Thursday 2 May 2013

When fiction blurs with reality: Reese Witherspoon (aka Elle Woods) speaks out about her arrest

Elle: I feel comfortable using legal jargon in everyday life.
[someone whistles at her]
Elle: I object.

Elle Woods' confidence in speaking legalese in the Legally Blonde film franchise didn't quite translate into real life last week as Reese Witherspoon was arrested for disorderly conduct! 

Reese has publicly gone on record as taking responsibility for the actions that led to her arrest last week. In an interview with Good Morning America, she describes embarrassment and shame over saying 'crazy things' to Police and disobeying orders when she panicked as her husband was being arrested. 

You can see an excerpt of the interview by clicking here. But, interestingly, at one point in the interview she says: "I think I played a lawyer in a movie so many times I think I am a lawyer...And clearly I'm not a lawyer because I got arrested"

I guess America's sweetheart fell at the mercy of the law and couldn't talk her way out of it - even with fake law school training! 

Thinking of Legally Blonde again made me remember why I love this movie - its about an independent, confident woman putting her own individualised spin on a traditional profession! She stands up for herself and she has determination - she figures out that she can study (and practice) law on her own terms.

Not to mention I love the dialogue ... Here's number 1 on my list of fabulous quotes

"Sweetheart, you don't need law school. Law school is for people who are boring and ugly and serious. And you, button, are none of those things."

What did you think of Elle Woods? What's your favourite quote?


  1. This picture is my only comment to this article.

  2. Legally Blonde is not an accurate portrayal of what life at law school is like. Nevertheless Elle Woods is a fantastic character because of her self confidence and determination to succeed.

    My favourite quote would have to be from the graduation speech.

    "From my experience .. passion is essential to the study and practice of law" :)

  3. I love Elle Woods. She definitely serves as an inspiration for budding lawyers! I loved the idea that she won her case relying on knowledge she alone could bring to the table. Whilst it’s all very well and good to apply the legal ‘formula’ to win a case, the idea of overcoming the enormous obstacle of withholding Brooke’s alibi by utilising her personal beauty knowledge and an intuitive gay-dar emphasised the powerful role that individuality can still play in successful legal practice.
    Although it’s not my favourite quote, I definitely found Professor Stromwell’s quote intriguing when she said "[a] legal education means you will learn to speak in a new language. You will be taught to achieve insight into the world around you. And to sharply question what you know." In her reference to legal education and its capacity to impart on students a new language, she encapsulated one of many aspects that make legal backdrops so popular and thus prevalent within television and films.
    Courtrooms facilitate a range of popular culture genres, whilst the cases held can vary from comedic to perverse, and each carries a different message of the law. However, this versatility is hardly the reason that audiences are drawn to the courtroom genre again and again. Legal programs, much like medical programs, represent a career path inaccessible for the vast majority of the population. Both professions require intensive training to attain the necessary qualifications and therefore require a high degree of intelligence and skill, unattainable to every member of society. Thus, whilst the legal occupation is not undertaken lightly, it holds a sense of intrigue for the wider population and thus appeals as an environment for popular culture.
    In the complexity of the law itself and the level of skill required to interpret legal jargon, the law justifies characterisation as a foreign language. Even judges face issues in such interpretation, whilst it is not uncommon that a judge will be granted the task of deciphering the exact intention of the legal drafters to decide specific matters. It is in this inherent complexity that the role of the lawyer is placed on a pedestal, earning the respect of the viewers who are permitted insight into the challenging job lawyer’s face in championing their client’s case. Thus, in Stromwell’s assertion that students would be taught the legal language, she identified one of the primary aspects that make legal programming so appealing for audiences, whilst law is depicted as an art form that few are privileged enough to be able to decipher.

  4. While this original post is an amusing anecdote, it is also a great example of how much law and popular culture influence our lives. Law pervades and structures modern society, shaping our experience of meaning, with laws, police, judges and lawyers affecting so many aspects of our lives. But even more pervasive is popular culture! We exist in an age where we are surrounded by popular culture forms, from films and television shows, to books, music, stage plays, print publications, advertisements and more, where almost anything can be found through the internet, and technological advances (in mobile devices, for example) enable us to stay connected and get our popular culture fix any where, any time. We consume more images in thirty minutes of television watching than a member of pre-industrial society would have consumed in a lifetime. Michael Asimow states that film and television are the common story-tellers of our age, as nearly all members of the general public consume this form of popular culture media in massive amounts. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Australian adults spend 13-15 hours per week watching television, and audiences just can’t get enough of forms of popular culture that deal with law, lawyers and the legal system. Even tonight as I write this post, '24: Live Another Day' is on in the background, and there are at least four law/crime shows in the primetime slots on free-to-air TV.

