Bill Cosby and American Popular Culture

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Bill Cosby and Keisha Knight Pullman walk together outside of the courtroom where he faced trial on charges of rape.Bill Cosby has made two distinctly different splashes in American popular culture.  He starred in “The Cosby Show” (1984-92), a sitcom that was America’s most highly rated television show for five consecutive years.  Then, his trial for sexual assault in the spring of 2017 became the most recent “trial of the century.”  Ironically, the immense success of the former prevented the latter from attracting the attention many had predicted.

As for “The Cosby Show,” it featured the Huxtables, a fictional upper middle-class African American family living in a brownstone in Brooklyn Heights.  Cliff Huxtable, played by Cosby, was a jolly obstetrician, while his wife Clair Huxtable was a successful attorney.  The Huxtables has four daughters and one son, and although each episode had its tender tensions, they always dissipated by the end of the hour.  “The Cosby Show” was about a happy, loving ideal family, and Cliff Huxtable became the nation’s fantasy father.  When TV Guide ranked the 50 greatest dads in television history, the magazine named Cliff Huxtable “The All-Time Greatest Dad.”

While the show rarely addressed race directly, it was what the show left unsaid that was important.  Cosby and the show’s producers consciously set out to “recode blackness.”  They turned stereotypes upside-down by presenting a tightly-knit African American family that was affluent, had friends and neighbors of different races, and was headed by a married couple, with each member belonging to a learned profession.  In the midst of the Reagan-Bush years, Americans took to the portrayal, and it, if only for a moment, obfuscated the nation’s shoddy racist inequality.

When twenty-five years later in time two dozen women claimed Cosby had drugged, sexually assaulted, and raped them, America was shocked.  When Cosby went on trial in the spring of 2017 for sexually assaulting Andrea Constand, many thought the public would be obsessed with the proceedings.  Coverage of the trial seemed likely to equal that for celebrities such as O.J. Simpson in 1994 and Michael Jackson in 2005.  Trials of the rich and famous, after all, have been pop cultural delights since the days of the penny dailies in the early nineteenth century. Read more »




R.I.P. Gregg Allman (1947-2017)

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Singer Geg Allman plays the keyboard.It is my impression that a good rock ‘n roll band can help a lot in law school.  If listened to at the “appropriate” volume, the band can reduce the stress of the first year and relieve the tedium of the second and third years.

My band during law school was the Allman Brothers Band.  It released an extraordinary string of vinyl albums in the early 1970s, with “Eat a Peach” (1972) being my personal favorite.  My friends and I didn’t think of the Allman Brothers as progenitors of southern rock but rather as countercultural southern musicians able to blend the blues, jazz, and even a little country.  The Band compared in our minds to Cream, Jimi Hendrix, and, of course, the Grateful Dead.  And who knew that an aspiring Georgia politician named Jimmy Carter was also a fan of the Band’s incredible improvisational jams?

The Allman Brothers song that I played the most was “Whipping Post.”  Gregg Album wrote the song and also sang the lead vocal.  Its studio version appears on the Band’s debut album, but even better is the live version on “At the Fillmore East” (1971).  I realized from the start that the song was about lost love, but I chose to think of it in relation to my existential condition:  “Tied to the whipping post.  Good Lord, I think I’m dying . . . .”

During the 1970s, the Allman Brothers Band lost two of its original members in separate motorcycle accidents.  (The Band members loved Harleys.)  Afterwards, Gregg Allman struggled to hold the Band together, but alcohol and drugs were mean nemeses.  He also had six marriages, including an ill-fated and much-ridiculed union with Cher.  But still, he continued to make music and to tour.  Elise Papke and I caught his tremendous performance at the Northern Lights Theater in the Potowatomi Casino from second-row seats in 2015, and yes, “Whipping Post” was on his play list.

It was with great sadness that I read of Gregg Allman’s death due to liver cancer on May 27, 2017.  R.I.P. old friend, and thanks for your help along the way.




Law Alumna is New “Bachelorette” on ABC

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It was announced Monday evening on the Jimmy Kimmel Live television program that Texas attorney Rachel Lindsay will be the next “Bachelorette” on the ABC series of that same name.  Ms. Lindsay is a 2011 graduate of the Marquette University Law School.  She has been a practicing litigator at the Dallas Office of the Law Firm Cooper & Scully.  She was previously a contestant on this season’s ABC reality show “The Bachelor.”  Ms. Lindsay’s selection is notable because she is the first African American to be cast as the lead of the popular reality series.  We at the Law School wish Ms. Lindsay all of the best, both professionally and romantically.




Legal Issues and Pokémon Go

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Category: Computer Law, Intellectual Property Law, Popular Culture & Law, Public, Tort Law
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20160727_135932Okay, I admit it. I’m playing Pokémon Go. It’s frustratingly addictive.

For those who don’t know, Pokémon Go is an app for smartphones; the app is free, but players can make in-app purchases. The idea is for each player to “catch” creatures known as Pokémon, which the player does by “throwing” what is called a Pokéball at them. Once you catch the creatures, each of which has its own special powers and abilities, you can “evolve” them into stronger, more powerful creatures and you can go to gyms to “battle” other players.

