Friday, August 14, 2009

The Wig Interpretation of History

Item#1: Before Tuesday's Yankees-Blue Jays game in the Bronx the NYY held a closed door kangaroo court in the locker room. It was the Yankees second court of the season and various fines were handed out to players and coaches for real and imaginary 'crimes'. The courts, needless to say, aren't serious at all, they are merely an exercise in team bonding. What was interesting to me about this kangaroo court however was the fact that judge Mariano Rivera (the Yankees' future Hall of Fame closer) was wearing a robe and wig supplied to him by Marilyn Milian, the real life "judge" of the TV show The People's Court.
...
Item#2: From 2003 - 2004 Max Kellerman ESPN's boxing analyst appeared on the show I, Max with Bill Wolff in which the latter also pretended to be a judge and also wore a wig and gown.
...
Item#3: I used to teach a little civics class to 11th graders in Denver where we would pretend to be the Supreme Court deciding some of the famous cases of the twentieth century (Brown v Board of Education etc.) One of the classes decided that it would be fun to dress up in the garb of Supreme Court judges so they came to school wearing robes and wigs.
...
Item#4: Go to any fancy dress shop in America and look for a judge's costume and chances are that it will come with a wig.
...
This is interesting to me because no one has worn a powdered wig in an American Court for at least 150 years. Judges don't wear wigs, lawyers don't wear wigs, clerks dont wear wigs, and if you watch Law & Order or the Peoples Court or any John Grisham movie you'll know that this is true, so how come a lot of people still think that to be attired as a judge in the US you need a wig? How come this false meme is so persistent in the American psyche?
...
Well obviously British TV shows have had an impact, where, of course, barristers and judges do still wear wigs, but if you look at the ratings for PBS you'll realise that that can't be the only explanation. I think there's two things going on. First, a folk tradition of judges wearing wigs has never quite died among school children so that when they draw cartoons of judges they draw them with wigs: this folk tradition persists in comic books, in newspaper strips etc. and if a kid draws a judge with a wig on no teacher in their right mind would ever correct them. Second I think George Washington has something to do with it. Although the first president was never on the Supreme Court his image is associated strongly with the sort of gravitas you expect in a judge and in his picture, most famously seen every day on the dollar bill, President Washington is wearing a powdered wig.
...
Are powdered wigs a good thing? Well, in my very brief legal career I've been in court with bewigged judges and barristers and I've been to the House of Lords a couple of times where the Lord Chancellor wears a really long, interesting wig and I have to say that I like them. They're both silly and charming at the same time. Although slightly older than Scottish kilts, policemen's hats and guardsmen's uniforms they're still a relatively modern invention in the 1000 year history of the British legal system, but I'm in favour of keeping them for the Oakeshottian reason that tradition itself is a living argument and a bridge between the past and the future; and the US experience shows that even if wigs were scrapped tomorrow (which some people are calling for) 150 years from now people will no doubt still think that that's what judges wear to court.