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JURIES ARE WORTH KEEPING

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The Jury System is a cornerstone of justice and liberty. However, they are also controversial. On the one hand, there are those who see the jury system as an integral part of a free and impartial justice system. On the other hand, there are those who doubt the jury’s ability to deliver fair and honest verdicts.

Let’s start with the obvious fact that juries are far from perfect. They are imperfect because the people who make them up are imperfect. Ignorance is one major problem. Opponents of the jury system argue, with some justification, that it is too dangerous to place the fate of another human being in the hands of people incapable of understanding the complexities of the cases they are judging. Often those tasked with deciding the outcome of cases lack the technical or legal knowledge to adequately interpret the evidence and testimony being presented to them. It has been suggested that in these cases individual jurors will often resort to pre-conceived beliefs or allow themselves to be influenced by jurors with more knowledge – whether real or perceived – than they have.

Ignorance, however, is an easily solved problem. Why not select jury members based on their familiarity with the subject matters under discussion? Someone who works in the finance industry – bankers, financial advisors, accountants, and so forth – would be more equipped to judge financial-based crimes than the layperson.

Then there’s the question of who can sit on a jury. In the United Kingdom an individual needs to be aged between eighteen and seventy, have been a resident of the UK for at least five years since the age of thirteen, and must be mentally stable to serve on a jury. It would more than reasonable to suggest that qualifications for jury duty ought to be more stringent than they are. It is more than reasonable to suggest that the age limit ought to be raised from eighteen to perhaps twenty-five (if not older) and that jurors under the age of forty ought to have certain intellectual qualifications. This would ensure that those tasked with determining guilt or innocence would have the wisdom and/or intelligence to comprehend the grave nature of the responsibility they have been burdened with.

Those who criticise juries also argue that they are prone to bias and prejudice. In one shocking case, Kasim Davey was jailed for contempt when he boasted: “I wasn’t expecting to be in a jury deciding a paedophile’s fate. I’ve always wanted to fuck up a paedophile and now I’m within the law.” (Seemingly it never occurred to Mr. Davey that the man he was judging may have been innocent). Likewise, it is well known that many African American defendants were condemned by all-white juries in the Jim Crow South.

However, much of this is a red-herring. Professor Cheryl Thomas, the director of the Jury Program at University College of London, spent ten years analysing every jury verdict in England and Wales taking into account the race and gender of both defendants and jurors. Professor Thomas concluded that:

“There’s no evidence of systematic bias, for instance, against members of ethnic minorities, or that men are treated differently than women, that if you live in a particular part of the country or you have a certain background that you’re more likely to be convicted than others.”

Besides, those who criticise the jury system forget that juries reflect the values and principles of their society. If juries repeatedly deliver unjust verdicts it is because there is a sickness in that society. The fact that all-white juries tended to convict African American defendants merely because they were black is a reflection on the virulently racist nature of that society, not of the jury system itself. Today, the legal system is careful to disqualify those jurors who may harbour prejudices that will inhibit their ability to judge the facts impartially. Courts are very quick to disqualify jurors who may know the defendant or alleged victim, those with emotional links to the case (i.e. a victim of rape sitting on the jury of a rape trial), and so forth.

Lord Devlin, the second-youngest man to be appointed to the English High Court in the 20th century, once described the jury system as “the lamp which shows where freedom lives.” The principle behind juries is that the individual ought to be judged by his peers based on community standards, not by the politically elite. Without juries, our legal system would be dominated by judges and lawyers. What lies at the centre of the debate over juries is the question of whether the whole of society or just the elite should be involved in the dispensation of justice.

I’m Done with Modern Movies

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For the life of me, I cannot remember the last time I saw a contemporary movie that was memorable in any way. Despite having access to both television and Netflix, I have found it virtually impossible to find a movie that I actually thought was worth watching.

It would be wrong, however, to lay the entirety of the blame on either mainstream television or Netflix. (Although it is entirely fair to argue that the litany of rubbish offered by television is a symptom of a dying medium). Rather, it is indicative of a problem that has pervaded the entire filmmaking industry. Modern filmmakers appear to be content with making defective movies. Movies that feature predictable stories, two-dimensional characters, and an over-reliance on visual effects.

This was not always the case. For years Hollywood was known for producing great, culture-defining films. The classical period of American cinema (which lasted from the 1930s to the 1960s) produced films like Gone with the Wind, Casablanca, and Ben Hur, among many, many others.

Similarly, the 1960s and 1970s saw a renaissance in film as filmmakers like Martin Scorsese, Stanley Kubrick, Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola, and many others reinvented and reinvigorated motion picture. This became the era that produced films like the Godfather, the French Connection, and the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

Hollywood’s total lack of artistic brilliance has been caused by three problems: the lack of originality, the lack of artistic merit, and the saturation of progressive politics in the industry.

