A Boston Legal moment

I have to confess to a crime against pop culture: I’ve never watched Boston Legal, not once. 
As Last Chance Democracy Café regulars know, before opening my politically charged café and bar, I was a trial lawyer.  And as a trial lawyer, I know that most of the stuff that appears on law based television and movie dramas has no more to do with the reality of a courtroom, than SpongeBob SquarePants has to do with the true state of affairs on the ocean’s bottom.

The genesis of my crime goes back to the days of LA Law, which I watched regularly for a long time.  But far too often, I found myself screaming at the television, “That would never happen,” or “Oh, come on, why isn’t he objecting,” or even “This is such utter fu*k*ng bullshit!”  I never threw a bottle or a glass at the TV, but I thought about it a few times.

So I swore off legal shows.  As an aside, I can’t even stand the real Court TV type programs, although for a different reason.  The talking head “legal experts” give me a headache.

I’m not proud of all this, by the way.  I should be flexible enough to enjoy fiction without getting all wrapped up in the minutiae, but I am who I am.

So it was with some trepidation that I clicked onto the much commented upon clip of Alan Shore (played by James Spader) giving his closing argument in the “Boston Legal” episode titled “Stick It.”  But I’m glad I did.

It blew me away.

If there’s anyone who hasn’t already seen it, you should do so now: BuzzFlash has a link to the video here.  Here’s a brief teaser:

Alan Shore: When the weapons of mass destruction thing turned out to be not true, I expected the American people to rise up. Ha! They didn’t.

Then, when the Abu Ghraib torture thing surfaced and it was revealed that our government participated in rendition, a practice where we kidnap people and turn them over to regimes who specialize in torture, I was sure then the American people would be heard from. We stood mute.

Then came the news that we jailed thousands of so-called terrorists suspects, locked them up without the right to a trial or even the right to confront their accusers. Certainly, we would never stand for that. We did.

Now, make no mistake: legally, this is all malarkey; the political content in both the prosecutor’s and the defense council’s closing statements would have been ruled out of order by any halfway competent judge.  But this time I don’t care.

I wasn’t blown away just because I was inspired by the words, although I was.  Mostly it’s because I think this could be important.  “Boston Legal” is an extremely popular show.  Those wonderful words were heard by millions of Americans, many of whom have never given the issue of America’s diminishing individual liberties serious thought before.

Now they have something new to think about.  And for at least some, the basic frame of how they view this issue will have changed, at least a little. 

It was some 38 years ago, on Feb. 27, 1968 that Walter Cronkite gave his famous, “We Are Mired In Stalemate” broadcast about the War in Vietnam.  Such was Cronkite’s influence that LBJ is quoted as saying in response, “That’s it.  If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost middle America.”

Today’s network anchors, while still very important, lack Cronkite’s power to influence the public.  Network news, in general, has lost a good deal of its punch.  And increasingly, pop culture is rushing in to fill the void. 

Don’t get me wrong: “I have no illusion of George W. Bush sitting in the White House saying, “That’s it.  I’ve lost ‘Boston Legal,’ I’ve lost middle America.”

No, this “Boston Legal” pop culture moment won’t exert anything close to the kind of influence that Walter Cronkite moment did long ago, but it’s a start. 

And right now, a start looks pretty damn good to me.

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14 Responses to “A Boston Legal moment”

  1. hizzhoner Says:

    Hi, I’m Hizzhoner and I’m a pop culture dropout…too.

    I was quite surprised by the buzz generated by the Boston Legal episode on the discussion boards and blogs that I frequent…too often frequent…and I did drop in to view the clip.

    The old political warhorse took over after I saw the clip. I openly wondered what the total viewership of the show is and also what the demographic is….was the message reaching people who never heard it before or was it preaching to the chior?

    I swear, during the last five years there have been so many of these AHA! moments where someone spoke the unvarnished truth and we thought it would change the world, that I think I’m immune from them….



    I think that’s what happens when you’ve been disappointed too many times.

    We’ll see.


  2. Chuck Says:

    I don’t watch television myself, haven’t for 10 or 15 years, except for those few minutes on the few days when my wife insists on watching some CSI sort of thing, & then I have a very quick dinner & scoot back to my sancuary, so I’m not at all familiar with “Boston Law”, but I did read the same scene in Paul Craig Roberts’ article in todays “CounterPunch”. It’s too bad that these things get said by actors on 2d rate T.V. programs rather than by our political & civic leaders. (”Northern Exposure” is my idea of a 1st rate program, & the last time I followed a series every week, & that was the only T.V. I watched then.)

