The movie 12 Angry Men gives us an inside look at our system of justice at work. It portrays the roles of our peers in deciding our fate after a trial. In the movie, we see twelve men from very different backgrounds and occupations come together to decide on the guilt or innocence of an eighteen-year-old boy. If he is found guilty, he will be sentenced to the electric chair. Each of the individual jurors can be compared in some way to the subjects we studied in class. For starters, I noticed one thing in the very beginning of the movie that interested me. The very first vote was taken by a show of hands.
Being a Criminal Justice major, I know that the first vote is usually taken by secret ballot, to reduce bias and to increase the chances of honest answers. Nevertheless, the first vote was by an anything but secret show of hands. The part that interested me the most was the vote for guilty. When asked to raise their hands for guilty, some jurors raised theirs right away. However, I began to see some hands that were going up slowly, only after their owners had looked at the other jury members. This seems to have a resemblance to Asch’s line experiment, in which Asch tested levels of conformity.
In Asch’s experiment, subjects were more likely to give the same answer that everyone else gave, even if it was obviously wrong. This seems to explain the behavior of the first vote in the movie. As more and more hands went up for guilty, jurors who had not yet voted observed those who had, and timidly raised their hands to conform. The foreman starts off trying his best to do his job. He tries to do what he thinks is right and always asks if the others agree with him. He also seems to be in good spirits. However, at one point in the movie someone remarks on the order in which they were supposed to go, and said it was not important.
This seems to upset him, and he suggests that somebody else try running things if they don’t like the way he is doing it. At the end of the ensuing argument, he sits down and looks away. When Henry Fonda asks to explain something, he says “Brother I don’t care what you do. ” One thing worth noting about the foreman is that he says that he is a football coach. Coaches aren’t usually used to having their methods questioned. They give out instructions to their players, and expect them to be followed. The idea is that he is the expert, and he knows what’s best for the “team” in the long run.
But as our studies this semester have shown, experts should sometimes be challenged. Juror number two, the bank teller, is just the opposite. He is one of the conformists in the original vote. He is a soft-spoken man, and he gets picked on and pushed around a lot. At one point he discusses an incident he had with a coworker, and says he got “really mad and almost said something”. In the jury room too, he has an altercation with somebody when he tries to stand up for himself, the other participant walks away. His response is to mumble “loudmouth” very softly, as if to make sure the other man does not hear.
Juror two doesn’t seem to have much self-esteem either, and in our text we find that people who have low self-esteem are more likely to conform, because they fear rejection or punishment from the group. Lee J. Cobb plays the third juror, who is interested in the “facts”. He seems to be more susceptible to the central, or factual, route to persuasion, rather than the peripheral, or emotional, route. He is unconvinced by the discussion of the others, but does not give a reason why. He begins to talk about kids, and how you can’t teach them anything.
We then find out that he has not spoken to his son in 2 years because of a fight they had. Cobb’s character exhibits how situational factors can influence one’s opinion on matters. He appears to be stereotyping the youth of his time. The case of the boy’s life actually resembles his own, as the boy on trial had been beaten by his father. It is as if by punishing the boy, he can in some way get back at his son. E. G. Marshall plays the stockbroker with glasses, juror number four. His profession seems to find its way into his dealings with the trial.
He is also, like Cobb’s character, more persuaded by the central route. His main argument at first is that the boy said he was at the movies but couldn’t remember what movie he saw or who starred in it. He failed to understand the effects that the situational factors had played. He did not believe that the fact that the boy’s father was lying dead in the next room while he was being questioned had anything to do with it. However, when juror nine asked him about a movie he saw just three nights earlier, he was unable to accurately recall it. This would seem to suggest the “that could never happen to me” attitude.
This idea is popular, but when the situation arises, most people find that they react much differently than they thought they would. The fact that he had never been in that situation before gave him no empathy for the way the boy was feeling. Juror number five, played by Jack Klugman, grew up in the ghetto. He is extremely offended by the comments of juror number ten about people who grew up in his neighborhood. He suggests that not all people who grow up in the ghetto are bad, and that social status means nothing. He is the combatant to stereotypical thinking.
