When Law Goes Pop: The Vanishing Line Between Law and Popular Culture

Richard K. Sherwin, Author University of Chicago Press $27 (332p) ISBN 978-0-226-75291-4
In a brilliant analysis of the jury system in our media-saturated age, Sherwin, a former New York City prosecutor and a professor at New York Law School, expertly examines the role of vivid storytelling in successful litigation, while cautioning against misusing that opportunity to seduce or ""illicitly persuade"" juries. Citing the media circus surrounding the notorious trials of the Menendez brothers and O.J. Simpson, he argues convincingly that an attorney has a professional obligation to function as a brake on popular passions and prejudices in court, not to feed into the tendency to inflame the audience with techniques that the media uses. Otherwise, lawyers risk undermining society's continued trust in the jury system. The seriousness of that risk impels Sherwin to address the complex interpenetration of media, law and culture in our time to such dazzling effect that this book stands not only as a guide for practicing and aspiring attorneys but also to those interested in current challenges to social stability. In a chapter dedicated to the role of Errol Morris's docudrama, The Thin Blue Line, in the release of Randall Dale Adams after he had served 12 years of a murder sentence in Texas, Sherwin illustrates the methods Morris used to question the case and bring new evidence forward. At the same time, he shows the potential for manipulation that Morris's techniques dangle in front of an unethical advocate. As Sherwin moves from a discussion of the storytelling nuances in such films as Lost Highway, Music of Chance and Martin Scorsese's remake of Cape Fear to a plea for attorneys to take responsibility for their court arguments, to make ethical choices in how they present material to juries and to maintain trust in the jury system, discerning readers will see a truly integrative intelligence at work, proposing possible solutions rather than simply bemoaning problems. (June)
Reviewed on: 06/26/2000
Release date: 06/01/2000
Paperback - 332 pages - 978-0-226-75292-1
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