ROUNDUP: Law and Humanities 06.30.14

Jessica Silbey (Suffolk Law School) and Megan Slack are publishing an important new piece , The Semiotics of Film in US Supreme Court Cases, in the forthcoming collection Law, Culture, and Visual Studies (Springer, 2014). It’s of interest to law and film scholars, entertainment lawyers, First Amendment scholars, and law and humanities folks generally. Here’s the abstract.

This chapter explores the treatment of film as a cultural object among varied legal subject matter in US Supreme Court jurisprudence. Film is significant as an object or industry well beyond its incarnation as popular media. Its role in law – even the highest level of US appellate law – is similarly varied and goes well beyond the subject of a copyright case (as a moving picture) or as an evidentiary proffer (as a video of a criminal confession). This chapter traces the discussion of film in US Supreme Court cases in order to map the wide-ranging and diverse ­relations of film to law – a semiotics of film in the high court’s jurisprudence – to decouple the notion of film with entertainment or visual truth. This chapter discerns the many ways in which the court perceives the role of film in legal disputes and social life. It also illuminates how the court imagines and reconstitutes through its decisions the evolving forms and significances of film and film spectatorship as an interactive public for film in society. As such, this project contributes to the work on the legal construction of social life, exploring how court cases constitute social reality through their legal discourse. It also speaks to film enthusiasts and critics who understand that film is much more than entertainment and is, in practice, a conduit of information and a mechanism for lived experience. Enmeshed in the fabric of society, film is political, commercial, expressive, violent, technologically sophisticated, economically valuable, uniquely persuasive, and, as these cases demonstrate, constantly evolving.

Download the full text from SSRN at the link.

law culture

Another tv legal comedy makes its debut soon. NBC’s Working the Engels begins July 10th. Starring Andrea Martin, Kacey Rohl, and Azura Skye, it centers on a family law firm which actually includes only one member licensed to practice law, Jenna (played by Rohl). The other members of the family include Mom (Martin, who plays the paralegal), Sandy (Skye, who plays the receptionist), and Jimmy (Ben Arthur, who plays the investigator).

Have you always admired Sherlock Holmes’ ability to deduce the culprit? Are you a fan of the current updated “Sherlock” series such as Elementary and Sherlock? Do you eagerly follow his intellectual progeny, like Adrian Monk,  Patrick Jane, and even Shawn Spencer, of the recently cancelled Psych? Then you might want to check out the Kindle Single essay by attorney Noah Axler, It’s Not Elementary: The Mistakes of Sherlock Holmes (Kindle Single).  Here’s a short description of the contents:

Sherlock Holmes was wrong time and again. He is literature’s most famous detective and deserves his reputation, but Holmes made many mistakes. Some of these mistakes allowed criminals to escape, others put Holmes’ clients at grave risk. It’s Not Elementary focuses on The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes to show the numerous errors that a careful reader can find in Conan Doyle’s stories. This book will change your view of Holmes and improve your critical reading skills. It’s Not Elementary also contains alternate solutions to several of the stories and a discussion of Holmes’ primary reasoning technique (which is not deduction). With this book in hand, readers will be able to find the other mistakes in the Holmes tales, as well as in anything else they read.

Mr. Axler points out that on some occasions Holmes takes the law into his own hands, which could have serious consequences for innocent persons, including his own clients.  An interesting and thought-provoking read.

Whether or not Mr. Axler persuades you that Holmes made mistakes, the world’s “first consulting detective” has had immense impact. Think of the fictional detectives modeled on him. In addition to those I’ve already mentioned, we have currently featured on the small screen the British police detectives featured on Death in Paradise (both Richard Poole, played by Ben Miller, succeeded by Humphrey Goodman, played by Kris Marshall). It also strikes me that House, the physician celebrated for his diagnostic skills, is a television descendant of Sherlock Holmes, even though he is a “medical man” like Dr. Watson and not a “consulting detective.” When one thinks about the points Mr. Axler makes with regard to Holmes’ errors in deduction, House and Holmes may be even more closely related. Dr. House is frequently wrong in his diagnoses, up until the time (about ten minutes before the end of the episode) that he is correct. In addition, both House and Holmes are somewhat, well, brusque. TV has its share of peremptory physicians (think about Quincy and Doc Martin), but House is one of the peremptor-iest.




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