Monday, December 6, 2010

"Hope You Die. Denny Crane"

originally published 9 November 2009

People who know me tell me I have a pretty good sense of humor. And this pleases me and I hope it's true, because we all like to think we have a good sense of humor, just like we all like to think we're honest, good drivers, have good people skills, &c.

But it's pretty hard to make me laugh. Sure, I'm prey to Robert Cialdini's "click, whirr" of Social Validation via other people's laughter at a comedy club, and I'm not superhuman: sitcom laugh tracks still work reasonably well on me. But if you can stand there and tell me a joke and genuinely make me laugh out loud -- you're Damn Good. Television and movies -- of the non-laugh track variety -- are the same.

Which doesn't mean that I am not often amused. And David Kelley's latest legal fantasy Boston Legal quite often amuses me, which is why I watch it whenever I can. But last night's episode had that rare magic moment that actually made me laugh out loud:

If you saw the show you will undoubtedly remember the scene, but here's a small amount of setup: William Shatner, playing the Alzheimer-addled but still brilliant Denny Crane[1], is summoned to represent an indigent defendant, a vile scumbag who raped and killed a 13yo girl. Crane is extremely unhappy about this. While interviewing said scumbag at the courthouse, after scumbag opines that he "saved the girl a lot of suffering" by killing her because he has AIDS and he "really worked her over, if you know what I mean", Denny responds with something like "well, there are a number of defenses available to us, then ..." as he opens his briefcase, pulls out a .45, and cranks out two bullets, one into each of scumbag's kneecaps[2].

To be truthful, I did not so much as laugh but cackle madly.

I know, I know -- it's merely a dark revenge fantasy, writ across the small screen. If I'm dumb for enjoying that so much, then mea culpa. But, while I believe in karma, it's often difficult to deal with being wronged by someone and never knowing how or if they ever truly get the payback they so richly deserve. So . . . maybe I laughed because seeing Denny shoot that child rapist / killer satisfied some deep-seated psychological need I've had to really see someone wail on a sicko like that. There really do seem to be people like that out there in the world, we've all been hearing about them and their crimes for years, and even when animals like this are caught, convicted, and executed -- there is very little sense of catharsis for those of us in the population at large. Public executions aren't a completely bad idea, ya know . . . yeah, there'd be people who'd probably wanna jerk off to 'em or something, and that's just -- ick. But I think there is something valid to the notion of catharsis as a part of justice.

H. L. Mencken, in his essay The Penalty of Death [3], writes:
The same thing precisely takes place on a larger scale when there is a crime which destroys a whole community's sense of security. Every law-abiding citizen feels menaced and frustrated until the criminals have been struck down - until the communal capacity to get even with them, and more than even, has been dramatically demonstrated. Here, manifestly, the business of deterring others is no more than an afterthought. The main thing is to destroy the concrete scoundrels whose act has alarmed everyone, and thus made everyone unhappy. Until they are brought to book that unhappiness continues; when the law has been executed upon them there is a sigh of relief. In other words, there is katharsis.
He has a real point. The problem today is that the community -- ie, the country at large -- isn't really getting a whole lot of that good cathartic feeling when genuine monsters are brought to justice. And what little we get is delayed by years of legal wrangling.

Finally -- through my home biz I have a lot of experience with a lot of law firms, and I know a lot of attorneys and other people who work with them. Which is why I call Boston Legal a "legal fantasy". As are I think every one of Kelley's 'law firm' teevee shows. Entertaining, yes -- realistic, no. You want a realistic taste of life in a big law firm, check out Opinionista's blog. Which may well not exist at the time you are reading this (if she's finally been outed and fired)(if you can, check out some of her older posts, from before she started getting a lot of attention).

Having said that, the one element of last night's show I did not find fantastic was Denny's ability to smuggle a .45 auto past security into the courthouse. In my experience, attorneys -- those who frequent the courthouse and are familiar to the security folks -- quite frequently get waved on past without a thought.

[1] IMHO it is Denny Crane, not James Tiberius Kirk, that is the defining role of Shatner's life.
[2] Of course, deputies come busting in immediately, guns drawn, but Denny has thrown down his pistol and has his hands in the air, saying (very calmy, with a look of utter wide-eyed innocence that only Shatner could pull off) "self-defense -- he attacked me" as scumbag painfully writhes on the floor.
[3] Please click the link and read it -- Mencken is one of the greatest writers in all of history. And funny as hell, too.

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