COMPATIBILITY BETWEEN THE STRUCTURE OF LEGAL AND CRIMINAL JUSTICE STORIES AND STORIES IN POPULAR CULTURE

The stories that clients, police officers, prosecutors, lawyers, and other agents involved in the legal and criminal justice systems tell share the same elements and a similar narrative structure as popular culture texts—albeit in a messier and more disorganized way, particularly when these stories are told outside a court of justice. Lawyers usually clean up these stories when they tell them to jurors, judges, or other lawyers.

In courtroom persuasion, this process requires that every aspect of a lawyer’s presentation directly advances the theory and themes of the case. A lawyer may leave a particularly brutal and entertaining piece of cross-examination on the cutting-room floor, if he (sic) knows the line of questioning [...] would not further the theory of the defense (Passon, 2010).

Recognizing the importance of the effects of well told stories in the public opinion and its impact on a court case, in Chicago, Marshall, 2002, Billy Flint liberally and artfully edits Roxie Hart's story for the media, particularly for the yellow^ press. In a press conference, Roxie becomes Flint’s dummy, and Flint literally speaks for her.

As discussed in Chapter 2, the structure of popular culture texts in North America generally includes a setup, a conflict, and the resolution of the conflict.[1] During the setup, the author or director introduces the characters, the time, the environment, the location, and the characters’ backgrounds, circumstances, conditions, statuses, and positions. The conflict, usually the lengthiest part of the story, is the problem, generally framed in light of opposition of internal or external forces that the characters face. The purpose of the conflict is to arouse readers’, listeners’, or viewers’ interest in the story. Characters suffer transformations as a result of the events that they experience. The conflict may have a: (1) rising action, when events build up until the turning point (the climax), (2) a climax that signals a change in the main characters’ situation, and (3) the falling action, when the conflict untangles. Finally, the resolution of the story contains the solution to the problem and the conclusion of the main events.

Legal and criminal justice stories in North America, including stories that defense lawyers tell in court and reported appellate decisions where judges tell their own version of these stories, narrate events in a way that resembles stories told in popular culture texts. For example, judicial cases begin with a detailed account of the facts, which is similar to the setup of popular culture texts. Facts are not “an objective account of the relevant evidence, but rather a narrative carefully crafted to support a particular legal resolution” (Sutherland, 2013). In addition to the facts, the case includes a conflict of a legal nature with the judges’ analysis. Finally, the legal decision contains the legal resolution of the stoiy, that is to say, whether the person is guilty of a crime, whether he or she is liable for damages, or whether he or she can have her marriage annulled, among many possibilities.

Legal and criminal justice stories used in professional practice also share many of the elements of popular culture stories: a solid story that is integrated to advance the theory of the case or the plot, respectively, compelling characters who the judge and jurors or the audience can relate to in some meaningful way, and emotionally evocative images (Passon, 2010).

THE LAW AND POPULAR CULTURE FIELD

This compatibility between stories told in legal and criminal justice practice and popular culture has led to the burgeoning development of popular culture texts with a legal or criminal justice topic, which gave rise to a genre known as popular legal culture.[2] These works include a wide arrayof legal topics both outside the criminal justice arena such as civil litigation, divorce, and the lives of lawyers, and within the criminal justice field such as criminal trials, police investigation, detective work, and prison life. Some of these texts are based on actual court transcripts, statements, or police investigations. Others are entirely fictional products.

Given the popularity of shows and books with a legal topic, it is no surprise that academics have focused on the analysis of popular culture texts that deal with legal issues. In the last two decades and a half, legal scholars have been publishing books and articles in prestigious law reviews and other publications about popular culture with a legal theme. Many conferences are organized every year around popular culture and the law that attract top and emerging legal scholars. Many law schools as well as undergraduate and graduate university law programs now offer courses on law and popular culture. All this has recently given rise to a new field known as law and popular culture.

The object of this field of study is the popular culture texts with a focus on law, lawyers, and the legal system. It deals with both the role law plays in popular culture and the role popular culture plays in law. It also examines the images of lawyers and the legal system in popular culture texts, hi addition, it analyzes whether, and to what extent, popular culture can influence jurors and legal professionals. Another topic that is recunent in the field is the examination of whether the image of lawyers and the legal system portrayed in popular culture is accurate. For these purposes, law and popular culture texts analyze films, TV shows, and novels on law and tiy to outline their answers from these analyses.

There are two issues that are conspicuously absent from the law and popular culture field. The first one, which I will discuss in Chapter 6, is a lack of a solid scholarship on the analysis of the conventions of legal popular culture in the law school and law-related university curricula. Authors do not dissect the particular language and conventions of films and other popular media texts dealing with law and criminal justice. In Elkins’ terms: “much of this scholarly work on law and popular culture turns out to have little value [...] in helping students ‘read’ films and put them to use as part of their legal education” (Elkins, 2007).

of a Murder, 12 Angry Men, Dead Man Walking, Class Action, and Kramer versus Kramer. The list of TV shows is equally endless—from Репу Mason to Law and Order and its countless spin-offs. Whenever a new medium arose, it soon embraced legal topics. A quick search on YouTube results in millions of videos produced by individuals from all over the world that narrate stories on law and criminal justice events.

The second issue that is not usually present in law and popular culture texts (which I will discuss in the remaining of this chapter) is the use of popular culture works as primary sources for law teaching. Very few authors examine the benefits of using popular culture texts for studying law instead of the traditional casebooks focused on edited appellate court decisions or the legal and criminal justice textbooks widely used in the university classroom.

  • [1] !Because of the global influence of the Hollywood entertainment industry, these stories reach a very large population practically all over the world. However, the structure of both popular culture stories and the stories told in the legal and criminal justice fields outside North America and some parts of Western Europe follow a different structure. North American stories (in both the popular culture and the legal and criminal justice fields) “only take place if [they are] connected to a central conflict” which reflects a predominant American worldview that is based on a presumption of hostility that does not exist in other parts of the world (Ruiz, 1995). Stories told outside North America and parts of Western Europe do not necessarily revolve around a central conflict where protagonists want to achieve something and antagonists obstruct (Malla, 2013).
  • [2] There are literally thousands of films, TV shows, plays, radio shows, novels, short stories, and songs with legal and criminal justice topics. They go back to the birth of poptilar culture. For example, radio produced shows such as Crime Does Not Pay, a late 1940’s show that aired on MOM New York and Crime Classics an early 1950’s CBS show that narrated famous crimes. The list of films is vn tually infinite. It includes classics such as To Kill a Mockingbu'd, The Verdict, The Scottsboro Boy, Anatomy
 
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