When the discussion of the knife comes into play, he uses his personal knowledge of the way in which people knife-fight to refute the ideas suggested by the prosecuting attorney. Juror six is a working man; his boss makes all the decisions. Naturally, when his turn comes up to explain why he voted guilty, he uses the ideas that the experts have given. Because his situational factors have never led him to have to make his own decisions, he relies on someone else to do it for him. This juror is obviously following the Yale Attitude Change Approach. In this case, the man is focusing on the source of the information.
Since the source is seemingly an expert, he lends a great deal more credit to the information. However, as we have seen before, experts should be questioned. We should take care not to let someone’s expertise on a subject become the sole reason we believe it. Jack Worden plays a baseball nut as juror number seven. He is constantly remarking about how long it is taking, and how they should simply vote guilty and get it over with. When the not guilty vote begins to gain more support, he immediately suggests they go to the judge and declare a hung jury. We find out that he has tickets to that night’s baseball game, and wants to get there.
He is constantly frustrated by the discussion, and at one point changes his vote for the sole reason that he is sick of talking about it. He obviously does not take seriously what he is supposed to be doing there. This seems like a poor excuse for deciding someone’s life so quickly, but it is his situational factor. Henry Fonda plays an architect, and is juror number eight. His job of architect is apparent in the way in which he treats the case. He suggests that something just doesn’t “fit”. He begins to examine every little piece one by one, instead of simply looking at the big picture.
As he discredits each fact of the case, he gains more and more support. Fonda’s character is perhaps the strongest in the movie, as he resists the ever-powerful forces of conformity and peer-pressure. During the first vote eleven jurors have already voted guilty, but Fonda stands his ground and does not give in. He is wary of sending somebody off to die before it has been discussed. He is suggesting that maybe the experts are wrong. Throughout his argument, he constantly says “I’m not saying that’s how it is, I’m just saying it’s possible. ” Number nine is a white haired old man, and he helps Fonda when he rallies for support.
Because of his age however, he is also the subject of ageism discrimination. The old man displays empathy for the old man in the trial, saying that he, being old as well, knows how it feels to be unknown. He says the old witness may have convinced himself of something that wasn’t true so that people would listen to him. This suggests one of our basic human needs as social animals, the need to be liked. He is attempting to become a part of the group to which he has no real belonging. Ed Begley plays the bigot with a cold, juror number ten. This character is the most stereotypical of all, and is the one who remarks about the ghetto.
He uses phrases like “they’re all the same” and “you know how those people are”. He suggests that people who grow up in ghettos are trash and are inevitably criminals. He is not only discriminating based on the ghetto aspect, but also suggests ageism as well. “Those kids are all the same. ” he says, and refuses to believe that such a person could be innocent. Begley’s bigoted character exhibits the highest form of stereotyping, the ultimate attribution error, making dispositional attributions about an entire group of people. Juror eleven is a watchmaker with a foreign accent.
Because of his situation, he understands the effects that prejudice can have. He sticks up for the man from the ghetto when the others are discriminating. This is indicative of the idea that birds of a feather flock together. He is stereotyped because of his occupation and his background, because it is said that all Europeans are good watchmakers. This juror is also an example of altruism, feeling a sense of duty and respect for the justice system. The salesman, juror twelve, is the epitome of conformity. He at first votes guilty with almost all the others, but changes his vote when others start siding with Fonda’s character for not guilty.
But that’s not all, when one of the jurors brings up the testimony of the woman who said she saw the boy stab his father, he changes his vote back to guilty. Then, when the idea of the glasses comes out, he changes his vote yet again, to not guilty. One explanation for his behavior may be his situational factors, namely his job. Being a salesman means having to convince someone that they need something even when they sometimes don’t. To do this, most salesmen simply tell people what they think they want to hear, whether it is true or not.
This may be the reason for his oscillation between guilty and not guilty votes. In sum, there are many different factors that lead us to behave the way we do. Things such as our upbringing, our jobs and ranging as far as to what we had for breakfast may influence the ways we respond to situations. Our system of justice understands this, and that is why the jury of our peers has the number of members that it does. All it takes is one person sometimes to speak out against something in order for others to see the error of their ways. Luckily for the boy in this movie, Henry Fonda’s character was just such a person.