Moral Ambivalence and the Executioner’s Hood: Averting the Retributive Gaze in Dystopian Fiction

  • Francine RochfordEmail author


This chapter draws upon dystopian visions of incarceration in film to interrogate the concept of ‘civil death.’ It has two objectives. Firstly, it will articulate the source of authority to incarcerate as manifested in super-state, interplanetary, inter-realm or even inter-dimensional imprisonment. The ‘outlaw’ connotation of civil death is captured particularly in dystopian representations of criminals literally ‘cast out’ of society. Alien 3 (1992), Lockout (2012), Pitch Black (2000) and Dante 01 (2008) concern the removal of criminals from the physical jurisdiction of the state by interplanetary or satellite transfer, sometimes to private facilities. These plotlines echo the techniques of extra-state detention by the United States in Guantanamo Bay and potentially by the Australian Government in Nauru and on Christmas Island, but also borrowing from historical techniques of incarceration in prison hulks at sea, on islands and by transportation to remote colonies. This action represents not only a legal and physical distancing of the criminal from society but also the moral distancing of society from the decision to punish. Secondly, the paper will pare the notion of the animus, or rational will, from the corpus to suggest that the moment of actual death, rather than merely civil death, is represented by incarceration taking the form of suspension of mind or body.


  1. Agamben, G. 2005. State of Exception (first published 2003). Translated by K. Attrell. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  2. Allen, Frederick. 2004. A Decent, Orderly Lynching. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.Google Scholar
  3. Ancient Charters and Laws of Massachusetts Bay (1814).Google Scholar
  4. Blackstone, W. 1765–1769. Commentaries on the Laws of England, 4 vols. Oxford.Google Scholar
  5. Charter of Libertyes and Privileges granted by His Royal Highness, the Duke of York (1894) 1 Colonial Laws of New York.Google Scholar
  6. Bessler, John D. 1996. “The ‘Midnight Assassination Law’ and Minnesota’s Anti-Death Penalty Movement, 1849–1911.” Wm Mitchell Law Review 22: 577.Google Scholar
  7. Bridges, Jonathan. 2001. “Hooding the Jury.” University of San Francisco Law Review 35: 651.Google Scholar
  8. Comerford, Chris. 2015. “The Hero We Need, Not the One We Deserve: Vigilantism and the State of Exception in Batman Incorporated.” In Graphic Justice Intersections of Comics and the Law, edited by Thomas Giddens. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  9. Davidson, Sandra, and Michael Barajas. 2014. “Masking the Executioner and the Source of Execution Drugs.” St Louis University Law Journal 59: 45.Google Scholar
  10. Defoe, D. 1724 [1972]. A General History of the Pyrates, edited by M. Schonhorn.Google Scholar
  11. Douard, John. 2008. “Sex Offender as Scapegoat: The Monstrous Other within.” New York Law School Law Review 53: 31.Google Scholar
  12. Dugan v Mirror Newspapers (1978) 142 CLR 583.Google Scholar
  13. Duncan, Martha Grace. 1994. “In Slime and Darkness: The Metaphor of Filth in Criminal Justice.” Tulane Law Review 68: 725.Google Scholar
  14. Edwards, Catharine. 1997. “Unspeakable professions: public performance and prostitution in Ancient Rome.” In Roman Sexualities, edited by Judith P. Hallett and Marilyn B. Skinner. Princeton: University Press.Google Scholar
  15. Ewald, Alec. 2002. “‘Civil Death’: The Ideological Paradox of Criminal Disenfranchisement Law in the United States.” Wisconsin Law Review 5: 1045–1132.Google Scholar
  16. Fairfax, Roger A., Jr. 2010. “Outsourcing Criminal Prosecution? - The Limits of Criminal Justice Privatization.” University of Chicago Legal Forum, Vol. 2010, Article 10.
