Corpses, Popular Culture and Forensic Science: public obsession with death

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


The dead body has a history of being a source of fascination for the living with ancient narratives relating to mysterious corpse powers that have fed into how the dead are portrayed and consumed by society. Corpses are graphically visible within the twenty-first century in not only news coverage of natural disasters, war and human inflicted trauma but most prominently in popular culture. Popular culture in this context is used to refer predominatnly but not exclusively to film and television as these are key visual sites consumed on mass by the public. The sheer range of locations and forms that death and the dead are now present within popular culture makes it unavoidable and visually vivid as a form of entertainment. Consuming the corpse within popular culture is dominated by portrayals of corpse parts via organ transplant mythology, the undead (i.e. zombies and vampires) and the authentic dead (fake corpses in ‘realistic’ fiction) within forensic science. Viewing death within the fictional context of the undead and forensics has made the corpse, particularly the opened and violated corpse, into an acceptable entertainment commodity. Accusations have been made that these dead bodies within forensics based television shows and films border on pornographic in that they seek to be shocking and deviant whilst meeting the expectation to be entertained by violated, wounded bodies. However we are no longer shocked. We are acclimatized and the undead and the authentic dead within forensic science in popular culture has been central in this process. Death and the dead are safe when consumed through popular culture which provides us with a softening lens. Popular culture portrayals particularly of forensic science enable distance between the dead and the consuming viewer. It is a point of safety from which to explore death and human mortality.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationOxford Research Encyclopedia of Criminology and Criminal Justice
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages17
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2016

Publication series

ISSN (Print)1357-6275

Bibliographical note

This is a draft of an article that has been accepted for publication by Oxford University Press in the forthcoming book Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Criminology and Criminal Justice due for publication in 2016.


  • CSI
  • corpses
  • forensic science
  • popular culture
  • the gaze

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