Public sex is a term used to describe various forms of sexual practice that take place in public, including cruising, cottaging (sex in public toilets), and dogging. Public sex has a long history and wide geography, especially for sexual minorities excluded from pursuing their sex lives in private, domestic spaces. Social science research has long studied public sex environments (PSEs) and analyzed the sexual cultures therein, providing a rich set of representations that continue to provide important insights today. Public sex is often legally and morally contentious, subject to regulation, rendered illicit and illegal (especially, but not exclusively, in the context of same-sex activities). Legal and policing practices therefore produce another important mode of representation, while undercover police activities utilizing surveillance techniques have depicted public sex in order to regulate it. Legal and moral regulation is frequently connected to news media coverage, and there is a rich archive of press representations of public sex that plays a significant role in constructing public sex acts as problematic. Fictionalized representations in literature, cinema, and television provide a further resource of representations, while the widespread availability of digital video technologies has also facilitated user-generated content production, notably in online pornography. The production, distribution, and consumption of representations of sex online sometimes breaches the private/public divide, as representations intended solely for private use enter the online public sphere—the cases of celebrity sex tapes, revenge porn, and sexting provide different contexts for turning private sex into public sex. Smartphones have added location awareness and mobility to practices of mediated public sex, changing its cultural practices, uses, and meanings. Film and video recording is also a central feature of surveillance techniques which have long been used to police public sex and which are increasingly omnipresent in public space. Representations as diverse as online porn, art installations, and pop videos have addressed this issue in distinctive ways.
Much of the existing research on video games seems to stall over the issue of whether or not violence in games is as innocent as is alleged. Scientists are still divided as to whether or not there is a causal link between the behavior of young people and violence in video gaming. Much less discussion is devoted to how cultural and political engagement finds new channels in video games to confront dominant opinions and perceptions in society. However, a more recent body of scientific work considers how the image spaces of video games facilitate new forms of resistance and how this opens up possibilities of social change in our daily lives. In this research, the culture of video gaming is used as a tool for a deeper understanding of resistance in our society. In this context, application of theories about “contagion without contact” can add some new thoughts to the way the virtual world of video games offers possibilities for a politics of resistance in real life. From a historical point of view, the work of the 19th-century French sociologist Gabriel Tarde, one of the first theorists on contagion, can be used to understand more deeply this on-going process by which everyday life recreates itself in its own image, and vice versa. Rather than measuring the amount of violence present in video games (“content analysis”) or identifying causal linkages between media representations of violent imagery and behavior, and subsequent human behavior (“media effect research”), it becomes evident that players of games are not passive recipients, but active interpreters of the reality that arises in and is processed by popular culture.
Glenn Muschert and Jaclyn Schildkraut
Stories about crime are staples in modern mainstream media, with the greatest emphasis placed on the most extreme cases. School shootings are particularly exemplary of this, as when word breaks of such an event, various forms of media, including the television, radio, and newspaper formats, as well as social media, become inundated with stories. This around-the-clock attention often lasts for hours and days, and with the most extreme cases, even weeks. As most people never will experience such a school shooting directly, the media then becomes the dominant conduit from which to glean information about the event.
How these cases are presented in the news can impact audiences as much as the number of stories that are aired or printed can. Consequently, researchers have explored the way in which these stories are framed to glean a better understanding of how information about the shootings are presented by the media. Such a line of inquiry is important as violent entertainment media (e.g., movies and video games) in particular have been criticized as possible contributing factors for the events in the first place. Additionally, mass shootings not only are abundant in the news, they also have appeared in popular media including television, film, and even music. Collectively, the media also has the ability to impact the perceptions of school shootings, particularly as the coverage relates to things like fear of crime or even copycat or contagion effects.
Security and surveillance have featured heavily in film over the years. Their depiction has provided a platform for debate about appropriate levels of surveillance and has provided tangible illustrations of surveillance theory. Films have addressed the development of surveillance technology and the practice of monitoring citizens in the name of national security, portraying surveillance as both a necessary tool and at times a threat to liberty. The use of surveillance technology has been a controversial practice, often debated as an issue of civil liberty and potentially an invasion of privacy. How much surveillance is too much or too little is often debated in relation to serious threats to society, such as terrorist attacks and organized crime. In addressing these issues, films often illustrate surveillance theory in practice, providing useful insight into the benefits and drawbacks of particular theoretical perspectives on the use of surveillance. Concepts like social control, discipline/punishment of people who break the law, and convincing people to follow the rules are often inherent in the storylines of films on surveillance.
