112th Annual Conference - Riverside Convention Center, California
Friday, October 31 - Sunday, November 2, 2014

This page is about the 2014 conference. For 2015 conference info, go to PAMLA 2015.

“But I Do Clean Up Real Fuckin’ Pretty”: True Detective’s Motorcycle Subculture Representation as Spectacle and Diversion

Katie King, Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles

As Turner notes, “ideology is the very site of struggle”  between subcultures and the dominant culture.  Instead of challenging normative assumptions or engaging in subversive practices, the directors of True Detective employ a method of incorporation that reflects an inaccurate, caricatured, and overly simplistic representation of bikers, which in turn widens such a divide.

Proposal: 

Considering the ways in which television operates as both mythmaker and constructor of reality for a broad American audience is integral when confronted with fictional, televised subculture representations.   Keeping in mind the works of Raymond Williams and other prominent cultural theorists, I shall discuss the ways in which the series True Detective acts as a text that serves—through its surface renderings of outlaw motorcycle clubs (O.M.C.’s), and its implicit assumption that such representation is authentic—to actually undermine the group’s “alternative hegemony” (Marxism and Literature 111).  Instead of challenging normative assumptions held by our society and media outlets to which they cater, the series’ directors engage in a method of incorporation that employs both caricature and an inaccurate, overly simplistic representation of bikers—which, in turn, support preconceptions and misconceptions about that group.

Whereas the directors would like us to focus on individual identities that are hidden behind presumed subcultural facades, or “masks,” (Pizzolato) we should instead consider what Williams calls our willing “distraction from distraction by distraction” (O’Connor 5), and understand the class struggle that is occurring beyond our blind acceptance of such misrepresentation—misrepresentation that serves to alienate citizens within the same ideological framework.  As Graeme Turner notes, “for cultural studies, ideology is the very site of struggle” (197).  Instead of highlighting the struggle between so-called normative society and  O.M.C.’s, I will emphasize the actual struggle between that particular subcultural group and the ideological apparatuses and practices that enhance its status as a cultural scapegoat. 

By studying the meaningful tenets and practices of this diverse “alternative and oppositional formation” (119) and how they are distorted by the show’s creators, my paper will interrogate the ways in which True Detective misleadingly presents an image of subversion and, through its portrayal of O.M.C.’s, actually conforms to and enhances dominant ideological beliefs about such groups.  I also will discuss the history, beliefs, practices, and cultural significance of biker subculture in response to dominant American ideology.    Finally, I will consider the implications of such a practice—namely, how a diversion of the audience’s focus on and understanding of biker subculture serves to avoid larger discussions about race, gender, and class in America.

Topic Area: