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.
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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