A phenomenon called “court tourism” has emerged. Growing numbers of individuals are going to their local courthouses for several hours at a time to prowl the halls, watch the proceedings, and contemplate the human stories being played out. Many of the “court tourists” are unemployed or retired, and almost all have no legal backgrounds. A few were recently interviewed on the Canadian public radio program “Definitely Not the Opera,” and the interviews can be downloaded from the December 13 broadcast at http://www.cbc.ca/dnto.
The phenomenon intrigues me. I don’t think it compares to the practice dating back to the earliest decades of the Republic of gathering to watch major trials. After all, the great majority of proceedings in today’s courthouses are not trials, and the court tourists watch whatever they can find, regardless of how trivial it might be. Perhaps court tourism was prompted by the extensive media coverage of the O.J. Simpson and Michael Jackson trials. Alternatively, court tourism might be inspired by the ubiquitous pseudo-court shows such as “Judge Judy” and “Judge Joe Brown,” to name only two. Whatever the inspiration, today’s court tourists want to be entertained. A trip to the courthouse is cheap recreational activity.
We must surely have become a postmodern society when legal proceedings no longer seem the path to justice, but rather serve as a source of escapist titillation.