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.
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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.
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