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Crime & The Media Essay

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Updated: Apr 17th, 2019

This essay focuses on the depiction of law and agents of law in the American films Young Mr. Lincoln and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. These are films with legal concepts in representation of the law. These films depict drama within courtrooms during the delivery of justice. Law films may provide some fundamental insights on how the criminal justice system works.

The major concern is whether these depictions do portray facts or provide useful insights to viewers. However, we have to recognise that films tend to portray surprising and dramatic events instead of providing factual accounts of cases.

Films are parts of popular cultures, which influence law and justice systems. Friedman notes that popular culture is “a part of law and some of the most obvious aspects of laws are exceedingly prominent in popular cultures” (Friedman, 1989).

Concerns of whether such depictions are “influential, acceptable, or accurate” (Rafter, 2006) lead to many questions. Creations of courtroom films have resulted from the public’s fascination and the desire to understand the criminal justice system. Some of the notable trials include OJ Simpson in the US, and Louise Woodward trial in the UK (Rapping, 2003).

We have to note that films and other popular news channels do not convey the real courtroom drama. Given the role of popular media in shaping the public perception, the public will understand “lawyers and law processes through diverse channels” (Rafter, 2006).

We have to ask whether law films are extensions of the criminal justice system or whether they compromise the integrity and the delivery of justice. Law films may portray various social issues and the courtroom as a centre for the drama. In this sense, law films and television series show that the public can also debate legal issues and determine legal consequences.

We realise how the issue of depiction of agents of law and the criminal justice system is complex when we review contemporary films. Machura observes that law films usually have both justice and injustice figures. Injustice figure creates the discrepancy in the justice system.

On the other hand, the justice figure comes as a hero in order to resolve the situation (Machura, 2007). The main of aims of law films are to portray the idea of justice to viewers. The general belief is that the law provides justice in a dispute. In the film, Young Mr. Lincoln, we look at the idea of right and wrong in the delivery of justice.

We can also observe that the process of delivering justice is a major challenge. For instance, lawyers must go beyond the written law and find solutions in moral arguments. In the film, Henry Fonda (Lincoln) demonstrates that lawyers can deviate from the written law in order to achieve justice to suspects. They may bring a moral argument as Lincoln does, “I may not know so much about the law, but I know what’s right and what’s wrong”.

Young Mr. Lincoln is a manipulative film. Lincoln achieves a high status in a short time than expected. It shows a rookie lawyer, who delivers justice to accused brothers. This transformation represents unrealistic aspects of law films. Such a transformation enhances the delivery of justice.

At the same time, such changes influence the process of an actual delivery of justice. If we analyse Young Mr. Lincoln within its context, then we see a young lawyer, who experiences transformation in order to deliver justice.

Law films may also depict cooperation or hostility among agents of law. In some cases, lawyers may work together. Still, the presiding judge and lawyers may also cooperate in a case. This is what Young Mr. Lincoln portrays when the judge supports the lawyer during the trial (Machura, 2007). Such acts of cooperation may also extend to interrogation procedures in order to establish the legal truth to a case.

Young Mr. Lincoln raises concerns related to how a legal system works to deliver justice. In other words, it focuses on who should the justice system favours. Law films tend to create extraordinary lawyers. For instance, in Young Mr. Lincoln, the lawyer claims that he does not know much about law.

However, he tends to show that we should rely on natural law or use common sense during trials. In this context, lawyers should use the law to protect law-abiding citizens and not to protect powerful individuals. Therefore, the justice system should work in any given circumstance, irrespective of the experience of the lawyer.

The law film, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance depicts challenges related to establishing an effective political order using the rule of law in a lawless state. Some critics have argued that the film shows that, “American history and the democratic process itself are something of a sham, a confidence trick played on the public by slick politicians and compliant reporters” (McBride, 2001).

This explains why the newspaper editor sees it as important to write about the legend instead of writing the truth about the man who killed the Liberty Valance. It shows that issues of law and order are not among priorities in the primitive areas of the US. However, the Old West had to pave a way for civilization. The young and naive lawyer introduced the concept of law in a town run by criminals.

Such criminals have used existing law to protect themselves. For instance, based on the law of East Coast, Liberty Valance has immunity. The only way to punish Liberty Valance involves a duel with guns. The film shows how lawyers can shape political situations of nations through democratic processes.

As a political drama unfolds, we also observe some aspects about the freedom of the press. Powerful figures had to control the content of the press. In some case, media have defended criminal justice systems.

However, in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, a part of lawlessness includes restricting the freedom of the press, which has gone against the position of cattlemen. It is the lawyer, who must defend the freedom of the press against the town gang. In fact, Liberty Valance has tried to silence both the media and Dutton Peabody.

Confrontation between Liberty Valance and Stoddard shows different views of the concept of law. Stoddard is a lawyer from a well-established society. On the other hand, Liberty Valance tears several law books of Stoddard. According to Liberty Valance, laws from the East do not stand a chance in the Old West. Therefore, Stoddard must notice the law of the Old West (Livingstone, 2007).

People of the Old West elect Stoddard because he is a good lawyer and can throw a good punch. These are the two outstanding characteristics, which make the lawyer get the delegate position. Shinbone needs both physical force and knowledge of law in order to create effective rule of law.