  17. Felons (Civil Proceedings) Act 1981 (NSW).Google Scholar
  18. Foucault, Michel. 1995. Discipline and Punish. London: Penguin.Google Scholar
  19. Gibbons, David, and Alan Moore. 1986. Watchmen no. 1. DC Comics.Google Scholar
  20. Hart, H. L. A. 2008. Punishment and Responsibility: Essays in the Philosophy of Law, 2nd Ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  21. Head, David M. 1982. “‘Beyng Ledde and Seduced by the Devyll’: The Attainder of Lord Thomas Howard and the Tudor Law of Treason.” The Sixteenth Century Journal 13, no. 4: 3–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Hobbes, Thomas. 1651 [1968]. The Leviathan. Harmondsworth: Penguin.Google Scholar
  23. Hunter v Underwood (1985) 471 US 222.Google Scholar
  24. Johnson, Robert. 1990. Death Work: A Study of the Modern Execution Process. Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Code Publishing Company.Google Scholar
  25. Keller, Jared. 2009. “Pax Vigilanticus: Vigilantism, Order, and Law in the Nineteenth Century American West.” Honours Thesis Wesleyan University, Middletown, CT.Google Scholar
  26. Knowlton, Steve, and Michael Spivey. 2008. “Anti-Heroism in the Continuum of Good and Evil.” In The Psychology of Superheroes, edited by Robin S. Rosenberg. Dallas, TX: Benbella Books.Google Scholar
  27. Kozlovic, Anton K. 2016. “The Unholy Biblical Subtexts and Other Religious Elements Built into Superman: The Movie (1978) and Superman II (1981).” Journal of Religion & Film 7 (1).
  28. Lander, J. R. 1961. “Attainder and Forfeiture, 1453 to 1509.” The Historical Journal 4 (2): 119–151.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Lendon, J. E. 1997. “Review: Social Control at Rome.” The Classical Journal 93 (1): 83–88.Google Scholar
  30. Mackie, Erin. 2005. “Welcome the Outlaw: Pirates, Maroons, and Caribbean Countercultures.” Cultural Critique 59: 24–62.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. McGowen, Randall. 1987. “The Body and Punishment in Eighteenth-Century England.” Journal of Modern History 59: 651–679.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. More, Thomas. 1551. Utopia. London: Penguin Classic, 2003 ed.Google Scholar
  33. Morgan, Kenneth. 1987. “English and American Attitudes Towards Convict Transportation 1718–1775.” History 72 (236): 416.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Morgan, Jenny, and Regina Graycar. 1995. “Disabling Citizenship: Civil Death for Women in the 1990s.” Adelaide Law Review 17: 49.Google Scholar
  35. Prus-Grzybowski, Alexander v Everingham, Paul Anthony Edward [1983] FCA 6; 45 ALR 468.Google Scholar
  36. Roach v Electoral Commissioner [2007] HCA 43; 233 CLR 162; 81 ALJR 1830; 239 ALR 1 Richardson v Ramirez (1974) 418 US 24.Google Scholar
  37. Reppy, Alison. 1948. “The Spectre of Attainder in New York.” St John’s Law Review 23 (1), Article 1.Google Scholar
  38. Rodrick, Anne Baltz. 1996. “‘Only a Newspaper Metaphor’: Crime Reports, Class Conflict, and Social Criticism in Two Victorian Newspapers.” Victorian Periodicals Review 29 (1): 1–18.Google Scholar
  39. Sullivan, Larry E. 1990. The Prison Reform Movement: Forlorn Hope. Boston: Twayne.Google Scholar
  40. Thibodeau, P. H., J. L. McClelland, and L. Boroditsky. 2009. “When a Bad Metaphor May Not Be a Victimless Crime: The Role of Metaphor in Social Policy.” In Proceedings of the 31st Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society, edited by N. Taatgen and H. van Rijn, 809–814. Amsterdam: Cognitive Science Society.Google Scholar
  41. United States v Lovett 1946. 328 US 303, 90 L ed 1252.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.La Trobe UniversityBundooraAustralia

Personalised recommendations