Modern Movies Lack Originality

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The most conspicuous problem inflicting Hollywood today is a total lack of originality. Neither their stories nor their characters appear to have any originality or depth whatsoever. Most films today are either remakes, reboots, sequels, are based on comic books, or are about superheroes. Now there is nothing wrong with these films in and of themselves, but when every single movie made is one of these five things, it starts to get a little tiresome.

The problem doesn’t stop at just narrative, either. Modern film characters are often two-dimensional and, as a result, rather dull. They are mouthpieces for certain ideological beliefs and are therefore often presented in entirely black or white terms. The problem with this, of course, is that people in real life are usually complicated. They make mistakes, hold contradictory views, and often behave in irrational ways. One would never see an obvious racist like Ethan Edwards (John Wayne) in The Searchers or Jett Rink (James Dean) in Giant. These characters, though they reflect real life, are just too politically incorrect, too human to be presented in any real or sympathetic manner.

A lot of this comes from the travesty that was Star Wars and the litany of ‘blockbuster’ movies it left in its wake. Taken on its own merits, Star Wars is an excellent movie. However, it convinced Hollywood’s film producers that they should devote more time and money to producing shallow, unsophisticated movies that movies of genuine depth and meaning.

Big blockbuster movies are all well and good, but I am an adult and I would like to see movies with a certain level of maturity.

Modern Movies Lack Artistic Merit

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The next glaring problem (though it is one that many people without a knowledge of film or film history would fail to notice) is the total lack of artistic merit in modern filmmaking. The films of the past often prided themselves on their creative and technical brilliance. Modern filmmakers, by contrast, seem more than happy to rest on their laurels and make easy cliched movies.

With the possible exception of Martin Scorsese’s, The Aviator, I cannot remember the last time I saw a movie that made me marvel at its cinematography or that had a score which riled my spirit. I can, however, remember classic movies that managed to do all those things and more. I can remember marvelling at the cinematography in Lawrence of Arabia and sitting in awe of the chariot race – which utilised real stuntmen – in Ben Hur.

Modern filmmakers seem content with spending all their time and money on hey-wow visual effects and completely neglect the most important elements of film: story and character. As a consequence, they cheat their audience by offering sub-par films.

Modern filmmakers rely on visual effects because it is easier than trying to create compelling storylines and memorable characters. They choose to rely on computer-generated-imagery and blue screen because it is easier and safer (cowards) than using real stuntmen and practical effects.

The problem with all this is that the audience knows it’s being cheated. The car chase in Bullit looked so realistic was because, well, it was realistic. It used real cars driven by real people on real streets. A lot of modern movies, by contrast, look fake because, well, they are fake.

Modern Movies are Left-Wing Propaganda

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The third problem, and the one most egregious, is that Hollywood has become a propaganda outlet for progressive politics. They produce films that are so ideologically driven that one can virtually predict everything that is going to happen before it occurs. And, much like people who have been ideologically possessed, these films tend to be so boring they’re not worth wasting your time on.

The fact that Hollywood has become infected with ideologically possessed, far-left individuals is, to some extent, understandable. Filmmaking is an enterprise that attracts highly creative people who, for the most part, tend to be on the political left. The problem, rather, lies in the fact that all the films Hollywood now produces carry a left-wing bias.

Hollywood has become an echo chamber in which “woke” vies are communicated and no other views are allowed to get in. Those associated with the movies compete at the Oscars and at the Academy Awards to see who can be the most virtuous. And they criticise and demean anyone who doesn’t agree with them. They are like Marie Antoinette saying “let them eat cake” as the peasants starve to death in the streets. They are completely out of touch.

The problem with the films being produced today is that their left-wing bias has made them completely shallow and totally predictable.

The Loss of Civility

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Society has a problem with politically-motivated violence. At a protest in Charlottesville, Virginia, a man with Nazi sympathies drove his car into a crowd of protestors, killing one and injuring many others.

Likewise, the so-called anti-fascists, Antifa (they are, of course, nothing of the sort) has resorted to using violent and intimidatory tactics at numerous protests and rallies.

Needless to say, such occurrences raise serious questions about the consequences of political polarisation and the lack of community sentiment and incivility that it brings.

One of the features of the 2010s has been the increase in political polarisation. As people become more willing to identify themselves by their political ideology, the tendency to view one’s political opponents as extremists have, likewise, increased. Consequentially, it has become easier and easier for people to demonise others because they don’t hold the same political views that they do.

