In the social neuroscience course that I am currently teaching, students put on a mock trial last week involving a defendant who supposedly had a brain injury that led him or her to commit a violent crime. The course is broken into four tutorials ("discussion sections," in American parlance) with 25-30 students each, and I am teaching one of them, in addition to giving all the lectures. Anyway, during the preceding week's tute, when the students were preparing their mock trial, I started asking them questions about the Australian/Queensland court system. I was amazed that nearly everyone in the room had little or no knowledge about what actually happens in an Australian courtroom. One student said, "we only know what happens in an American courtroom because of television." When I asked, for example, if an Australian defendant has the right to choose whether he or she takes the witness stand (as they do in American courtrooms), my students had no idea. When deciding on the order of events during the trial, we ended up relying on what they do in an American courtroom out of ignorance of what goes on in an Aussie one. It was really quite astonishing to me that university students didn't know about their own local legal procedures and rights. I have since confirmed some of those procedures and rights with my resident jury research expert, who informed me that some jury trials in Queensland will soon no longer require a unanimous verdict. I am committed to learning more about all of this before I teach the course again.
In a small nation like Australia, it's perhaps not surprising that people can know more about some aspects of American society than their own, simply because of all the movies and television shows that come out of Hollywood. I still find it unsettling that there are few Australian-produced dramas on television here. Today's Australian-produced TV shows mainly consists of game/reality shows, sing-a-long and other talent contests, a handful of dramas, and perhaps one or two Aussie sitcoms. The rest of the airtime is chock full of American sitcoms and crime dramas. I still can't figure out how they manage to have their own television awards show here. Thank goodness for the ABC and SBS. Or, as an alternative, perhaps I should just pick up a good novel about an Australian barrister facing the perils of the High Court. Do you have any suggestions? Is there a sort of Aussie version of John Grisham out there, perhaps?