July 1, 2010

"It is not just the Clinton-Lewinsky affair that has generated invocations of 'Rashomon' in recent years."

"'Rashomon' got a workout back when the Senate deliberated over the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas."

From an essay I published back in 2000 that raises some ideas I've been thinking about in connection with the accusations against Al Gore.

I was reading the transcript of the accuser's statement to the police and thinking about how you could film that story — exactly that — in 3 versions: 1. Gore as a violent, misogynistic monster, 2. Gore as an awkward man in search of love who has little sense of the furious thoughts in the massage therapist's mind, and 3. A complex story of 2 imperfect adults.

ADDED: In "Rashomon," the 4 versions of the story are built around a set of external facts: a dead Samurai whose sword and dagger are both missing. In my proposed 3-act play, what will remain the same is the set of outward facts in the accuser's transcript. Yes, in real life, the woman may be lying. I want to assume that every word she says was spoken was in fact spoken — release the second chakra, etc. — and every action she says took place — the hug, the chocolates, etc. — in fact took place. That is, I'll write a screenplay with all the internal dialogue and feelings stripped out. Then 2 highly skilled actors play the script 3 times, with the 3 directions stated above. I think it can be done, and I think it would be a fascinating study. What does that have to do with the real question of what Al Gore did? It would get us away from the woman's subjective experience and allow us to focus on Gore's culpability — his subjective experience. Of course, it's still possible that the woman is lying or has some of the facts wrong. I'm not trying to brush that aside. I only want to try to figure out whether, if what she said is true, Gore might not be as bad as he seems when you read the transcript that is, unedited, filled with internal dialogue and descriptions of her feelings.

40 comments:

The Crack Emcee said...

I vote for 3:

They're NewAgers.

I have no choice.

bagoh20 said...

ManBearPig is not complex, but he is misunderstood. Misogynistic love used to be appreciated more in his day.

Freeman Hunt said...

Down my front hallway.

Pogo said...

There is a truth, but lacking a disinterested woodsman, we rely on the distorted lenses of two fallible and selfish people. Like any court case lacking video.

We are forever the hero in our own narrative, never the knave. And we always win over our inner grand jury with our eloquent and brilliant defense.

Seven Machos said...

4. The story of a bunch of hippie losers who urge their friend not to report sexual misconduct for fear that it will hurt the cause of environmentalism. (Make obvious allegory in this segment to priests and the Catholic Church.)

Doug Wright said...

Althouse, your idea is fantastic but you need a magical thread to link the three versions of your story. Take some time away from the storyline and let your mind settle in on the various twists the thread-line could take.

Cheers!

David said...

AlGore should get all the attention he can now.

Because history is going to pretty much forget about him.

A bunch of footnotes.

A few forgotten biographies.

A paragraph here or there.

Some encyclopedia entries.

Does Al know this?

Should someone tell him?

Freeman Hunt said...

A bunch of footnotes.

A few forgotten biographies.

A paragraph here or there.

Some encyclopedia entries.


You forgot one.

A stain on a pair of pants.

David said...

You're right, Freeman, "I can't stand the truth."

Paul Ciotti said...

I listened to part of the masseuse's interview with the police woman. There was something wrong with the tone of the interview. She sounded scripted at times, as if she were reading her remarks. It isn't that I think she's lying but she may be sexing up the story for maximum impact.

The proof of the pudding will be when they do the DNA test on the stain on her slacks.

Fred4Pres said...

This case is ripe for it.

Girl: He tried to kill me.

Dad/Bro: She is a whore and for the honor of the family she must die.

Government: Dear minority citizens, please do not do it again.

Ahhh, the days when the British Empire was not afraid to hang someone for being barbaric. They might as well bring back widow burning.

Fred4Pres said...

Freeman, you have cool posters.

Fred4Pres said...

Of course there typically should be a 4. He did not do it. She is lying.

But when I heard he paid $540 for a massage, I went immediately with 5. BareManPig.

reader_iam said...

It seems to me that insofar a movie is concerned, it would depend on **when** you filmed the story--or, to be more precise, **when you chose** to film it, that is, at what point in time.

reader_iam said...

And I'm not referring to the characters' POV, here.

reader_iam said...

or POVs.

Dead Julius said...

I'm no lawyer, Althouse, but I think your piece underestimates the importance of standards like "reasonable doubt", "preponderance of the evidence", etc...

In a criminal trial, it would seem that anytime a true "Rashomon" issue came up-- and by "Rashomon issue" I mean the way you use the term in your paper, not the way the media used it-- it should create a reasonable doubt and the defendant should be acquitted.

That's what happened to O.J. Simpson, isn't it? (Note the resulting public dissatisfaction with that decision, especially later on, after his Vegas escapade.)

And Gore will probably be acquitted by "reasonable doubt" if he is charged too, and that will probably cause even more public dissatisfaction.

With a Supreme Court nominee, though, there isn't a pre-defined standard for whether to confirm or not to confirm, is there? Thomas didn't need to prove he was telling the truth by, say, a preponderance of the evidence; instead, he just had to get a majority of Senators to vote "YEA" by whatever means he could.