Lenz’s work focuses on the relationship between the criminal justice system and public opinion using law films (Lenz, 2003). This reflects positions the public about crime during a given period. Some law films depict the criminal justice system as a growing matter of concern. Others show that crime is not acceptable especially in lawless states and violence may be the necessary tool to end such crimes.

For instance, the only person who can eliminate Liberty Valance must use violence in order to restore law and order in Shinbone. It shows the continued struggle to establish effective political power in a town run by gangs, who also use their laws to justify their actions.

These films reflect a continuous struggle between crime and order. Law films depict uncertainty as no audience can predict the outcomes. However, agents of law depicted in such films usually emerge as heroes against criminals.

Both the Young Mr. Lincoln and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance highlight social responsibilities of lawyers as they emerge as heroes in their societies. This is what Asimow and Mader point in their work (Asimow and Mader, 2004). The authors achieve such depiction by combining social and film history within the context of legal systems and issues.

Some studies show that whatever law films portray is not always true (Surette, 1998). Surette notes in every subject category like “crimes, criminals, crime fighters, the investigation of crimes, arrests, the processing and disposition of cases, the entertainment media present a world of crime and justice that is not found in reality” (Surette, 1998).

These scholars argue that such processes of criminal justice systems do not exist in reality. As a result, they believe that the films portray exaggerated events of the criminal justice system and now question whether media portrayal of crimes may increase the rate of crime (Rafter, 2006).

Such law films may appear fragmented. This reflects how films distort crime in society and provide distorted approach to the criminal justice system. In this sense, films construct their own reality and transmit to the audience. This only results into confusion.

Law films play significant roles in shaping public opinion in comprehending crime. They enable us to learn what is right or wrong. However, law films have raised contentious issues regarding the use of social power in society. Some scholars consider such films as means of providing opportunities for crimes, rebellion, and use of the justice system to restore order (Rafter, 2006).

Rafter sees crime films as the best reflection of social, political, and economic problems in society. Consequently, such films influence the audience’s thoughts about issues in society. Through analysis of film history, crime, the justice system, and other factors that can explain crimes, we can understand influences of media on viewers.

In fact, various forms of media tend to report crimes for sensational purposes. However, Carrabine expresses the reality behind such reports. In addition, we have to understand how such law films with bad endings influence the audience’s attitudes about crimes (Carrabine, 2008).

Such observations have renewed the debate about the relationships between films and crime. The concern relates to harmful effects or influences of media on viewers. Carrabine notes that crime offers great fascination to the media because of numerous programmes focusing on both real and imagined crimes.

The issue remains whether the media invoke feelings and tendencies of viewers to express their obsession with crimes. Given such effects on the audience, it is necessary that films should portray real events of crimes. This can eliminate unrealistic expectations of the audience in real-life situations.

We have to realise that watching law films like Young Mr. Lincoln and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance can provide entertainment and provoke thoughts among viewers. We have to recognise that these law films portray agents of law who are rookies.

However, these lawyers perform exceptionally well. The films give these lawyers extraordinary power to turn impossible situations using both written and conventional laws. Most people do not have contact with criminal justice systems.

As a result, they rely on the media to learn about criminal justice systems. However, for diverse reasons, media presentations of criminal justice systems remain erroneous and do not focus on facts. Events in both law films are not realistic. As a result, they may lead viewers to form unrealistic expectations based on what they watch.

Both Young Mr. Lincoln and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance portray lawyers as people with extraordinary qualities. The films demonstrate the effectiveness of lawyers in a form of a drama to the audience. The only challenge is that we cannot gauge influences of filmmakers and their acting agents of the law.

Under such confusion, filmmakers usually give general information about the purpose of the film as Machura observes (Machura, 2007). Some of the notable ways of misrepresentation include “the voting rule, the behaviour of lawyers in court and the decorum of the benches among others” (Machura, 2007).

Filmmakers know that some of the elements in the films originate from laws of various nations and do not conform to laws of the country at the time of production.

Reference List

Asimow, M, and Mader, S 2004, Law and Popular Culture, Lang, New York.

Carrabine, E 2008, Crime, Culture and the Media, Polity, Cambridge.

Friedman, L 1989, ‘Law, lawyers and popular culture’, Yale Law Journal, vol. 98, pp. 1579.

Lenz, T 2003, Changing Images of Law in Film and Television Crime Stories, Lang, New York.

Livingstone, D 2007, ‘Spiritedness, Reason, and the Rule of Law: John Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance’, American Political Science Association, pp. 1-27.

Machura, S 2007, ‘An Analysis Scheme for Law Films’, Baltimore Law Review, vol. 36, pp. 329-345.

McBride, J 2001, Searching For John Ford, Martin’s Griffin, New York.

Rafter, N 2006, Shots in the Mirror: Crime Films and Society, Oxford University Press, Cambridge.

Rapping, E 2003, Law and Justice as Seen on TV, NYU Press, New York.

Surette, R 1998, Media, Crime, and Criminal Justice: Images, Realities, and Policies, Wadsworth Publishing, Belmont, CA.

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