Seeing Cinema in a New Light: Criticism, Essays and Observations about Classic Cinema

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Why Juror 8 of 12 Angry Men (1955) was Wrong on Every Conceivable Level

Henry Fonda from 12 Angry Men

Henry Fonda from 12 Angry Men

#4: Armchair Psychology

“Armchair psychology” is probably one of the most annoying, obnoxious arguing tactics ever invented. It basically amounts to dismissing someone’s opinion based on the logic that you’ve “figured something out” that somehow discredits what they’re thinking, feeling or doing.  More often than not, this insight is done in a patronizing vein, in that the other person is painted to look as though they’re only feeling or thinking a certain way because of a very subjective, emotional reason that is clouding their judgment.

For example, say you have a roommate who damages your things on a regular basis. One day, he ruins your console after accidentally knocking it off the table. After finally calling him out and demanding that he leaves, he says something like, “You’re just taking it out on me because you got a parking ticket.” 

In 12 Angry Men, when all else fails, this is Juror 8’s go-to card. An elderly man’s testimony is dismissed because of the way he was dressed; according to the armchair psychology of an elderly juror (played by Joseph Sweeney), the witness made up the story for the attention. A middle-aged woman’s testimony is dismissed because she was trying too hard to look young. The attorneys’ cases can be dismissed because “people can be stupid”; the defense attorney failed to exonerate the defendant because he probably felt burdened by a case he didn’t want to take up.

The most egregious case of armchair psychology in the film is when Juror 8 accuses The Bully of being a sadist and public avenger. The implication is that there is no real basis for him to feel that the defendant is guilty; he is really driven by a secret need to hurt the defendant because he gets off on hurting people and has a need to exact revenge on those he feels has wronged society. This is how armchair psychology works in a nutshell, and as you can imagine, it’s a completely invalid form of arguing.

1 Comment

  1. Terry

    Many people will believe a slick-talking politician over one who may be harsh but tells the truth. This is basically what this film is about. I think the writer of the movie (and the play) did it deliberately. He was making fools of those who believe the smooth-talking Fonda who has absolutely no facts on his side, over the other rougher men who did have the facts to back up their stance.

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