September 21, 2007

Ally McBealisms

Christine Corcos, LSU Law Center, has published "Power of Attorney." Here is the abstract.
No doubt exists that the drama/farce Ally McBeal, which ran on the Fox Television Network from 1997 to 2002, was a phenomenal success, at least during its middle years (1998-1999). It sparked numerous fan websites in several countries including one devoted to “fan fiction” (a genre in which devotees of a television series or film try their hands at writing scripts), various product spinoffs,a series spinoff (Ally, a thirty minute version that featured only vignettes, no legal drama) and even a Time magazine article that seriously considered whether Ally represents “the end of feminism. Years after the show went off the air, its influence continues. The popular prime time medical show “Grey's Anatomy” has spawned a spin-off which is already drawing fire for its emphasis on protagonists who are “lovelorn, sex-starved and prone to public displays of disaffection.” The reason, says writer Alessandra Stanley, is traceable directly to Ally McBeal, a show which emphasized a heroine who “marked a turning point in the devolution of women's roles in television comedy — the moment when competent-but flaky hardened into basket case.”

What made this thin, goofy, self-absorbed character so popular, at least before rumors and scandal about anorexia and drug use made the show more famous for off-screen shenanigans than on-screen accomplishment? Why was she so powerful a figure that a major U.S. news magazine devoted an important story to discussing her impact? I suggest that one of the major factors in Ally's rise was the fact that writer/producer David E. Kelley cast her as an attorney, the professional that everyone loves to hate, but also a woman who is, to be honest, fairly bad at her job, at least in the first three years, and arguably during her entire (fictional) career. As a woman attorney, Ally fits within the tradition of female lawyers who are either good at their jobs, or good at their relationships, but not both, and in Ally's case, neither. Further, Ally's impact is such that commentators both in the popular media and in legal academia continue to refer to her. She, and her series, have become “memes” — a character whose mention immediately sparks all sorts of associations. Kelley's willingness to test the boundaries of the law through storylines also ensures that the episodes of all the shows with which he is involved (not just Ally McBeal) retain their freshness.

Download the entire paper from SSRN here.

September 14, 2007

Call for Papers

UCLA School of Law, Columbia Law School, University of Southern California Center for Law, History & Culture, and Georgetown University Law Center invite submissions for the sixth meeting of the Law & Humanities Junior Scholar Workshop to be held at UCLA Law School in Los Angeles, CA on June 8 & 9, 2008.


The paper competition is open to untenured professors, advanced graduate students and post-doctoral scholars in law and the humanities; in addition to drawing from numerous humanistic fields, the Workshop welcomes critical, qualitative work in the social sciences. Between five and ten papers will be chosen, based on anonymous evaluation by an interdisciplinary selection committee, for presentation at the June Workshop. At the Workshop, two senior scholars will comment on each paper. Commentators and other Workshop participants will be asked to focus specifically on the strengths and weaknesses of the selected scholarly projects, with respect to subject and methodology. Moreover, the selected papers will then serve as the basis for a larger conversation among all the participants about the evolving standards by which we judge excellence and creativity in interdisciplinary scholarship, as well as about the nature of interdisciplinarity itself.

Papers should be works-in-progress between 10,000 and 15,000 words in length (including footnotes/endnotes), and must include an abstract of no more than 200 words. A dissertation chapter may be submitted but we strongly suggest that it be edited so that it stands alone as a piece of work with its own integrity. A paper that has been submitted for publication is eligible as long as it will not be in galley proofs or in print at the time of the Workshop. The selected papers will appear in a special issue of the Legal Scholarship Network; there is no other publication commitment. The Workshop will pay the travel expenses of authors whose papers are selected for presentation.

Submissions (in either Word or Wordperfect, no pdf files) will be accepted until January 8, 2008, and should be sent by e-mail to:

Center for the Study of Law and Culture

Columbia Law School

435 W. 116th Street

New York, N.Y. 10027

Please be sure to include your contact information. For more information: Manissa Maharawal, 212.854.2511 or The full text of the Call for Papers is available at:

[Cross posted to The Seamless Web; Law & Magic Blog]

September 13, 2007

The Miller Girls: Daisy and Judith

Penelope Pether, Villanova University School of Law, has published "Regarding the Miller Girls: Daisy, Judith, and the Seeming Paradox of in re Grand Jury Subpoena, Judith Miller," in 19 Law and Literature: The New Exceptionalism: Law and Literature Since 9/11 Symposium 187 (2007). Here is the abstract.

