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date: 24 January 2021

Solitary Confinement in American Popular Culturelocked

  • Carlos MonteiroCarlos MonteiroDepartment of Sociology, University of Massachusetts
  •  and Natasha FrostNatasha FrostCollege of Social Sciences and Humanities, Northeastern University

Summary

With its long and storied history, solitary confinement has fascinated Americans since the birth of the penitentiary in the late 1700s. Once a practice that loomed large in literary representations of a distant and mysterious institution, solitary confinement has more recently been brought to the forefront of public discourse through its many representations across mediums of popular culture. Today, given popular culture’s global reach, the mystique of solitary confinement has diminished sharply, and conversations about this controversial practice are no longer limited to college classrooms, textbooks, and peer-reviewed journals. What many once referred to as a mysterious hole reserved for the worst of the worst offenders and covered for decades primarily through literary formats, is now commonly discussed in the comment sections of investigative reports and YouTube videos depicting footage from actual solitary confinement cells. The comments accompanying such popular culture representations in many ways reflect current debates about the efficacy of the practice. Today, for example, it is easy to come across representations of solitary confinement that showcase its necessity as an effective prison management tool and it is equally easy to find representations that highlight the anguish and burden of solitary confinement. Today, popular media have become one of the most effective mechanisms for disseminating information regarding important social issues, including solitary confinement.

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