February 28, 2007
Kohm on Judge Judy vs. People's Court and Their Different Models of Justice
Posted by Alan Childress
The recent effect or mirroring of pop culture and Judge Judy within the legal profession has been a recurring theme of LPB. It was initially raised by Nancy Rapoport in her previous scholarship (e.g., on lawyer images in popular culture causing effects on lawyering) and continued by her on this blog, and then picked up by me with a post or two on the behavior of judges who seem to be emulating Judge Judy.
There is actually more scholarship related to the specific subject of Judge Judy: Steven Kohm (Univ. of Winnipeg--Criminal Justice) has published in the Law & Society Review an essay on her show and also People's Court, and their competing visions of law and justice. It is called "The People's Law versus Judge Judy Justice: Two Models of Law in American Reality-Based Courtroom TV," and was published in 40 Law & Soc. Rev. 693–728 (2006). It is not downloadable gratis, as far as I know, but can be ordered here. Unfortunately [my characterization], as he demonstrates, Judge Judy "wins." Here is Kohm's abstract:
This essay examines the popular American daytime courtroom programs Judge Judy and People's Court and comparatively analyzes two distinct models of law and justice developed in these shows. Using the techniques of qualitative media analysis, I argue that Judge Judy represents a shift in the way popular culture imagines the role of law in the lives of ordinary people. This shift accords with neoliberal notions of governance and individual self-responsibility for protection against risk. Conversely, People's Court represents an older, liberal-legal model of law that emphasizes individual rights, public participation in the court process, and due process. By demonstrating the supersession of Judge Judy justice over that of People's Court, I argue that this shift in the way law is imagined in American popular culture signals wider shifts in American and indeed international attitudes toward the law in our everyday lives.
A few years before, Kohm had written his doctoral dissertation on TV judges after studying 200 hours' worth. (Ouch. Sort of like the Michael Caine-Gene Hackman thesis in the movie PCU.) The dissertation is available as a PDF file from this link (though the file is so big it froze my tiny laptop--man I hate PDF--so better luck to you). It is cleverly called "I'm Not A Judge But I Play One on TV: American Reality-Based Courtroom Television." Its 2004 abstract and alternative download info are linked here.
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