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Crime Control as Mediated Spectacle: The Institutionalization of Gonzo Rhetoric in Modern Media and Politics

Symbolic Interaction

Published online on


This study examines contemporary crime and punishment discourse in mass media to better understand the institutionalization of hyper‐punitive sanctions as acceptable forms of social control. Our principal focus is on gonzo rhetoric, or the discourse and symbolism used to promote and justify exaggerated acts of punishment. Using a content analysis of 136 broadcast transcripts, we examine the rhetorical techniques employed by Sheriff Joe Arpaio, of Maricopa County, Arizona, in order to show how this brand of “crime talk” has become a central component of modern crime control culture. We suggest that the appeal of gonzo rhetoric is rooted in longstanding cultural assumptions about crime and disorder.