| Cogito ergo sum|
Logic and rhetoric
“”Ladies and gentlemen of this supposed jury, it does not make sense! If Chewbacca lives on Endor, you must acquit! The defense rests.
|—Johnnie Cochran being parodied on South Park|
The Chewbacca Defense is any legal or propaganda strategy that seeks to overwhelm its audience with nonsensical arguments, as a way of confusing the audience and drowning out legitimate opposing arguments. It also has, intentionally or unintentionally, the effect of confusing the opponent so that they will stop arguing with you. If they are too chicken to continue the argument, the point they are trying to argue must be equally flimsy, right? Right?
In war, if the opposing side pulls back and raises the white flag, you've won. Some people like to think that this strategy also works in the art of debate. If you can get the opposing side to shut up, then you're right by default.
The sad part? It works. Not just in media, but in real life, too. In fact, most political systems are based on doing this. It is most commonly found in democratic debates since a dictatorship would only bother with this strategy if it were too weak to silence the opposition directly.
The term comes from, surprise, a South Park episode aired in 1998. It is a parody of Johnnie Cochran's famous closing argument in the O. J. Simpson trial.
Of course, as any Star Wars fan realizes, Chewbacca doesn't live on Endor at all. In fact, nobody lives on Endor, because Endor is the gas giant that the Forest Moon of Endor orbits. He merely visited the moon once in Return of the Jedi, making this argument not even wrong, in addition to being a non sequitur. Most likely it is a reference to the fact that the end of Return of the Jedi was supposed to take place on Kashyyyk, but then Lucas realised he could sell more teddy bears if he changed it.
Key characteristics of a Chewbacca Defense
- Accusing one's opponent of something unrelated to the subject matter at hand.
- Repeating a point over and over.
- Shouting. The logic behind this is that if one's voice is louder, they will seem more powerful, and powerful people always win.
- Not giving the opponent a chance to talk.
- Filibustering: that is, interrupting one's opponent and/or talking about nonsense purely to delay and lengthen the debate.
- Repeatedly bringing up semantics or nitpicking the opposition. This has the effect of either tiring out and distracting the opponent, or simply wasting time.
- Hitting one's opponent rapid-fire with so many bogus arguments that they cannot keep up unless they write them all down and painstakingly address them one at a time. This lets the debater claim that their opponent's failure to answer a few points as proof that they couldn't answer.
Common (and sad) examples
The common Chewbacca Defense is based on the following misconceptions and/or fallacies:
- If you can prove the other side wrong (even if they are wrong about something totally irrelevant), it makes you right.
- If you can word your statements and arguments in a way that is too confusing, intelligent-sounding, or nonsensical for the opponent to respond to, it makes them wrong and it makes you right.
- If you can shock or confuse your opponent and make them think you are a lost cause and not worth arguing with, you are right.
- If you can make your opponent give up on arguing with you, because you appear too crazy to understand them and/or don't seem to be listening, then they must be wrong and you must be right.
- If you can make an opponent look bad, their logic must be equally bad, and therefore you are right.
- If you are more popular or have more support than your opponent, it makes them wrong and it makes you right because more people agree with you.
- If you just keep arguing and shouting, even if everyone else (not just everyone else in the debate — everyone else in the world) thinks you are not just wrong, but insane, until everyone else just gets tired of listening to you spew nonsense, you're the last man standing, and, by default, you are right.
Unfortunately, the mere existence of the Chewbacca Defense leads to an unfortunate problem in debate called Chewbacca's Dilemma: No matter what you say in an argument, no matter how intelligently and clearly you word your rebuttals and assertions, your opponent will always perceive whatever you say to be a Chewbacca Defense. In fact, a common political maneuver is to use a Chewbacca Defense in order to accuse the opponent of using a Chewbacca Defense.
Confusing, isn't it?
Analysis by Actual Lawyers
Legal Eagle (an actual lawyer) in Real Lawyer Reacts to South Park Chewbacca Defense goes over the episode and outlines all the things that would never happen in a real world case and various inaccuracies (such as actions that would be limited to a criminal case occurring in a civil case) giving the episode a "C-" for legal accuracy.
Legal Geeks (a pair of e-Discovery attorneys) in "A Legal Analysis of The Chewbacca Defense" go over the case and say it is actually an example of jury nullification. They also state that an actual judge would likely say, “I have a bad feeling about this” and possibly declare a mistrial if such an argument was made in court.
They then stated "A party successfully using the Chewbacca Defense to confuse the jury into engaging in jury nullification in a civil lawsuit runs the risk of the losing party winning on a Judgment Notwithstanding the Verdict (JNOV). In Chef’s case, the copyright violation should have entitled him to a judgment as a matter of law."
Lawyers in "Evaluating the Prosecution's Case" (Frontline) point out many errors made by the prosecution in the actual O.J. Simpson trial - rushing to trial rather than having a grand jury to make sure the evidence was reduced to its barest essentials, going to trial before all the physical evidence had even been collected, and using a story of domestic violence going back to 1989 which was of questionable relevance. The prosecution's biggest screw up was with the glove that, thanks to what it had gone through, had changed in size - trying to show the glove did fit was a demonstration of sloppy and dumb.
So South Park's "Chewbacca Defense" is from a fictional (and inaccurate) version of an actual case that required ignoring the gross incompetence of the prosecution in the actual case for the joke to even work.