Exhibition Opening: “Fresher, More Recent Tragedies”: Media and the Memory of the Attica Prison Uprising

September 9, 2021

In April 1972, the French theorist Michel Foucault made a detour from a campus trip to the State University of Buffalo to visit the Attica Correctional Facility in Attica, New York.  Attica, the prison, was by then already “Attica,” the site of the violent series of events of September 9-13, 1971.  Watched on television, read in the news, “Attica” was consumed by audiences across America and around the world. 

Fresher, More Recent Tragedies’” traces some of the responses to the events of Attica, situating them within the media history of prison observations in American popular culture.  Foucault’s visit resulted in the publication of Surveiller et punir / Discipline and Punish (1975), his statement on the relationship of state power to the control of the individual.  Following Foucault to Jeremy Bentham’s inspection principle and to Charles Dickens’ visit to the panopticonical Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, the exhibition explores the ephemeral media by which popular culture has engaged with the events of Attica and American prison culture. 

Frederick Douglass observed in 1857 that power conceded nothing without a demand.  In his Doonesbury strip for November 28, 1971, Garry Trudeau responded that power also waits for attention to turn elsewhere, to the next news cycle, and to “fresher, more recent tragedies.”

Kathryn James
Rare Book Librarian

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