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Punishment in Popular Culture$
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Charles J. Jr. Ogletree and Austin Sarat

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9781479861958

Published to NYU Press Scholarship Online: September 2016

DOI: 10.18574/nyu/9781479861958.001.0001

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Scenes of Execution

Scenes of Execution

Spectatorship, Political Responsibility, and State Killing in American Film

(p.199) 6 Scenes of Execution
Punishment in Popular Culture

Austin Sarat

Madeline Chan

Maia Cole

Melissa Lang

Nicholas Schcolnik

Jasjaap Sidhu

Nica Siegel

NYU Press

Austin Sarat and his coauthors begin with a discussion of a single scene in a film from the turn of the twentieth century, The Execution of Mary Stuart. This film, barely a minute long, shows an executioner holding the axe with which he will behead Mary and staring directly at the audience. This device of direct address, the authors argue, poses questions about why viewers are watching the violent scene and offers a general template through which to examine scenes in American film. This chapter highlights the theatricality often found in cinematic scenes of execution. Sarat and his coauthors end by suggesting that viewing scenes of execution on film raises questions of responsibility. In watching these scenes, viewers take on not only the role of spectator, but also potentially that of witnesses complicit in their country’s use of execution.

Keywords:   The Execution of Mary Stuart, film, execution, violence, responsibility, role of spectator

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