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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The cultural dynamic of the prison industrial complex : a critique of political rhetoric and popular film during the 1980's

  • Author(s): Smith, Juliana Jamel
  • et al.

Prisons are places that disproportionately house the poor, the working class, and people of color of this country. While what has been deemed 'the prison industrial complex' has been said to serve a number of purposes--a financial project for the state and private companies, a permanent counterrevolution, a place to house surplus labor populations, a place to punish 'criminals' or a means to create a "safer" society--it functions in part because American culture encourages and normalizes its presence. This thesis seeks to give credence to the idea that the prison industrial complex is more than its political and economic tentacles. The prison industrial complex is also a cultural phenomenon worthy of study. This thesis examines cultural artifacts from the moment of the 1980's, including Ronald Reagan's political campaigns and films such as Colors, Menace II Society, Boyz N the Hood and Clockers. The main argument herein is that during the 1980's there were rich visual, written, spoken and cultural discourses that implicitly and explicitly buttressed the need for incarceration and prison, normalizing its presence as a way to solve social and economic problems

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