A key idea in the study of surveillance is the concept of a panopticon. Originally, a panopticon was an architectural design for a prison that placed a guard in a well at the center of a prison, with inmates arranged around them. The guard could observe the prisoners at all times and the prisoners lived with a sense that they were constantly under surveillance. The design aimed to improve the security and efficiency of the prison. In the 1970s, Foucault applied the concept of a panopticon to society as a whole, arguing that the state acts as the prison guard and the public are the prisoners who are controlled by the belief that they are under constant surveillance. This idea has been influential in the study of surveillance, and the image of a central protagonist who monitors others with and without their awareness appears in several films from the 1970s onward. The film adaptation of 1984 often serves as an example of the threat of surveillance by the state. Equally, films like The Conversation and Enemy of the State have commented on the threat of covert acts of surveillance by small elites.
Phillip L. Simpson
Serial killing is an age-old problem, though it was not popularly known by that name until the 1980s. It took the rise of mass media and the mechanisms of mass production to create the conditions for the rise of serial murder in the modern world. The mass media representation of a series of murders arguably dates back to the notoriety accorded to the so-called Jack the Ripper killings of prostitutes in London in the autumn of 1888. The Ripper murders stand at a particular nexus in the representation of true crime, where fact and legend immediately fused in popular media to create a terrifying new modern, urban mythology of a preternaturally cunning human super-predator: one who strikes from the shadows to commit ghastly murder with impunity and then retreats back into that darkness until the next atrocity. Since the days of Jack the Ripper, a ghoulish pantheon of other serial killers has captivated the public imagination through representation in media: the Zodiac Killer, David Berkowitz, Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy Jr., Henry Lee Lucas, Richard Ramirez, and Jeffrey Dahmer, just to name a few. However, the term “serial killer” did not enter the American popular vocabulary until the 1980s, so in another sense, the true representation of what we now know as serial killing could not begin until it had this latest, proper name. In tandem, as cultural consciousness of serial murder expanded, fictional serial killers proliferated the media landscape: Patrick Bateman, Norman Bates, Francis Dolarhyde, Lou Ford, Jame Gumb, Mickey and Mallory Knox, Leatherface, Dr. Hannibal Lecter, Dexter Morgan, Tom Ripley, and a host of others. Serial killers as they exist in the popular imagination are media constructs rooted in sociological/criminological/psychological realities. These constructs originate from collective fears or anxieties specific to a particular time and place, which also means as times and the cultural zeitgeist change, the serial killer as a character epitomizing human evil is endlessly reinvented for new audiences in popular media.
In media representations the term sex crimes most frequently refers to rape and child sexual abuse, although it can include a wider range of acts such as exhibitionism and voyeurism. While the majority of these crimes receive little media attention, certain sensational sex crimes are prominent topics in news and entertainment media. Media attention tends to focus on violent crimes committed by “dangerous” strangers, largely defined as poor men of color, and crimes committed against white and middle-class victims. These representations provide a distorted image of the reality of sex crimes, which most frequently occur in private settings, by someone known to the victim. Media coverage has also been criticized for focusing on the actions and responsibility of victims, suggesting that victim behavior, such as drinking, flirting, or being in the “wrong place at the wrong time” precipitates sexual violence. Again, these representations vary significantly according to race and class, with white and middle-class victims more likely to receive sympathetic coverage, particularly if their assailant is from a lower-class or more marginal racial or ethnic background.
The emergence of the second-wave feminist movement in the 1970s, however, has led to some changes in media representations of sex crimes. Subsequent decades have seen an increase in sympathetic reporting around victims and increased reporting of crimes perpetrated by acquaintances and family members. There has been a growth in feminist voices and views in media reporting, as well as increased focus on the responsibilities and failings of criminal justice systems. Recent years have seen several examples of media coverage or “rediscovery” of previously ignored allegations against celebrities. Sex crimes have become a highly controversial and contested area, and media coverage reflects this, sometimes supporting progressive social and cultural change and sometimes providing a vehicle for “backlash” sentiments. Social media has been a driver of changes in the media landscape around sexual violence in recent years has provided a new forum for survivors to disseminate their stories but has also been marked by online harassment and abuse.
