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Reviewed by:
  • Crime and Media in Contemporary France
  • Louise Hardwick
Crime and Media in Contemporary France. By D.S. Reisinger. West Lafayette, IN, Purdue University Press, 2007. vii + 1553 pp. Pb £34.95.

This engaging and provoking comparative study examines how French culture, thought and politics have responded to crime and its mediatization in modern society. Taking as a particular focus the French fait divers (glossed as crime news on the cover), Reisinger investigates the ways in which crime has been presented, and represented, to an increasingly media-savvy population. Her discussion of the fait divers ranges from its origins to its established place in newspaper journalism, and more recently its everyday reappropriation by television, radio and internet. This is complemented by discussion of Barthes's 1964 analysis and subsequent attempts to theorize the form in its contemporary media contexts. She draws attention to the politically manipulative nature of the fait divers, leaning on sensationalism and the 'othering' of the criminal, even when events are related in ostensibly neutral terms (amongst the numerous French newspapers cited, Le Monde and Le Figaro become the focus for comparisons of political discourses). In addressing questions of interpretation and reception, Reisinger concentrates on two adaptations of notorious modern crimes. Claire Denis's film J'ai pas sommeil (1994), which draws on the case of notorious serial-killer Thierry Paulin, is analysed in detail, providing an opportunity to discuss issues of immigration, gender and inclusion/exclusion paradigms both within the film and in terms of its external reception by spectators, who would have been familiar with the Paulin case from media reports even before viewing the film. Bernard-Marie Koltè s' play Roberto Zucco (1990), based on the case of the Italian criminal more often known as Roberto Succo, frames a debate on policing, identity and the troubling charisma of this schizophrenic killer. In adopting this mise-en-abyme approach, Reisinger remains aware that the study attempts a re-reading of works that are themselves re-interpretations of widely disseminated media reports: any reader, or viewer, can be expected to have preconceptions about the events that are being depicted. She identifies a central concern with the complex possibilities of 'speaking to' and 'speaking for' the other, in this case the criminal. Whilst demonstrating the potential of these artistic creations to incite public debate and arguing for their capacity to inform the shaping of cultural values, she includes discussion of anxieties about the effect that artistic representations will have upon the lasting public perception of the actual crimes. At times, questions are raised pertaining to the accounts of these criminal events in non-metropolitan sources, a line of investigation left unexplored. In the case of Paulin, for example, whose status as 'other' is emphasized in media coverage, 'an immigrant from Martinique [. . .] a homosexual, HIV-positive, unemployed, drug-using transvestite' (p. 31), media responses from beyond the metropole (or indeed from gay publications) might have fruitfully been considered. Nonetheless, the study is remarkable for its insightful analysis of a range of journalistic, literary and film material responding to modern crime, and is undoubtedly of interest to those working on crime, cultural analysis and modern France within a variety of disciplines.

Louise Hardwick
Trinity College, Oxford