30 Oct Third Annual Symposium on Pop Culture and International Law: An Introduction
[Alonso Gurmendi is a Lecturer in International Relations at King’s College London Department of War Studies and a Contributing Editor at Opinio Juris.]
[Sarah Zarmsky is an Assistant Lecturer and PhD Candidate at the University of Essex Human Rights Centre with a focus on the intersections between new and emerging technologies, human rights, and international criminal law. She was also a Visiting Scholar at the Human Rights Center at the University of California, Berkeley School of Law. Sarah is Deputy Managing Editor of Opinio Juris.]
If you had told us back in 2021, when Opinio Juris friend Rachel Jones approached us on Twitter with an idea for a Symposium on Pop Culture and International Law, that it would lead to now three highly successful annual symposia, with this year’s being one of the largest the blog has ever organized… honestly, we probably would have believed you. Since our 2.0 reform five years ago, we at Opinio Juris have always believed that international law is more than just deciding when a state acts legally or illegally. On the contrary, we believe international law is a space for discussion, debate, contestation, critique, and, yes, imagination. We are convinced that exploring the limits of our discipline from the perspective of superheroes, space battles, and Barbenheimer is not just about fun, but about thinking of new ways to approach old debates.
We are delighted that our symposium has grown the way it has. Unlike our invite-only symposium of 11 posts in 2021, this year’s edition ran an open call for proposals, leading to 38 pitches from all around the world. This year’s edition will now feature a total of 17 posts – almost doubling the numbers from our debut. We are extremely happy that our excitement for pop culture has found such a warm reception in our community and we cannot wait to share this next edition with you!
This year, our symposium opens with Carla Ferstman’s exploration of The Wizard of Oz from the perspective of migrant rights – you will never think of Toto the Terrier the same way. After that, Ruth Houghton and Aoife O’Donoghue (who win the best photo awards this year) will discuss the concept of utopia in international law through the lens of Star Trek.
Tuesday will open with Keri van Douwen’s thoughts on the documentary film The Treasures of Crimea, which addresses the political drama of a Ukrainian exhibition rendered “stateless” after going on tour at the time of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Then Joris van de Riet takes us on a Schmittian analysis of the Star Wars prequels, discussing Anakin Skywalker’s “second biggest red flag”, after his “peculiar dislike of sand”: his authoritarianism. Tuesday continues with Cláudio Cerqueira Netto’s exploration of nationalism and the law of the sea through the prism of Brazilian samba. (This combo will not only make perfect sense when you read it, it is also great, we promise!) The day then closes with Jens Iverson’s exploration of international criminal law in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and his demand of #JusticeForThanos.
On Wednesday, we open with Jonathan Hafetz’s analysis of the classic Judgment at Nuremberg and the challenges of portraying international criminal trials on film. Then, Lia Harizanova and Ameyavikrama Thanvi write about fan-favorite Barbenheimer, and how it can be used to understand the connections between intersectional feminist critique and the climate emergency. From Barbenheimer, we move on to OSINT, where our very own co-convenor Sarah Zarmsky, alongside Franka Pues, discusses some of the benefits and detriments posed by the ‘true-crimeification’ of online open source investigations and the rise of ‘citizen sleuthing’. The day then closes with Chiara Gabriele and Ana Srovin Coralli’s analysis of mercenaries under international humanitarian law, in the context of the Star Wars spin-off, The Mandalorian.
We start Thursday with Aysenur Zeynep Ozmen using David Bowie’s Space Oddity and Ridley Scott’s The Martian to discuss the international law applicable to the rescue of astronauts. This is followed by Daniel Breen, who looks to the world of Game of Thrones and the Iron Bank of Braavos for inspiration to answer the question of when financial institutions can commit international crimes. The day then closes with the symposium’s co-convenor, Alonso Gurmendi, who proposes a postcolonial critique of world order in The Lord of the Rings.
On Friday, the last day of our symposium, Devina Srivastava looks at the international law applicable to Kashmir through the lens of Hindi cinema. Next, Matheus Gobbato Leichtweis presents a TWAIL analysis of Bob Marley’s poetics, arguing that they can be used as theoretical support for scholars seeking to advance the goal of decolonizing the international order. We then close our symposium with Tamsin Phillipa Paige and Dominique Dalla-Pozza’s exploration of the limits of law and humanity in situations of existential threat through the lens of Battlestar Galactica.
We hope readers enjoy this third edition of our Annual Symposium on Pop Culture and International Law, which we believe is an incredibly valuable tool not just for an interesting read with your morning coffee, but for making international law more accessible to both students and those outside of our field. We are very excited for what is to come and to continue this tradition, now three years in the making!
[Author’s note: We would like to acknowledge that while this symposium hopefully can bring some joy to our community, we realize that it comes at a particularly difficult time for the world this year. We therefore would like to reaffirm our personal solidarities with those affected by the events of October 7th and the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza.]
[Image generated with the prompt ‘pop culture characters at the UN’ on Bing AI. Other images for the symposium generated with assorted prompts on Midjourney.]