Hot mug shots: Corporeality in Perpetrator Photographs
September 2014, the Stockton (California) Police Department posts a mug shot of Jeremy Meeks on Facebook. They had arrested Meeks for weapon charges. Shortly afterwards, people started commenting and sharing the picture, primarily fascinated by the affective beauty of Meeks. The picture went viral and Jeremy Meeks became famous as the ‘Hot Mug Shot Guy’. Today he is a successful fashion model, posing for magazines like ‘Vogue’. This story not only conveys the connection between the figure of the perpetrator and the star, it also reveals how we look at bodies in perpetrator photographs.
Based on photographs of the German RAF (Rote Armee Fraktion) terrorist Andreas Baader (‘Dandy of Evil’), PFLP member Leila Khaled (‘Pin-Up of Terror’), Amanda Knox (‘Angel with the Ice-Blue Eyes’) and Jeremy Meeks (‘Hot Mug Shot Guy’) I want to show that photographic perpetrator images can simultaneously provoke a monitoring gaze at disciplined bodies, and an affected gaze at expressive bodies. Consequently, I suggest that perpetrator photographs are ‘haunted’ by affective bodies which weaken operability and open disciplinary photographs to multidimensional, often chaotic forms of reception.
As Foucault stresses in ‘Discipline and Punish’ (1975), the disciplinary society withdrew perpetrators away from public stages, where they had been gruesomely exposed and punished until about 1800. Instead, perpetrators are nowadays put into prisons, where their formerly abused body is ‘taken away’ from the delinquent and transferred into the visual arrangement of the panopticon. Thus, as Helmut Plessner (1948) would have expressed it, perpetrators are denied the ‘owning of their bodies’, the fundamental precondition of ‘acting’. Nevertheless, perpetrators still ‘own a body’. In fact, the expressive qualities of perpetrator-bodies produce profound fascination as being shown by Hanna Arendt’s description of the body of Adolf Eichmann (1963) and Peter Handkes depiction of Slobodan Milosevic (2005).
I suggest that this ‘excess’ of perpetrators’ bodies can be found in the earliest mug shots by Alphonse Bertillion (1879) as well as todays ‘viral’ mug shots. By looking at especially popular photographic images of perpetrators, I will demonstrate how we can deepen our understanding of the multiple connections between corporeality, discipline and performance.