Pokémon Go uses GPS to figure out where a player is located and presents the player with that “map.” Pokéstops (where players can go to get free goodies they need to play the game) and gyms are represented on the map as actual places, usually public places like parks, sculptures, or churches. To get to a Pokéstop or to battle at a gym, a player needs to physically move herself to that location. For example, the Marquette University campus is full of Pokéstops—e.g., a few sculptures on the southeast side of campus, one of the signs for the Alumni Memorial Union. Dedicated players certainly get some exercise.

Pokémon Go is also interesting because of how it mixes your real-life location with the mythical creatures. When a creature appears, you can take its picture, as if the Pokémon is right there in your real world. (See the pictures in this post.)IMG_20160722_084109

But Pokémon Go has been at the root of a number of accidents and incidents and it raises a number of interesting legal issues.

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R.I.P. Harper Lee (1926-2016)

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To_Kill_a_MockingbirdAmerican letters lost one of its legendary figures when Harper Lee died at 89 on February 19.  Lee’s beloved To Kill a Mockingbird won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1961, and it was the most popular of all twentieth-century novels by American authors.

Lee’s work also ranks at the top in the more specialized world of law-related popular culture.  Atticus Finch, the novel’s protagonist, inspired many to become lawyers and to work for equality for African Americans.  Gregory Peck won the Oscar for Best Actor in 1963 for his portrayal of Atticus Finch in the film version of the novel, and the respected American Film Institute has ranked Peck’s Atticus Finch as the greatest hero in the history of the cinema.  Heroism is hard to rank, but Atticus Finch is surely popular culture’s most important lawyer.

Sadly, Lee’s final years were full of controversy.  Read more »




Making a Murderer: Oh-So-Many Talking Points

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Category: Civil Rights, Constitutional Law, Criminal Law & Process, Evidence, Judges & Judicial Process, Legal Ethics, Legal Practice, Legal Profession, Popular Culture & Law, Public, Wisconsin Law & Legal System
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635874987555624158-XXX-IMG-NETFLIX-MAKING-A-MUR-1-1-VGCTGMDU-78432434As the winter break winds down, it’s definitely worth your time to start binge-watching Making a Murderer, a recent Netflix documentary on a real-life criminal case. A very close-to-home criminal case, at that.

The documentary, filmed over 10 years, follows Steven Avery, who was convicted in 1985 of sexual assault. He maintained his innocence and, indeed, 18 years later DNA evidence exonerated him. After he was released, he sued Manitowoc County for his wrongful conviction. It looks as though that lawsuit starts digging up some very unsavory conduct among officials in Manitowoc County.

But then—Avery is arrested for the murder of photographer Teresa Halbach. Several months later, his nephew Brendan Dassey is also arrested.

I’ll stop there with plot. If you’ve been around Wisconsin, you’ve probably heard of the case. If you’ve been on the Internet in the last couple of weeks, you’ve almost surely heard of it. But you must watch it.

For law students, there’s so many teachable moments. For everyone, there’s so much to talk about. Read more »




Atticus Finch Revisited

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Atticus_and_Tom_Robinson_in_courtHarper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman has an undeniably odd publication history. Ms. Lee wrote the novel in the 1950s, well before she wrote and published her beloved To Kill a Mockingbird. When she finally agreed to publish Go Set a Watchman in 2015, it registered on critics and readers as a sequel of sorts for To Kill a Mockingbird.

Go Set a Watchman involves the moving rebuilding of a parent-child relationship after the child has lost respect for the parent, and this account deserves contemplation and reflection. However, the novel as a whole is only mediocre. Furthermore, many readers will be shocked and disappointed by the novel’s suggestion that Atticus Finch is not the heroic man they thought he was.

In particular, Finch is hardly a staunch defender of civil rights for the people he calls “Negroes.” He tells his daughter Jean Louise, who was known as Scout as a young girl, “Negroes down here are still in their childhood as a people.” He also reveals he is taking the case of an African American defendant so that the case does not fall into the hands of NAACP lawyers. In Finch’s opinion, the latter are too eagerly seeking cases they can rush into the federal courts.

If Finch is not the champion of civil rights people took him to be in To Kill a Mockingbird, his attitude about the law has supposedly remained consistent. Uncle Jack Finch tells Jean Louise: “The law is what Atticus lives by. He’ll do his best to prevent somebody beating up somebody else, and then he’ll turn around and try to stop the Federal Government if it is breaking the law . . . . [B]ut remember this, he’ll always do it by the letter of the law. That’s the way he lives.” Read more »




Jekyll, Hyde, and Criminal Law

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I am looking forward to Professor Nicola Lacey’s public lecture at Marquette Law School tomorrow. Lacey’s presentation, the annual George and Margaret Barrock Lecture on Criminal Law, is entitled, “Socializing the Subject of Criminal Law? Criminal Responsibility and the Purposes of Criminalization.”  More information and registration are available here.

