Moundsville Penitentiary - Model and Symptom of Hyperreality
International Journal of Baudrillard Studies, Vol. 6, No. 1, 2009
12 Pages Posted: 1 Mar 2010 Last revised: 24 Apr 2010
Date Written: January 1, 2009
The current self-portrayal of Moundsville Penitentiary (WV) makes light of the prison’s actual history and fantasizes about death and punishment. The edifice that used to house a multitude of prisoners has been transformed from active institution into historical spectacle. This essay argues that Moundsville Penitentiary is both a model and a symptom of the hyperreality referred to by Jean Baudrillard. Hyperreality is as problematic in West Virginia as it is in the global contexts discussed by Baudrillard. This essay also attends to capital punishment and the criminal body, borrowing heavily from the ideas of Michel Foucault. The horror genre of the Moundsville tour produces a new set of implications for the modern prison because the horror genre is always about destroying and mutilating the body and not about training the body into submission. The horror theme falsifies prison by taking us back to a fabrication of the 18th and 19th centuries when public execution - “death theater” - was the norm. This alteration of space and time re-corporealizes punishment (by shifting the focus from the docile body back to the maimed or disfigured body) and violates actual prison experience. When people cannot distinguish reality from fantasy, the fantastic is legitimized and presumed authoritative; and as the fantastic is legitimized, it becomes more unreasonable - and thus more dangerous.
Keywords: Hyperreality, Baudrillard, Moundsville, Prison
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