Sexting has recently attracted both media and academic attention. Mostly associated with adolescents, sexting, broadly speaking, refers to the production of and sharing of a naked or semi-naked image or a sexualized message via digital technology. Understanding sexting behaviors, however, is rather more complex and current commonly used definitions do not adequately address the different types of sexting and the different motivations and consequences that sexting behaviors have. Both media and public discourse have centered on the risks of sexting in relation to children and young people, as have policy responses to sexting activity. Concerns over a child being groomed online and being coerced or threatened into sending a naked or semi-naked picture by someone seeking sexual gratification has been the focus of policy debate and many public educational campaigns across the globe. Similarly, other campaigns have depicted the child or young person as a victim who sends a sexualized image to a peer that is then posted on a social media site or shared widely among a peer group causing the sender humiliation and distress. While these are both clear examples of digital abuse that have been the center of public awareness campaigns, it is often argued that current legal frameworks are insufficient to provide an adequate and appropriate response in many sexting cases, as there is considerable diversity in the circumstances and the contexts of sexting behaviors. As such it is argued that the (il)legality of sexting is such that it fails to recognize young people’s agency and that they may be choosing to produce and share images of themselves by choice. While it is legal to have sex with consent in many countries at age 16, it is still illegal to take a photo of either one’s own body or that of another if they are under 18 (even if over 16 and, thus, over the age of consent to have sex in many countries). As a consequence, some young people are being criminalized by the very laws designed to protect them. In reality many young people view sexting (although they do not use such terminology) as a mundane, fairly everyday thing to do, especially when they are in a romantic, intimate relationship and they are sharing the images with each other within the context of a trusting relationship. However, it is usually when that relationship breaks down that the image is more likely to be shared with others or published online with often harmful psychological and emotional consequences for the person depicted in the image. Sadly, some young people have committed suicide as a result of an image being publically shared. While the media, public, and, indeed, academic attention has focused on sexting in relation to children and young people, such behaviors are also experienced by adults who are similarly victims of digital abuse; yet many adult victims fail to receive protection from the criminal justice system when an image or video is published online without their consent. This is more commonly known as revenge pornography.
Chris Cunneen and Sophie Russell
The pervasiveness and prominence of mass media are key features of contemporary societies. Nowhere is this more relevant than when we look at the ubiquity of social media. In recent years, anticrime Facebook pages have appeared across all states and territories in Australia, and as our social spaces increasingly shift from the physical to the virtual realm, different forms of online cybervigilantism have emerged. This article explores the ways in which community justice and vigilantism in Australia are exercised through social media in the wider context of the racialized criminalization of Indigenous young people. We also discuss how new forms of media are used to produce and reproduce a racialized narrative of crime, which at the same time has the effect of legitimating violence against young Indigenous Australians. The text draws on a number of anticrime Facebook pages and finds that the very presence of these sites legitimates the beliefs of its members, while providing details about potential targets, most of whom are young people. We contend that the views expressed on these sites mirror, in more prosaic language, sentiments that are expressed in sections of the old media and among a number of ultraright politicians and groups. Further, these sites do little to question the broader ideological and political frameworks that present crime and disorder as being divorced from structural and historical conditions. There is, then, an assumed social consensus around what is being presented on these Facebook sites: namely, that overt racism and calls to vigilante violence are socially and politically acceptable. While there appears to be a direct link between the Facebook groups and incidents of violence in some cases, on a broader level, it is the constant reinforcement of an environment of racist violence that is most troubling.
Carlos Monteiro and Natasha Frost
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.
Carceral geography has emerged as a vibrant and important subdiscipline of human geography, and there is increasing, and productive, dialogue among human geographers concerned with the carceral and disciplinary scholars with longer-standing engagements with incarceration and detention. Although the geographical study of the prison and other confined or closed spaces is relatively new, this dialogue between carceral geography and cognate disciplines of criminology and prison sociology, ensures that carceral geography now speaks directly to issues of contemporary import such as hyperincarceration and the advance of the punitive state.
Carceral geography addresses a diverse audience, with geographical approaches to carceral space being taken up by and developed further within human geography, and in criminology and prison sociology. Carceral geography has emerged in concurrence with the “spatial turn” in criminology, and the spatialization of carceral studies, and the particular ways in which carceral geographers have engaged spaces and practices of incarceration—specifically with concerns for mobility, for multisensory carceral experiences, and for methodology—may offer further, and productive, avenues of collaboration between geographers and criminologists concerned with the carceral.
