16 Pages Posted: 6 Dec 2005
This essay reviews two books that explore different dimensions of the public's current fascination with crime and punishment. "Natural Born Celebrities" explores the growing celebrity status of serial killers in American society since the nineteenth century. "High Profile Crimes" explores the public attention given to a series of cases that enjoyed sustained media treatment during the nineteen nineties. After discussing each work, the essay relates both fascinations to an abiding concern with moral relativism, a fear that society has lost the capacity to recognize and confront evil - to face it. In the case of serial killers, the fear driving the public's interest is that moral relativism disables us from recognizing and condemning obvious evil. In the racially and sexually charged high profile cases of the 80s and 90s, the fear is that we are too blinded by prejudice to even agree on who is evil - that we are condemned by our legacy of race-based or gender-based thinking to put the wrong face on evil. By obsessing about serial killers and high profile cases where race and gender are implicated, society works through the difficulties of facing evil in both senses of the phrase in an unhealthy way, however. Both obsessions distort our priorities and divert attention from the things that truly ail us.
Keywords: criminal law, punishment
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