High-Profile Crimes: When Legal Cases Become Social Causes. By Lynn S. Chancer. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press. 2005. Pp. xv, 314. $38.
Natural Born Celebrities: Serial Killers in American Culture. By David Schmid. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press. 2005. Pp. viii, 327. $29.
It is no earthshaking news that the American public has become fascinated—some would say obsessed—with crime over the last few decades. Moreover, this fascination has translated into a potent political force that has remade the world of criminal justice. Up through the middle of the 1960s crime was not something about which politicians had much to say. What was there to say? “Crime is bad.” “We do what we can about crime.” “Crime will always be with us at one level or another.” Only a hermit could have missed the transformation of crime over the last couple of decades from a non-issue to a “hot button” that politicians from both parties have learned to push with the frenetic energy of video game players competing for the highest score. If the mantra of “tough on crime” has faded into the background of political discourse a bit since the 1980s and 1990s, it is only because the “tough on crime” philosophy has achieved the status of dogma—that which almost no politician would take issue with. How and why the American public became so fascinated with crime and so supportive of punitive policies remains something of a puzzle.