    Popular culture and our ‘incessant media consumption’ produce important effects in society and those who consume it, and is it really any wonder that Reese Witherspoon momentarily overestimated her legal familiarity? Taking a “broad” approach, popular legal culture refers to everything people know (or think they know!) about the legal system and members of the legal world. Films and television shows depicting lawyer characters are commonplace in modern popular culture, and frequently deal with the real social impact of law. Long before I started my law degree, I learnt about mens rea, equitable division of the assets, diminished capacity, malum in se and malum prohibitum, as well as various words or phrases associated with the legal profession (“I object!”), all from 'Legally Blonde'. Popular culture is responsible for creating at least some of the public’s understanding of the law, and for some people who do not come in contact with the legal world, all of the information pertaining to the operation of the law and the meaning of legal events may be derived through the lens of popular media.

    The depiction of lawyers in popular media can therefore provide a useful measure of how the general public perceive legal professionals, as popular legal culture presents a version of legal ideas (and language) as communicated through the eyes of the creative interpreter and manufactured and marketed for popular (lay) consumption.

    And as a fun end note, one of my favourite quotes from the movie (which brings up some of the matters in the comment above) is when, after all the work we see Elle put into her study and admission process and once accepted, Warner incredulously asks ‘You got in to Harvard Law?’ to which Elle flippantly remarks ‘What? Like it’s hard?’

  5. The pervading cultural representation of your typical lawyer is of a person, generally male, middle aged and from a privileged background; that manipulates the law and those around him in order to succeed. The line between right and wrong, ethical practice and breaking the law, is as thin as the lawyer’s hair. There is rarely any mention or portrayal of his life outside of the law apart from that which shows his wealth and success, here is a man consumed by the law but only insofar as he can utilise it for his own gains, be that through legitimate cases and client fees, or taking less scrupulous routes to ensure victory. Lawyers are not necessarily seen as intelligent or hard working; much more focus is placed on their relationships with other power players or manipulative actions in the courtroom that in real life would border on harassment and contempt of court. This representation is exemplified in Professor Callahan, as well as in the portrayal of the other students at Harvard law, particularly Warner and Vivian. These characters inspire a disdain for the world that would put these deplorably arrogant, selfish and privileged people forward as its best.

    It is because of this stereotype that I really enjoy the portrayal of Elle Woods as a law student and lawyer. Elle is indeed from a privileged background and this undoubtedly enhanced her application to Harvard; but she also exhibits an endearing innocence, strength of character and a hard work ethic, as well as adorable outfits, which endear her to the viewer. Her transformation in the movie, from the laughing stock of the Harvard Law class, to a valued and esteemed member, is achieved through much hard work and dedication.

    This is made more commendable because her basic character, beliefs and personality are not changed in the process. This shows the diversity of the type of people that choose to study law and engage in the profession, there is now a challenge to traditional concept of white, upper class, male, with more and more females and students from lower socio-economic demographics now able to access legal studies. It also shows that there is room in the oft-portrayed black and white world of law, for lawyers to express their individuality and that this can often make for better legal practitioners as they bring all their skills and talents to the table, including general knowledge, empathy and gut instincts as seen with Elle and her perm line of questioning; “because isn't the first cardinal rule of perm maintenance that you're forbidden to wet your hair for at least 24 hours after getting a perm at the risk of deactivating the immonium thygocolate?”


