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Popular Culture - Critique Of Criminal Justice

miller revenge law representations

However, other research on representations of crime in popular culture also calls attention to the fact that those representations are sometimes quite critical of the criminal justice system, reminding their consumers of the inefficiencies and inequities that plague the criminal justice system, and highlighting the place of extralegal forces in balancing the scales of justice (Hall et al.). One example of such research is Miller's analysis of Clint Eastwood's film Unforgiven.

Set in the "old west," Unforgiven depicts the quest of a group of prostitutes to buy justice for one of their number who was attacked by a customer. Clint Eastwood plays the reluctant hero who heeds their call. Yet throughout the film, while vengeance is presented as justified, as an equitable complement to law, it is not simply heroic. Unforgiven, Miller says, is at once a praise of revenge but also a caution about it, an invitation to do justice justly, to do it humbly, to do it no more than absolutely needs to be done.

Miller's work highlights the importance of revenge in popular representations of crime. Miller contends that our culture is deeply conflicted about the moral status of revenge. Nonetheless, revenge retains its appeal; it is a pervasive theme in "the movies most people pay to see, the TV they watch, or the novels they read" (p. 169).

"Implicit in stories of revenge," Miller argues, "is the suggestion that revenge is a criticism of state-delivered justice" (p. 174). This criticism is directed at law's technicality, its preoccupation with procedure. Miller's research shows how popular culture draws our attention to the failings and inadequacy of a legal order. Law may thus always be called to account by narratives that it cannot fully contain or control. Those narratives provide powerful reminders of the gap between the justice that law regularly provides and the justice that resonates most powerfully throughout our culture.

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