    Am I a cynic? It’s hard to tell now days whether it’s being cynical or realistic.
    What demographic was watching? Probably immaterial If the message didn’t sink in.


  3. terri Says:

    I am also cynical of Television programs. Except the Sopranos. When I saw this snipit from Boston Legal, my jaw dropped down to the floor and my heart started racing.
    Is there truely a God? I had to watch it two more times and then I had to send it to all of my email buddies.

    Why oh why can’t our sooo called leaders get the nerve and have the Balls to say what was said in this program?

    If one or more don’t, we are sooo veryyyy doooomed!

  4. billparlette Says:

    This open letter to beloved USA friends from this ex-pat American working to share “‘Murrican values” abroad, sums it up for me …. I encourage you to share something of your own, something similar, with those you love, who are in a position to do something about it.

    >>OK, here is my moment of passion for this morning … and this day, and week, and month.

    I ask you to click on the following, and take the time to watch the abstract from a TV show called Boston Legal, of which I have never heard as I just don’t watch TV anymore. But the writeup found in the last link below, from “lastchancedemocracycafe” which I greatly respect, made it easy for me to link, and I did.

    After waiting for the load, and quickly being distracted from the over-acting by the unexpected power of the text, I found myself with tears streaming down my face. I guess from frustration, and caring, and fearing this thing called fear, and the deliberately imposed divisiveness in our beloved land, and the need for love and not hate, and the endless disregard of killing and hurting and mutilation as long as it does not touch us personally.

    And rather than say “I defy you not to be moved also”, I am pleading with you to be moved … also. For us as a nation, a so-called Christian nation founded on law and respect for the individual … this is what it is all about.

    OK, now you can go back to what you were doing when I interrupted.

    Our love to you, to us all. Bill
    _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _




  5. RJHall Says:

    Does this mean we have to endure all this for another 7 years (just like between Cronkite’s broadcast and the end of the Vietnam occupation)?

  6. iowametal76 Says:

    The cynical side of me agrees with Hizzoner on this one – it’s more than likely preaching to the choir. I just don’t see someone who is an unwavering Bush-backer being swayed, or even given food for thought by a soliloquy on Boston Legal.
    Then again, the non-cynical sliver of me has to admit that the fact that the episode was allowed to air at all is a good thing. I don’t know what network BL is on (CBS, yes?), and it doesn’t matter. The Viacom Network, The GE Network, The Disney Network, whichever – none of these are exactly bastions of progressive thought, so I’m just glad something like that was on prime time network TV at all.

    On another note, I saw a play last week here in Chicago called “Hizzoner,” about the first Mayor Daley. Really, really good. If you live in Chicago, check it out – I think it might be closing soon.

  7. alwayshope Says:

    I have never missed an episode of Boston Legal. I love the characters and the actors (long time fan of good ol’ Captain Kirk). The James Spader character, Alan Shore is the best on tv. Most of my family is Republican, but I have them all watching BoLeg regularly. It’s funny and it’s passionate. I am an avid reader but I never really read murder mysteries until recently, now I love them. I read that the recent surge in the popularity of this literature is because of the justice it provides. You have a bad guy and a good guy and the good guy always wins. Justice prevails and it makes you feel good when it does. In this world of injustice and indifference, we can get satisfaction even if it’s fiction. I think that may be true and the reason for Boston Legal’s popularity. We crave truth and justice and if we can’t get it in the real world, we’ll look to our TVs or books for it. I don’t have cable or a dish, just a good old antenna on the roof, so I am limited in my knowledge of any other shows of its caliber. I have written to ABC to thank them for providing such a quality program. I thought I’d better because if James Dobson decides it isn’t fit, the negative write-in campaign could threaten it and I wanted to get my 2 cents in before the “we’ll tell you what to watch and think” people have their say. Aside from PBS, there isn’t much on Tv worth watching so I feel obliged to enthusiastically support a really good show. Let them know you appreciate their programming!

  8. dogtired Says:

    I am like many that have posted here. I unplugged from every form of TV hook-up right after the “Abu Ghraib torture thing surfaced” and have not gone back. I pay attention, though. I read and listen and think. A lot. And I am worried we as a nation have gone to sleep. Then yesterday I listened to the clip on Boston Legal and had a moment of hope.

