Part 1, Question 4: Graff and the Angry Men

The movie would begin in much the same way as the original version. The part in which Fonda, the principal -- or, in Graff’s terminology, the "teacher" -- casts a shadow of doubt on the otherwise perfect consensus. Fonda would argue long and hard about seeing multiple sides to the argument, and that it was the thought bred by the opposing ideas that was of real interest and would save the failing legal system.

Fonda's rhetoric, captivating, innovative, and lucid -- punctuated most dramatically with surprise knives plunged into tabletops and fully detailed architectural diagrams that indicate the doubt present -- would convince all of the group. This consensus would not be so bad because as long as there is a consensus to disagree and contend the theories, then the idea of progress can be realized.

The 12 men would fight, and contend, and contend. Abandoned would be the original Fonda who divided and crushed each and every one of the other jurors. He would merely be a facilitator every time the group came dangerously close to consensus or agreement, reminding them that it was limiting and unintelligent to merely accept one conclusion or reading of the case. Each juror would be free to forward his specific opinion about the murder case, and explain exactly why, which would then be contended for as long as was necessary. But not to come to agreement. Contend just to see the other side. They all could agree that a crime was committed, and that someone was on trial, but they would not have an answer as to exactly whom was guilty, and what really happened.

They would be in that jury deliberation room for days. Weeks. 12 weeks, even! Food and water would be piped in to keep them fresh and contentious. Their failure to decide -- their infinite state of hung jury -- would mirror the problem with Graff's vision of progressive society and education. In teaching the conflicts in this case, without mentioning nor accounting for an agreement on a theory for the murder, the jury would fail to do what it has set out to do: come to a decision. Graff's jury would have forgotten that it was the lawyer's job in the court room to provide different sides and interpretations of the case, and the jurors job to listen. Though the jurors are supposed to make their own decisions based on the information presented, the jurors are also supposed to come to a consensus decision, for better or worse, and stick by it. It is their job to pick a side and stay there, all of them.

The jury example doesn't really have the closest 1:1 correlation with a classroom, because in the case of a jury deciding a murder case the stakes are decidedly higher. In a classroom, changing sides and leaving a class after 12 weeks allows a student to just leave -- he/she doesn't have to come back in a few hours with all of his/her classmates and formulate a hard positionality. It is up to the student to do at their own pace: after the semester, after a year, after college.

Graff's permanently hung jury illustrates Graff's utopian vision of endless side-seeing and re-interpretation, and the problem with it. There are parts of this society, more than we realize, where decision and sticking to a side (you can call it conformity) are necessary to function. A jury is one of the most important examples of it. If they are called to come to a consensus, then that is their job and their deliberation and attention to the case are all important, but in the end a decision is called for. It is their job to come to a consensus. They would argue and deliberate forever in that room, not realizing that on the other side of that door, in the rest of the world, people were waiting for a decision that they would never make.


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Last modified: Thursday, 31-May-2007 09:42:34 EDT