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Prison Rape and CSI

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To add briefly to the point that Ezra has made, one of the most irritating aspects of CSI (which, sadly, I have been unable to break from) is the common, almost offhand manner in which the heroes threaten suspects with the prospect of rape in prison. It suggests to me that the public at large has simply concluded that a) rape is an integral part of prison life, such that a five year prison sentence automatically includes five years of rape, and b) that anyone who goes to prison is irredeemably besmirched, and thus deserving of constant rape.

To take this a bit farther, it’s interesting to compare modern conceptions of prison (sadly or no, I’ve never seen Prison Break) with the work of Johnny Cash or Merle Haggard. For Haggard or Cash, that a poor white family would have to deal with the prison system in some fashion was simply a fact of life, even if Cash himself only spent one night behind bars. Moreover, neither Cash nor Haggard dodged the question of guilt; even if the protagonists of their songs weren’t going away for life, they were usually guilty of something. At some point (probably as the War on Drugs saw a steady increase in the incarceration percentages of young black men) the idea that white people would have to deal with prison became alien. Is there music or other art today that deals with the possibility that guilty white folks might spend time in prison, and thus that prison should be made at least survivable?

Making a bigger leap, I think that the thread connecting 24, CSI, opposition to anti-bullying legislation, and in the past opposition to anti-lynching statutes is the conviction that society requires extra-legal violence in order to hold together. On 24 (as ably demonstrated by Jane Mayer; more on this later) elite agents of the state murder and torture in the darkness to keep us safe. The heroes of CSI are agents of the state working in the open, but their main job is to track down deviants killing other deviants in order to send the first group of deviants to prison so they can get raped. As Sarah Posner discussed, opposition to anti-bullying legislation is founded on the idea that, without bullying, our children will be recruited into gay cabals, and society will crumble. Conservative opposition to efforts to stem lynching were explicitly about how lynching was a necessary tool to defending the social order of the South.

This brings to mind the defense of tradition and community made in the “reactionary catechism” over at Red State not long ago. Their evocation of tradition and community, however, glides over the fact that these values require defense through violent means; reactionaries, especially, have never shied away from using this violence, whether in prison or as part of a lynch gang or in support of the bully who beats up the “queer” kid in junior high. One wonders, of course, why so much violence is necessary to convince people to accept the self-evident goods of community and tradition…

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