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Truth Tales and Trial Films

Jessica M. Silbey

Suffolk University Law School

Loyola of Los Angeles Law Review, Vol. 40, p. 551, 2007
Suffolk University Law School Research Paper No. 07-05

Investigations into law and popular culture preoccupy themselves with understanding how law and popular cultural forms work together to challenge or sustain community structures, identity and power. It is inevitable at this point in our cultural history that law and popular culture are intertwined. There are too many television shows, films, popular novels and web-based entertainment to withdraw "the law" (whatever that is) from the domain of popular culture. This article takes as a given the intermixing of law and popular culture, embracing it as a new feature of our popular legal consciousness. I suggest that one result of this mixing -- what I call truth tales, which are fictionalized films that are nonetheless based on true stories about law -- is to enhance our critical capacity to engage the law as a hopeful and evolving web of social, civic and political codes that shape our expectations for justice in contemporary society.

This article proceeds in five parts. Part I outlines a brief history of interdisciplinary legal studies, in particular law and cultural studies. Part II discusses the subfield within law and cultural studies of law and film, as a way to set the stage for a longer discussion in Parts IV and V of two truth tales, "Compulsion" and "Swoon." Part III more specifically describes the parameters of the "truth tale" as a subgenre of courtroom drama that affects a particular kind of popular legal consciousness, one that accepts as futile law's presumed search for unconditional truth and embraces instead the legal system's promise of due process as based on normative values of fairness. Parts IV and V are close readings of the two films by way of application of the interpretive methodology and conceptual framework outlined in Parts II and III.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 39

Keywords: law and film, law and humanities, law and popular culture, interdisciplinary legal studies, law and literature, cultural analysis of law, law and culture, popular legal consciousness, cinema, trials, litigation

JEL Classification: K10, K40, K41

Accepted Paper Series

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Date posted: January 25, 2007 ; Last revised: December 14, 2007

Suggested Citation

Silbey, Jessica M., Truth Tales and Trial Films. Loyola of Los Angeles Law Review, Vol. 40, p. 551, 2007; Suffolk University Law School Research Paper No. 07-05. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=959274

Contact Information

Jessica M. Silbey (Contact Author)
Suffolk University Law School ( email )
120 Tremont Street
Boston, MA 02108-4977
United States
617 305 6270 (Phone)
HOME PAGE: http://www.suffolk.edu/law/faculty/22481.php?InstructorID=819&Name=Jessica%20Silbey

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