“Daisy Miller” is a story about American Exceptionalism; about the banal and tawdry tragedy that comes of having faith in it; about Daisy's (the lawyer Giovanelli's “new found land”) tragic flaw - that she is unaware of how others perceive her, or she doesn't care; or about ambiguities, or seeing things. It can be made to speak volumes about the power of perception, as about what Tayyab Mahmoud has called “[a]doption and deployment of identity.” Or about the seductive power of fictions of specifically national identity: for James critic Leslie Fiedler, “the American Girl is innocent by definition, mythically innocent; and her purity depends upon nothing she says or does....”

A contemporary American anti/heroine, Judith Miller, is likewise figured as interpretable: did she need a “freely given” “personal” waiver of confidentiality to identify her source, and when did she get one; was she a “good, honorable principled reporter” or “A Woman of Mass Destruction”; and what did New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller's accusation of an “entanglement” with “Scooter” Libby connote?

This essay takes the intrigues generated around “the Miller Girls” as a guide to reading the stories told by, surrounding, excised from, and immanent in the 2005 decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in In re Grand Jury Subpoena, Judith Miller, and explores some fictions of American Exceptionalism cultivated both by “common law constitutionalism,” and by a Federal judiciary laying down the law in the shadows cast by the “War on Terror” and the jurisdictions of expatriation.

Download the entire article from SSRN here.

Papke on Courts

David Papke, Marquette University School of Law, has published "The Impact of Popular Culture on American Perceptions of the Courts," as Marquette Law School Legal Studies Paper 07-07. Here is the abstract.
After a brief introduction defining popular culture as the commodities and experiences produced by the culture industry for mass audiences, this essay explores the impact of court-related popular culture on what Americans think of and expect from their courts. The Perry Mason effect from an earlier era and the CSI effect from the present are noted, as is scholarly work by Michael Asimow, Philip T. Dunwoody, Kimberlianne Podlas, Victoria S. Salzmann, and others. The essay concludes with suggestions for what might be done in the courthouse, the community, and the family room to control the impact of court-related popular culture on American legal consciousness.

Download the entire paper from SSRN here.

September 8, 2007

Historicizing Ronald Dworkin

Mark Walters, Queen's University Faculty of Law, has published "Hercules as Legal Humanist: Historicizing Dworkin's Jurisprudence," as Queen's University Legal Studies Research Paper 07-01. Here is the abstract.
Although H.L.A. Hart presented his legal theory "as part of the history of an idea", the theory of law developed by Hart's most famous critic, Ronald Dworkin, seems to be without a history. Dworkin does insist that his theory of law, "law-as-integrity", explains traditional common law method. But he has shown no real interest in the history of theorizing about that method, in part because he wishes to distance his own work from traditional schools of natural law. In this article, I revisit early theories of common law reasoning and show how, despite key differences, these theories share much in common with Dworkin's jurisprudence. Writers on the early-modern common law embraced insights drawn from Renaissance humanism to reach conclusions about the relationship between law and philosophy, the importance of coherence, interpretation and truth, and integrity, equality and the case-law method that foreshadow Dworkin's theory of law-as-integrity. If jurisprudence really is an aspect of normative political theory, as Dworkin suggests, then theories of law should be located within evolving traditions of political and intellectual thought. Law-as-integrity has a history to which it can lay claim, and that history is located in the humanist explanations of the early-modern common law.

Download the entire paper from SSRN here.

September 7, 2007

Law and Crime in Japanese Cinema

Federico Varese, Oxford University School of Law, has published "The Secret History of Japanese Cinema: The Yakuza Movies," as Oxford Legal Studies Research Paper 22/2006. Here is the abstract.
This article explores the interplay among economic imperatives within the entertainment business, the mafia's role in the creation of its own media image, and the production of gangster films. Taking Japan as a case study, the paper shows that, when given the chance to influence the content of gangster movies, crime bosses have portrayed themselves as benevolent patriarchs and a positive force in society, rather the anti-heroes of classic American gangster movies. In Japan, such a choice had, however, the unintended consequence of a decline in audience interest and eventually led to the demise of studio yakuza movies. Ultimately, the paper shows that that mafia control over art can lead to the death of art - something that is bad for the mafia, as well.

Download the entire paper from SSRN here.