We began this chapter by outlining the importance of stories and illustrating how they can help us justify our own actions, giving our behaviour and our decisions meaning. Similarly, within punishment stories—be they told in a single state, in the South, or indeed to the entirety of America—the act of punishing was found to acquire a variety of meanings (see Chaps. 5 and 6). In some stories, punishment had come to represent the elimination of fear; an offender confined no longer poses a threat. In other stories the desire to see a perpetrator punished became an expression of vengeance; the brutality of the crime evoked impassioned appeals to see the criminal suffer. In others still, an execution was portrayed as somehow satisfying; the death of another brought about closure for the family members of the homicide victim. Yet when we considered the meanings of punishment, specifically from the Southern states’ perspective, we found that the death penalty in particular has become something of a symbol in the culture wars; commitment to tough justice was aligned with a commitment to states’ rights. Lastly, by looking at research undertaken in punishment museums and other dark tourist sites, we found that the meaning of punishment can be somewhat dependent on the tone of the story; when the conditions of confinement are mocked the spectator is distanced both from the prisoner and from the pains of imprisonment.
In conclusion then, this chapter has sought to construct a framework of narratives, one derived entirely from the body of scholarship that seeks to examine cultural representations of punishment. As already suggested, this cultural life literature is—to varying degrees—already about narrative, and so to construct the framework was not too challenging. That said, we should not underestimate the effect of synthesising such a large body of research. At the beginning of this chapter we knew a lot about the representation of punishment in America, in the Southern states and in individual states, but it would have been quite difficult to apply that knowledge to our own case study of Texas. Put another way, we would have stepped into the Lone Star museums associated with punishment and not really known what we were looking for. However, by drawing on diverse scholarship which speaks about cultural representations of punishment, as well as reviewing research on dark tourism, we have now produced a framework of narratives with which to approach our research sites.
In Part III of this book we will begin touring the punishment exhibits of the Lone Star museums in detail, examining the extent to which narratives of fear, vengeance, closure and retribution manifest within the stories Texas tells about its own relationship with punishment. We will also evaluate the claim that harsh punishment in general and execution in particular have gained symbolic significance within backlash narratives, and we shall revisit the conclusions drawn by tourism scholars about other, similar research sites. To begin this more analytical journey then, we will examine first the museum stories that provide the visitor with ‘orientating information’ about the Lone Star approach to punishment. We will examine the collective narratives about a distinctly ‘Tough Texas’.
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