These criteria are immediately met by crime stories. There can be multilayered constellations of conflict: perpetrator against victim, perpetrator against the community, perpetrator against the state appropriating the conflict, and so on.
In the drama Breaker Morant Australia, , dealing with historical events during the asymmetric war of the British against Boer guerillas, three junior officers of the special unit Bushveldt Carbineers face court martial. The rules of war in the outback of Transvaal knew no mercy, and the generals were applying international law only as and when it deemed opportune. The viewers then have to decide for themselves when things go too far. In the area of crime, norm violation and moral judgement are usually interlinked.
When the heroes to a story are allowed to break the law, an attempt is made to explain their behavior. Humor can be a key ingredient in the depiction of criminal justice and its institutions. Drama and comedy are closely related genres. The very same formal and intimidating features of a criminal trial can be used to great effect to amuse the audience.
In The Lady of Shanghai USA, , a dim-witted sailor, who had an affair with the wife of his lawyer, finds himself in court for murder. All odds are against him because the husband has vowed to have his revenge. The tension is broken by an immensely witty scene in which the lawyer examines and cross-examines himself as witness. Funny scenes can be found in countless other courtroom dramas, featuring hard-of-hearing witnesses Witness for the Prosecution , USA, , drunken jurors Young Mr.
Threat or reward are common features. The innocents are threatened with miscarriage of justice, the guilty are about to escape punishment, likely to commit another offence. The audience is made to sympathize with those striving for justice. A number of films are raising the stakes even higher, when an inexperienced lawyer has as first case a client facing the death penalty. The threat is utter failure.
In the Polish masterpiece A Short Story About Killing , the rooky lawyer experiences defeat: the socialist state decides to hang the troubled teenager who ended the life of a taxi driver in what is known as the longest murder scene in film history. In desperation, the lawyer visits the president of the court, to learn if he could have achieved more.
The older man replies that there was nothing he could have done, he only wished that they had been better judges. In depictions of crime and justice, readers and viewers are typically invited to identify with at least one of the key figures. Most of the time, the audience is made to sympathize with a police detective or a lawyer.
But not exclusively so; for example, the drama Der gerechte Richter Germany, is about the choice of an idealistic judge not to take part in Stalinist injustice and to rather face severe mistreatment. Sometimes the public, in whose name justice is administered, finds itself represented in a film. For example, the passing of time and the progress of a case can be depicted by showing a series of newspaper front pages.
The viewer is put in the position of a reader looking at the papers. Juries are supposed to represent the people in court. The lawyers speak directly to the viewer. Once more, the audience is drawn into the story. Judges, police, prosecutors, lawyers, and other professionals are supposed to work toward this end. The appearance of weak and strong authorities, of heroes, is key to popular crime stories. It is here that the standard formula of Hollywood storytelling casts its spell.
The one person who makes a difference is at its very heart. He nevertheless turns the case around in the end. The ultimate lawyer-hero, however, must be Young Mr. Lincoln USA, He eventually achieves a stunning victory. For there to be drama, heroes need to have powerful adversaries. Rafter , p. But it is typically the villain who is punished toward the end of the story, at least losing his case and occasionally his life. Inherit the Wind USA, is inspired by the famous Skopes trial of a teacher who defied state law to teach the theory of evolution in school. Here, the fanatic prosecutor Brady outs himself as self-indulgent and finally dies from a stroke.
Solving a crime mystery and discovering evidence often form a thrilling aspect of stories on crime and justice. The police detection and the private-eye genres are exactly focused on this. Courtroom dramas and other shows blend in with their success formula.
Public prosecutors form a link between detection and trial. Having learned about her mistake, Judith Jansen later breaks into the office of her superior to locate suppressed evidence in favor of the nurse.
Film and TV lawyers often collaborate with paralegals or in-house detectives to solve crimes. In the German Anwalt Abel — series, the lead character investigates cases himself and is supported by his secretary, Jane. In the U. Greenfield and Osborn , p.