Sport is a part of our shared global and separate national popular cultures. Understanding of baseball may be low in the United Kingdom and may come from films like Field of Dreams, but the phrase “three strikes and you’re out” has entered English and Welsh Criminal Justice practice. Such mandatory sentencing for repeat offenders are, like “zero tolerance” or “the war on drugs,” often seen as imports from the Unites States. The popularity of baseball in Japan may be known to only a few outside that country. Many will associate Sumo with Japan, fewer will know of corruption and betting scandals (on baseball!) in the sport. The global sports of football and athletics/track and field have seen major corruption scandals. In athletics, that corruption may also involve the covering up the use of performance enhancing drugs. The sport most associated with drugs is cycling. The premier cycling—and popular cultural, event—the Tour de France, has seen occupational drug taking on a considerable scale, with the rise and fall of Lance Armstrong being the only knowledge of the sport that many will have.
All these sports have waged their “war on drugs” or corruption, and these have entered popular culture through books and films. Yet many still believe sport to have noble roots and beneficial outcomes. Projects set up to prevent crime or encourage desistance from it are popular around the world; examples being soccer or rugby for prisoners, car racing for “joyriders,” or challenging adventure trips. Even tennis, golf, and video games have their supporters. Many successful boxers speak of troubled pasts from which their sport (and popularity) has saved them. However, many have found that fame (or loss of fame) and physical prowess have led them into trouble. There are also political and moral objections to sport. Specifically, there are feminist objections to the violence of some sportsmen towards women, as shown by stars of the NBA and NFL, NCAA athletes, and even local college teams. The occasional violence of sportswomen is treated, like women’s crime, as doubly deviant and especially newsworthy.
Street culture, the states of being, beliefs, and patterns of behavior associated with the most excluded urban populations, can be observed across the world in numerous varieties. Scholars of “slum” life have noted concerns that bear curious similarities over time and space, speaking to issues of exclusion, crime, and criminalization, and to expressive practices that have come to inspire a range of cultural products that are now heavily marketized. Street cultures are at the apex of different debates and studies. Are street cultures, which emphasize entrepreneurial “hustles” and fierce competition, fundamentally different from mainstream cultures of neoliberal capitalism and consumerism? Studying varieties of street culture and the extent to which individuals adhere to them in different ways highlights the complexities of the relationship between the impoverished self and contemporary social structures: new iterations of racism, patriarchy, and inequality. Examining street expressive practices, such as graffiti art, streetwear, and a variety of musical genres, is far from decorative where it reveals new ways in which the disadvantaged are criminalized while the culture industries are reinvigorated. Included populations are both fearful of and fascinated by the urban poor in a manner that simultaneously supports harsh criminal justice measures and cultural exploitation.
The survey, a research methodology in which variables are measured through the answers to questions on a data collection tool called a “survey questionnaire,” has been used to investigate several potential relationships between mass media and crime. In almost all studies, the relationship hypothesized is media influence, in which the media images change the consumer’s attitudes, beliefs, and behavior. Most commonly the hypothesized change is behavioral: individuals who consume violent, sexual, or otherwise suspect media images purportedly have a heightened risk of engaging in criminal acts. Other hypothesized effects of media consumption that are studied frequently include racist or otherwise biased attitudes, which could impact decision making during the criminal justice process; inaccurate beliefs about crime, with an impact on fear of crime and resultant changes in public policy; and the CSI Effect, an exaggerated belief in the efficiency of forensic science in identifying criminal offenders, which could sway jury decisions.
Survey-based research studies have rarely found that mass media consumption has a significant impact on criminal behavior or biased attitude, and its impact on beliefs about crime are contingent on many more significant factors. While these poor results may suggest that there is indeed minimal impact, the problem may lie within the methodology itself, in the ability of survey-based questions and answers to adequately measure the independent variable (media consumption) and the various dependent variables. Additionally, the problem may lie within the essential premise of media influence, with its passive, naive viewer and a radical disjunction between media and real life.
Legal discourse is language that people use in a globalizing and multicultural society to negotiate acceptable behaviors and values. We see this played out in popular cultural forums such as judicial television dramas. In the American context, television judge shows are virtually synonymous with reality courtroom television. There have been a few judge shows, but these have been completely overshadowed by the success of reality courtroom television. The first reality courtroom show was The People’s Court, and its history and early success are discussed in the opening section of this article. The next section looks at the television judge show landscape after the first incarnation of The People’s Court up to the present day in the United States. The third section is dedicated to a discussion of television judge shows outside the United States, chiefly in Europe. The focus is on German and Dutch versions and on the ways in which they differ from the original U.S. versions. This section also briefly looks at the effects of modern digital technology on the judicial genre and asks whether enhanced viewer engagement and crowdsourced justice in the near future will force judges to bow to the popular will, on and off the small screen.
