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February 03, 2006


Dean C. Rowan

Let me take a stab at these questions. I think they have not invited response in part because they are difficult, and one arguably anomalous case--Goetz--doesn't necessarily help us generalize about the “‘truth’ of self-representation.” But my earlier comment about the impossibility of acting on film relates, if perhaps only slightly, to this line of inquiry. To me, film actors do little more than mug for the camera: Bogart, Bacall, Hepburn (both of 'em), Nicholson, Hoffman, Olivier, Barrymore (all of 'em), et al. One can't help but mug for the camera; it's what cameras--weird machines--invite. Hence the "mug shot," often depicting a seemingly affectless expression, yet one from which we read all sorts of imagined and extreme intentions and ill doings. (It’s hard for me to say whether this perception of mugging, then, originates with the subject depicted, the viewer’s reception, or the mechanism of the camera itself.) And when we regard film actors at work, we tend to do precisely what Prof. Silbey suggests the jury in Goetz did, namely, we both believe--rather, we suspend disbelief and feel as if we're observing some depicted character--and we don't believe--we acknowledge the actor at work. Brando as Don Corleone, for example, is Brando at least as much as he's the Godfather. This circumstance is not, I think, merely a function of the ambiguity of celebrity film acting, not merely a consequence of film being marketed both as fictional drama and as access to the stars themselves. It is a consequence of what goes on whenever a camera records any image: the sources of intention are manifold, complicating the “truth” of the representation. The legal system’s reliance on photography and filmed confessions tends perhaps not to address this circumstance head-on, but then there’s always the defense’s exploitation of it with the Rodney King footage.

Ralph Willis

"Had the jury believed this last statement, his self-defense claim would have been significantly weakened.... the acquittal of Bernard Goetz on all murder-related charges -- smacks of injustice and racism?"
Ignorant speculation, should the jury have believed Goetz's confession of shooting Cabey twice.... or the medical evidence that Cabey was shot once? Your speculation: gullible or racist jury?

Ralph Willis

Suggestion: Why be ignorant about a subject you speculate about? You should read the Wikipedia article on the Goetz case or the juror's book "Subway Gunman." Also check on the Duke lacrosse player "rape" case. Interesting stuff.

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