Such polarisation, of course, has been fuelled by a biased and segregated news media system. The online video and podcast revolution, combined with a mainstream media that heavily slants towards the left, has meant that people are often only exposed to those views that match their own. As such, the right has been manipulated into believing that all on the left are social justice warriors, protestors, and radical feminists, whilst those on the left have been manipulated into seeing all on the right as Nazis, race baiters, white supremacists, and alt-righters.

To a large degree, political polarisation has come as a consequence of the loss of a sense of community. People no longer associate with their neighbours, and, as a result, they have come to see each other as potential enemies rather than potential friends. And, under such conditions, it becomes very easy to see another person as evil when their political views do not compliment your own.

The loss of community has occurred for three major reasons. First, the advent of social media, online shopping, video subscription services, and smartphones has meant that people are no longer required to venture out into society and interact with others. It is no longer necessary for a consumer to interact with shop staff, for instance, because they can shop in the solitude of their own living room. Modern technology, for all its benefits, has provided us with a faux sense of sociability. A kind of sociability that allows us to communicate with others but does not require genuine human interaction.

Second, past-times that were once considered neutral have been co-opted to spread politically-charged messages. People can no longer go to a football game, watch a movie, or listen to music without having political ideology preached to them. As a consequence, society lacks the entities that once allowed people to bond with one another despite differences in their political beliefs.

Third, engagement with the community has declined. People are no longer engaged with the community in the same way that their grandparents were. In the past, social clubs, community groups, sports clubs, and religious institutions provided a space where people of diverse beliefs, values, and opinions could come together. As a consequence, such entities promoted a degree of social unity and social cohesion. Today, however, people are becoming more and more willing to self-segregate. They isolate themselves, choosing only to socialise with friends and family.

What all this has amounted to is a loss of civility. It is very easy to justify all manner of bad behaviour when one sees their opponent as a threat to their very existence. Our modern society shuns manners and dismisses common courtesy and is surprised to find self-centredness and vulgarity in its wake.

12 ANGRY MEN

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This week for our cultural article we will be examining the classic 1957 courtroom drama12 Angry Men.

BACKGROUND

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12 Angry Men is based on a television play inspired by Reginald Rose’s (1920 – 2002) real-life experience as a juror on a manslaughter case in early 1954. It was first aired on CBS’ Studio One in September 1954.

It was inevitable that the television play would result in a film adaptation. With Henry Fonda (1905 – 1982) and Rose acting as producers, and with Sidney Lumet (1924 – 2011) acting as director, the resulting film was filmed in under three weeks and made for a paltry US$340,000 (US$2,961,823.49 in today’s money).

THE MOVIE

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12 Angry Men is a small film in every sense of the word. Twelve jurors are locked in a room on the hottest day of the year to decide the fate of a young man accused of murdering his father. As per the law, the vote must be unanimous. Initially, all but one, Juror Eight (Henry Fonda – the only real star in the movie), vote guilty.

It’s not that Juror Eight thinks the defendant is innocent, but that he isn’t sure. He argues that the boy had an inadequate legal defence and that they, the jury, ought to examine the evidence more closely.

Initially, he has trouble persuading the other jurors to change their vote. But, as they begin to examine the pieces of evidence, more and more of the juror’s find room for reasonable doubt. The film ends with a unanimous ‘not guilty’ verdict.

ANALYSIS

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12 Angry Men stands out in an era of sweeping epics and technicolour. It is a small, minimalist, black and white film shot mostly in real time. The mood is created through the creative use of camera angles, camera lenses, and editing.

At the beginning of the film, there are long, unbroken takes filmed from above with wide angled-lenses which give a sense of distance between the characters. They are dominated by the task ahead of them. As the film progresses, the takes become shorter, the camera moves steadily from above to below the action, and the focal length is decreased. This makes the film feel more claustrophobic. No longer at the jurors dominated by the task ahead of them, they are dominated by the force of each other’s personalities. As Lumet wrote:

“I shot the first third of the movie above eye level, shot the second third at eye level, and the last third from below eye level. In that way, toward the end, the ceiling began to appear. Not only were the walls closing in, the ceiling was as well. The sense of increasing claustrophobia did a lot  to raise the tension of the last part of the movie.”

12 Angry Men is primarily driven by its characters. Tension arises from body language, dialogue, and personality clashes. The characters represent an almost perfect cross-section of different personality types and temperaments.

12 Angry Men acts as a crash course on the parts of the US Constitution that guarantee a fair trial and the presumption of innocence.  It is never stated whether the Defendant is innocent or not but instead asks us to look beyond our biases and arrogance and examine the evidence closer at hand. 12 Angry Men symbolises how well the American legal system can work when people are prepared to look beyond their personal feelings use their integrity for its benefit.