The themes of terrorism and counter-terrorism have infused the America media’s cultural production for several decades. These popular culture products were designed first for consumption by domestic audiences but also for export to audiences throughout the world, quickly assuming a role in US cultural imperialism. Much of this production took the form of news reports about political turmoil, sectarian violence and liberation, independence or nationalist movements—almost always occurring “somewhere else” in the world. Still others appeared as fictional narratives embedded within diverse entertainment genres such as political thrillers, war, sci-fi, romance and suspense, sometimes in a lifeworld that paralleled that of the domestic audience. But more often than not this production took the form of lifeworlds mimicking foreign lands, mythical pasts, or dystopian futures. Popular culture’s tales of terrorism and counter-terrorism maintained this relatively stable pattern for much of the last quarter of the 20th century. Al-Qaeda’s terrorist attacks against the United States on 11 September 2001 considerably impacted that narrative pattern, and while not fundamentally changing the script, this attack resulted in significant rewrites. To begin, the portrayal of terrorism and the War on Terror, both real and fictionalized, became the central theme in a great deal of popular culture, including television programs, feature films, PC/video games, YouTube videos, advertisements, popular music, and of course, the news. These mediated texts—in essence, stories that the US cultural industries tell about terrorism and the state’s attempts to fight it—reconstituted the social reality of terrorism and counter-terrorism. In the immediate aftermath of al-Qaeda’s attacks, the American cultural industries increasingly served as a conduit for US hegemony, both at home and abroad. While there is a long history of arm’s-length cooperation between the state and the entertainment industry in the production of popular culture products that can be traced back to the early 1930s, the immediate post-9/11 period heralded an era of not only more terrorism and counter-terrorism narratives but also narratives whose content changed incrementally (but ultimately markedly) largely as a result of the state’s direct involvement in crafting them.
Chief among the changes was the streamlining of a narrative that emphasized the growing ubiquity of terrorist threats to the American people on US soil. Indeed, in the lifeworlds created by post-9/11 popular culture, terrorism and counter-terrorism are no longer things that happen primarily or exclusively elsewhere. America’s business interests abroad, its embassies and military installations, are no longer the only likely targets of terrorist activity. These traditional targets have been augmented by many others, including iconic buildings in major cities, national monuments, and critical infrastructure—as well as by more mundane parts of the US landscape, such as schools, sports stadiums, amusement parks, and shopping malls. Like that espoused by the state, the culture industries’ narrative is clear; no one is safe from terrorism.
Predictably, the narrative shift that amplified the danger, barbarism, and proliferation of the terrorist threat was complimented by one which aggrandized the counter-terrorist efforts of the United States. In popular culture’s various lifeworlds counter-terrorism strategies, no matter how extreme, are understood as reasonable and legitimate. The narratives, comprised almost wholly of fetishized presentations of military, national security, and law enforcement agents with state- of-the-art weaponry dispatching terrorists with deadly force, provide virtually no political or socio-historical context and offer no alternative to resolving conflicts other than the unfettered use of state violence.
As such, popular culture’s presentation of terrorism and counter-terrorism serves to provide the resolution that the real-world War on Terror promised but did not deliver, while at the same time contributing to a narrative that demands its continuation.
Prosecutors and members of law enforcement have complained that television shows such as CSI: Crime Scene Investigation have cultivated in jurors’ unreasonable expectations about forensic evidence, specifically that jurors require definitive forensic proof of guilt, or else they will wrongly acquit. This is popularly known as “CSI Effect.” Despite the popularity of this belief, there is little empirical evidence substantiating it. In fact, the majority of studies exploring CSI Effects have found evidence supporting a variety of impacts that advantage, rather than disadvantage, the prosecution. For instance, these programs frame forensics as objective and virtually infallible, bolster forensic technicians and the value of evidence associated with them, and promote schema that endorse prosecution narratives. Indeed, it appears that among CSI’s most salient impacts on the legal system comes not from these television programs distorting juror decision-making, but because lawyers and judges mistakenly believe such an effect exists, and, therefore, alter their behavior in response. It thus appears that the realities of the CSI Effect are quite different than the persistent mythology of it.
