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ESLJ Volume 4 Number 3 Reviews

Readings in Law and Popular Culture edited by Steve Greenfield and Guy Osborn.

Routledge, Abingdon, Oxon, 2006, 328 pp, £ 85.00 hbk (ISBN 0-415-37647-5).

The editors of this volume acknowledge the traditional hesitancy of law schools to incorporate subjects in the curriculum that do not serve the interests of 'black-letter hegemony' (p 1), leading to a conservative notion of what is acceptable in terms of subject matter and a difference in how subjects are treated. Although inroads have been made in terms of widening the curricular offerings, many difficulties remain in attempting to integrate studies of law and popular culture into the law school curriculum. Not only is there a narrow approach to the law school curriculum but studies of popular culture may be looked at as lacking academic credibility. As the editors note, 'the first [problem is] an internal legal one where the academic hegemony determines that law is a text in need of interpretation, rather than a system of social relations. Second, a persistent (elitist) perception in some quarters of popular culture as ‘cheap’, ‘trashy’ and ‘lacking in value'’ (p 3). This book is an attempt to counter the above impediments by providing scholarly discussion illuminating the interaction of law with 'the everyday' (p 3) and the value of such a contextual approach in the study of law.

Greenfield and Osborn provide a number of examples of ways in which popular culture has engaged with the law. Numerous examples exist in television and film and the editors point out that this is part and parcel of society’s fascination with the law. Moreover, legal films and television shows have made their way into legal classrooms as ways to allow a 'black-letter focus to have a veneer of hipness' (p 4). This use of popular culture as a pedagogical tool is illustrative of a 'hook' to increase student interest and participation. Part I of this volume, Theory and Academia, has three chapters devoted to discussions of intersections between popular culture and the culture of academic institutions that educate prospective lawyers.

However, the inversion of the above, i.e., the way in which the law has engaged with areas of popular culture is also investigated. The editors illustrate numerous examples of ways in which the law has served to police popular culture ranging from intervention in music in the form of censorship, intellectual property and contractual disputes to the legal disputes that arise in the context of sport. This regulation of popular culture by law is discussed in Part II Sport and Part III Film, literature and music. 3
As Greenfield and Osborn note, this volume could be looked at simply as a compilation of articles based on papers presented for the Law and Popular Culture stream of the Socio-Legal Studies Association. On a broader level, however, this book 'marks a key point in the emergence of the field of law and popular culture – a clarion call to friend and foe that law and popular culture has truly arrived' (p 7). Certainly, the breadth of coverage in this volume and the scholarly insight provided illustrates the vitality and erudition of scholars in this area. 4
The first article in Part I by Bradney employs the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer (BtVS) to illustrate ways to inform the research agenda and pedagogy in a law school. In terms of research, BtVS could be used to ascertain how viewers may respond to ideas regarding law and justice that arise in the series or to critically analyze those themes. In regard to teaching, since many law school students are quite familiar with the characters in the series, BtVs may serve as useful starting point to discuss law, justice and other non-legal concepts in philosophy. Bradney is concerned, however, that the law school political environment may not be a welcoming one to research agendas in law and popular culture thus inhibiting the degree to which scholars may conduct research in this area and find acceptable outlets for their work. Bradney makes a plea for the nurturing of work in this area and a case that law and popular culture studies enhance the intellectual life of the law school. 5
Collier’s article in Part I focuses on certain social and cultural aspects of the legal profession that make practicing law with the large urban law firm so alluring to law students in contrast to a career in academe. Collier engages us with the literature from changing ideas of youth cultures and lifestyles, urban geography and the dynamics of consumption, social capital, and identity formation. Lastly, in Part I, Gies discusses the role that media play in shaping people’s understanding of the law. Gies notes the limitations of using content analysis alone and urges a more complex approach to understanding the role that law plays in everyday life. 6
In Part II Sport, Pearson analyzes the Football Disorder Act and whether the Banning Orders to prevent suspected hooligans from leaving the UK when the English national team, or their own club, is playing abroad, is a legitimate legislative response. Pearson discussed the principle of proportionality and concluded that the courts failed to assess the evidence evenly in upholding the Banning Orders. In sum, Pearson analogizes the Banning Orders to using a sledgehammer to crack a nut based on the relatively small scale of disorder versus the infringements of fundamental freedoms imposed by the Banning Orders. 7
Another quite interesting analysis, and one certain to resonate with the interests of the current law student, is James’ analysis of the interplay between the rules of FIFA and the video versions of football. First, James notes that the FIFA Code of Conduct was developed to reassert that governing body’s commitment to fair play and sportsmanship. Additionally, FIFA has taken other initiatives to encourage good player rapport and decreased disciplinary issues. However, the Electronic Arts’ video version of football, a very popular one, although committed to authentic simulations of the FIFA games, allows players to use violence instrumentally to achieve victory in direct violation of the Laws of Football and the Code of Conduct. James then speculates about the consequences of allowing this violence within the gaming context. Although there is no conclusive evidence to date that violence in the games may influence the use of violence in actual football matches, James provides some interesting discussion about conceivable effects on the playing culture and legal liability for governing bodies. This piece is quite thought-provoking and is certainly a timely addition to the literature related to video gaming. 8

