Tactic Six: Convenient Personality Flaws
If you watch 12 Angry Men, you’ll notice something very strange. Juror 8 is portrayed as the epitome of perfection, practically God-like in terms of his intellect and temperament. He always seems to know what to say at the right time, has an answer for everything and never loses his cool or seems flustered.
The other jurors, however, are all deeply flawed in some way or the other, especially Juror 8’s antagonists (The Sports Fanatic, The Bigot and The Bully). There’s a very important reason why each of these men were given some kind of severe flaw, and no, it wasn’t for the sake of drama or to make a larger point. These flaws were also very deliberate and calculated. But why?
Rose used many tactics throughout the movie to manipulate and confuse the audience members into believing that there was reasonable doubt as to the defendant’s guilt. However, there were limits to the extent to which he could use them. The reason why is that there were no underhanded tactics he could use to undermine the arguments of those audience members whose views aligned with The Sports Fanatic, Bigot and Bully. Those jurors were right. In deliberating on a trial, you’re not supposed to entertain possibilities or imagine “probabilities”. You’re supposed to stick to the facts that were presented during the trial.
With no way to dismiss their arguments through logic, Rose handicapped them with a character defect, physical issue or emotional problem. In the case of The Sports Fanatic, he’s written to be a crass boor who obsesses over baseball games. In the case of the Bigot, he hates slum dwellers and is irritable from a summer cold. In the case of The Bully, he has major father-son issues, is a sadist and hates “bleeding hearts.”
Because 12 Angry Men is so brilliant at manipulation, it’s very easy to be seduced into thinking that because these three holdouts had some reprehensible character flaw, their reasons for voting against the defendant were invalid and only based in hatred, ignorance or stupidity.
But just because someone may be bigoted, irritable or uncouth doesn’t mean that their conclusion about something was based on bigotry or stupidity. For example, a guy could be the biggest misogynist in the world. He could hate women, think they’re evil bitches and gold diggers, the whole nine yards. But if, in the course of the trial, there was indisputable evidence that the defendant drowned her kids, there’s no reason why this juror’s decision should be questioned if he is clearly basing his conclusions on the actual evidence that was presented. The question of bigotry should only come into play if there was no evidence pointing to the defendant’s guilt and he couldn’t give any reasonable explanations for why he thought she was guilty.
Ditto with our three holdouts. The Bigot may have been a scum-sucking bigot. The Sports Fanatic may have been a boor who acted as if a baseball game was more important than deciding someone’s fate. The Bully may have developed a hatred for the defendant because he reminded him of his own son. But when all was said and done, they were basing their verdict on what they heard on the trial, and going exactly according to the guidelines laid down by the judge. Their character flaws were irrelevant and the movie using those flaws to write off their conclusions as invalid is what’s known as poisoning the well, a form of the logical fallacy known as ad hominem.
This ad hominem tactic is probably the most damning evidence against Reginald Rose’s script, and why I have so little respect for 12 Angry Men movie now. Ad hominem is not only a low tactic, it’s a reflection of someone’s self-awareness that their position may not necessarily be the correct and most logical one.