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Condemned to Be Free: Liberal Individualism, Capital Punishment, and Film, 1914-2005

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Abstract:

Films depicting capital punishment provide a unique opportunity for us to understand the particular elements of American culture that buttress the practice of state killing. A survey of films from the past 90 years, this essay argues that an anti-authoritarian distrust of institutions and a corresponding attachment to individual freedom have long dominated the cultural life of capital punishment in the United States. Rather than simply shoring up an authoritarian moral traditionalism, death penalty films throughout the twentieth century have consistently celebrated the symbolic triumph of the individual over the state and sometimes over religion. By and large, the execution or the threat of execution is presented not as the occasion for the individual’s submission, by force or by choice, to a collective morality but as an opportunity for the individual to arrive at and sometimes enact a liberating moral vision of self and world that is as good or superior to the traditional morality encoded in state and religious institutions. Ultimately, the retention of these tenets of individualism in cinematic depictions of state killing in the 1980s and 1990s reveals the limits of moral traditionalism or authoritarianism as an explanation for the American return to state killing.
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Name: The Law and Society Association
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http://www.lawandsociety.org


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URL: http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p235782_index.html
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MLA Citation:

LaChance, Daniel. "Condemned to Be Free: Liberal Individualism, Capital Punishment, and Film, 1914-2005" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the The Law and Society Association, Hilton Bonaventure, Montreal, Quebec, Canada, May 27, 2008 <Not Available>. 2013-12-14 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p235782_index.html>

APA Citation:

LaChance, D. , 2008-05-27 "Condemned to Be Free: Liberal Individualism, Capital Punishment, and Film, 1914-2005" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the The Law and Society Association, Hilton Bonaventure, Montreal, Quebec, Canada <Not Available>. 2013-12-14 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p235782_index.html

Publication Type: Conference Paper/Unpublished Manuscript
Abstract: Films depicting capital punishment provide a unique opportunity for us to understand the particular elements of American culture that buttress the practice of state killing. A survey of films from the past 90 years, this essay argues that an anti-authoritarian distrust of institutions and a corresponding attachment to individual freedom have long dominated the cultural life of capital punishment in the United States. Rather than simply shoring up an authoritarian moral traditionalism, death penalty films throughout the twentieth century have consistently celebrated the symbolic triumph of the individual over the state and sometimes over religion. By and large, the execution or the threat of execution is presented not as the occasion for the individual’s submission, by force or by choice, to a collective morality but as an opportunity for the individual to arrive at and sometimes enact a liberating moral vision of self and world that is as good or superior to the traditional morality encoded in state and religious institutions. Ultimately, the retention of these tenets of individualism in cinematic depictions of state killing in the 1980s and 1990s reveals the limits of moral traditionalism or authoritarianism as an explanation for the American return to state killing.

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The ???Once Upon A Time??? Of Free Will: Duty, Autonomy, and Passivity in the Background of Liberal Individualism.

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