For an engaging and succinct introduction to Lacey’s important writing on criminal responsibility, I would recommend “Psychologizing Jekyll, Demonizing Hyde: The Strange Case of Criminal Responsibility,” 4 Crim. L. & Philosophy 109 (2010). In this article, Lacey uses the classic Robert Louis Stevenson story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to illustrate some fundamental tensions in thinking about criminal responsibility.

First published in 1886, Stevenson’s novella concerns a distinguished Victorian doctor, Jekyll, who despairs over his urges to indulge in vice. Jekyll devises a potion that splits the good and evil sides of his personality into distinct identities.   The animalistic Hyde may gratify his lusts without any risk to Jekyll’s reputation, or so it seems. The plan unravels, however, as Jekyll loses the ability to control the transformations, and the Hyde identity becomes dominant. Along the way, Hyde commits a murder and eventually kills himself (and thus Jekyll, too) in order to avoid arrest.

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NEWaukee and How to Create the Most Awesome City on the Planet

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Angela Damiani has a clear goal: “To make this the most awesome city on the planet.”

Note that we didn’t say “an easy goal,” we said “a clear goal.” But don’t tell Damiani that it can’t be pursued and there can’t be progress in getting there. In the six years since it began, NEWaukee, the organization she leads as president, has become a fast-growing  energizer and catalyst for community-building activities, particularly among young professionals.

At an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program at Eckstein Hall on Wednesday, Damiani said the jargon term for NEWaukee is that it is a social architecture firm. What does that mean? In short, NEWaukee is an organization aimed at consciously designing ways to shift a population toward a goal – and that goal is to make Milwaukee a place people think is attractive and appealing.  Which is where the ”awesome city” ambition comes in. Read more »




Israel Reflections 2015: Vienna to Israel and the Lady in Gold

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adele-bloch-bauerWell, I had very high hopes for being able to blog while in Israel and those were quickly dashed between the total lack of sleep and need to reflect on what we were seeing!  So finally, now that we have been back for a week, I will start posting about the sights and visits that we had.  We stopped over on the way and spent about 8 hours running around Vienna.  This proved to be a terrific stop because we were able to link two different visits in Israel to what we saw in Vienna.  We started at the Belvedere Museum in Vienna where the famous Klimt painting, The Kiss, is shown.  Up until very recently, the Belvedere also housed a painting known as the Lady in Gold (seen above).  And you can still see t-shirts and mugs bearing the likeness of this painting through downtown Vienna.  But this painting is now longer there.

It turns out the Lady in Gold is actually The Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, a well-known society woman in Vienna who commissioned the portrait at the turn of the century.  Unfortunately for her and her heirs, Adele was Jewish.  The painting was looted during the Holocaust, the name changed to hide its original identity, and it took a U.S. Supreme Court case in 2004 (Republic of Austria v. Altmann)  to get this painting back to the family — a niece by the name of Maria Altmann. Read more »




Paul Taylor: A Positive Look at Big Changes in America’s Population and Sociology

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The title of Paul Taylor’s recent book refers to “a looming generational showdown” as America changes. But Taylor, a senior fellow at the Pew Research Center in Washington, didn’t strike a particularly ominous tone as he described what lies ahead during an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” session at Eckstein Hall on Tuesday.

There were three reasons for that. First, Taylor described himself as “a glass half-full guy,” generally inclined to be optimistic. Second, he said America has dealt successfully with many challenges in its history. And third, he said the foremost challenge – how a big surge in Social Security and Medicare benefits for retirees will be supported by the workforce of a few years from now – can be handled successfully if Congress and the president are willing to do so.

In his book, “The Next America: Boomers, Millenials and the Looming Generational Showdown,” and in his conversation in the Appellate Courtroom, Taylor gave a wide-ranging, insightful, and occasionally light-hearted tour of big changes in the demographics of America. Read more »




The Most Popular Hollywood Law Movies

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Liar LiarThe consensus among film critics seems to be that the “law movie” does not constitute a shaped genre comparable to the thriller or the romantic comedy. However, we can still speak more generally of movies in which a lawyer is a major character, a courtroom proceeding occurs, and the law itself has some role in the plot. Which are the most popular law-related movies of this sort in the history of the American cinema?

One answer to the question can be found on the International Movie Data Base website and on that website’s “All-Time USA Box Office Ranking.” The latter derives exclusively from theatrical box office sales and does not include video rentals, television rights, and other revenues. As of 2014, the most popular law-related movies are in order: “Liar Liar” (1997), “Chicago” (2002), “The Firm” (1993), “A Few Good Men” (1992), “Erin Brockovich” (2000), and “Kramer vs. Kramer” (1979).

I’m surprised by the list and by how few of the movies on the list correspond to what I consider the “best” law-related films. I’m also struck by how different the six movies are from one another. Indeed, going back to the notion of genre, with which I began this post, the six movies represent a wide range of genres.

Here’s how I would categorize the movies: Read more »