Marty Rockman, the notorious producer of the hit reality-TV show "So Sue Me", has a brand new concept: "Citizen Verdict". Each week a real criminal case will be tried before the American peo... Read allMarty Rockman, the notorious producer of the hit reality-TV show "So Sue Me", has a brand new concept: "Citizen Verdict". Each week a real criminal case will be tried before the American people, but this time they're also the jury. If the defendant is voted guilty in a death pena... Read allMarty Rockman, the notorious producer of the hit reality-TV show "So Sue Me", has a brand new concept: "Citizen Verdict". Each week a real criminal case will be tried before the American people, but this time they're also the jury. If the defendant is voted guilty in a death penalty case, Rockman will televise the execution. When an escalation in violent crime and ter... Read all
Briefly, Citizen Verdict takes a Capital Case and submits it to Television Executives who evaluate the case for its entertainment value, which is to say its ratings worthiness, which is to say its profitability, and submits the case to a Jury composed of a mass television audience. Ironically, Sidney Lumet's 12 Angry Men is an homage to our Trial By Jury system. In Citizen Verdict, the Jury becomes the Mass Audience, less a jury than a National or International (depending on the size of the voting audience) Plebiscite. In other words, criminal justice really becomes an electoral matter.
The implications of this are enormous. First, television justice has already to some extent made small claims civil justice a matter of entertainment in many of the Court Television programs. There is currently a profusion of high paid celebrity judges who mete out justice for ratings on a daily basis in a kind of fast food, McJustice format designed to entertain while resolving disputes. The problem becomes whether Justice or Entertainment becomes the primary concern and, if entertainment prevails, what that means for a Democracy. Second, it is only a matter of degree and programming restraint which relegates civil law to television while excluding criminal law. Thirdly, the tendency of money to corrupt even the strictest of moral standards makes the risk that potential television profits could outweigh and overshadow any legal, civil, or political judgment relative to life and limb. Fourthly, most of the verdicts on the current crop of television programs are decided solely by the sitting Judge but if the ratings were promising enough, which is to say the profits enormous enough, how would considerations of life and limb compare to the billions in potential profits? What's a little Due Process mean when there are millions to be made in the American Marketplace?
Citizen Verdict is commenting on a societal depravity which puts money, entertainment, and self-indulgence above human dignity & Justice, and extrapolates this malady to Television and the potential Corruption of law and the Criminal Justice system. It may seem like an outrageous plot but truth is often stranger than fiction.
The idea of De-Humanization is not necessarily as far off as we think if for example the Rights of Corporations are increasing in inverse proportion to those of Human Beings. In an era where Constitutional Liberty is sacrificed on the altar of national security, while salaries and earnings remain relatively stable, and technology creates wealth at dizzying rates, the individual and his due process protections may become as extinct as the dinosaur in the interest of stable markets: really, a matter of Hobson's Choice.
If law becomes more a business than a matter of human equity, if money begins to eclipse the value of human life and happiness, if necessity means more than freedom, if profits overshadow justice, then there is no doubt that all the evolution of our Jurisprudence - Hammurabai, The Athenian and Roman Codes, the Magna Charta, the English bill of rights, the American Declaration, the US Constitution and The American Bill of Rights - can be supplanted and swept away in the twinkling of an avaricious eye by TV Ratings and Human Shortsightedness and Endless Consumerism. 1,000 of years of human legal progress eviscerated by greed and trivialized by entertainment ratings and a man's life and limb subject to Mob Justice like the lynchings of old.
Finally, in the light of Citizen Verdict, one must rethink the difference between a Just Verdict and a Popular Verdict and what that might mean, for example, in the context of an unpopular defendant.
OJ Simpson would have fried if he'd been a Defendant on Citizen Verdict. He was, thanks to this same convergence of media, law, and entertainment values, one of the most unpopular defendants in history. Our system acquitted him, the Citizen Verdict system would have probably convicted him. What should that tell us about Criminal Justice as Entertainment and Popularity as Justice? It says that a Man's guilt or innocence should stand on the facts, evidence and law and the integrity of our legal institutions. It says that our entire system could easily become skewed and that our compulsive drive and bottomless appetite for growth and money is probably corruptive, unsustainable over the long haul if we hope to remain civilized, clouds our better judgment, and will probably erode all our institutions and connection to human values if we are not perceptive.
Citizen Verdict shows that justice as entertainment as profit is not ultimately justice at all because its goal is not solely or even primarily justice within the context of television. It can't be unless it appears on PBS, and then it still has to entertain. Justice simply should not be for sale or even give the appearance that it is for sale in a healthy Democratic Republic. This is not a monumental film but it raises monumental issues having to do with Human Dignity, Due Process of Law, and the intersection of Entertainment and Money on the ultimate concern of the law which should always be Justice.
- May 9, 2008