The work of the state

Andrew Ross

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


    The trial of the month. A large part of political culture in the United States revolves obsessively around public discussion of and commentary on such spectacles-Amy Fisher, Laurence Powell et al, Woody Allen, Mike Tyson, Baby M, Rodney King, Charles Stuart, William Kennedy Smith, Glen Ridge, Central Park, Crown Heights, Howard Beach, the Menendez Brothers, Lorena Bobbitt, O.J. Simpson, and so on. Civil society here is a cumbersome body politic stumbling like some great dorky Gulliver from one trial to the next. There’s no one pulling the strings-in the long run it does not serve us well to view the state as a puppetmaster-but there’s also nothing random or witless about this kind of behavior. While only a tiny percentage of legal cases ever come to court, an even smaller number qualifies for nomination as full-blown media spectacles whose critical impact on the civil life of the nation is held to be definitive by the armada of media spin merchants wheeled out to “focus” discussion on the ultimate meaning of the proceedings. Sure, everyone loves a good trial, there are still many people who like a good hanging, and there’s no doubt that the entertainment quotient of today’s heat-seeking trials helps to make such events a primary channel of consent or normalization in national political life. And yet who could deny that the work of the judiciary is the last line of defense for the state’s elite interests? One need only consider the vast numbers of political prisoners-choose any definition-held in U.S. penitentiaries, the even greater number of immigrants and “excludable aliens” being kept in INS detention centers around the country, and the incarceration of immense populations of people of color to gauge the penal culture’s strategic role in a socially advanced corporate state.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Title of host publicationSecret Agents
    Subtitle of host publicationThe Rosenberg Case, McCarthyism and Fifties America
    PublisherTaylor and Francis
    Number of pages9
    ISBN (Electronic)9781135206949
    StatePublished - Jan 1 2013

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • General Social Sciences


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