Friday, February 6, 2009

The Resistance Strain in Jurisculture.

Hollywood* and its audiences are often drawn to the metaphor of the resister – whether in the mould of the rebel, the cowboy, the vigilante or generally the individual who rails “against the system” - in short, variants of a resistant personality. Although not necessarily interchangeable, the ethos they collectively bring to the screen is that of an individual willing to flout norms - inter alia legal, political, social, and/or cultural norms - perhaps in favour of implanting/enforcing a new one or a re-interpretation of pre-existing formulations. This ethos is manifested in a variety of ways and contexts – including the legal, the political, and/or the medical. In many (but not all) of my posts that will follow (over ensuing weeks, months), and as a subplot within our overall discussion of jurisculture, I will examine how resistance as a challenge to existing dominant power structures and legal normativities – whether as understood as the flouting of the norms generated by the state, or by society more largely – plays itself out in/through various cultural mediums. As a teaser, I will briefly sketch below, some of the initial ideas/explorations/questions I intend to examine in my subsequent posts on resistance, law and culture mediums.†

1. The role of juries in legitimizing/endorsing unlawful acts through acquittals despite the patent unlawfulness of the defendant’s act(s) vis-à-vis the established laws of the state (jury nullification) (e.g. A Time to Kill, as well as episodes of The Practice and Picket Fences). Through such acts of legitimization, to what degree do juries transform the jury box into a geographical space of resistance? Are juries in such circumstances independent resisters or are they derivative participants in the defendant’s resistance, or both?

2. Notwithstanding the imagery of discipline and order that is supposed to permeate military spaces or spaces where the military are present (e.g. the military base, the naval ship, submarines, aircrafts, military court rooms, battlefields (both as traditionally conceived or in urbanscapes)), how does the metaphor of the resister, whether in the form of the military lawyer (A Few Good Men), investigator (The General’s Daughter), submarine commander (Crimson Tide), the war hero/veteran denouncing war and the enterprise of the military (Born of the Fourth of July), or the whistleblowing soldier (Casualties of War, A Few Good Men) help to re-orient our perceptions about the justifiable use of resistance in defiance of norms staked out by power structures within the military?

3. The metaphor of the wrongfully convicted prisoner refusing to accept his/her lot by campaigning for his/her own release (In the Name of the Father, The Hurricane) or by simply and more radically escaping it (Shawshank Redemption). In what ways does the metaphor of the resister transform the prison, as a site of the state and controlled by the state into a geographic space of resistance where the state has committed the wrong by depriving the innocent of their liberty in the first place?

4. The lawyer who clearly flouts the norms that regulate the legal profession, including: the revelation of confidential and privileged client information to save/help another individual and/or adverse party in a lawsuit (The Practice); the disclosure of information about their own clients’ crime and/or otherwise tortious conduct (And Justice for All; Class Action), or; (as law student) failure to divulge information that may mitigate an individual’s crime (The Reader).

5. The current or former employee/insider who reveals confidential information about the actions (or misconduct) of the employer that are harmful (The Insider; A Civil Action; Erin Brockovich; All the President’s Men; The West Wing) or may be harmful to the general public. Such resistive acts can constitute breaches of express or implied contractual obligations within the employment relationship and how does the resistive act serve to alter or recalibrate such relationships of power?

6. The police officer(s) or state agent(s) who transgress certain established norms against killing (Lethal Weapon 2) or conducting investigations or interrogations in a manner that undermines the express or implied rights of an accused (The General’s Daughter, 24, Mississippi Burning).

*For the purposes of this post, I use the term Hollywood here to refer not only to films but also television.

† These are of course brief sketches which I may come back to and amplify here or in a subsequent post when I discuss these examples in a more in-depth manner. Further, the examples I provided from specific film or television programs are not (intended to be) exhaustive and in some ways, are just merely examples that comes to mind at present. I may of course use other situations or examples that do not involve those identified.

No comments: