June 24, 2015
"Punishment in Popular Culture"
The title of this post is the title of this intriguing new book of essays edited by Charles Ogletree and Austin Sarat. The book's table of contents reveals that the essays are authored by an array of interesting and distinct scholars who focus on an array of interesting and distinct topics ranging from early prison films to Abu Ghraib to "White Masculinity and Harsh Punishment in 1990s Popular Culture." The book's introduction authored by the editors provides a great preview of the book's themes and coverage, and here is an excerpt:
From the Gospel of Matthew to George Bernard Shaw and former Supreme Court Justice William Brennan, many have remarked that how a society punishes reveals its true character. Punishment tells us who we are. The way a society punishes demonstrates its commitment to standards of judgment and justice, its distinctive views of blame and responsibility, its understandings of mercy and forgiveness, and its particular ways of responding to evil....
Punishment in Popular Culture examines the cultural images that undergird and critique America’s distinctive approach to punishment. It analyzes punishment as a set of images, as a marvelous spectacle of condemnation. It recognizes that the semiotics of punishment is all around us, not just in the architecture of the prison or the speech made by a judge as she sends someone to a penal colony, but in both “high” and “popular” culture iconography — in novels, television, and film. Punishment has traditionally been one of the great subjects of cultural production, suggesting the powerful allure of the fall and of our prospects for redemption. But perhaps the word “our” is inaccurate here. Émile Durkheim and George Herbert Mead, among others, remind us that it is through practices of punishment that cultural boundaries are drawn, that solidarity is created through acts of marking difference between self and other, that these processes proceed through dis-identification as much as imagined connection....
America, as is widely known, has been on a several decades’ old incarceration boom. As noted above, we continue to lock up more people for longer periods of time than most other nations, as well as to use the death penalty and to racialize punishment in ways that are quite remarkable. How are these facts of American penal life reflected in, encouraged through, or critiqued by the portraits of punishment that Americans regularly encounter on television and in film? What are the conventions of genre that help to familiarize those portraits and connect them to broader political and cultural themes? In its cultural lives, can punishment claim a secure basis in morality? Or do television and film help to undermine its moral claims? How are developments in the broader political economy reflected in the ways punishment appears in mass culture? And finally, how are images of punishment received by their audiences?
While the work collected in our book does not purport to provide a comprehensive overview, these are the questions that Punishment in Popular Culture addresses. Our book thematizes issues of genre, morality, political economy, and reception in its analyses and brings together distinguished scholars of punishment and experts in media studies in an unusual juxtaposition of disciplines and perspectives.
June 24, 2015 at 08:53 AM | Permalink