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When Law Goes Pop: The Vanishing Line between Law and Popular Culture 1st Edition

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ISBN-13: 978-0226752921
ISBN-10: 0226752925
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Editorial Reviews Review

Remember the national fascination with the televised Menendez brothers' trial? What about the episode of Law & Order in which the aristocratic Upper East Sider may or may not have pushed his wife into a coma? Oh, wait, that was the Claus von Bülow story--which was also made into a movie. This type of reciprocity of law and popular culture is of concern to NYU law professor Richard Sherwin. To Sherwin, the mingling of law and entertainment flattens discourse, occludes real understanding of the law and legal practices, and threatens democracy insofar as the public loses faith in "real law" when it does not conform to the law as seen at home, in popular culture, and on TV.

Sherwin analyzes the cultural and cognitive models at play in the telling and hearing of legal narratives and critiques the tools of meaning-making by looking closely at specific well-known cases and their outcomes. He also examines the use of public relations consultants to spin and provide a seductive coherence to their clients' cases (think of the "impromptu" press conferences on the courthouse steps). When Law Goes Pop is a rich and erudite critique of law as popular culture. It is a call to be alert to the deleterious effects of what another scholar, Doug Reed, has called "the juridico-entertainment complex," and a timely reminder of what is at stake. --J.R. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

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)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 332 pages
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press; 1 edition (May 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226752925
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226752921
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,342,327 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Richard K. Sherwin is Professor of Law and Director of the Visual Persuasion Project at New York Law School. He is the author of Visualizing Law in the Age of the Digital Baroque: Arabesques & Entanglements (Routledge: 2011) and When Law Goes Pop: The Vanishing Line between Law and Popular Culture (Chicago: 2000, 2002), and is the editor and a contributor to Popular Culture and Law (Ashgate: 2006) and Law, Culture, and Visual Studies, (with Anne Wagner) two volumes (Springer: 2013).
In 2005, Professor Sherwin launched the Visual Persuasion Project ( The project seeks to promote a better understanding of the practice, theory, and teaching of law through the cultivation of critical visual intelligence. The website showcases "best practices" in visual persuasion inside the courtroom through a broad range of visual products, from 2-D and 3-D animations to accident reenactments, day-in-the-life documentaries, settlement brochures, montages, and other innovative visual products.
A frequent public speaker both in the United States and abroad, Professor Sherwin is a regular commentator for television, radio, and print media on the relationship between law, culture, film, and digital media. His appearances include NBC's Today Show, WNET, National Public Radio, RTE Radio 1 (National Public Radio in Ireland) and CKUT (Montreal, Canada).

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By wildbill on January 29, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Professor Richard Sherwin concludes his book with an explicit statement of his thesis, the usual format for mysteries but not for academic studies. If you are a reader who prefers to know where the case studies are headed before reading the case studies, you might do well to read the last chapter first. I hesitate to advise readers to do so, however. Many of Professor Sherwin's analyses of one or a few movies are rich with insight and will inform, enlighten, and even entertain. In contrast, his theoretical contribution (affirmative postmodern theory) is too skimpy to justify a place in my library. Thus, I recommend that readers locate this book in a local library and consult it regarding legal matters in popular culture.
I recommend Mr. Sherwin's analysis of Errol Morris's "The Thin Blue Line." I shall never watch or show that classic without thinking about Professor Sherwin?s gloss thereon. I disagree with his comparison of the older and younger versions of "Cape Fear." I suspected that each of his characterizations of one film might just as easily be asserted about the other, but he held my interest and impelled me to watch both versions again. Mr. Sherwin appears to believe that films of David Lynch and Quentin Tarantino tell us much about theories or institutions of law and law enforcement. I was not convinced but found the argument interesting.
I recommend highly Sherwin's comparison of the "jigsaw puzzle" closing of Marcia Clark and Christopher Darden in the first Simpson trial to the heroic saga narratives favored by Johnnie Cochran and Gerry Spence. Sherwin is especially good at exposing Mr. Spence's skill. Mr. Spence appears to be the shrewd country lawyer whom he plays on television.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Coffee on January 4, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Law professor Richard Sherwin argues that the law has fallen prey to the representational form of the mass media, television particularly. The law, in its most noted form, the criminal trial, finds that it must present itself like a television drama in order to conduct its business.
This wouldn't be so bad, argues Sherwin, if the law's ability to curb popular passions, objectively search for "truth," maintain the public's faith in the system, and win the battle between legal truth and the public desire for closure all weren't hamstrung in the process.
In these days when most Americans frame their view of the world based on what they see on television, Sherwin's subject is extremely important. The question is whether this book is worth the effort it will require of many readers. And early on, it's hard to know if it is worth all the trouble.
Mainly, Sherwin couches his central argument in the opaque language of literary criticism and legalese. Perhaps this is done for the sake of greater precision. Nevertheless, as a consequence, all but legal and literary scholars will find themselves back on their heels when reading this dense work. Sherwin does, thankfully, buttress the core of his assertions with illustrations from popular trials, movies and television, which allows many readers to better follow his line of reasoning while getting their feet back under them. Still, the case Sherwin's arguing has been argued at least as well elsewhere and with less technical language.
Tough sledding aside, if you enjoy popular culture and hold the law in high regard, then ready a thick dictionary, find a firm chair, get in good light and read Sherwin's book. Only your stamina will determine whether the outcome was really worth the work.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I had to take a Law and Pop Culture class this summer. This book is alright but didn't explain how to analysis a pop culture artifact like it talks about. He just talks about different cases and that is it.
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