This article explores what happens to criminal evidence after the conclusion of legal proceedings, described here as the afterlife of evidence. The text investigates the ways that this material proliferates in the shadow of the law, in both cultural and commercial contexts. During the criminal trial, the rules of evidence and criminal procedure operate to tightly regulate the collection, admissibility, and interpretation of evidence. After the criminal trial, these rules no longer control evidence, and this material is sometimes subject to the substantial cultural curiosity associated with true crime and its artifacts. This article sets out some of the new questions that are posed by this material when it is transferred beyond the law’s control.
In examining Aboriginal riots, the conditions of political antagonism and the distinct ways these relations of antagonism are played out take precedence. Ethnographic approaches that analyze the substance of situated cultural meanings are central to understanding these relations. Drawing upon Allen Feldman’s ethnographic account of the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland for some of its interpretive framework, this article surveys the methodological value and importance the Manchester School of Anthropology placed on “atypical events,” moments when irresolvable tensions boil to the surface. For anthropologists, what is important in understanding riots is the manner in which participants themselves extract meanings in violence. What do they say about the violence? How is it culturally situated in particular social and political contexts? Different antagonists create their own moral economy that then legitimates their repertoires of violence.
Taunya Lovell Banks
Crime films defy precise definition. This category includes traditional courtroom films like Witness for the Prosecution (1957), detective films like Gone Girl (2014), prison films like The Shawshank Redemption (1994), comedies like My Cousin Vinny (1992) or Find Me Guilty (2006), gangster films like The Godfather series (1972, 1974, 1990), and even musicals like Chicago (2002). Thus crime films provide an almost limitless variety of plots, characters, and settings. Adopting a very broad definition of what constitutes a “crime film”, the representation of race in crime films throughout the 20th and early 21st centuries is examined.
During much of the early and mid-20th century, crime on American Main Street silver screens was largely a white phenomenon. The absence of people considered nonwhite from early crime films is unsurprising because “whiteness is positioned as the default category, the center or the assumed norm on which everything else in American society is based. Under this conception, white is often defined more through what it is not than what it is.” Racial outsiders like African and Asian Americans, Native Americans, Latinos, and other persons considered nonwhite were not featured on America’s movie screens. If they appeared at all in early crime films it was as marginal stereotypical characters.
Stereotyping, when used in film, is designed “to quickly convey information about characters and to instill in audiences expectations about characters’ actions.” During the early days of American films nonwhites were encoded with negative, often criminal, stereotypes. In silent films like Birth of a Nation (1915), for example, African American men were depicted as rapists and violent brutes. Mexicans in The Greaser’s Gauntlet (1908) and Guns and Greasers (1918) were depicted as criminals. Silent films like The Massacre (1912) and The Battle of Elderbush Gulch (1913) portrayed Native Americans as lawless savages, an image reinforced throughout the 20th century by western films. In The Cheat (1915) Japanese male immigrants were depicted as wily sexual predictors. The stereotypes attributed to ethnic Chinese were slightly different and more exaggerated. Films like The Heathen Chinese and the Sunday School Teacher (1904) and The Yellow Peril (1908) demonized Chinese immigrants as villainous predictors. In episode 13 of the film serial The Exploits of Elaine (1914) the protagonist, Pearl, “[t]rapped in a lair of Chinese devil worshipers . . . is spared rape, a fate worse than death, in favor of ritual sacrifice to an Oriental demon who demands a bride ‘blond, beautiful and not of our race’.” Although nonwhites’ conduct was criminalized in these films, the films themselves were not crime films.
Lizzie Seal and Maggie O'Neill
Transgressive imaginations refers to the breaking of rules and taboos including, but not limited to, acts of crime and violence as they are represented in fictive texts and ethnographic research. The focus here will be on the fictive, rather than ethnographic, element. Transgression can be understood not only as exceeding boundaries or limits but as resistance, protest, and escape. Particularly apposite is the portrayal of “heroes” and “villains” in different cultural forms, and how these contribute to popular understandings.
Cultural portrayals of those who transgress societal norms are frequently stigmatizing, and label them as mad, bad, and abject. However, the analysis of transgression also entails radical democratic possibilities, whether this is through research that challenges restrictive stereotypes and normative assumptions, or the means through which those labeled “outsiders” defy their marginalization. Cultural representations of transgression are not necessarily supportive of culturally dominant or conservative positions and can instead offer new ways of imagining social identities and social change. The ways in which transgression is imagined can both construct and challenge moral boundaries.