Edited By Florian Zappe and Andrew S. Gross
What only a few decades ago would have been considered a totalitarian nightmare seems to have become reality: Surveillance practices and technologies have infiltrated all aspects of our lives, forcing us to reconsider established notions of privacy, subjectivity, and the status of the individual in society. The United States is central to contemporary concerns about surveillance. American companies are at the forefront of developing surveillance technologies; and government agencies, in the name of security and law and order, are monitoring our words and actions more than ever before. This book brings together an interdisciplinary group of scholars to explore the implications of what many consider to be a far-reaching social, political, and cultural transformation.
Mythologies of Violence in American Police Videos
“The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer.”—D. H. Lawrence
Abstract: The United States is the only liberal democracy in the world where over a thousand people are shot dead by police each year. The increased circulation of video recordings of fatal shootings of unarmed black men has made this issue more culturally and politically salient, raising hopes of reform. But the images themselves may tell a different story. This chapter explores the link between these images and the American cultural preoccupation with violence. It suggests that, as images from police video become commodified, they lose their protest value. Their aesthetics evoke the same mythology of violence, masculinity, and brotherhood that permeates classic Westerns or contemporary video games. As a result, images that should be motivating action may instead reify existing power structures. The images in police video can be situated within a framework of white American mythology that dates back to colonialism. Then, as now, the twin lodestars were the good guy with the gun, and violence as a means of dominating and controlling a threatening Other. However, these narratives often go unrecognized; instead, these videos are seen as ideologically neutral because they merely “document” violent encounters between police and civilians. In the end, the videos that are presented as a possible solution to the problem of police violence—because they expose it and bring it to light—may also be functioning as arguments on behalf of that same violence.
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