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When Culture Meets Capital Punishment

by Will Wlizlo

Tags: death penalty, capital punishment, pop culture, arts and culture, George Orwell, ThinkProgress, D Magazine, The Daily Beast, The Economist, Gallup, Center for Inquiry, Will Wlizlo,


The highly publicized, highly contentious, state-sanctioned execution of Troy Davis on September 21, 2011, reinvigorated America’s longstanding conversation about the death penalty. A Gallup poll released this morning found that only 61 percent of Americans approve of using the death penalty for convicted murderers, a 39-year low. Our country seems to be the cusp of cultural change when it comes to capital punishment. Do you know where you stand?

It’s okay if you don’t. The death penalty is a morally complex issue, tangled up by competing threads of history, media, the political process, religion, class, and—last, but not least—emotions.

Sensing a need for national conversation about the death penalty, ThinkProgress blogger Alyssa Rosenberg launched “The Pop Culture and Death Penalty Project”—a six-month-long exploration of the intersections between art and crime, morality and mortality. Beginning next Wednesday, October 19, she’ll be hosting discussions about books, television shows, and films that deal with the topic in one way or another. Subjects include Richard Wright’s Native Son, 1938 film Angels with Dirty Faces, and a few episodes of HBO drama Deadwood.

Unfortunately, Rosenberg didn’t include any readings from the alternative press. I hope to fill in that gap for you, highlighting a few articles that tell the human stories of criminals, victims, and everyone caught in the fray.

Sources: Center for Inquiry, D Magazine, The Daily Beast, The Economist, The Good Men ProjectThinkProgress 

Image from Marion Doss was taken at the “instant bullets from a French firing squad hit a Frenchman who collaborated with the Germans. This execution took place in Rennes, France on November 21, 1944.” Licensed under Creative Commons.