". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Acadiana - HBO True Detective, Season 1

The first HBO series of True Detective is located and shot in Louisiana's cajun Acadiana.  The friend we visited in Breaux Bridge highly recommended I watch, as he pointed out various places and views as being in the HBO series. The program had conveniently arrived dvd, so after getting back home, I ordered up on netflix.

What did I get?

Immediate references to the traditional practices in Acadiana of Santería, which is claimed to be the serial killer's theatrical set-up of the discovered victim. (In fact, that antlered crown blahblahblah looks a whole lot more like some idiot's fantasy of ancient European earth sacrifices or something). Speaking as someone who knows what Santería is, in the Caribbean and in Brasil, and in its mother non-syncretized practice as Lucumi in Nigeria's Yoruba land -- who knows personally the initiated and the "priestly" class -- who knows which African and Afro-Caribbean groups came to Louisiana, which parts and when, she howls: NO! NOT IN LOUISIANA -- NOT EVEN IN THE U.S.!

Next, immediate reference to Voodoo, also part of the serial killer's display. WHAT? This reference means nothing, nor is anything made out of it in the script. Nor is whatever is called voodoo in New Orleans the Vodún of Haiti, or the practice in Dahomey -- Benin.  For reasons, again, that have to do with who came in the inward San Domingue and Cuban migration to Louisiana during the Napoleonic era, and when. Again, I personally know practitioners, houngans and mambos, from both Haiti and Africa. I also am acquainted of what is called voodoo in New Orleans, and thus am qualified to make this call.

The signature twisted branch, vine and bone forms found with the victims of the serial killings, if there is an actual African-derived underpinning to them, it would be from the religion that in Cuba is called Palo, and which comes ultimately from what we now call Mbanza-Kongo, Angola. Captives from this region are the fundamental layer of all New World slavery populations: South America, the Caribbean and North America. This region of Africa was slaved first and longest, from beginning to the end of slavery in the New World. Thus these spiritual practices were continuously refreshed, until, of course 1808 in what was now the U.S. when the constitutional ban on importing Africans came into place, as protectionism for the Upper South's dominance of the domestic slave trade.  But there is not a word about any of this in the script.  Nor, of course, would a Palo practitioner be using it as an excuse to be a serial killer.

In fact, the theatrical set-ups of the victims are much more like some fantasy of old European earth magic sacrifice, than anything that would come out of Africa.

Marty Hart 2012

This viewer never stopped being thrown out of the show by protagonist Martin Hart (Woody Harrelson) straining all his words through a mouth fist-full of gravel. I kept thinking of the guy who plays Deacon on Nashville, who also delivers his lines through his teeth, meanwhile plumping up his cheeks like a squirrel's filled with nuts.

Rust Cohle 1995

Rust Cohle/Matthew McConaughey's way of delivering his lines is equally odd, though in a different sort of way.  It is even hypnotic, as one would expect from someone the script continually hints is as equally psychopathic in his violence as the serial killer(s).

These delivery styles are supposed to convince the viewer that Martin is a native Louisianan, and Rust used to live in Texas? I kept thinking of all the very bad Brit television shows that always make the U.S. characters come from Texas or somewhere in the South, because evidently that's the only way actors can think of to talk like a USian, and how preposterous they sound.  Certainly not like a Texan or any Southerner ever born.

Marty Hart 1995
Rust Cohle 2012
That's the deal -- true detectives not only refuse to give up detecting. They never give up their partner either.  Most importantly they have the capacity and the skills to deliver most explosive violence. Equally important  as detective partners their preferred form of violence and their drive to commit it must be different ,yet complementary. One must be tormented by good vs. evil, the other must be less philosophical.  Rust is always ready to intone his philosophy of the Evil World.  Best line thus

is delivered by Marty, "I've got an idea. Let's make the car a place of silent reflection from now on, all right?" Prime time crime novelist, James Lee Burke, with his has worked this vein deeply in his long-running Robicheaux- Purcell series.

In the middle of the series comes the episode in which our two heroes infiltrate a biker drug gang -- every member of which has hair to ass in the back and down to his nipples in the front. Our Heroes have clean chins and cop  haircuts. WHERE IS THE UNDERCOVER?  This was a fairly pointless episode, evidently included  for the sake of a lot of shooting, and o did the reviewers adore it,

In the final episode both Heroes impossibly survive a knife to the gut (Rust Cohle/Matthew McConaughey) (hoisted into the air on that knife and held there) and a hatchet into the chest (Martin Hart / Woody Harrelson). James Lee Burke’s Dave Robichaeux and Clete Purcell, moved from New Orleans to Acadiana, never die either (though wives and girlfriends do), not from the most ghastly wounds, meat-grinding vehicular crashes or fire blazing explosions. Whatever knocks them out, evidently the air of Acadiana can preserve Heroes to fight the Real Evil another day.

Brothel in the swamp, right where you want it.  Mosquito joy.

Women in True Detective.  Hmm. What are women? Evidently to be female is to be non-dimensional cray-cray, hapless victim, prostitute -- ALWAYS HAVE PROSTITUTES -- or  bad wife who coerces sex from her husband's partner because she has learned her husband serially cheats on her, and though she tells him to get out, he won't leave.

To quote from Vulture:
It’s made from equal parts film noir, Chinatown-style corruption parable, serial-killer potboiler, 3-a.m.-in-the-dorm-room-with-bong-hits philosophical inquiry, and buddy-cop comedy. And it climaxed with a bloody, ridiculous, yet kind of awesome installment that

presented its hero, Matthew McConaughey’s Rust Cohle, as some kind of cornpone risen Christ.

True Detective was beautifully photographed, and it is engrossing. McConaughey's cheekbones are particularly mesmerizing.

The most interesting aspect of the series for me is how it slides through time, the past and present, and the musings of the future.  Katrina is the breaking place between their shared past and their present encounter, which is absolutely true for Louisianans -- and then Rita, in Acadiana, following Katrina.  So much is lost, not least pre-digitized criminal records. Having them encounter each other again after that break shows how the two men changed and how they did not, and how certain actions (and irritations) between two allies can follow all the way up

The reason the viewer isn't interested in these killers.  The others get away with it.
the time line -- but forgiveness can be achieved.. The killers remain the same, but we're not interested in the killers, or even the victims. They are the pretext to present us us two very different men, and their relationship, and how their trust in each other ultimately is put to the greatest tests, and transcends whatever irritations and wrongs may have been committed.

Starting off the drive around the region, our Breaux Bridge friend took us to have breakfast at a local establishment that would be at home anywhere with a hipster population: local artists' work on the walls, and for sale; designer coffee drinks made to order, local baked goods from bread to muffins to sinful desserts, sandwiches and salads and other dishes, none of which was priced much or at all below what an NYC place would charge.  Wi-Fi.  An associated art gallery.  After breakfast he took us on an itinerary of music clubs, museums, art - performance spaces, theaters.

On our way to the local artisnal brewery I asked, "Is this place as filled with truly evil people as James Lee Burke writes about or in True Detective?"  (I was meaning right now, not the horrific slavery past of sugar plantation-prisons; our friend knew what I meant.)

He was silent.

Then he said, "Yes."

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