Saturday, January 31, 2009

Making Law

In January, 2009, the Fox network introduced a new series titled “Lie to Me.” The program centers around a group of scientists and experts that uses body language, voice intonation, and other physical manifestations to determine guilt or innocence in a variety of circumstances. Beyond science, however, the program’s characters are turned into quasi-detectives as they search for the reasons behind the physical manifestations they detect. The cast of the program consists of the group’s chief, Cal Lightman, his second-in-command, Gillian Foster, and two younger members, Eli Loker and Ria Torres. Given the subject matter of the program, it is perhaps not surprising that there are frequent overlaps with law and the justice system throughout the weekly plots. Two storylines from the episode airing January 28th, “Moral Waiver,” present particularly fascinating studies.

In the first storyline, the team is asked by the Army to investigate a rape allegation at Fort Meade. The allegation is made by Specialist Lake against her commanding officer, Staff Sergeant Scott, days before their platoon is scheduled to redeploy to Afghanistan. In an interview with Lake, she stresses the difficulties of being one of four women in the platoon before she recounts the details of the alleged rape. By the end of the conversation, Lightman walks out of the room and states that, based on her facial expressions, he believes Lake is lying. Lightman and Torres then interview Scott, who is full of rage, first pointed at Torres and then at Lightman after he invites Scott out for a drink as a test. When Lightman asks the other female members of the platoon to come in for interviews, it is noticed that all members of the platoon show facial expressions of disgust for Scott. Lightman surmises that Lake is lying about the rape allegations and he and Torres confront her about this; she eventually admits that she lied but repeatedly yells that she was “protecting her platoon” as she is taken into the custody of the military police. The adamant tone in Lake’s voice convinces Lightman that she is telling the truth about protecting the platoon and he decides to pursue the investigation further. A review of platoon files indicates that a female member of the platoon went AWOL at about the same time that a harassment claim was anonymously filed against Scott, and Lightman and Torres go in search of the missing woman, Private Metz. They eventually locate Metz, who explains that she was coerced into having sexual relations with Scott during their previous deployment to Afghanistan and that she went AWOL as soon as the platoon returned to the US in order to escape from Scott. Metz is taken into custody by the military police and has another interview with Lightman and Torres, in which she explains that she thinks no one will believe her story because she did not actively protest during the incidences of sexual abuse. She goes on to explain that Scott was in charge of deciding who drove the lead convoy truck (said to be the most dangerous position due to IEDs) and that if she crossed him she knew he would make her drive in the lead truck as punishment. Metz is still convinced that no one will believe her, however Lightman insists that she will be believed after a polygraph test. Prior to the test, as we find out later, Lightman gives Metz valium so that she can lie and avoid detection on the polygraph. During the polygraph exam, Metz lies about whether she actually was required to drive lead and, when Scott protests, Lightman goads him into admitting that he would not have made her drive lead as long as she had a sexual relationship with him. Scott is then taken into custody by the military police and his commanding officer states that he will be charged with rape.

This storyline takes place within the insular community of the Army, where the legal and societal relationships that make up the community have a different quality than in the civilian setting. The social contract within this community is more highly regimented, and the appropriate relationships and interactions are clearly established. An offense against another member of the community creates a situation where the life of that person can be in jeopardy and so can the lives of many others by way of destroying the social contract. At the same time, when the social contract is broken but the rules of the community make it difficult for the victim to bring forward an allegation, this storyline shows a fascinating way of construction, or one might even argue making, justice and preserving the safety of other members of the community. This is of particular note as Lake, a member of a minority within the military community, is seeking to protect the larger community of her platoon as well as the discreet minority of women in her platoon of which she is a member. In her own way, Lake attempted to make justice in order to both right a wrong and protect her community by lying about the rape. Metz herself might have lost her voice, or simply preferred not to use it out of fear of the larger community’s response, but Lake’s allegations were a way of restoring the outrage of the minority and majority communities at the wrong committed by Scott. Interestingly, however, Lake did not co-opt Metz’s story and give it life through her; rather, she constructed a believable story which also protected Metz from any obvious connection to the allegation and crime. Lake was again protecting the community of female members of the platoon, and the larger community, by using the established framework of the military community, even though Metz chose to run from this framework out of fear.

At the end of the episode, we see a montage of the daily activities occurring at Fort Meade. In the midst of these activities, we see Lake preparing for redeployment with the rest of her platoon, as Metz, now free from imprisonment, drives by. For a brief second, Lake and Metz make eye contact and Metz salutes Lake, who acknowledges this act of thanks and then returns to her platoon. On a personal level, this is touching. In the broader framework of the storyline, it demonstrates that the community has been restored to its normal function, albeit without Scott, and that Lake was successful in her attempt to make justice for the safety of her community.

The second storyline involves a talented college basketball player who is suspected of taking money from a booster, which violates the rules of the fictional college sports association. Again, the community that has asked the team to investigate an allegation is a closed community with its own rules and requirements. After an investigation by Foster and Loker, the basketball player admits that he took the money because he has developed a form of arthritis which will make him unmarketable in the professional leagues. The booster’s payment was the only hope he has of a large compensation and, since he is caring for his little brother as well, he opted to take the offer of financial stability even though it violated the rules of his community. The basketball player is removed from the team and his scholarship is taken away, effectively ending his collegiate basketball career. Once these penalties are announced, Foster visits him and informs him that she has convinced the dean of his college to put her fee in a trust fund for his benefit. She explains that she knows he is intelligent and should pursue a college degree. Although the trust amount will not allow him to stay at his current college, it would allow him to attend another area school. Their conversation ends with a question as to whether he will actually take the offer of the trust fund.

Again, this storyline unfolds in an insular community that has established its own system of governance. It is stated throughout the storyline that many people disagree with particular elements of those rules and yet they are still the governing structure of the community. The denouement of the story from the point of view of the community is simple: there was a violation of the rules and the player suffered the known consequences. However, within the community, the college president took the unusual step of agreeing to provide for the education of the violator. In this sense, the college president is in much the same position as Lake in that he tries to make justice within the overarching system established by the community.

Information regarding “Lie to Me” can be found at:

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