“It’s all one ghetto” : narrating the petrochemical plantation in HBO’s True Detective
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The first season of HBO’s 2014 anthology series True Detective has garnered much critical and popular praise for its generic innovation and intertextuality. Informed by recent work in the burgeoning field of petroculture studies, this essay argues that True Detective’s representation of Louisiana’s oil industry is an understudied yet integral feature of the show’s narrative of corruption, exploitation, and the erasure of personhood. While the detective plot fails to uncover and hold accountable the perpetrators of the occult murders that terrorize Louisiana’s bayous, the series’ ubiquitous petrochemical landscapes register the cumulative violence of industrial pollution as it segregates African American communities and slowly erodes the coastline. Drawing comparisons to the literary mode of plantation fiction and its themes of paternalist authority and pastoral nostalgia, this essay argues that True Detective replaces the trope of the plantation with the trope of the petrochemical. Through the “petrochemical plantation,” the HBO series links Louisiana’s antebellum histories of slavery with its “oily” futures, making legible the region’s longue durée of exploitation.