Several years ago I sat on a jury for a murder trial, a fascinating experience for an aspiring writer. One of the most surprising things I learned, as I listened to testimony from various witnesses and experts, was something I did not want to accept. Work-related stereotypes are not all that far-fetched.
Dang, the policemen all looked like cops, you know? Not like this grinning goof with the doughnuts, but like law enforcement officers. Military haircut, toned shoulders, erect stance, clipped speech — both men and women.
I did not like to see this. Aren’t we all individuals? Different? Unique? Okay, so maybe it was the uniform.
Well, the district attorney and his assistant were textbook “squares,” right down to the cut of their suits, the skinny ties, and the horn-rimmed glasses. Everything about them was serious.
The defense attorneys were comedy-hall “liberals.” One had longish gray hair and a stylish five-button suit. He smiled a lot and worked at being either charming or earnest. His colleague was a rotund, bearded “absent-minded professor” type, complete with the short tie, ill-fitting coat, and rumpled shirt. He mumbled, shuffled pages, and dropped things.
I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was like watching a nightmare sitcom parade!
The lab specialist’s uncombed hair, lack of poise, and poorly-coordinated clothing fairly screamed “nerd” and “lab geek.” The technical consultants — who regularly testified at trials, about DNA testing and such — were immaculately groomed and spoke with modulated voices.
And the most galling? A woman of my own career. I winced when she took the stand and began to speak, because I knew the type — I WAS the type. Everything about the teacher from the prison shrieked “Educator.”
Don’t get me wrong — stereotyping is both obvious and shallow. But day after day I as I left that courtroom, I recall thinking, “I can see where the screenwriters get this typecasting stuff. Dang.”