Crime Media Culture

Published by SAGE Publications
Print ISSN: 1741-6590
This article is Restricted Access. It was published in the journal, Crime, Media, Culture [© SAGE Publications] and is available at Politicians are fond of telling interviewers that their focus should be on the ‘real issues’ or ‘what matters most to the people’. This research note considers the place of crime as a ‘real issue’, specifi cally during the national general election held in the UK in May 2005. According to research by Ipsos MORI (May 2005), at the time of the election the issues that mattered most to people were crime (40 per cent), the health service (36 per cent), race relations/immigration (27 per cent) and education (26 per cent). Crime was clearly important to the public, but how was this refl ected in the policies of the main parties and the media coverage of the campaign? Restricted access
This article aims to demonstrate that, despite their potential for cultivating communitarianism and deliberative democracy on a large scale, the mass media contribute decisively to the formation of punitiveness amongst the public by means of selective semiotic aestheticisation. They overstate the problem of crime; put the blame on marginalised cohorts and level heavy criticism against the administration of prisons purportedly for laxity; issue urgent calls for ever-greater reliance on the use of strict imprisonment by the authorities and the adoption of self-policing measures by local communities and private individuals; and either mute or neutralise the attendant hardships prisoners suffer at the hands of the state. Breaking with discourses of rational linearity, whereby distorted perceptions of criminal danger result in punitive reactions, the claim is made that the imagery of crime and punishment helps audiences resolve at the level of symbolic expression contradictions which remain unconsciously insoluble at the level of everyday life.
In 1962, police officers concealed themselves for two weeks in a men’s public toilet in Mansfield, Ohio, and filmed men performing illicit homosexual sex acts. The film footage was used to secure convictions for sodomy, and inaugurated a new form of police surveillance of homosexual public sex. In 2008, the visual artist William E. Jones screened the police footage in art galleries around the world, to both critical acclaim and public objection. This article examines the film, both as a prosecutorial artifact and an artwork, to explore what it says about public sex, police surveillance, the criminalization of homosexual practices, visual evidence, and contemporary art. It considers the validity of the public/private distinction as it applies to anonymous sex, it evaluates the probative value of images, the changing nature of surveillance, and the meanings of silence in both criminal procedure and artistic practice. This article argues that the act of transforming traumatic evidence into visual art requires deep ethical examination. Whatever artistic, political or historical contribution may be claimed for this work must be measured against the harm that it does to the film’s silent subjects.
A review of available international evidence indicates that crime features regularly in the media. New data shows that this is also true for Trinidad. Elsewhere, it has been shown that newspaper crime news concentrates heavily on infrequently occurring crimes involving sex and/or violence. Crime news on television and radio has not been subject to as much scrutiny, although it has been shown that televised crime drama is noticeably violent. Data from a representative sample of Trinidadian respondents (n = 705) undertaken in 2000 indicate no relationship between media consumption and fear of crime.
This article argues that the populist and highly punitive penal policy in the UK is promoted by media discourses around prison. The combination of over-reporting of violent and sexual crime in the media and fictional constructions of imprisonment has been a highly significant factor in the growth of the prison population in late modernity. Providing a discourse analysis of one month’s UK media output on prison, it argues that through a discourse of dangerousness delivered to a fearful public, prison is constructed unproblematically as a solution to crime, echoing the ‘what works’ mantra of New Labour. The meaning of prison, it argues, is shifted from a place of pain delivery to one which treats and trains. The article further contends that media discourse of the prisoner precludes any rational debate about alternatives to prison. Media representations of incarceration as an institution full of murderers, rapists and paedophiles precludes a long overdue debate about prison suicides, the erosion of prisoners’ rights and the rising number of women and children incarcerated.
In May 1958, Edith Chubb was tried at the Old Bailey for the murder of her sister-in-law, Lilian Chubb. She was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to four years' imprisonment. She claimed to have accidentally killed Lilian by pulling on her scarf in a moment of `exasperation'. Edith was a married woman and mother of five children, whereas Lilian had never married. This article examines how the case was represented in the Daily and Sunday Mirror. In particular, it analyses these newspapers' persistent calls for Edith's release from prison. She was portrayed as an overworked, overburdened mother, who understandably snapped and killed her `lazy' sister-in-law. She was constructed as a respectable working-class woman who was undeserving of punishment. However, this construction relied upon portraying Lilian through negative stereotypes of the `spinster', as a `failed' woman of low social value. With reference to Innes's (2004a, 2004b) concept of the `signal crime', it is argued that Edith's case can be `read' by criminologists for mid 20th-century perceptions of gender, class, victimhood and the appropriateness of punishment.
