The Law and Order Theme in Political and Popular Culture

74 Pages Posted: 29 Jul 2013

See all articles by Allen Rostron

Allen Rostron

University of Missouri at Kansas City - School of Law

Date Written: November 1, 2012


"Law and Order" became a political rallying cry in the 1960s, as conservative candidates like Barry Goldwater, George Wallace, and Richard Nixon criticized courts for putting the constitutional rights of criminals ahead of the need for effective police work and public safety. As the nation’s president after his victory in the 1968 presidential race, Nixon continued to emphasize the law and order theme. Meanwhile, a series of Westerns and cop movies, such as John Wayne’s "True Grit" and Clint Eastwood’s "Dirty Harry," began to echo Nixon’s claims about criminals, courts, and law. Concerns about crime and the impotency of the legal system soon produced a set of remarkably popular movies about vigilante justice, including "Walking Tall" and "Death Wish". Even when law and order faded as a national political issue, Hollywood continued to dwell on the idea that courts are too lax, turning the idea that criminals routinely escape justice because of legal technicalities into one of television’s and movies’ most familiar clichés. Crime rates have been plummeting for two decades now, and a series of re-makes of significant films from the Nixon era suggests that law and order’s grip on popular entertainment and the public imagination may finally be breaking.

Keywords: law and order, crime movies, films, Richard Nixon, John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, True Grit, Dirty Harry, Walking Tall, Death Wish, Billy Jack, Star Chamber, Quincy, Bullitt, Madigan, Detective, Miranda, Coogan's Bluff, French Connection, Cobra, McQ, 10 to Midnight, Straw Dogs, Hardcastle & McCormick

Suggested Citation

Rostron, Allen K., The Law and Order Theme in Political and Popular Culture (November 1, 2012). Oklahoma City University Law Review, Vol. 37, No. 3, 2012, Available at SSRN: or

Allen K. Rostron (Contact Author)

University of Missouri at Kansas City - School of Law ( email )

5100 Rockhill Road
Kansas City, MO 64110-2499
United States

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