Section 5 Course Description

Course Name: Pop Culture on Trial: The Legal System vs. Popular Culture
Section 05
Instructor: Christi Hayne

“Oyez! Oyez! Oyez! All persons having business before the Honorable, the Supreme Court of the United States, are admonished to draw near and give their attention, for the Court is now sitting.”

Does pop culture shape the law?  CBS’s hit show CSI: Crime Scene has had a profound impact on public perception due to their exaggerated portrayal of forensic science. The CSI Effect is an actual term that refers to the belief that jurors have come to demand more forensic evidence in criminal trials, even in cases where one would not expect such evidence to be presented.  The rise and popularity of social media has created the need for new laws regarding cyber-bullying and freedom of speech.  In the wake of the George Zimmerman trial, celebrities such as Madonna and Stevie Wonder are boycotting performing in Florida as a protest to Florida’s ‘stand your ground law’. 

Or does the law shape pop culture?  The popularity of John Grisham’s legal novels has sparked an interest in a genre of literature - the legal thriller.  With plots based on real cases that recently made headlines, Law and Order gained popularity and became the second longest-running television show.  Real-life trials in far off cities have extended beyond the local news channel to the national stage, eventually becoming movies “based on true stories” with the players getting book deals. A run-in with the law makes a celebrity (or a reality star) more famous than a hit record once did.

What effects does this interplay between law and pop culture have on our statutes?  On the outcome of particular trials and cases?  Are the public’s perceptions of the law distorted because of pop culture or has pop culture exposed the law?  This seminar will explore the role law plays in popular culture and the role popular culture plays in the law. These are only a few pieces of the evidence that can be presented as part of this debate.  As the class looks at traditional materials such as legal materials and other scholarship, as well as movies, novels and other works of popular culture, you’ll act as counselor in arguing the merits of these issues “on trial.”