Foster’s analysis related to the juridification of sport is also crafted with care and complexity. Foster notes that juridification is often used to describe simply the process of legal intervention into a private realm such as sport. However, Foster makes the case that juridification is not only the imposition of external norms but the 'process of voluntary adoption, where the external norm is integrated into the social field' (p 157). Foster then gives numerous examples of this juridification in sport ranging from internal rules changes to changes in dispute mechanisms and frameworks of procedural justice that have been incorporated into the procedures of sport governing bodies. Blake’s contribution in this section addresses the issue of what is the countryside for. There is an inherent tension between the notion of countryside as agricultural land and countryside as a location for tourism and leisure, including hunting, shooting and fishing. Blake’s article analyzes the discourse which surrounds this conflict.


Part III Film, literature and music has a very broad spectrum of topics indeed. Robson’s article discusses the films of Sidney Lumet. Robson first provides a background of the different approaches and goals in law and film studies and then analyzes the three distinct typologies of lawyer, the heroic figure, the flawed seeker of justice and the amoral hired hand, as exemplified by Lumet’s early, middle and later work. In another film-related analysis, Sanderson and Sommerlad focus on issues of gender, power and law found in two 'screwball' comedies, Talk of the Town and Adam’s Rib. As the authors note, the screwball comedy allows for the 'stretching and blurring of categorical boundaries such as the male/female boundary in Adam’s Rib, and the law/emotion boundary in Talk of the Town' (p 217). English’s article uses the book Five on Finniston Farm by Enid Blyton to illustrate the law regarding the ownership of archaeological remains. Through the vehicle of this children’s adventure tale, English illustrates the competing considerations between individual property rights and the collective good embodied in cultural property disputes.


Turning to the realm of music, Hermanns critiques the Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) and argues that the global IPR system and music copyright have severe limitations in dealing with all the complexities of the global music industry in the 21st century. Morris’ article addresses the legal implications related to video sampling, an 'appropriative practice, whereby clips (samples) of films, TV programmes or other audio-visual material, are digitally captured (i.e. sampled) for use in new works' (p 274). The legal landscape regarding this practice is quite nebulous since the UK Copyright Act does not specifically mention this practice nor is there any case law yet on this matter. The author argues that video sampling is an art form because much of postmodern art depends upon the appropriation of elements of past genres. If this is the case, the law needs to adapt to allow video sampling to occur in certain circumstances. Greenfield and Osborn contribute the final chapter which addresses the question of who is an author in this era in which new technology has 'fundamentally altered both the production and consumption of music' (p 310). The authors focus on the process of production and argue that traditional notions of authorship and originality no longer fit with the 'methodologies of creativity provided by new technologies' (p 320). This article points out a failing of the law to accommodate the realities of new technology, a refrain that is applicable to a variety of industries on the cutting edge of society.


This volume is quite successful in its avowed mission, i.e., to demonstrate the vitality of the study of law and popular culture and the rigor of scholarship and analysis that exists in the research and writing in this area. The breadth of topics in this volume certainly illustrates the pervasiveness of law in culture and aptly demonstrates, as the editors noted, that 'law attempts to colonize everything in its path' (p 7). The most valuable aspect of this book, however, is the degree to which it serves to provoke thought - about the complex interrelationships that exist between law and popular culture, in all its multi-faceted dimensions.


Professor Linda Sharp
Department of Sport Administration, University of Northern Colorado

Sharp, Linda, "Readings in Law and Popular Culture edited by Steve Greenfield and Guy Osborn", Entertainment and Sports Law Journal, ISSN 1748-944X, January 2007, <>