The Clinton impeachment is somewhere in between the O.J. Simpson trial and the Thomas confirmation. His wasn't a normal criminal trial and yet wasn't completely devoid of a pre-existing standard; both the notion of reasonable doubt and the ad-hoc solicitation of Senators seemed to come into play. Of course criminal trials happen all the time while impeachment trials are a once-a-century occurrence, so the standard for conviction in the latter is certainly going to be less well-defined in practice.

When the justice system ignores these standards because the result of applying them is dissatisfying, the result can be short-term peace at the cost of deeper virtue. Recall, for instance, the sadness the reader or viewer feels in To Kill A Mockingbird when Tom Robinson is convicted because the jury ignores the obvious reasonable doubt. In fact, that work seems to address the same issue as Rashomon, but it seems to reach the conclusion that in time the truth will be exposed and the virtuous will be vindicated.

reader_iam said...

IMO, referencing "To Kill a Mockingbird" in an Althouse thread is risky--or, at least, frisky.

William said...

The movie version would not work as a romantic comedy, nor even as a farce, and still less as a tragedy. Both protagonists are too ambiguous in their motivation and character to attract much sympathy or hatred. The story doesn't write itself. There are some events that have no narrative and no moral. This, like the tanning bed tax, is an event that demands a non response..... I would pick option number three, but only because it covers all options, including the first two......The bare facts: Gore ordered a $500 hundred dollar massage late at night. The therapist left in an offended state. There are a lot of scenarios that could explain those facts.....In any event, Gore will wake up plump, rich and pleased with himself. The woman will make a lot of money from the botched encounter. And liberals and conservatives will be pissed off at each other for failing to see the important moral point to this story.

reader_iam said...

Recall, for instance, the sadness the reader or viewer feels in To Kill A Mockingbird when Tom Robinson is convicted because the jury ignores the obvious reasonable doubt.

When I first read "To Kill a Mockingbird," in 1969 or 1970 (in any case, before we moved East, so, yes, I was in grade school), I didn't know shit from shinola re: "reasonable doubt," though that book certainly and absolutely did inspire and play into my figuring that out, earlier rather than later, though not then, contemporaneously speaking.

But here comes the point of my posting this comment:

...the sadness the reader or viewer feels [Emphasis added.]

WTF? At that young age, what **I**--the nascent real-life person AND reader_iam--felt was ANGER at that verdict. Forget "sad": I was mad. ("Pissed off" would be a more accurate description, except that--believe it or not--despite having access to TKAM in a small midwestern town, I still had yet to hear that phrase, LOL).

"Sad" came later.

Seven Machos said...

I thought Scout was a boy. I did know, however, that the protagonist in Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret was a girl.

reader_iam said...

7M: I was envious that "Scout" got to be called--at least for the most part--"Scout." Neither I nor any of the girls I knew back then and there had nicknames like that, or, for that matter, nicknames at all, really.

reader_iam said...

Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret

Read that one, too. It was sorta obligatory to read it, peer-wise, but luckily it was easy to race through. Never, ever was a Judy Blume fan. Blecch. I do owe her, however, for an instant and early aversion to contrived and badly written sex scenes (see: "Forever"). I found that exposure and insight incredibly useful, both in terms of reading bad literature and navigating real-life situations involving the spouting of bad lines (as if from literature).

; )

Seven Machos said...

Forever -- I remember that one. I never read it, but it was passed around among the girls in my fifth grade class and spoken about in hush tones, like pornography.

People in the South have the best names and nicknames in general. Take Freeman Hunt. I mean, Freeman Hunt. And she's a woman. That's glorious.

reader_iam said...

See, I was lucky! When "Forever" came out, I was 14. I had to read it (race through it), of course...

...but didn't have to deal with hushed-tones thing.

LOL, and thank God.

reader_iam said...

I agree with you about Freeman Hunt, the person and the name.

Never thought to ask her if that was an actual nickname when she was a kid (I suspect not, but the truth is I have no idea). It'd be a good thing to ask, and perhaps I'll remember to ask it when I get the chance.

Seven Machos said...

I bet it is. I know a woman from Mississippi named Sanders.

danielle said...

Ann Althouse -- part lawyer, part novelist.

AllenS said...

danielle,

She's a cunning linguist.

rhhardin said...

John and Ken discussing a giant blue phallus at the airport in Malta or somewhere that the Pope was scheduled to visit:

J&K: If you click on the website you'll see the phallus...

Newslady: Euwwwww...

J&K: That's the sound a woman makes when she sees a penis.

MrBuddwing said...

Marge Simpson: "You liked Rashomon."

Homer Simpson: "That's not how I remember it."

Word verification: belco.

Paul said...

2. Gore as an awkward man in search of love who has little sense of the furious thoughts in the massage therapist's mind . . .

Plus maybe he took an Ambien had a few drinks.

We he be required to provide a DNA sample? That's when we will put this to bed.

