Professor Elizabeth Judge states in “Judges Judging Judgments” that the “judicial law canon is intricately linked to a judgement about the contemporary vision of justice.” Through authoring decisions, judges reproduce the legal canon in a way that reflects contemporary values.
Judges’ contemporary vision of justice does not form in a vacuum. Judges live a full life- after all they are humans too (until artificial intelligence replaces them too 😉 ). They read books, newspapers, watch television, speak to family members etc.
Many factors influence judges’ contemporary visions of justice. Pop culture is one of them. One of the most popular tv shows in the past couple decades is Friends.
While watching Friends on Netflix, I couldn’t help but focus on how sexist, homophobic, and silly the entire show seems in 2015. All of the main characters are white and one-dimensional. (The women on the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills appear complex compared to the characters on the sitcom). Monica likes cooking and cleaning. Chandler is sarcastic. Joey likes food. Rachel is pretty and likes clothing. Phoebe is just weird. Ross likes dinosaurs. The laugh track is so obvious now. Most of the jokes do not transcend the nineties. I could not believe how many episodes revolved around an answering machine.
(For a more detailed analysis on Friends: http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2015/01/22/friends_chandler_bing_and_his_homophobia_are_the_worst_thing_about_watching.html)
Friends did not just reflect the social mores of its time but helped shape them. “Life imitates art; art imitates life.”
I am in no way blaming backward judicial decisions on a silly tv show. But, I can’t help but wonder how pop culture seeps into our attitudes towards about what is right and ultimately in how judges interpret facts and laws.
After all, as Judge Posner famously said: “Law is the name of the activity (what judges and other legal actors do)… “rather than a box that they pull off the shelf when a legal question appears.”