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In the early 1940s, films started to appear where homosexual characters were represented as inherently criminal. These early representations were often subtle or implicit because various production codes operating in the United States and United Kingdom forbade explicit depictions or naming of homosexuality. During the 1940s, homosexuality was associated with disease and sexual deviance. This ensured that these early depictions were unflattering. Gradually, as time progressed and homosexuality became a less taboo topic, representations of homosexual criminality became less coded and more explicit. Filmmakers became bolder in their treatment of the theme of homosexuality and crime. The most fascinating discovery is that, when it comes to popular culture and the cinema, murder is the crime that is typically associated with homosexuality. However, murder has been a mainstay of crime film plots and so it is not surprising that homicide features in films linked to crime and homosexuality. By the year 2000, it is apparent that the cinematic treatment of homosexuality and crime had evolved to become quite sophisticated. Whereas earlier films reviled their homosexual characters such that they attracted little empathy from the audience, these later films have sought to engender a greater tolerance and sympathy for the homosexual killers they depict. Finally, it is important to note that films that depict homosexuals as killers are not an expression of homophobic sentient per se. Crime films have long situated killing as an essential aspect of their plots, and so films that feature homosexuals as murderers are simply a subset of this most popular cinematic genre.
The concept of the criminal underworld has played a powerful role in media representations of serious criminality from the early 20th century. Even before this period, the idea of a subterranean “otherworld” that mirrored and mimicked the more respectable “upperworld” can be identified in published texts across Western Europe and North America, and in the colonial cities of empire. Colorful terms such as the “netherworld,” “deeps,” “stews,” “sinks,” “rookeries,” “dens,” and “dives” described the slums that developed in many 19th-century cities. But by the 19th-century, slum life was increasingly correlated with criminality by the press, social investigators, fiction writers, and penal practitioners in the urban landscape.
Earlier texts that described criminal types and ascribed to them a specific set of practices and values (languages, rituals, secret codes, the places in which they “congregated”) can be found in the 16th and 17th centuries. In England, dramatists such as Thomas Harman, Robert Greene, and Thomas Dekker described such villainy in a new genre that would become known as “rogue literature.” Other European countries also had traditions of rogue literature that became popular in the early modern period. From the 18th century, the emergence of penal reform and new systems of law enforcement in the Western world saw concerns about crime reflected in the expansion of print culture. A demand for crime themed texts, including broadsheets, criminal biographies, and crime novels, further popularized the notion of a distinct criminal underworld. However, it would be in the 20th century that the underworld moved more directly onto political agendas. From the 1920s, events in North American cities would explicitly shape the public awareness of the underworld and organized crime. Within a relatively short time of gang warfare breaking out in cities such as New York and Chicago, the “gangster” and the underworld that he (apparently) inhabited became the subject of a global popular crime culture. Film, cheap fiction, and villain/police memoirs from the early 1930s popularized the “gangster.” Paul Muni memorably evoked the life of Al Capone in his character, Antonio “Tony” Camonte in Scarface (1932). Since then, gangsters have rarely gone out of fashion. In the 21st century, the relationship between the underworld and upperworld continues to be portrayed in popular culture. Television dramas like Boardwalk Empire and Peaky Blinders successfully build on an unacknowledged consensus about the existence of the underworld. Indeed, the press, police, and politicians continue to refer to the criminal underworld in a way that gives it solid form. There are few attempts to critically engage in discussions about the underworld or to provide a more meaningful definition.
Jeff Ferrell, Keith Hayward, and Michelle Brown
Cultural criminology is concerned with the convergence of cultural, criminal, and crime control processes; as such, it situates criminality and its control in the context of cultural dynamics and the contested production of meaning. It seeks to understand the everyday realities of a profoundly unequal and unjust world, and to highlight the ways in which power is exercised and resisted amidst the interplay of rule-making, rule-breaking, and representation. The subject matter of cultural criminology, then, crosses a range of contemporary issues: the mediated construction and commodification of crime, violence, and punishment; the symbolic practices of those engaged in illicit subcultural or postsubcultural activities; the existential anxieties and situated emotions that animate crime, transgression, and victimization; the social controls and cultural meanings that circulate within and between spatial arrangements; the interplay of state control and cultural resistance; the criminogenic cultures spawned by market economies; and a host of other instances in which situated and symbolic meaning is at stake. To accomplish such analysis, cultural criminology embraces interdisciplinary perspectives and alternative methods that regularly move it beyond the boundaries of conventional criminology, drawing from anthropology, media studies, youth studies, cultural studies, cultural geography, sociology, philosophy and other disciplines, and utilizing new forms of ethnography, textual analysis, and visual production. In all of this, cultural criminology seeks to challenge the accepted parameters of criminological analysis and to reorient criminology to contemporary social, cultural, and economic conditions.
