82 Chi.-Kent L. Rev. 735 (2007)
12 Angry Men Is Not an Archetype: Reflections on the Jury in Contemporary Popular Culture

handle is hein.journals/chknt82 and id is 757 raw text is: 12 ANGRYMEN IS NOT AN ARCHETYPE: REFLECTIONS ON THE
Fifty years after its initial release, 12 Angry Men (1957) remains an
important cinematic and political work. Davis, the juror played superbly by
actor Henry Fonda, is a genuine American hero who is determined to
respect and honor reasoned deliberation. The other jurors, played by some
of the best actors of the 1950s, come alive as character types and then
interact in intense, gripping ways. More so than any other, the film is an
inspiring dramatic commentary on the jury as an embodiment of popular
sovereignty and on the possibility of justice under law. But alas, 12 Angry
Men is fundamentally atypical as a pop cultural portrayal of the jury.
Using 12 Angry Men as a point of reference, this essay explores the
portrayal of juries in contemporary American popular culture. In Part I, I
begin with a few words on what I mean by popular culture, lest there be
any confusion regarding my understanding of the phrase. In Part II, I
examine the standard portrayal of juries in popular culture. In Part III, I
underscore the ways the portrayal of the jury in 12 Angry Men differs from
the norm, concluding that the film is unique in the realm of popular culture.
In conclusion, I suggest that while 12 Angry Men invites us to envision the
jury as a fundamental building block for American life, the standard
contemporary portrayal of the jury is instead a sobering suggestion of how
we have actually come to see juries in the context of our increasingly
attenuated and formalistic democracy.
My first offering of a law school course titled Law and Popular
Culture included a major surprise. During most of the semester my students
and I enjoyed critiquing law-related films, television shows, and works of
inexpensive fiction. It was a delight to compare the presentations of law
* Professor of Law, Marquette University. The author thanks Professor Nancy Marder for her
reactions to this essay and for her invitation to submit it to this Symposium.

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