Experienced viewers will be able to recognize certain patterns of action. This is not necessarily off-putting. The media makers are assured that the public will buy their product or switch on their devices as long as they offer them an intelligent variation of previous films, TV series, or printed stories. The public, in turn, feels they can rely on being served up content they prefer. While this has a conservative element, there is also an inbuilt mechanism of regeneration and change.
Even if the change only involves a recombination of proven formulas. Viewers may watch The Caine Mutiny USA, for its qualities as courtroom drama or as war movie, and there even is a love story between the youngest officer and a bar singer.
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Ideal for the whole family to have an evening together at the cinema. Self-reference of film can be an additional delight for the connoisseur. Viewers who have seen many courtroom dramas may compare specific scenes with those they already know and notice the development, or absence of, between certain examples. Stories are another ingredient of crime and justice entertainment and documentaries. They are already important for obtaining an indictment or making a defense in court.
Bennett , p. For a judge show on German television, a team of lawyers and scriptwriters scanned crime reports in newspapers, rulings reported in law journals, and other sources for ideas. Audience reaction was systematically studied to further select the most promising stories. The U. Moreover, there is the story in the trial and the story of the trial Jackson, , p.
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One consists of the murder or other crime committed, and the other may be about the attempted manipulation of evidence, police bias, and lawyer trickery. As these examples show, they are sometimes taken from religious belief or nationalistic tales. They review cases where they think a guilty defendant got off. Yet the judge repents, stops the hired killer, and the final scenes show him in league with police acting against the vigilante judges.
Finally, as Black , p. At least for a moment the recipient must be able to give up her disbelief or a film, book, or television series would not work. It is an art of its own to involve audiences into goings-on that on cool reflection cannot be real. In the Japanese masterpiece Rashomon , the ghost of the deceased samurai tells his story in court through a medium.
This may only work because many of the other conflicting testimonies are introduced through flashbacks in which witnesses recalling their experiences and because it is prepared by the exotic sensation of a shamanistic ritual. Pop cultural products are often given a degree of leeway that allows the storytelling to transgress logic.
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While there are inherent qualities in crime and criminal justice topics lending themselves very well to entertainment, there also is a dominant place of production for the world market. Given a powerful media industry, a complex and sometimes controversial justice system, and a long history of severe, often particularly violent crime, the criminal justice system in the United States, moreover, its fictionalization, forms the pattern that is followed by many products around the globe.
The United States has a rich cultural repertoire of crime legends. Printed media in the 19th century was already sensationalizing violent events taking place in the West during the territorial expansion of the nation. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend. Moreover, famous lawyer figures, even those who went into politics like the abovementioned Abraham Lincoln and Daniel Webster, became film heroes.
In parts of the United States, crime is a real threat to citizens, as evidenced by the number Lubkin, of gun-related deaths. The system of self-censorship developing in the s and s Springhall, , as a side-effect made sure that films were palatable for the widest possible, indeed a world, audience.
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Its provisions Motion Picture Association of America, obliged filmmakers to present the law as victorious in the end, and required that legal institutions and officers of the law be portrayed in a positive light. For dramaturgical reasons, there were villains and injustice had to threaten, but the final message was to be a reassuring one. There were other kinds of tales occasionally, and with the cultural turn of the s, more critical films were made Chase, In And Justice for All USA, the protagonist learns that moral corruption has become a prerequisite of being able to serve as lawyer or judge.
Yet large parts of the audience at the time, in countries like France and Germany, were being affected by the same currents, and thus the films had their markets. Later cultural changes were equally successfully mastered by the U.
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For example, female characters are since at least the s more frequently seen in powerful positions and more often favorably portrayed, or, what is perhaps the true test, feature as formidable villains. In addition, some aspects of U. In some Latin American countries, a trial often is conducted through paperwork; in many European countries, the trial is conducted in open court but with a judge taking the evidence and only complementary action by lawyers; and in totalitarian states, the court hearing just enacts a foregone conclusion.
Related Speaking of Crime: The Language of Criminal Justice (Chicago Series in Law and Society)
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