Ann Althouse said...

Dead Julius said: "I'm no lawyer, Althouse, but I think your piece underestimates the importance of standards like "reasonable doubt", "preponderance of the evidence", etc... In a criminal trial..."

The essay is mainly about how the term "Rashomon" is used in the media as it discusses stories like the ones involving Clinton and Thomas. But the movie does depict essentially a trial and challenge us to figure out what is true. I write:

"If this were a real trial and not a work of art, good cross-examination and impeachment with conflicting statements could help us get closer to the truth. But even if accurate fact-finding was not Kurosawa's concern in making this film, his film does not encourage us to discount the importance of determining what happened in the past. It does not offer itself as a synonym for "he-said-she-said," a reason to shrug off the duty to determine what happened in the past and to do something about it."

Clearly, in real legal cases in our time, burdens of proof are used to finesse the discrepancies. Thus we see OJ Simpson acquitted in a criminal trial but held liable in a civil trial. There aren't 2 truths, but 2 burdens of proof (and 2 different factfinders).

As we read the news, how do we resolve conflicting stories. If you want to say it's all he said she said then -- and this is my point -- you should not invoke "Rashomon." Read the whole essay. There is much more to "Rashomon" than the stories told by the 4 witnesses. You are supposed to care deeply about what is true, not shrug off the search for truth.

Ann Althouse said...

Pogo said: "There is a truth, but lacking a disinterested woodsman, we rely on the distorted lenses of two fallible and selfish people. Like any court case lacking video."

The Woodcutter is *not* disinterested. From my essay:

"Two of the witnesses - Tajomaru and the Woodcutter - portray Tajomaru as the killer, but there is reason to discredit both of them. Tajomaru admits to a murder, but he already faces execution - if not for his banditry then for the rape. Why not go ahead and brag about beating a Samurai in a sword fight? The Woodcutter's corroboration of Tajomaru does not convince me: He has an interest in corroborating the version of the story that shows the sword as the murder weapon, otherwise, since no dagger was found sticking in the dead body, it might very well appear that he was the one whom the dying man felt pulling out the knife."

The Woodcutter does not want to be accused of theft.

MrBuddwing said...

The Woodcutter is *not* disinterested.

No argument, but I think it's the natural inclination of the audience to want to believe that the woodcutter comes the closest to the truth, if only because, in his account, the bandit, the husband and the wife all come off horribly, as opposed to the way they had described themselves.

My perhaps oversimplified take was: The woodcutter told the truth, but not the whole truth. No, he wasn't as detached from the events as he claimed to be, but of course he ends up trying to do penance for his own sin.

Word verification: verbecal. The diet drink for people suffering from logorrhea. (If you're old enough to remember Metrecal, you're too old for this crummy joke.)

Ann Althouse said...

Accepting the Woodcutter's version as the truth really diminishes the movie. It's grasping at simplicity. Please don't do that. Watch again, really carefully.

My descriptions of the 4 stories were written from very careful watching, rewatching, and pausing. I was very scrupulous about saying only what was depicted. On first viewing or quick viewing, you can't see as much as I explained. You won't get it right. But the frame around the 4 stories tells us how to watch and understand. That's what I stress. Everyone lies, but the truth matters nonetheless and we are in despair if we give that up.

Richard Dolan said...

Ann's three versions all involve the same conduct; the differences among the versions are the motives and intentions of the actors, how each of them is experiencing and responding to what they think is happening.

That is a staple of post-modern fiction and equally a fact of life in criminal trials. But the way people search for the truth in those two endeavors is different, and it's best not to conflate the two.

A trial is not a philosophical inquiry or aesthetic exercise. Instead, it has a short time frame ("speedy trial" in every sense), and involves fact-finders with limited and diminishing attention spans if it drags on. All of the players are acutely aware that they are filtering the evidence through a "what's most likely" prism. Everyone understands the built-in fallibility. Judge Weinstein once said that "beyond a reasonable doubt" equates to an 80%probability of being true. The 20% probability of error accepted by that forumulation adds a dose of realism to the "search for the truth" idea -- it's what "good enough for gov't work" means in practice. Having 12 jurors doing the filtering is the best we've come up with to avoid eccentric results, while still making the concessions to practicality required by the shortness of life and the limitations of resources.

The post-modern fictional approach is the opposite; the story-telling is strongest when it plays up the inherent uncertainties that trials (at least in their results) are intended to play down. Perhaps that's why real trials are never as interesting as their fictional representations -- reading trial transcripts is a pretty dull exercise. But both are dealing with the same reality.

michaele said...

I think adding a video flashback of Al's assault on wife Tipper's mouth at the 2000 Democrat Convention (for some strange reason referred to as "The Kiss") would be proof of his idea of romantic finesse. That thing (The Kiss) looked painful to be on the receiving end of. Frankly, he came off as a big lummox and a borderline sex poodle.

Trooper York said...

You picked the wrong movie.

But I can understand that since there wasn't a pinball machine in the room.

AST said...

I prefer the Big Lummox scenario