Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The People's Court

This is all Judge Wapner's fault- and Rusty Burrell his trusted courtroom bailiff. Doug Llewelyn the on the scene reporter is to blame as well. Back in 1981 when M*A*S*H , Dallas and Magnum P.I ruled the tube some really smart producer had the idea to get a retired judge to decide small claims with a camera in the courtroom. "I know you have both been sworn in and I have read your complaint" the white haired, black robed Wapner would say and for 30 mins America had access in a pseudo-courtroom and other people's business. Matter of fact for 12 years we could peer and pry into stolen television sets, bounced checks and dogs that did their business on the neighbors lawn and Judge Wapner would dole out the justice. Too bad the concept did not die out when the show was cancelled in 1993.

The list of "Judge" shows is too long to list here but its safe to say that Judge Judy took the concept to a whole new level. Part pit bull and part Jewish grandmother on steroids this feisty troubadour of justice sliced and diced the litigants verbally like none before her. One look from JJ and grown men peed their under drawers and even her own sex was not spared with comments like "its because your a stupid woman" or "did your mom send you here to piss me off?" Once again America loved it because in a world that seems so unjust- watching someone, somewhere get their just rewards was satisfying. Too bad it did not stop there. Now judges with baseball bats and judges with beauty queen looks and judges with deep accents and judges with best selling books are splayed out making sure the scales of justice are ...uh....maintained.

Some smart producer thought "Hey lets have an entire channel dedicated to millions of people sitting around watching other peoples business!" Court TV was born! Just like any good marketing move producers know that human brains have a hard time separating what is and what is not real. Meaning that you could watch a court case unfold before your very eyes, listening to opening and closing arguments and get emotionally involved in something that...A) you had no control over and B) it did not matter what you thought either way-because you are not on the jury. Audiences ate it up....and of course the OJ trial was brought right into our homes in and we learned that sometimes gloves don't fit like they used to.

A little girl died in 2008 and it made headlines but then with the ever changing news cycle it was lost in the shuffle until some really smart producer and a no-nonsense host began telling us that we need to watch this now and that its important and that someway somehow we have a say in how it goes. Phone lines were jammed during the trial with every sort of opinion of what did or did not happen by people who only knew what they heard on TV and as we all know-that is what matters most. My guess is that some really smart producer went to some really smart sales manager and said "Look at these numbers, imagine what you can charge for a 30 second commercial now!" It happens because that is what this game, in the end is all about from the media side of things. Pundits, talking heads, reporters and others all weighed in but the truth is...none of that ever mattered because 12 people had a decision to make-and even if you watched the trial from beginning to end-your voice really did not count in this...even if you felt it did. Was the young mother guilty? Will there be a movie and book? Will justice ever be done?

Every day in this country 5 children die at the hands of their parents or caregivers from abuse of some sort. That is 1,825 every year and a majority of these might make the third page of the paper and then is forgotten. Why did the Caylee Anthony case become so viral? Why do we know the names of people that most likely will never be a part of our lives? What is so interesting that viewers would watch hours of boring detailed testimony without any chance of weighing in on the decision? Because the media powers that be have us hooked in deep and they know it. My guess is that in a month from now-there will be a new tragic story or sensational courtroom drama that plays out and once again the blond bombshell host and the usual cast of characters will pick it apart. I predict a new round of outrage be it politician or celebrity, missing child or corporate greed and we will lap it up like hungry hounds, just like we have been trained to do.

The death of a child should never become a media circus, but that is what we said we will watch starting in 1981 when other people's business became our business. The purpose of this blog is to reach for Higher Ground and my only thought in that direction is to take the time that might be spent on watching other people's problems, no matter how enticing and engaging, and become a Big Brother or Big Sister. Go visit the elderly and read to them. Volunteer your time at a shelter for abused women or children. You can be around people that need some light in their lives, some justice to be done on their behalf and you won't have to be sworn in to make a real difference and change a life that has been forgotten, abused or mistreated.

1 comment:

  1. It can’t be kindly old Judge Wapner’s fault! I’ll blame it on Doug – he seemed too perfect in that blue blazer. Probably hiding something.

    But I agree. Court shows are a pet peeve. I live in your old stomping grounds, and in Michigan’s UP, if you’re unwilling to send your hard-earned money to the cable or satellite company, the number of channels you get is . . . two. So after dinner and before the news, I have two choices for vegging out. When Oprah has a particularly “chick-ish” guest, my alternative is Judge Judy. How different from Oprah can you get? Even when she’s not mad, she’s mad! I have to admit the guilty pleasure of watching people get yelled at. For about five minutes. And especially if they’re trying to be uber-polite. It triggers some pit bull thing deep within her and makes her even madder.

    Then my common sense kicks in. I’m watching people argue. Often about a trashy subject. That can’t be doing me any good. More and more research is quantifying how everything around us influences how we feel and later act. Garbage in, garbage out, so off goes Judy and her dueling arguers.

    Courtroom shows and the Casey Anthony case trigger an ancient instinct. Our cave-person, emotional brains are hardwired to live in small groups. At a basic level we process TV stuff as if it’s happening near to us. Stories involving people in conflict get our attention even when bigger but more abstract issues would be more worth attending to. My ol’ buddy Carl Jung said “You can throw nature out with a pitchfork. but she always comes back with a vengeance.”

    Fortunately as social animals we also inherit a cooperative, altruistic instinct. Thanks for urging people to remember and attend to collaboration and positivity, the unfolding story of the universe.