The Pleasures of Punishment: Complicity, Spectatorship, and Abu Ghraib
in Photography in Punishment in Popular Culture 236 (Austin Sarat, Charles J. Ogletree and Jr., eds., 2015)
31 Pages Posted: 18 Aug 2016
Date Written: August 17, 2016
At the same time that the Supreme Court has come to insist on a radical distinction between representations of sex and violence as a matter of constitutional law, never have the two genres been more deeply intertwined, in popular entertainment, of course, but also in certain practices of punishment. This paper considers the phenomenon of “torture porn” to explore not only representations of torture and humiliation in popular culture, but also the ways in which popular culture has shaped practices of punishment.
Here I explore photographs of Abu Ghraib (as well as other legal and cultural disputes over the disclosure of photographs of torture) to explore the ways in which the popular vernaculars of pornography and smart phone photography informed the practice of torture. I compare the photos to a burgeoning genre of reality TV shows from the same era in which in which the spectacle of humiliation, punishment and even torture plays a pivotal and seemingly pleasurable role in the drama. In both scenarios, I focus not only on the mixture of sexuality and violence, pleasure and punishment, but also on the critical role of the camera. Ultimately by analyzing the similarities between “torture porn” in popular entertainment and the visual materials produced at Abu Ghraib, I suggest a mutually productive relationship between popular culture and punishment.
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