True Crime: Observations on Violence and Modernity

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Taylor & Francis, 2007 - Social Science - 185 pages
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True crime is crime fact that looks like crime fiction. It is one of the most popular genres of our pathological public sphere, and an integral part of our contemporary wound culture-a culture, or at least cult, of commiseration. If we cannot gather in the face of anything other than crime, violence, terror, trauma, and the wound, we can at least commiserate. That is, as novelist Chuck Palahniuk writes, we can at least "all [be] miserable together." The "murder leisure industry," its media, and its public: these modern styles of violence and intimacy, sociality and belief, are the subjects of True Crime: Observations on Violence and Modernity.

True Crime draws on and makes available to American readers—and tests out—work on systems theory and media theory (for instance, the transformative work of Niklas Luhmann on social systems and of Friedrich Kittler on the media apriori—work yet to make its impact on the American scene). True Crime is at once a study of a minor genre that is a scale model of modern society and a critical introduction to these forms of social and media history and theory. With examples, factual and fictional, of the scene of the crime ranging from Poe to CSI, from the true crime writing of the popular Japanese author Haruki Murakami to versions of "the violence-media complex" in the work of the American novelist Patricia Highsmith and the Argentinian author Juan José Saer, True Crime is a penetrating look at modern violence and the modern media and the ties that bind them in contemporary life.


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In this book, Seltzer contrasts true crime with crime fiction and argues that it is common to confuse reality with event and true crime with crime fiction. The strength of Seltzer's work is his method of surpassing the 'what' of true crime by trying to produce arguments concerning the further complexities and relationships between modernity, crime, and the media. Seltzer uses some common examples of crime media, although several of these examples may prove to be less helpful or relevant to the average reader. While Seltzer offers some newer ideas into the equation of the 'murder-leisure industry', such as the link between the wounded world and societal and intimate relationships, the ways in which he attempts to explain his main premise is less than straightforward. Seltzer uses a lot of imagery and symbolism which can potentially - and often did - complicate his reasoning and confuse the reader. He often put forth very interesting ideas and outlooks but it regularly seemed like he did not elaborate enough to thoroughly argue his position. Although I would recommend this book to a previously-educated audience, I would not recommend it to persons who are looking for more introductory information. This book would best be used as a supplement to other works concerning true crime and modernity or with previous expert knowledge on the subject.

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About the author (2007)

Mark Seltzer is Evan Frankel Professor of English at UCLA. He is author of Bodies and Machines and Serial Killers: Death and Life in America's Wound Culture, both published by Routledge.

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