Archive for ‘Television and Film’

December 17, 2010

Gender Distortion on TV Reality Court Shows

by Angela N. Johnson

Photo courtesy of debbie-debbiedoos.blogspot.com

Taunya Lovell Banks’ essay, “Here Comes the Judge! Gender Distortion on TV Reality Court Shows” looks at the gender and racial composition and demeanor of television reality judges.  Giving notice to the apparent discrepancy between the high number of female judges on reality court TV shows and the real reality that women “currently comprise 18.67% of federal judges and twenty percent of state judges; the percentage of black judges, female and male, is around six to eight percent (8.6% federal, 5.9% state)” (Banks 38).  The concern of over-representing women and minorities on television can lead to a false sense of need for diversity on the bench since viewers are more likely to assume that the gender and racial makeup of the television bench mirrors real-life.  Banks believes that societal perceptions about the legitimacy of law and legal institutions, as well as women’s role in the legal profession can be shaped by what the public is viewing on TV, namely, reality court TV shows. In Banks’ essay she quotes Georgia State Supreme Court Justice Leah Ward Sears: “Even if most television viewers know better, the least educated viewers are more likely to rely disproportionately on television as their primary source of information about the legal system, and these viewers constitute a substantial portion of the daytime viewing audience” (Banks 42). 

It is apparent that because the litigants in the televised “reality” people’s-court style proceedings are in fact real parties to a real case, further convince the viewer that reality courtroom dramas, as they are portrayed, is similar to that of every day, real life, judiciary proceedings. This is concerning because it is not every day, real life, judiciary proceedings which influence the production of the show.  Rather, it is television ratings which “strongly influence show format and judicial behavior of television judges” (Banks 49).  Ratings, according to Banks, is what drives the female judge television personality to adopt an aggressive persona who commonly screams at litigants.  Male judges, on the other hand, resort to sarcasm. Banks describes “therapeutic justice,” an often entertaining element to courtroom reality dramas in which the judge hopes to teach life lessons beyond the judgment rendered.

Source Citation: Banks, Taunya Lovell.  “Here Comes the Judge! Gender Distortion on TV Reality Court Shows.”  The University of Baltimore Law Forum.  39 U. Balt. L.F. 38 (2009): 37-56.

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