Comments: Kitsch, Camp, “Fairly Legal” And The Selling Of Mediation

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Auckland    02/14/11
"1. To start very generally: Camp is a certain mode of aestheticism. It is one way of seeing the world as an aesthetic phenomenon. That way, the way of Camp, is not in terms of beauty, but in terms of the degree of artifice, of stylization. 2. To emphasize style is to slight content, or to introduce an attitude which is neutral with respect to content. It goes without saying that the Camp sensibility is disengaged, depoliticized -- or at least apolitical." "It's embarrassing to be solemn and treatise-like about Camp. One runs the risk of having, oneself, produced a very inferior piece of Camp."

Michael Martin, Houston TX     02/13/11
The point is well made that the divorce process is by its very nature an emotionally driven experience. The elephant in the room is the legal profession and how it is structured to deal with the typical divorce. The problem is that attorneys are poorly equipped to deal with the emotional aspects of the divorce process. As a result they tend to set up procedures which seek to minimize the "emotional" needs and concerns for the couple in a divorce. Stoner, in her book, Using Divorce Mediation, (Nolo Press) rightly notes that there are actually 4 and sometimes 5 "divorces" that the typical couple goes through: emotional divorce, social divorce, financial divorce and (fianlly) legal divorce. By creating procedures which effectively block processing the first three aspects of divorce, attorneys are able to keep the focus on the fourth "divorce", the legal divorce. In this realm they are supremely equipped, trained and ready to offer assistance to their clients. Why would they want to spoil a good thing and open the door to working with processes for which they have no training or background? Moreover, when an individual decides to file for divorce, what is the first step they typically take? If you said "call an attorney" you win the prize. Once the first individual contacts an attorney the second one does so as a defensive response. By the time (and this happens very early in the divorce process) the two have "lawyered up" there is scant hope that real, meaningful mediation is going to happen. I provide divorce counseling in my practice and get referrals from attorneys. They are all too glad to pass the emotional stuff to me. It is in their professional best interest to do so. But divorce counseling is not mediation; it is adjunct to the mediation process. And while the attorney is charging from $150 to $300 an hour, I am lucky if I can charge a third of that. Until there is a greater public awareness of the reality of mediation as a viable alternative to litigation, I am afraid that little meaningful progress will be made by mediators. I welcome ANY media that brings the mediation process and mediators to a higher level of the public's awareness.

r.d. benjamin , Portland OR     02/12/11
Auckland's discussion of the meaning of "Camp" is interesting but I'm not sure Sontag would agree that it is merely "style over substance." I think her point is that low art forms, such as television, can create a style that has a substantive presence all its' own. In any event, whether "Fairly Legal" is successful and attains the status of camp is less my concern than the higher profile featuring of mediation in the media and the prospect that the process might become camp---and sought after. Attention such as this program allows mediation to enter the public consciousness through the back door. God knows, the front door, or the rational approach to marketing mediation has been hard to open. Even after some 30 years, few people are sufficiently aware or trusting of mediation to seek it out on their own initiative when they are faced with a dispute or complex issue. Lawyers and Courts largely serve as gatekeepers to the process. And, the continuing resistance to mediation is hardly cracked by the all to popular approach of selling mediation as a "collaborative, time and cost effective problem solving process." While this message is eminently logical and reasonable, as one person commented, it is also pedantic, boring and largely ineffective. It demonstrates an irrational reliance on rationality. People in conflict are, obviously, emotionally charged; to reach them requires connecting with their frustrations and fears. As other observers have suggested, even if what is presented as mediation in this TV program is absurd, it elicits discussion. This is a crisp example of the rational use of irrationality. It engages people and allows them to feel this mediation might work and help them solve their problems---just like the TV medical drama, House, lets people feel doctors can find cures, and Law and Order gives people the sense that police and prosecutors struggle to do the right thing and bring criminals to justice. On one level, as human beings, we're all suckers for a good show

Michael Martin, Houston TX     02/12/11
Camp or No Camp
Auckland, I have no argument with your point. I made no reference to camp. I merely pointed to a possible outcome in public awareness as a result of the audience being exposed to even a poor representation of mediation. Camp or no camp -- I will leave that up to others.

