Saturday, July 16, 2011

One Hundred Pages of Solicitude #7: Learning to Live with Crime

"We need to be aware of how experience with crime often comes to us already narrated, and even how things we call facts are often rhetorically constituted at the very level of their facticity."

Today's double quinquagent paged reading is Christopher P. Wilson's Learning to Live with Crime: Crime Narrative in the Neoconservative Turn. Now, I'd really like to go quickly today. This haste isn't in any way an indictment of the book, but rather a reflection that it's Saturday, I've got other stuff to do, and on day 7, the newness of this feature, wonderful as it is, is wearing a bit thin.

Wilson starts from the position that the portrayals of crimes we see in literature and film aren't just responses to big events, or the culture of fear. Rather, they are often responses to small-scale changes in the way police forces--specifically, the American law enforcement agencies--slowly alter their day-to-day operations. In the first hundred pages of the book, he covers a few different case studies: the Witness Protection Narrative and crime reporting ala Nicholas Peleggi's Wiseguy and Peter Maas' Valachi Papers; the interrogation room as employed particularly in NYPD Blues; Social Memory and the Cold Case squad; and the opening of a chapter on Frank Abagnale, of Catch Me If You Can.

I'm not really familiar with the examples Wilson used, but his argument seems compelling enough. At various points, he notes that his own focus on the ordinary rather than the spectacle brings to mind Michel Foucault, though he claims to be more directly working with modern crime-oriented scholarship. I think an important distinction between what Wilson is doing and Foucault did was that Wilson is highlighting the system, whereas Foucault's actions could be more properly characterized as highlighting people in the context of the system. (And de Certeau moreso than Foucault for this, but never mind.) If I had to point to something I wasn't that fond of the book, it's that Wilson tends towards outline rather than argument, and often fails to fully foreground exactly what point he's arguing for a section. The topic is always clear, but it's greater implications isn't, always.

But, all in all, I thought it was a good book. I was somewhat disappointed, in that he never referred even in passing to the show The Wire. While it's another crime drama I haven't gotten around to watching yet, I've heard it described by numerous scholars as a show that's more about the process and the system than the individual officers or crimes. As such, it seems ideal for Wilson's discussion. On a similar note, I think you could do an interesting paper connecting this book's argument to Ian Bogost's discussion of procedural rhetoric, alongside an analysis of investigation-themed video games, such as the Phoenix Wright series and the recently released L.A. Noire.

Verdict: A solid, thorough case study of a few different police procedures and their consequent effects on culture at large.
Would Read the Rest: I probably would. More because the book is almost over (about another 60 pages) than because the material is incredibly spell-binding, though.

Later Days.

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