True Detective, True Louisiana?

I just, very belatedly, watched the first episode of True Detective. Thoughts? First, glad to see Matthew McConaughey’s star rise even further – I’ve long thought he’s an amazing actor and he’s been criminally underrated in the past.

Second: clever, stylish, creepy. In the main, I loved it. But one thing bothered me: the fetishisation of the South and specifically of Louisiana, probably because the main culprit (Matthew McConaughey’s character) is supposed to be a Texan.

Sample quotes: “People here don’t know the rest of the world exists”; a town is “like a memory of a town”, to which were added some hints of folk magic and an abundance of dreamy shots of the bayou.

None of these things necessarily represent inaccurate or even undesirable elements of a portrayal of Louisiana, but somehow when mixed up together (like a cocktail, pot of gumbo, voodoo potion or murky swamp, probably) there’s an overly strong whiff of an idea of Louisiana as exotic and outlandish, the land of elaborate fancies and tempting vices.

We do this kind of thing in London too. For instance, if you tack the word “voodoo” or just “New Orleans-style” onto anything it’s instantly cool and edgy round here at the moment.

Why does this matter? Well, it’s this simple. What starts as cultural exoticising has a tendency to turn into political exclusion. Here’s an example.

People in New Orleans joke about other Americans needing a passport to visit their city. Then, after Hurricane Katrina, Louisiana citizens forced to leave their homes and seek shelter in other states were routinely labelled as “refugees”, as if they’d come from another country, probably one of those far away ones that are a bit strange and that we don’t actually need to worry about.

So I’ll carry on watching True Detective, but with this in mind: whatever’s “true Louisiana” about it is also “true America”.



2 thoughts on “True Detective, True Louisiana?

  1. This was a great entry, and I couldn’t agree more about the exoticising of any given culture–however justified the “exotic” label might be–leaving a odd sense of closed-mindedness and (positive or negative) prejudice on both sides of the border. Living in Japan, and despite loving the culture as much as I do, stressing how exotic it may appear tends to mentally drive people away from each other and away from reality. Although I have not been to New Orleans yet (though I’ll be going in August, yay!), it seems that reality is interesting enough without the added imaginary distance.

    • Glad you liked the post, and totally agree that comparable points could be made about how Japanese culture is portrayed (despite it being very different in so many ways from Louisiana) – one of the books I read that kind of inspired what I wrote about in my post is “Orientalism” by Edward Said, which is about how the so-called “East” is represented in “western” culture. And hope you enjoy your trip to NOLA! – I know you will!

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