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Article

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).

Article

In Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom, public order laws criminalize the use of swearing, offensive, or abusive language in a public place. Police officers use these laws as tools to assert “their authority” or command respect in public spaces where that authority is perceived to be challenged via the use of profanities such as “fuck.” Alongside the legislature, the executive, and the judiciary, representations of swearing in the media influence ideas about whether swear words warrant criminal punishment. A particular “common-sense” assumption about language (language ideology) prevalent in media representations of offensive language crimes, echoed by politicians and police representatives, is that disrespecting or challenging police authority via “four-letter words” warrants criminal sanction. However, popular culture can counter dominant ideologies with respect to offensive language, police, and authority. This article examines how the use of swear words in N.W.A’s popular rap song “Fuck tha Police” (1988) and in the HBO television series The Wire (Simon & Burns, 2002–2008) can inform and challenge legal assessments of community standards with regards to offensive language.