I went to court to support a friend. I’ve been to court before, but only for easy things like changing my name, dealing with parking tickets, etc. In this case, there were two sides with adamantly opposing views about the world. And i was on one side.
The entire event was high drama, but not in that made-for-TV style. It was far more painful than that. For starters, everyone mumbled, stumbled, etc. It wasn’t scripted. People didn’t know how to project their voices and the inane repetitive questions were clearly for a forgetting mind, not to drive the witnesses bonkers. While the federal lawyer signaled to the witness using baseball codes (1-2-3 on his chest), few other body motions were scripted and the sides played out their cultural training. As an ethnographer, it was brutally painful to watch the body performance of each side show their values more deeply than anything that came out of their mouths.
The judge gave me that warm and fuzzy feeling. He clearly sympathized with Barlow, but he was also dealing with conflicted feelings about the recent laws that have come down – his sarcastic tone signaled that he felt very burdened by what was happening, but his judicial manner also made it clear that he felt it was his responsibility to follow the letter of the law, even those to which he was opposed.
The attorneys were caricatures of themselves. The federal attorneys had a hard-edged, no-smile Yale/Harvard rigidity that was stunningly performed. Kafka would have been proud. Milgram at its best. Barlow’s attorney was most distinctly an ACLU type with long hair, funky glasses, curved shoulders and a revolutionary demeanor that signaled that he believed in the cause. The Cause. It was about The Cause. And The Cause was to be fought out in jargon in front of the press by two sides with opposing views. Was God on both their sides? But believing in The Cause was not enough… it was clearly a battle of performances.
The judge was clearly rattled by the situation at hand. He walked in, talked about having received phone calls from CNN, got the papers about the case two hours prior and was like what the hell is going on in my courtroom today. He was clearly not prepared to be dealing with The Cause.
The federal folks were good, really really good. Their snotty-nosed attitude made the much more laid-back judge resent them, but they played the rules to perfection, fought it out like they had been taught on debate team. It was a hard thing to watch, but they were good really good. The defense attorney annoyed the judge – not through arrogance but though a clear lack of sculpted performance. The judge pitied the defense attorney, but he still grated on him.
One question comes to mind: are the master’s tools needed to tear down the master’s house? Or is the fantasy of a destroyed house purely impossible? Because clearly, the moral highground is not the appropriate approach. This is a battle that values performance, wit, speed and memory… and performance is more key than anything.