    This morning I was up early sitting in front of my laptop writing in my journel. I found myself typing in a phrase that my father used to use every time he would put in a new typewritter ribbion to make sure it was working right (he is now 84 and uses a computer). If I remember correctly it was also a phrase used in almost all typing classes when I was growing up. The phrase is “This is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country.”

    Setting aside the sexist language in the old phrase it captures the only and best hope for what is happening to us in this country. Perhaps this one shinning moment in pop culture will lead to something….or then again we might just be to far gone along the path written about by Neil Postman in his book Amusing ourselves to death.

  9. hilarity Says:

    I’ve said this elsewhere after seeing this show: this is a way to get the word out to middle America. We need to embrace Hollywood instead of allowing the right to villify it, forcing liberals to keep it at arms length. David Kelley has done this before with Spader’s character – I believe I saw a show last fall that was outstanding. He casts Shatner as the kooky conservative and Spader as the liberal and they are best friends on the show. But that aside, this is one great way to creep into the hearts of the couch potatoes out there in middle America. Let Clooney continue to make great movies with heart and message, applaud Kelley for his sensational closing arguments, and DEFEND these people who are finding ways to speak out on our behalf!!

  10. RJHall Says:

    [quote]I am an avid reader but I never really read murder mysteries until recently, now I love them. I read that the recent surge in the popularity of this literature is because of the justice it provides. You have a bad guy and a good guy and the good guy always wins. Justice prevails and it makes you feel good when it does. In this world of injustice and indifference, we can get satisfaction even if it’s fiction.[/quote]

    I am an avid reader of science fiction, which for decades has been called “escapist” even though it really isn’t, as the best of it prepares readers for scenarios involving energy crises, environmental destruction, and other “daily dooms.” Now it turns out it is MYSTERY fiction that is really “escapist”!

    I agree it’s a dreary sign of how unconnected politicians are from the people that none of them are saying what this “Boston Legal” speech says. But, maybe the fact and popularity of this speech might INSPIRE some of the Democratic politicians into seeing it is OK to start saying this sort of thing? Just like the first boy to laugh at the Emperor’s new clothes inspired everybody else into seeing it was OK to laugh? (Then again, seeing the Democratic Senators’ attacks on Russell Feingold, maybe not.)

  11. alwayshope Says:

    I love that comparison you made between the BL speech and the little boy who laughed.
    Brilliant! I’d like to buy you a drink.

  12. doorma Says:

    Chuck: As someone who believes that Northern Exposure was the standard by which TV programming should be measured, trust me–Boston Legal is worth checking out. I almost fell off the couch when Spader spoke the lines. ASa former trial lawyer, though, I say cut some slack to dramatic depictions of legal practice.

  13. Chuck Says:


    I do cut slack! In fact, I pay no attention to it at all. To my way of thinking these legal oriented programs have no more relationship to reality than the Lone Ranger or The Cisco Kid, (ho ho ho Pancho!) did.

  14. Again Says:


    this is a way to get the word out to middle America

    to quote:

    WebProNews, “Regulators, Mount Up: A Look At IPTV” by Jason Miller:

    But already Congress and attorneys look to limit that expression, first through the court system and then the legislature – and this is just the beginning…

    While the FCC’s function covers much more than just regulating decency in society, a chunk of the agency may face a situation where public demand (and lack of fine-based revenue) could turn the government watchdogs onto the Internet….

    Last week, the FCC smacked CBS with a record fine of $3.6 million for broadcasting an episode of “Without A Trace” that depicted a simulated teen orgy before 10 PM in some areas.

    decency – they call it “regulating the decency”

    they intrude on my searches because of their definitions, beliefs and convictions, they intrude on my datas, my life because of their taliban-like view of the world – they don’t ask for mine – and they call this: “decency”

    didn’t their mother tell them, that decency is based on respect for others? No one told them, that blinders don’t change the world, just change the ability to observe? To forbid showing reality doesn’t change anything – and especially doesn’t better anything (being fined $27, 000 for saying the “S-word” (yes, that’s how the FCC refers to it))

    btw: i’m fan of the Bruckheimer serials, because of their team-based design – no boss there, just a decider, no perfection there, just human attempts to do their jobs best, no “i’m the one saving the world”-mentality, just “we do our best to better the world”

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