  6. Elle Woods…Ditzy,blonde,sassy,material? Or,intelligent,strong,witty, confident? Elle Woods demonstrates that a female lawyer , in a competitive environment CAN incorporate all of these attributes in their career, while being true to themselves. And succeed.
    As a law student itching to start my career, Elle Woods is one of those characters that I secretly ‘love to hate’, a role model who above all , teaches a profound lesson: to always have faith, never give up on yourself, and to continue and strive as a strong, independent woman – despite the opinions of others. This is demonstrated in ‘Legally Blonde’ through her rejection in study groups and being humiliated in her first lecture, which she handles rejection with grace, and seldom strikes back. Rather than retaliating, Elle strives to better her own life when faced with bullies. Notwithstanding the fact that she has been advantaged in her acceptance into university , Elle also earns her place in the world. Elle could have easily forgone her ditzy personality and attire to something more mainstream to fit in…but she doesn’t. She remains true to herself and uses her individual qualities and traits as a recipe for success. I love how smoothly she plays off what may be fall into an abyss for others, for example, when she is tricked to dress up for a party , she responds with ‘oh, I just felt like dressing up’. This scene is so powerful. It proves that it IS possible not to be destroyed by a potentially humiliating moment.
    Elle is gracious, witty, graceful and confident. Traits that, to me, are more important than success which has been fuelled by arrogance, pride and self-gratification...(even if the material result is higher in the latter.) Elle is a leader – but not in the conventional sense. She leads by example through her confidence and self respect, and refusal to conform to what others believe she should be.
    I also highly value Elle’s sense of loyalty, and her placement of morals higher than short term, self satisfactory gain.
    As a soon lawyer, interestingly, she also makes me want to think outside the box, and to not only educate ourselves in the law, but to also go beyond this – including material facts, what may seem useless , facts. I just love her unforgettable courtroom scene - “isn’t it the first cardinal rule of perm maintenance that you’re forbidden to wet your hair for at least 24 hours after getting the perm?’. I love that she uses this seemly highly irrelevant piece of information to ultimately succeed in her case, while her opposition embarks on legal precedent.
    All in all, I LOVE Elle. (Although, I do wonder if it would be different if I met and interacted with her in a daily setting.) I even think ‘Legally Blonde’ can be seen as a social commentary or critique on society, in regards to how we view feminism, and women in power. In fact, one could write a whole paper on how Legally Blonde can in itself create a new stream of feminism. Feminism is not restricted to attire…it incorporates that a woman is capable of success in whatever they want , and not through being restricted to a black pant and jacket power suit.
    Legally Blonde , through Elle, demonstrates that women can be powerful and successful AND girly and fun. Popular culture often demonstrates successful women in legal roles as career driven, bland and conformist. I feel that in society, especially in a corporate and legal setting, as women we’re forced to hide our femineity and sometimes grace, in a pursuit of proving our intelligence. This does not need to be the case, and popular culture can play a strong role in changing our perception of women in successful careers. In fact, when I return to work next (keeping in mind office etiquette , of course), I will not switch my red nail polish to beige. I will wear the skirt I love even though my colleagues will be wearing pants. And in the lunch break, I will be discussing a box office hit, rather than discussing the new budget.(can of worms..anyone?)
    Now. if only I too could get away with that hot pink attire…

  7. I have to preface this by saying that Legally Blonde is one of my favourite movies, (I actually watched it the night before I started my law degree) and its far from the perfect feminist text, I do think it has some really important points to make, especially about femininity, professional competence and the fact that these two things aren’t mutually exclusive.

    Despite the fact that actual enrolment numbers in law degrees have started to swing the other way, it certainly feels like there are more male lawyer characters in our media than female. American Bar Association lists only 2 out of 25 of the greatest fictional lawyers as women, and most other lists I found had similar disappointing ratios.

    Legally Blonde as an alternative representation of what a lawyer can be I think is very important. I feel as though the most effective legal system is going to be one that is written, interpreted and used by the most diverse group of people. The law affects everyone, and as such everyone should have the opportunity to access the law, not just rich white men. As a comment mentioned above, Elle herself is from a very privileged background, so shouldn’t be the be all and end all of alternative portrayals of lawyers, but it is certainly a step in the right direction.

    There are some great themes in this text, Elle’s personal strength, empathy and loyalty being demonstrated as skills that assist her law career, the lack of competitiveness between Women for the attention of men (nicely subverted by Vivian and Elle’s later friendship). Elle's desire to do good is explored even more (in the slightly less go sequel) where she prioritises getting 'justice' in the sense of humane treatment for animals over a promotion and secure work at the legal firm she's at.

    I love that it demonstrates that you can enjoy ‘feminine’ things and still be strong, and competent and good at your job. Elle is a character who is allowed to be feminine without it being seen as a weakness.

    As for quotes, I love Elle’s ‘But if I’m going to be a partner in a law firm by the time I’m 30, I need a boyfriend who’s not such a complete bonehead’ and the classic, ‘You got into Harvard Law?’ ‘What? Like it’s hard?


  8. Who's thinking correctly? All things considered, as it were, not a single one of them are correct. Or then again every one of them are correct. It relies upon how yo