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Punishment in Popular Culture$
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Charles J. Jr. Ogletree and Austin Sarat

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9781479861958

Published to University Press Scholarship Online: September 2016

DOI: 10.18574/nyu/9781479861958.001.0001

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date: 14 December 2017

Redeeming the Lost War

Redeeming the Lost War

Backlash Films and the Rise of the Punitive State

(p.23) 1 Redeeming the Lost War
Punishment in Popular Culture

Lary May

NYU Press

The first chapter, by Lary May, begins with the familiar observation about the dramatic rise in punitiveness in late-twentieth-century America and contends that turning to popular movies offers a fresh explanation of why this political shift occurred. May concentrates on a body of crime films that emerged in the early 1970s and lasted in one form or another until the early 1990s. He calls these “backlash films” and asserts they were promoters of the Republican Party and its right wing. The films included Clint Eastwood’s five Dirty Harry movies, Charles Bronson’s eight Death Wish movies, and Chuck Norris’s movies on the same theme, Good Guys Wear Black, Missing in Action, and Code of Silence. They expressed in vivid form a narrative at once hostile to liberalism and tough on crime, while promising a rebirth of security and middle-class virtue in the wake of defeat in Vietnam, the rise of youthful countercultures, and the eruption of race riots in major American cities, all of which sparked a pervasive desire for law and order.

Keywords:   punitiveness, popular movies, backlash films, Dirty Harry, Death Wish, Chuck Norris, Good Guys Wear Black, Missing in Action, Code of Silence

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