Introduction: Crime and America

The 2008 release of the film Frost/Nixon brought the infamous interviews of former US President Richard Nixon, conducted by British journalist Sir David Frost in 1977, back into public awareness. One of the most notorious sentences in the interview, and arguably in Nixon’s career, was his answer to Frost’s question whether the President, acting in the nation’s interest, may do something illegal.1 Nixon’s reply: “When the President does it that means that it is not illegal” (“Nixon’s Views”).

His answer is stunning in that it suggests that the office of the President includes the power to decide what is legal and what is not, a bold assertion violating both the separation of powers and the rule of law. Apart from these constitutional ramifications, however, the role this one sentence has played for the interviews as well as for their cinematic reenactment is remarkable. It signifies a cultural fascination with Nixon’s deeds that has inextricably tied this sentence to the public memory of his presidency. More importantly, the recent interest2 in the thirty-seventh President and his downfall suggests that his actions might have come to symbolize the possibility of an overreaching of the executive branch more generally.

This fascination with crime, its symbolic value, and its discursive functions are indicative of the cultural dimension real-life crime can have. They are also indicative of questions on Crime and America central to this issue of aspeers. On the upcoming pages, we will thus outline one possible framework to investigate ‘crime’ from a sociocultural perspective and demonstrate its productivity for scholarship and American studies in particular, followed by an introduction to this year’s academic and artistic contributions that all engage the cultural roles of ‘crime’ from a multitude of angles.

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