Fergusson_TrialinAmericanLife

Fergusson_TrialinAmericanLife - in television culture is...

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in television culture is not an acceptable standard for following court- room events, and it must be countered despite its pervasive presence. The connections previously drawn between law and literature can be useful because they open the relation between courtrooms and their communi- ties to a more dynamic understanding; the tools of interpretation devel- oped in earlier sections can suggest ways out of the impasse. Whatever is done, a more sophisticated approach to how language works in the nexus of legal procedure and audience reception should improve recognition of the line between public understanding and mere publicity. A different kind of balance between legal and media rights needs to be struck, even though a meaningful one will draw objections from all sides. It needs to be struck because the haphazard development in cur- rent arrangements is becoming unacceptable against what a trial is sup- posed to do and be. Even the most egregious mistakes in legal history that have been analyzed in these pages can happen again anytime anywhere, and the possibility increases as trials are watched on more careless and promiscuous terms. In the most alarming development, postmodern coverage of high- profile trials has entered the commercial forum with contingencies that are dangerous for all concerned. For while we accept them in almost every other walk of life, the power and profitability of commercialism have no place in proximity to a courtroom. When justice becomes just another commodity to be marketed between the spot sales of home products and nostrums for personal health, we come that much closer to defining the law by what sells. Just as worrisome, appetites are catered to instead of vigilance maintained. Legal procedures are inherently fragile. They break down under pres- sure, and then courts find themselves in the dock alongside of defen- dants. Even so, the new pressures are unavoidable. There is no choice but to ride the postmodern tiger of media intrusion. One way or another, the people will watch what is available to them in a high-profile trial when the spirit moves them, as it often does, and what they see changes the way they think. The law hides from this popular gaze at its peril. Safety, as before, lies in an educated citizenry, but for that to be achieved in the existing climate, there must be a more measured control of interests and needs. It is time to react more creatively. We can no longer live with the extreme ofoutright rejection or, just as dangerously, with a resigned, sup- posedly pragmatic shrug over the momentum called progress. C H A P T E R E I G H T The Trial in Television America T H E I M P A C T O F T E L E V I S I O N There are good reasons for confusion over the impact of television on contemporary life. The omnipresence of TV resists isolation of its effects, and constant shifts in technology complicate analysis at every turn. Com- mentary also tends toward the histrionic. Although patterns of video
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