Per Jorgen Ystehede and May-Len Skilbrei
Paradoxically, in the 19th century, an era very concerned with public virtue, prostitutes were increasing being represented in Western European cultural expressions. Prostitution was a prevalent social phenomenon due to the rapid urbanization of Western Europe. People were on the move as both urban and rural areas underwent considerable material and normative change; the majority of Western European cities grew rapidly and were marked by harsh working and living conditions, as well as unemployment and poverty. A seeming rise in prostitution was one of the results of these developments, but its centrality in culture cannot be explained by this fact alone. Prostitution also came to epitomize broader social ills associated with industrialization and urbanization: “the prostitute” became the discursive embodiment of the discontent of modernity.
The surge in cultural representation of prostitutes may also be seen as an expression of changing norms and a driver for change in the public perception of prostitution. In particular, artists came to employ the prostitute as a motif, revealing contemporary hypocrisy about gender and class.
Honni van Rijswijk
Scenes of torture are central to the Western imaginary of law, animating questions of power, authority and legitimacy. This examination of key cultural representations of torture provides some historical background on torture in the Western imaginary and focuses on its contemporary significance. A flexible set of analytical and aesthetic approaches to practices of representation are used to assess the changing significance of torture. In particular, three figures are central to the representation of torture—the torturer, the tortured, and the torture chamber. The significance of these elements differs depending on the form and perspective of representation. These elements of representations of torture changed following the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and have complicated the social and legal work done by previous cultural texts and government policies around the effectiveness of torture and the risks of states of exception. Not only do popular films and television series support and justify the use of torture as a legitimate information-gathering tool, but representations of torture have become sites of pleasure and enjoyment. The emergence of new figures and genres in representations of torture suggests that the use of torture in violent or conflict scenes has been of increasing interest to the public and possibly have become increasingly accepted since the rhetoric of the Global War on Terror (GWOT).
Neal King, Rayanne Streeter, and Talitha Rose
Crime film and television has proliferated such influential variations as the Depression-era gangster film; the post–World War studies in corruption known as film noir; the pro-police procedural of that time; and then the violent rogue-cop stories that eventually became cop action in the 1980s, with such hits as television’s Miami Vice and cinema’s Die Hard. Mobster movies enjoyed a resurgence with the works and knockoffs of Scorcese (Goodfellas) and Tarantino (Reservoir Dogs), resulting in such TV series as The Sopranos, and with a return to “blaxploitation” with the ’hood movies of the early 1990s. Recent developments include the neo-noir erotic thriller; the rise of the corrupt cop anti-hero, paralleled by the forensic procedural, often focused on baroque serial killers; and the near disappearance of black crime movies from cinema screens. Such developments may owe to shifts in relations between real policing, real crime, and citizens, but they may owe more directly to shifts in the movie/television industries that produce them. Such industry shifts include freewheeling depictions of social problems in early cinema; carefully controlled moralism over the 1930s established by such industrial regulators as the Production Code in Hollywood and the British Board of Film Censors; further repression of subversion as anti-Communism swept through Hollywood in the 1950s; then a return of repressed violence and cynicism in the 1970s as Hollywood regulation of depictions of crime broke down; and a huge spike in box office and ratings success in the 1980s, which resulted in the inclusion of more heroes who are not both white and male. The rise of the prime-time serial on television, enhanced by the introduction of time-shifting technologies of consumption, has allowed for more extended storytelling, usually marketed in terms of “realism,” enabling a sense of unresolved social problems and institutional inertia, for which shows like The Wire have been celebrated.
The content of such storytelling, in Western film and television, tends to include white male heroes meeting goals (whether success as criminals or defeat of them as cops) through force of will and resort to violence. Such stories focus on individual attributes more than on social structure, following a longstanding pattern of Hollywood narrative. And they present crime as ubiquitous and both it and the policing of it as violent. The late 1980s increase in the depiction of women of all races and men of color as heroes did little to alter those patterns. And gender patterns persist, including the absence of solidarity among women and the absence of women from stories of political corruption or large-scale combat.
Crime in literature takes advantage of two basic assumptions: (1) that the storyline generally begins with a crime (very often murder) that underlies the subsequent narrative, often serving as the driving force of the story; and (2) that the crime itself and its narrative implications will be rooted in the actual workings of a culture’s justice system at any given moment in time. Consequently, crime literature in particular provides readers with a snapshot of prevailing attitudes about the nature of justice in a society and the basic fears about crime that threaten its collective conscience.
