Cover image for When law goes pop : the vanishing line between law and popular culture
When law goes pop : the vanishing line between law and popular culture
Sherwin, Richard K.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Chicago : University of Chicago Press, [2000]

Physical Description:
xii, 325 pages ; 24 cm
General Note:
Includes index.
Introduction : law in the age of images -- Screening reality : the vanishing line between law and popular culture -- Legal storytelling : culture's tools for making meaning -- The law of desire : cultural history and the notorious case -- The postmodern challenge : a case study -- The jurisprudence of appearances : law as commodity -- When law goes pop : strange forces, trauma, and catharsis -- Law's need for enchantment : perils and possibilities -- Conclusion : redrawing the line between belief and suspicion.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
KF300 .S48 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



The past few decades have seen the legal system entering American popular culture like never before, from the media blitzes surrounding high-profile trials to the countless television programs in which judges rule on everyday disputes. What, if anything, does this mean for the legal system itself? According to Richard K. Sherwin, it is a dangerous development--one that threatens to turn law into spectacle, undermining public confidence as legal style and logic begin to resemble advertising and public relations.

"Sherwin offers insightful, intriguing analyses of movies and other cultural products. His examination of legal discourse and popular culture will inform, enlighten, and even entertain."--William Halton, The Law and Politics Book Review

"[Sherwin's] knowledge of how media culture affects the courtroom is valuable, as is his rigorous examination. Can we prevent America's legal system from going 'pop'--losing its legitimacy by becoming just another part of popular culture? Given America's courtroom obsession . . . it's about time someone did some explaining."--Julie Scelfo, Brill's Content

"[A] brilliant analysis of the jury system in our media-saturated age. . . . [D]iscerning readers will see a truly integrative intelligence at work, proposing possible solutions rather than simply bemoaning problems."-- Publishers Weekly

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

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) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

"What images do we share?" asks former New York prosecutor Sherwin (law, New York Law Sch.) in this thoughtful and thought-provoking interdisciplinary study. "What stories do we tell ourselves and others about truth and reason, about law and justice, and about the masked rage of retribution and the hidden flow of illicit desire, or about the contingencies of chance and the necessity of fate, or about the civilizing force of compassion and mercy?" With judges in TV courtrooms resolving real-life conflicts and nightly newscasts blurring into legal docudramas, Sherwin suggests that truth has become a relative concept; juries are swayed by the lawyers who tell the best stories and by the forms in which they are told. When the line between legal and popular culture can no longer be drawn, Sherwin warns, we will be forced "to consider anew the source and efficacy of doing justice through law." Will the present craving for quick and easy (i.e., responsibility-free) gratification continue to dominate our society? The answer, Sherwin concludes, "depends on the kind of culture we accept, or help to construct, or refuse to affirm." Recommended for public and academic libraries.DRobert C. Jones, Central Missouri State Univ., Warrensburg (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

1 Introduction: Law in the Age of Images
2 Screening Reality: The Vanishing Line between Law and Popular Culture
3 Legal Storytelling: Culture's Tools for Making Meaning
4 The Law of Desire: Cultural History and the Notorious Case
5 The Postmodern Challenge: A Case Study
6 The Jurisprudence of Appearances: Law as Commodity
7 When Law Goes Pop: Strange Forces, Trauma, and Catharsis
8 Law's Need for Enchantment: Perils and Possibilities
9 Conclusion: Redrawing the Line between Belief and Suspicion