There are a few reasons why I love the Law & Order-themed issue of FRiGG so much. Let’s examine the evidence (note: I promise that will be the only pun in this review).
1. Law & Order Is Good For Writers
I was first introduced to the simple joys of Law & Order last summer, when I was trying to write a story about a transsexual stripper and her punk boyfriend that just wasn’t working. As a distraction, I put the telly on and started watching Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, which I had never seen before.
I fell instantly in love with the character of Olivia Benson, played by Mariska Hargitay, daughter of 1950s pin-up Jayne Mansfield. The life of the real Mariska was even more interesting than that of the fictional Olivia — the former, as a small child, was in the car crash that killed her mother; the latter is the product of the rape of her alcoholic mother. Reality and fiction became inextricably linked in my mind. It seemed to me that both of them — actress and character — needed to escape from their pasts, and were both blessed and cursed by female influences.
Luckily I gave up on the transsexual stripper story, but instead I wrote a poem about a character that was simultaneously Olivia Benson and Mariska Hargitay. The poem was recently published, and if had anyone had asked me what it was about I would have spouted something lofty and entirely made-up because I am a snob and did not want to admit to a literary magazine that I had been inspired by a trashy piece of television. Which brings me to my second point.
2. Low Art Is OK
I am sure that every writer in FRiGG is perfectly capable of producing work inspired by James Joyce or Slavoj Zizek or Harry Mathews. But why should they? They chose to point their brains at Law & Order instead, and that doesn’t make their work any less worthy. It’s not about the inspiration; it’s about the product. Which brings me to my third point.
3. The Writing Is Damn Good
Existential debate is all very well, but it only matters if the product is good. Luckily, it is. Themes of loneliness and sex permeate all the work, from the shameless smut of Shane Allison’s ‘Did You Read That Poem That Fag Wrote About Chris Meloni?’ to the metafiction of Gail Louise Siegel’s ‘Viscous’.
The well-structured ‘All Exits Are Final’ by Heather Austin and ‘Want’ by Arlene Ang focus on how people deal with the absence of another person’s proximity; whether that’s through crashing weddings, mistake-sex, or a more visceral method. Most of the pieces show an affection for the world of Law & Order, though Alicia Gifford’s stark ‘Ugly, Tasty, SVU’ and Kuzhali Manickavel’s ‘Notes Made in Connnection with the Disappearance of a Boy–’ manage to poke fun at the programme’s more simplistic aspects.
And I can’t forget the sweet yet creepy artwork; Didi Wood’s photograph ‘Identifying Villains 101′ makes me want to write a novel just so I can put it on the cover.
Jayne Pupek’s group of poems each consider a different crime, except for ‘True Crime’, which instead describes each of us as we watch programmes like Law & Order and vicariously enjoy watching others commit crimes:
I turned out the lights
and listened to the voice
in complete darkness,
the way she must have listened
and heard boots crossing the riverbed,
or the rustle of a plastic bag,
duct tape and revolver inside.
Which brings me to my final point.
4. The Stories Are About Us
The protagonist of Heather Austin’s ‘All Exits Are Final’ watches TV because she “likes the idea that there are millions of other people seeing exactly the same thing at exactly the same moment”. This sums up what I find so magical about this issue of FRiGG: I imagine each writer, watching a trashy police procedural, perhaps feeling guilty about wasting their writing time; later shyly admitting their secret love and pouring all those hours of viewing into creating a critical response; describing both themselves and us.
I started this review with a bad pun, but the only way I can end it is with an instruction: Go. Read. And then, hey, watch a little Law & Order.