II Representing Punishment in the United States of America
Emotionality and Cultural Stories of (In)justice
For some time now criminological endeavour has sought to understand the meanings of punishment as expressed in narratives, images and symbols; as a ‘marvellous spectacle’ (Boulanger and Sarat 2005, p. 2). Rooting its understanding in cultural criminology, this literature views ‘culture’ as a complex set of meanings, forms of representations and performances (Ferrell 2004; Ferrell et al. 2004, 2008; Hayward and Young 2004); punishment is thus studied with reference to the meanings it carries (Hayward 2010). Whilst capital punishment and incarceration exist in the execution chamber and behind the prison walls, they also thrive in films, books and news articles, in their presentations and representations. It is here that punishment acquires much of its meaning; within its ‘cultural life’ (Sarat and Boulanger 2005).
Those who adopt the cultural life perspective have studied a whole manner of cultural products within which punishment stories have been found. These include (although are by no means limited to) documentaries; film; art exhibits; fictional literature; news media; advertising campaigns; and stage plays. It appears then, that stories about crime and punishment are being told everywhere. However, while the medium
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through which the story is told varies from product to product, the narratives deployed within those stories—narratives which explain or justify punishment—actually remain fairly consistent. Whether the story is being told in a Hollywood blockbuster, between the pages of a broadsheet newspaper or on a webpage dedicated to a single victim, research suggests the story will incorporate (to varying degrees) narratives of fear, vengeance and/or closure. This chapter will now evaluate how—and indeed why—such emotive scripts have come to surround cultural representations of punishment, and discuss the implications of this cultural triad of sentencing rationales.