Studying the power of the celebrity mugshot

Published: 26 June 2018 at 16:30

Dr Tanya Horeck

Academic will discuss how any criminal can now achieve ‘fame’ in the digital age

As online galleries of celebrity mugshots have grown in popularity, the internet has simultaneously allowed non-celebrities to become famous thanks to their police photos.

This will be one of the topics discussed tomorrow by Dr Tanya Horeck, Reader in Film, Media and Culture at Anglia Ruskin University, in her presentation at the fourth Celebrity Studies Journal conference at the University of Rome.

Previously the preserve of tabloid papers such as the National Enquirer in the United States, Dr Horeck will discuss how the internet has led to a surge in interest in mugshots featuring famous faces.

There are countless Pinterest pages on the topic, while websites such as Access Hollywood provide galleries of images of dishevelled famous people – from A-listers such as Robert Downey Jr all the way down the celebrity chain to D-listers and reality TV stars.

Dr Horeck, who is currently writing a book called Capturing Crime in the Digital Age, said:

“Nothing desecrates a Hollywood star or celebrity quite so efficiently as a mugshot. Take, for example, Hugh Grant’s 1995 mug shot following his dalliance with a sex worker on Sunset Boulevard, in which the formerly clean-cut British star looks sheepishly into the camera, his shoulders hunched. 

“Exposing the stakes of our cultural investment in stars more effectively than any publicity shot ever could, the mugshot is shorthand for the fantasies of dark revelation and exposure that lurk beneath our idealisation of the famous. 

“My talk will set out how the shift to participatory digital culture has amplified, and also commodified, the celebrity mugshot.  It is now a booming business on the internet, and even supposedly ‘upmarket’ news sites are joining in.  

“I will look at the way these images of the star-as-criminal are exhibited and circulated in the digital age, and also examine how social media networks have encouraged a celebrification of crime by looking at the case of Jeremy Meeks, the so-called ‘hot felon’, whose mugshot went viral when the Stockton Police Department posted it on Facebook. 

“On the back of all the ‘likes’ he received, Meeks became an internet celebrity, establishing a successful international modelling career.  The online mugshot industry proves philosopher Jodi Dean’s point that the ‘dynamic of celebrity culture reconfigures the terms through which criminality is understood’.”