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How Dirty Harry was Rodney King’d: The vigilante cop in modern American cinema

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Abstract:

This paper is an examination of the vigilante cop’s emergence as an American film icon in the 1970s and 80s as well as an investigation into his recent descent to the role of antagonist in popular films such as Training Day and Pride and Glory. While many cultural and political factors contribute to the evolution of a cinematic genre, this paper attempts to show that the impetus for this particular, significant transformation was the highly televised and controversial 1991 beating of Rodney King, an African American citizen of Los Angeles, by the LAPD. This blatant act forced American audiences to reconsider the glorification of police vigilantism they had so easily embraced for two decades and cast a shadow of corruption over future cinematic incarnations.

Keywords: cinema studies; corrupt cop; criminal justice; cultural studies; film history; genre; media studies; vigilante cop

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1386/iscc.2.1.47_1

Affiliations: Anna Maria College

Publication date: May 9, 2012

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