Anthony Chase


This essay provides an introduction to American popular culture, specifically designed to be of use to those interested in evaluating the relationship between law, lawyers, and public consciousness or popular values as they have developed within American society. It is fair to ask from the outset what possible justification there can be for devoting even a short essay like this one to such a project. One could quite easily argue that legal scholarship itself is governed by a popular front composed of orthodox as well as avant-garde scholars, united around a common purpose, equally committed to obscuring the identity and historical profile of those who actually hold power. Does not a focus upon lawyers and popular culture represent merely one more effort to avoid confronting any actual sociology of the system which the rulers manipulate to their advantage?

From "strict construction" through "deconstruction," the dominant tradition of American legal writing seems to have been devoted to futile efforts at ignoring social context, within which real power can be analyzed and countered. However oriented, is not writing about the relationship between law and popular culture simply one more example of otherwise unemployable, middle-class intellectuals accepting the transfer payments made possible by the university welfare system in exchange for the kind of obscure and pedantic research which promotes nothing at all save academic careers? Should we not regard popular culture itself as a scandal of at least some sort, a likely source of wretchedness, if not dementia, for any reasonably intelligent person seduced by its cheap attractions and ready allure?

The answer to questions like these must be found in the concrete work carried forward by people who write about law, lawyers, and popular culture. My view is that once sufficient time and care have been devoted to analyzing the emerging set of problems and materials which connect the world of popular art and everyday experience to that of legal institutions and practices, it will become apparent that useful contributions have been made to the sociology of culture, including legal culture. Understanding popular legal culture might even make possible more rigorous thinking about the relation between law, politics, and social change in the United States.