To understand crime fiction from a cultural studies perspective, it is necessary to develop a broader understanding of the larger culture from which an author and his/her fictional creations emerge. Although writers create fiction for various reasons, publishers put their efforts into projects they hope will be somewhat financially profitable. Thus, published works exist in a culturally-specific space that never veers too far from the values, beliefs, and expectations of its mainstream society. To understand the fictional world conjured by an author a cultural studies approach takes into consideration larger socio-historical phenomena: What kinds of mythologies underlie a culture’s traditions? What historical events have helped shape the culture’s identity? What sort of political and legal systems organize the culture? What specific kinds of crime tend to be highlighted in a culture’s crime literature (guns, drugs, race, violence against women, class warfare, government corruption and repression, etc.)? What role do legitimate legal structures tend to play in a culture’s crime literature? What role does climate play in a culture’s identity? In short, a cultural studies approach begins by trying to determine the assumptions authors make about readers’ cultural knowledge, values, beliefs, and myths about crime and justice in order to develop a context for understanding what is taken for granted in the narrative.
Beginning in the mid-1970s, enormous changes governed U.S. punishment of criminal offenses, leading to harsher laws and longer prison terms than convicts in earlier decades served for the same offenses. The stark policy shift resulted in soaring prison populations that are disproportionate compared with most Western nations. The United States, with 5% of the world population, has more than 20% of the world’s prisoners. Its prison population rose 700% from 1970 to 2005. Today, one in 34 adults is under correctional control. The rates are disproportionate for minorities, especially less-educated black men (Lee, 2015; Pew, 2007, 2014; U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, 2012).
Shifts in physical treatment of prisoners accompanied the population boom. Jails and prisons adopted control technologies that would likely have been considered inappropriate and inhumane decades earlier. These included the stun belt and the restraint chair, devices that can cause considerable pain. These also included extensive use of solitary confinement in Supermax prisons, an echo of a method used in 18th- and 19th -century American penitentiaries and discarded because of the dangers it posed to inmate mental health. And, following the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center, treatment in U.S. prisons seemed to echo overseas in abuse of foreign prisoners in American hands. The Bush administration attempted to declare physical coercion as legal during interrogations, in apparent violation of the Geneva Conventions (Shane, Johnston, & Risen, 2007).
What caused such a shift? Much of the change appears to be cultural in nature, connected strongly to forces such as politics, religion, pervasive beliefs about evil and children, popular culture, and economic realities. This also means that American punishment is historically more influenced by such cultural forces than by more seemingly related phenomena such as research on effective punishments, prisoner experience, or crime statistics.
That American cultural trends strongly influence American punishment also means that American daily lives respond to shifts in punitiveness. Such evidence of American punishment trends appear in popular television shows and treatment of children.
Dark tourism has passed into the language and study of tourism since it was first designated as such in 1996 (see Lennon & Foley, 1996; Seaton, 1996). It is now established as a term to designate those sites and locations of genocide, holocaust, assassination, crime, or incarceration that have served to attract visitors. The phenomenon exists across a range of global destinations and demonstrates commonality and unifying elements across a range of societies and political regimes. The interpretation of these sites can of course be the product of ideology and dominant belief systems, and they act as the meeting place for history and visitation where questions of authenticity and fact are sometimes juxtaposed with the operation of tourism facilities. What is celebrated, interpreted, and developed is often selective, and dilemmas of commemoration of the unacceptable and acceptable are reflected clearly in the condition, nature, and content of these sites. This selective interpretation is demonstrated in destinations from Cambodia to Lithuania, from Auschwitz to Dallas, and from Moscow to London. In these locations, such tourist attractions become key physical sites of commemoration, history, and record. They provide the visitor with a narrative that may well be positioned, augmented, and structured to engage, entertain, or discourage further inquiry.
Dark tourism attractions demonstrate demand but also constitute commemoration, historical reference, narrative legacies, and populist heritage attractions. These tourism sites in some cases become one of the few remaining commemorative elements of victims and their testimonies. In such cases the content and its narrative interpretation take on critically important values in understanding a shared past.
Justin Piché and Kevin Walby
Dark tourism researchers who examine sites of death, suffering, and despair have generated a significant amount of research over the past two decades. Different ways of conducting dark tourism research are emerging. These include studies oriented toward making sense of the supply and demand for such excursions, and research that explores how cultural meanings are negotiated at these destinations. There are also critiques of the wide-ranging application of the dark tourism concept, which has led some scholars to argue that it is analytically imprecise. New directions for future dark tourism research have also been proposed, including a call to shift away from discipline-centered analyses. Engaging with these developments, we suggest that the future direction of dark tourism research should involve grounding such studies in the concerns and insights offered in specific social science disciplines, including criminology and criminal justice studies among others, to add focus and precision to cross-disciplinary debates. To do so we draw from the emergence and development of penal tourism research, which examines how cultural representations of penality shape and are shaped by the practice of punishment in given societies. Since penal tourism research tends to focus on prison museums, we propose future directions for the study of this phenomenon rooted in criminological concerns for understanding how penal meaning making, including definitions of acts that are criminalized and what constitutes (in)justice, takes place in other sites of punishment memorialization including police and courthouse museums. Other future research directions include studying sites that memorialize corporate and state harms.