Faculty Publications

Danger in the Safety Zone: Notes on Race, Resentment, and the Discourse of Crime, Violence and Suburban Security

Document Type



Resentment, identity, culture, race, representation, realism

Journal/Book/Conference Title

Cultural Studies





First Page


Last Page



Sociology and education theorists writing on the subject of racial antagonism have tended to ignore the critical role played by popular culture and the electronic media in the reproduction of racial antagonism (Giroux, 1994b). Although there is a rise of a multicultural literature within the field that has from its inception drawn attention to the representation of minorities in educational and cultural forms, such writing has concentrated mainly on textbooks, ignoring popular culture. In the main though, as Deborah Britzman and others have argued, this literature has tended to be a-theoretical and prescriptive to the point of being overly didactic (See McCarthy and Crichlow, 1993). The marginalization of popular culture in the sociology and education literature on race is in part a consequence of the regulative and disciplinary tendency in the educational field to keep popular culture at arm's length lest it corrupts the young and over-stimulates the old. This article takes a radically different stance towards popular culture and we argue that it is precisely in popular culture that racial identities and interests are constructed, reworked and coordinated and then infused into the experssive and instrumental orders of school life. We look at the role of the popular media — particularly film and television — as provokers and cultivators of populist racial meanings and common sense. Drawing on Nietzsche's theory of identity in The Genealogy of Morals (1967), we argue that the electronic media play a critical role in the production and channelling of suburban ‘resentment’ (what Nietzsche describes as the practice of defining one's identity through the negation of the other and through the strategic deployment of emotion and moral evaluation). Such suburban resentment constructs the inner city as Other to itself. We look at one example of resentment — the discourse of crime, violence and suburban security — as it is produced in filmic works emerging out of the Hollywood film industry. We argue that such a discourse forms a semiotic loop in which the filmic realism of the new wave black and Latino directors participates in and colludes with television evening news and the mainstream cinema in the production of suburban resentment by presenting the inner city as the harbinger of violence and lost dreams. In the final section of the article, we draw on a recent ethnographic study conducted by one of us to show the material impact of the resentment discourse of crime, violence and suburban security on the daily lives of black and Latino youth in a Los Angeles high school. We focus here on inner-city youth accounts of police harassment. The article concludes by pointing us beyond the limitations of filmic realism and the discourse of resentment.


Department of Curriculum and Instruction

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