CFP: JAm It! #5, Special Issue
“Watching the Watchmen:” The State of Policing in U.S. Cultural Production
US obsession with policing can be traced back as far as John Winthrop’s sermon “A Model of Christian Charity” (climaxed in the noted “the eyes of all people are on us”), delivered in 1630 on board of the Arbella. In one of white America’s foundational texts, the “eyes of all people” stand as an early figuration of panoptical undercurrents in the United States, whereby a professedly metaphysical yet very concrete control is enforced to safeguard social and ethical order. Canonical US literature, from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter to Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man also reminds us that order, even when not deferred to the State, has been violently enforced through coercion, stigma, or segregation throughout the history of the nation. Echoing the seminal figure of Esther Prynne, narratives produced by authors as diverse as W. E. B. Du Bois, Charlotte Perkins Gilman and, more recently, Sandra Cisneros, Louise Erdrich, and Ta-Nehisi Coates, are figurations and proofs of the United States’ leviathan policing apparatus and its employment in regulating non-conforming subjects in the name of a perfectly-engineered City Upon a Hill and the capitalistic permutation of its transcendental concept of social order.