Modern Scarlet Letters
Mary Bock presents "Face to Face with the Other: Perp Walks and Mug Shots as Journalistic Tropes"
Mary Bock, who will join the School of Journalism as assistant professor in the fall, presented "Face to Face with the Other: Perp Walks and Mug Shots as Journalistic Tropes" on June 4.
She spoke about her research on common visual news tropes, such as mug shots and perp walks – when police walk an alleged perpetrator into a courthouse. These tropes are used to illustrate news stories about crimes and trials.
"Perp walks are also in many ways rituals that criminalize," Bock said. "They are modern scarlet letters. As far as photography, perp walks and photography really kind of blended during prohibition when gangsters were famous and everyone needed to see a picture of them."
When she spoke to exonerated defendants, Bock said their primary concern was that they were innocent and that the journalists were not telling the truth through their photos and videos.
Depending on the photo, someone could look more innocent or guilty. In mug shots or in handcuffs, people typically look guilty even though they are supposed to be "innocent until proven guilty."
Assistant Professor Mary Bock argues that mugshots can
unfairly criminalize defendants. Pictured above is Frank Sinatra.
Bock also said defendants complained that cameras in the courtroom were distracting them from court cases. Even when defendants were exonerated, they often felt that they were not free because of the cameras surrounding their homes.
"I think we also really need to consider when it is fair and unfair to photograph somebody without their consent and whether or not there is a fair way to frame the visual representation of defendants," Bock said. "…Should we be fighting more for pictures without visual markers of guilt?"
However, Bock said photographers' number one priority is getting the photo for their bosses – not sparing the defendants' feelings.
Bock is a former journalist turned academic, finishing her Ph.D. in communication and journalism at the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School for Communication. She earned a master's degree in journalism and communication at Drake University in 1986. Her dissertation focuses on the development of a convergent media form, video journalism, using a series of ethnographic case studies.
To view the full lecture, visit http://vimeo.com/43480580.
Laura Byerley, (512) 471-2182