by Hank Phillippi Ryan
One of the most delicious things about Thrillerfest (and the fabulous Craftfest) is getting to chat with pals about things that might not be acceptable in more polite company. Like, say, killing people.
Treachery, conspiracy, ulterior motives, lust, greed, heck, all the seven deadlies. As common as coffee.
You watched Perry Mason when it was on TV, right? The real one I mean, with Raymond Burr and William Tallman and--who? As Della Street? In my house, we were not allowed to say a word during "Perry." My corporate lawyer-stepfather was glued and riveted to the set, and did not want to miss a word. It was one of our special family moments together--made all the happier for him, I think, because none of us kids were talking.
Anyway, he used to say that there was a problem with juries as a result of Perry, because they began to expect that--within 48 minutes or so--Perry would latch on to some critical hole in the case and blow the bad guy out of the water. Or, failing that, that some poor soul would leap up form the back of the courtroom and confess. And that would be that.
And when that didn't happen, my dad would say, people were not really convinced of anyone's guilt.
Time flies, but the effect of TV on juries persists. We all read last year or so about the CSI effect, right? When juries who watched the forensic specialists do their prime time magic were waiting for real-life counterparts to reveal--instantly and right on time--the critical blood spatter match or the maggot growth or the fact hat what someone thought was a bone was actually ossified chewing gum. You get he picture.
Real life prosecutors were wary and worried--and began to ask jurors in the voir dire whether they were CSI aficionados, and try to gauge whether they'd have unfair and unreasonable expectations of what real-life forensic analysis could provide.
Well now, there's a new one. The "Lie to Me" effect. You know the show. Investigators look for "tells" or "microexpressions" on suspects, and describe and analyze how these short-lived and fleeting expressions can point to the guilty person. (There was a terrific article in the New Yorker about it a year or so ago. And I admit it made me start watching people more closely.)
Like--a furrowed brow and jutting chin means someone is about to do something nefarious. Or pointing your finger in one direction while looking in the other signifies lying. You already know, when someone's covers their mouth when they talk, or pulls an ear--what they're saying is not true. (I think mothers get this instinctively.) It's interesting, like instant body language. And the TV show intersperses clips from real life (Bill Clinton, Condoleezza Rice) to illustrate their points.
So--the Lie to Me effect. My husband is a criminal defense attorney, and apparently there's some talk on his lawyer listserv that jurors are practicing the "skills" they "learned" on Lie to Me to assess whether a witness is telling the truth!
Scary. But completely believable.
And wouldn't that be a great element for a novel? Fiction imitating life imitating television imitating a magazine article speculating about psychology.
(I'm not lying. Can you tell?)