Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Celebrity Justice (Not That Court-TV Show)

Apparently, according to his family, law firm and the AP, Johnnie Cochran has died at the age of 67.

Read the story from A.P.

Mr. Cochran represents a great American archetype, the lawyer as celebrity. From Clarence Darrow to Daniel Webster, from Perry Mason to Matlock, from Abraham Lincoln to the O.J. legal team, lawyers and the law have long been stars in the American sociopolitical imagination. Americans love the crusading lawyer who fights for the little guy or the lost cause. They recoil at the hubris of "big swinging dicks" who defend people who are most certainly guilty. They themselves become stars because of the cases/causes they have been involved in. It seems like Cochran had a little bit of this all in him (or at least in his public image; who knows what he is like in person).

What is it in this model that is so attractive to the collective mind of the American people? I would venture to say that it has something to do with the hated "cult of celebrity" and what we think of lawyers. I think in a certain sense, the legal profession as a whole could be a stand-in for the best and worst things about Americans and our country. In the same sort of person, we admire and rally to the crusader for truth and justice and then we scold them for pursuing their own selfish aims. We laud their pro bono work and their concern with the laws, but we deride them as dishonest shysters who want to steal and take advantage. We have seen the enemy, and he looks more like us than a shark in a necktie.

Perhaps we all should go back to the wonderful 1979 film starring a young Al Pacino, And Justice For All. This film, written by Barry Levenson, really strikes at the heart of many of the issues that I raised above. Excellent performances by Pacino, Jack Warden and Jeffrey Tambor (in his first film appearance). Makes you think and there is a great "Big Al" freak out at the end.

Watch and learn. These things DO concern us all someday.

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