Framing Fast-Food Litigation
Tort Claims, Mass Media, and the Politics of Responsibility
in the United States
WILLIAM HALTOM AND MICHAEL MCCANN
Cultural studies generally focus on discursive practices and the contesting constructions of knowledge or meaning in particular times and places. Empirical study of legal culture varies widely in the specific manifestations of practice mobilized as primary data. As the essays in this volume illustrate, familiar modes of data generation include written historical texts, personal interviews, court records, written legal opinions, and ethnographies. One particularly useful data resource for cultural study of law in modern societies, we think, is the various products of mass media. 'These might include news editorials, popular movies or television shows, novels and poetry, music, or news reporting. 'This chapter focuses on these last cultural texts, news articles, to study efforts of public interest lawyers to use tort lawsuits for the purpose of reforming and regulating corporate production, sales, and marketing of fast food. This specific study is part of a large multi-issue project interrogating how public interest tort litigation at once reflects and shapes political discourse about the “politics of responsibility” in the United States. We are particularly interested in the ways that the culturally prominent stigmatization of personal injury lawyers, tort plaintiffs, and personal injury litigation generally might affect efforts of public interest advocates using tort litigation to challenge corporate power and advance consumer welfare. Our essay anticipates essays regarding tort litigation in the areas of tobacco and asbestos by Epp, Mather, and Tanase in this volume.