Lawyers and Courts in French Popular Culture
- Barbara VillezBarbara VillezDepartment of Studies of Anglophone Countries, Université Paris 8
From watching imported American popular culture dramas focusing on criminal justice, French television viewers have become confused as to how their own legal system really works. They have erroneous expectations of behaviours in court, like addressing judges by the wrong title, a title that comes from poor dubbing. Or they will refuse to answer questions, thinking they have Fifth Amendment protections, when they do not. They know very little of the organization of courtroom space. Since it is forbidden by law to take photographs or film trials in France, it is difficult to bring accurate court images to the public. The French produce police dramas, but very few series or made-for-television movies on justice, thus providing no alternatives for these erroneous criteria. They do, however, produce documentaries and docudramas dealing with past investigations or with timely issues such as recidivism or reintegration into society after prison. Documentaries, although pertinent, give viewers only one-shot access to the representations of justice and the legal professions they contain. The do not facilitate the acquisition over time of a legal culture.
In addition to the confusion, the French have a negative image of lawyers as motivated by money and politics rather than justice. Films and French television fictions are responsible for this impression. Television news reports are short and give incomplete accounts of the law or on-going proceedings. Sometimes lawyers are interviewed in these reports, but never prosecutors or judges. Judges and prosecutors are magistrats, not lawyers. They train in different institutions from lawyers and are civil servants, so they are not as likely as lawyers to be making a lot of money, nor are they free to make public statements. The image of these professions is consequently more positive in the French imagination as portrayed in the popular culture.