Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Law & Order: SVU Educates on Terror and the Law

Some have derided popular television, but it's not all bad. The best educates while the stories entertain. On the other hand, the first (and only) comment on the International Movie Database views the episode as a liberal polemic. If you're not familiar with, the resources on film, television and actors is unrivaled.

I argued in a lengthy law school paper that stories have a better chance at changing minds than legal opinions or OpEd pieces or essays. I referred to novels, but the same goes for any story telling whether in literature, film, television, comics. Why? Because stories get beneath and beyond the dogmatic knee jerk responses that often prevent listening and sympathy. When you care about a character and are drawn into his or her world, you can understand his or her perspective. When you read an Oped piece, it often become easy to dismiss and think "oh that old soapbox again."

This idea is not new. Dickens did knew this, wrote Olivier Twist and child labor laws resulted. The Jungle (published in 1906) and the government enacted the Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906. Investigative pieces and their use of fictional elements to create a story out the news make them not only more readable (so the reader actually takes in the news) but more convincing because the heart is convinced as much as the mind. I argue that stories convince the heart and keep the mind from interfering when it shouldn't.

Last night's episode of Law & Order: SVU (Special Victims Unit), entitled Harm, told the story of an Iraqi citizen who was tortured in Iraq by a New York doctor and who later died as a result of his torture. The viewer learns the particulars of how torture affects the victims. And not water boarding but what is called "light torture." It was meant to be affecting, and it was.

The first legal threshold was jurisdictional: did NYC have the jurisdiction to prosecute the doctor for criminally negligent homicide? And they brought in Hamdan v. Rumsfield! The prosecutor argued that the courts determined that the US President doesn't declare what's legal (constitutional) or not. Meanwhile the defendent's lawyer cites an executive order. This point - who declares what the law is - is exactly that Jack Goldsmith's book focuses on and even the first question he got was on Hamdan.

So the viewer learns about what we are really doing in Iraq as well as the legal foundations for what we are doing. Kudos. Catch the repeat, usually on Saturday evening. Elizabeth McGovern guest stars.

On a related note, Law & Order: SVU wouldn't even exist but for Robert Chambers who was on the front page of the New York Times again. He's been arrested for selling drugs. Linda Fairstein (A fellow Vassar grad who is now writing really bad crime novels) prosecuted Chambers when he was 19 for the murder of Jennifer Levin in the so-called Preppy Murder case. Fairstein served as the Bureau Chief of the pioneering Sex Crimes Prosecution Unit on which SVU is based.

No comments: