Austin Powers: A Shagadelic Focus on Family Law,
by Sheila Simon
Some teachers think the subject
matter of their class is so all encompassing that it affects
Guilty. I'm one of those teachers.
I teach family law, and I see it everywhere - in the newspaper,
in novels, and in movies. That's where it becomes fun. Using
movies as a common reference I can show students what I see,
and give them an idea of how they may see things by the end of
the semester. Move over, Professor Kingsfield - Austin Powers
helps me teach family law!
I saw Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, I decided
to use it as a focus for my first class that semester. In addition
to the usual assignment of cases on the development of law regarding
procreation and privacy, I asked the students to contemplate
the family relationships portrayed in The Spy Who Shagged
Me, and in its predecessor, Austin Powers, International
Man of Mystery.
In the first class session
I asked for a volunteer to describe the two movies and note the
family relationships. As expected, more hands were raised for
this job than for the description of Griswold v Connecticut.
The relationships noted were:
Parent and child:
Dr. Evil and Scott Evil
Mrs. Kensington and Vanessa Kensington
Husband and wife:
Austin Powers and Vanessa Kensington
Unmarried sexual partners:
Felicity Shagwell and Fat Bastard,
Frau Farbissina and Unibrow
Dr. Evil and Frau Farbissina
Austin Powers and Felicity Shagwell
Cloned and clone:
Dr. Evil and Mini-Me
With those relationships established,
we explored how family law was important to the plot, and how
family law would be called upon to resolve the many questions
presented by the movie.
Is it creepy, illegal, or both
for Austin Powers to love Mrs. Kensington and later fall for
her daughter Vanessa? And when Austin marries Vanessa and she
turns out to be an exploding femme-bot, what is left of the marriage?
Was the marriage void or voidable?
Who could inherit from Dr.
Evil - his son, Scott Evil, or Dr. Evil's clone, Mini-Me, or
What if Felicity Shagwell becomes
pregnant after her encounter with Fat Bastard? Would Fat Bastard
have any rights regarding the child? Would he have any obligations?
If Austin were to marry Felicity, what rights would Austin have
in regard to the child? Why is the term "bastard" an
insult? And how recently was it that the statute on establishing
parentage was called the Bastardy Act?
Can Frau Farbissina and Unibrow
marry? Does their legal status depend on where they live? Can
Unibrow get health insurance through Frau Farbissina's employment
at Virtucon? Does it depend on where Virtucon is located? Assuming
Frau Farbissina is Scott Evil's mother, does Farbissina's relationship
with Unibrow create any problems for a continued relationship
between Farbissina and Scott?
But the best set of questions
involves the relationship between Dr. Evil and his son Scott.
Scott is either the product of artificial insemination of Dr.
Evil's sperm or he is the love child of Dr. Evil and Frau Farbissina.
Should the nature of the child's origin have an impact on the
legal relationships between the parties? How does one establish
paternity either way? Are there time limits on establishing paternity,
and could those time limits be tolled if the biological father
did not know about the existence of the child?
These questions about the nature
of how a child is created and how that can affect the legal status
of the relationships were so good that I brought the class back
to think about them again at the end of the semester - in the
final exam. The students may not appreciate my low-brow humor,
but they adopted the practice of looking for family law everywhere.
And that kind of thing really is my bag, baby.
Posted January 16, 2002