Women Defenders on Television: Representing Suspects and the Racial Politics of Retribution
Journal of Gender, Race & Justice, Vol. 3, 2000
38 Pages Posted: 6 Feb 2020
Date Written: 2000
This Essay is about Ellenor Frutt, Annie Dornell, Joyce Davenport, and other women criminal defense attorneys of prime time television. It examines how high-stakes network television presents sympathetic stories about women working as criminal defense attorneys while simultaneously supporting the popular thirst for the harshest criminal penalties. Real women who choose to represent criminal defendants are fundamentally out of step with angry and unforgiving attitudes toward crime and criminals. Indeed, women defenders have chosen work that puts them in direct opposition to the widespread public willingness to incarcerate record numbers of Americans, often young African-American and Latino men, for longer and longer sentences. Their prime time counterparts, however, are creatures of popular taste and conventional ideology, and therefore, perhaps inevitably, readily reinforce rather than resist the popular punitive and racialized incarceration policies. Even the most heroic of the television women defenders support and ratify the dominant public perception of a frightening and irredeemable criminal class -- mainly young African-American and Latino men--that requires the harshest and most vengeful sanctions.
Keywords: women defenders, television, retribution, Ellenor Frutt, Annie Dornell, Joyce Davenport, prime time, vengeance, cultural studies, gender
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