he has a touch of the Jack Osbournes and the John C Reillys. He also has all sorts of awesome ephemera on his site, like school reports, email exchanges, and art juvenilia. I can't help liking him despite the Eggersness - and, dare I say, the McCreaness - of it all. It is a dirty love.

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