, Auckland   02/12/11
Camp requires an appreciation of style over substance. Hoping that Fairly Legal might draw the public's attention to the benefits of mediation, therefore, is a very very long way from a camp appreciation of the show. The point of Camp is not so much that "one can be so rational and analytical as to be irrational", but rather, one can be so rational and analytical as to be dull.

Ken , The Woodlands TX     02/12/11
Fairly Legal - Does it help mediators?
Thanks for pointing out Michael, that the arrival of Fairly Legal to TV screens around North America has provided an opportunity for we mediators to talk about [and correct] the abundant misconceptions about our profession. When I first viewed the show, I thought "we're doomed", from a marketing/comphrehension standpoint. Now however, I'm rather grateful that the show's investors have provided us with a platform for having an informational dialogue.

Michael Martin, Houston TX     02/12/11
In an age when mediation has yet to establish itself in the mind of the public any and (almost) all pub is welcomed. I have already had several involved conversations with people about the TV show. Many comments noted in particular that I was neither as witty nor as attractive as the protagonist in the show. You can have fun and get some great conversation from such observations. To be sure the perspective was negative, but on the other hand it gave me a great opportunity to have a discussion and to present a more balanced view of mediation and mediators. Problem is, I have doubts as to the long term viability of the program.

Mary , Sainte-anne-de-bellevue QC   02/10/11
“Fairly Legal” And The Selling Of Mediation
The promotion of mediation is not as easy – as the marketing - for example – of olive oil. This program may help-bring to light the benefits of mediation --Thank you RB - very interesting as always! Mary Damianakis

marietta shipley, Nashville Tn     02/09/11
Great analysis in true Benjamin form. I did like the "trickster" scene. I find I am getting more clients from the internet without referral. Maybe the show will increase use. I'll remember to wear my short skirts. Maybe they like a hip old hippie.

Joe , Hillsborough NJ   02/08/11
Magicians, clowns, mediators and entertainment
Magicians suffer the same faith when a clown does magic and claims to be a magician. However, like the "real" magician he still entertains. It's not his job to educate his audience about the differences between a magician and a clown. So enjoy the show, it's entertainment for TELEVISION, not the History Channel. More people will learn about the existence of mediation than from all the pedantic mediators that are offended that the "make-believe" world of television is not portraying mediation for what it "truly" is. To the extent that it exposes mediation, it's a good thing. Otherwise, who cares?

Patti Bertschler, Cleveland OH     02/08/11
Analysis of "Fairly Legal" aside, all I know is that today we got our first client from this show! A man who was watching it decided he could use this kind of help, Googled mediation in our area, and we converted his call into a client. Would that they were all this easy!

Tom Melancon, Seattle WA     02/08/11
Kitsch, Camp,
There is nothing in your article I can disagree with. I hope the series succeeds, but I have my doubts. It's a decent show, and the lead character is funny and attractive, but any TV series now has to compete with the programs on cable, and that ups the ante quite a bit. For example, I watched a couple of episodes of "Portlandia," a new series on IFC last night. Whether or not you like this kind of show will determine whether you watch it, but a few minutes into it I new that it was much more cutting edge than "Fairly Legal." FL is staying pretty close to the old haggard formula that much of network TV depends upon, pretty star gets in trouble, pretty star gets him or herself out of trouble by end of show. If the show does end up going "viral" it might help mediators climb out of the well of obscurity and confusion so many of us find ourselves in. It's not that peopel aren't interested in mediation. It's just that mediation does not fall into the group of Social Networking Table Topics that can be described adequately in 140 characters. If Fairly Legal gets really popular, maybe we'll get a chance to have the extended conversation about mediation it deserves with more of the public.

Clare , Eugene OR   02/07/11
Robert, First, I was glad to see you mention Trickster in conjunction with Mediator--nicely done. Second, I was thinking about you this morning as I wrote an article on Mediation Styles: Transformative v. Evaluative. Thought you in particular would enjoy it :)