Spring has arrived and the northern hemisphere is slowing coming back to life just in time for Fox to premiere a new, budding reality show called You the Jury. It combines our love for high drama, online outrage, the legal system, and our belief that we know better than the experts. It’s like The People’s Court on steroids.
Two sides of a civil case present their arguments on a circular stage in front of a judge – former California Superior Court Judge LaDoris Cordell – and a live audience. The arguments, which are preceded by emotionally inflammatory video montages, are made by celebrity attorneys who love to see their name in lights and have worked on high-profile cases. They circle and stalk their witnesses, often asking their questions from behind them.
The circus-like atmosphere is further compounded with spontaneous audience applause and grandiose theatrics from the lawyers that would disgust even a drama queen like Judge Judy.
Then the public votes for the outcome of the “trial.” Producers claim the results are legally binding but we’ll leave that up to the next set of attorneys to argue.
The cases are certainly interesting. The premiere trial involved a woman who suspiciously drowned while in Aruba with her boyfriend – a man who had just bought a $1.5 million insurance policy for the trip. He was locked up for months but never charged with a crime.
The second case involved online bullying and offensive comments about a three-year-old child that went viral. The posts were made by the defendant’s online troll friends who regularly and unapologetically attacked people with their cruel humour. So it was ironic that online votes decided the case against them.
The show has been promoted with the line, “America, take back justice.” As though Fox could guarantee justice with the same voting public that selected American Idol winners and Donald Trump.
According to “Judge” Cordell, the hope is that people will have “a renewed respect for [the] legal system.” Given the blatant lack of reality regarding the manner of the proceedings or the law itself, that result is profoundly debatable. But she also believes the issues raised in the cases will make people think.
And that’s where there is a kernel of hope.
The discussion over the attack of a toddler by cyber trolls and the subsequent viral threats made to the defendant and HIS child should make people stop and think before they text. The evidence that showed how the original Facebook post, when forwarded, was manipulated from its original thread, may remind people that sometimes the written word isn’t any more reliable than old-fashioned verbal gossip.
These are discussions that should be had, yet rarely are. People don’t talk about morality, public responsibility and the law unless it’s prettied up and simplified into 44 minutes plus commercial breaks. These are complex issues dumbed-down for mass consumption on Friday nights.
So You the Jury won’t make for great TV. But it’s a start.