The U.S. believes (and rightly so) that America has one of the most effective, fair,
and balanced legal systems in the world. Americans take great pride in their system’s
ability to resolve orderly dispute resolutions, protect the weak, and its ability to make fair
decisions according to pre-existing rules and procedures regardless of the status of the
litigant. However, Americans are not naïve and do realize that the system is also flawed
Nonetheless it is these flaws and imperfections that always seem to be highlighted
by American mass media and pop culture. This is because the media has very different
needs. News needs to be sensational and draw ratings: the fact that the legal system
works doesn’t make much of an interesting story. They (media) seek out stories that fit
these sensational needs and simultaneously allow their own bias to seep out beyond the
American pop culture has a similar but much more distorted view of the judicial
system, because scripted film and television only aspirations are to entertain. In their
depiction of our legal system they create heroes and villains and, in the process, amplify
and alter our view of the legal system.
These biased depictions of the legal system tend to put an emphasis on the
negatives: the haves prevailing over the have-nots, lawyers who are more concerned
about fees than justice, corruption, partisan politics, excessive bureaucratic red tape, etc.
This highly negative view presented in the mass media news and entertainment can only
be slightly tempered by film’s need to create and embellish heroes.
I have chosen to look at tow relatively recent films:
A Few Good
. Both portray a legal world that is overwhelmed by corruption, material greed, etc.
But both also feature heroes (coincidentally both played by Tom Cruise) that are able to
overcome these exaggerated flaws in our judicial process.
Most Americans believe in a US legal system that has good intentions, and, by
design, is better than most in the world.
But our mass media (over time) has distorted
this view – changed our perception about balance within the legal system.
sensationalism, along with its fictional counterpart in scripted entertainment (TV and
movies), has created a perception of the legal system and its participants (lawyers, judges,
etc.) as overwhelmingly biased, excessively concerned about material possessions,
favoring haves over have-nots, etc., but those with pure intentions and a good heart
always seem to be able to overcome these obstacles.
The film A Few Good Men opens with the brutal beating of Private William
Santiago by Lance Cpl. Dawson and Private Downey, that eventually resulted in
Santiago’s death. Ironically this scene fades out to the American flag, which appears to
be waving in all its glory, alluding to the fact that America has a whole is world full of
corruption and sin. The viewer is then introduced to the highly professional and thorough