This article examines the visual press coverage in three centre-right British newspapers of the Soham murder trial, a very high-profile case which took place in the winter of 2003. The previous summer, two young girls had been abducted and murdered, and their school caretaker, Ian Huntley was charged with their murder. He was tried alongside his girlfriend, Maxine Carr who, significantly, was not deemed to be an accomplice but was charged with perverting the course of justice, because she provided an alibi for Huntley. Public loathing towards Carr remains intense and when she was released in May 2004 she was granted indefinite anonymity. This article focuses on the visual representation of Maxine Carr, in an attempt to understand the ways in which she was visually constructed in comparison with Ian Huntley. A content analysis and qualitative visual analysis were undertaken on the trial coverage published in The Times (broadsheet), the Daily Mail (middle market) and the Sun (tabloid). The content analysis demonstrated that images of Maxine Carr appeared more frequently than images of Ian Huntley, and were often larger and reproduced in colour. The qualitative visual analysis explored the placement and juxtaposition of the images with each other and with the headline text. We found disturbing evidence of newspaper formatting which could only encourage readers to draw misleading conclusions about Carr's role in the crime. The visual coverage in the press `told' a very different story than the one which formed the basis for her sentence. We argue that the influence of newspaper page layout and image montages is too frequently overlooked by media scholars, but that it should not be underestimated, particularly in terms of the reporting of high-profile crimes.
This article uses the lens of cultural criminology to explore representations of the seductions of crime (Katz, 1988) in Hollywood cinema. We use a specific film – Chicago (Miramax Films, 2002) – to investigate the cultural embeddedness of the emotional and sensual parameters that are said to constitute the foreground of criminal activity. We suggest that the stated aim of cultural criminology – to connect the phenomenal foreground of criminal acts to their material background – is laudable but that there is also a pressing need to connect that foreground to specific features of its cultural background. Our analysis of the film Chicago exposes the social circulation of important cultural motifs that help to make sense of why certain kinds of emotional and sensual features might be attended to in accounts of the commission of crimes.
There is substantial literature on how fears of Other populations are prompting the increased surveillance and regulation of public spaces at the heart of Western cities. Yet, in contrast to the consumer-oriented spaces of the city centre, there has been relatively little attention devoted to the quality of the street spaces in residential neighbourhoods beyond the central city. In this article, we explore how media representations of sex workers as an abject and criminalized Other inform the reactions of residents to street sex work in such communities. Drawing on our work in a number of British cities we highlight the different degrees of tolerance which residents express towards street sex work. In light of the Home Office strategy document, A Coordinated Prostitution Strategy, this article concludes by advocating participatory action research and community conferencing as a means of resolving conflicts and assuaging fears of difference. There is substantial literature on how fears of Other populations are prompting the increased surveillance and regulation of public spaces at the heart of Western cities. Yet, in contrast to the consumer-oriented spaces of the city centre, there has been relatively little attention devoted to the quality of the street spaces in residential neighbourhoods beyond the central city. In this article, we explore how media representations of sex workers as an abject and criminalized Other inform the reactions of residents to street sex work in such communities. Drawing on our work in a number of British cities we highlight the different degrees of tolerance which residents express towards street sex work. In light of the Home Office strategy document, A Coordinated Prostitution Strategy, this article concludes by advocating participatory action research and community conferencing as a means of resolving conflicts and assuaging fears of difference.
Reflecting recent efforts to understand fear of crime as a locally situated process (Walklate, 1998; Lupton and Tulloch, 1999; O'Mahony and Quinn, 1999; Sparks, Girling and Loader, 2001), this article analyses the importance of two different 'local contexts' for shaping audience interpretation of media crime. The first of these is the home. The integration of media technologies into the moral economy of the household, and textual readings made within the context of a contested 'politics of the sitting room' (Morley, 1992), provide a framework for the interpretation of media crime. Second, and of most interest here, senses of community attachment associated with living in a particular locality are judged to shape the meaning and interpretation of media crime. The article draws on interviews with two households in a suburb of Manchester and argues that the impact of media crime must be considered within a framework that takes place seriously, both as a context for everyday action and as a force in shaping community identity and personal and shared senses of fear and (in)security. The article highlights the historical neglect of spatial context in studies of audience reception of media crime and argues for the need to develop more 'place sensitive' research into the impact of media discourses on audiences' fear of crime.
Writing this has been a troubling experience. Returning to a text 30 years on in this way combines intellectual, political and personal reflections in an unsettling way. These range from a powerful attachment to processes of collective or collaborative intellectual work that Policing the Crisis (PTC; Hall et al., 1978) embodied and enhanced to a rather depressed sense of how many things the book got right about the trajectory of the British social formation in the mid 1970s (other futures might have been preferable). And above all, there is a sense of what the book stands for in the emergence of cultural studies as an institutionalized academic field. As a way of trying to digest these different responses, I have tried to address three sorts of questions: why PTC mattered, where it belongs and why it continues to have echoes in the present.
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Prior research has examined public attitudes towards—and media portrayals of—Muslims in the United States following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Scholars, however, have yet to examine media portrayals of incarcerated Muslims in the era following the attacks. In this article, I analyze newspaper reports published before and after the 9/11 attacks to examine whether representations of incarcerated Muslims shifted following the attacks. Findings indicate that although terrorism and the war on terror, inmate radicalization, and the significance of Muslim chaplains are themes that emerged only in post-9/11 reports, there is also substantial overlap in the content of reports published before and after the attacks. These findings are interpreted by drawing on the minority threat perspective.
Within the last two decades, green criminology has emerged as a distinctive area of study, drawing together criminologists with a wide range of specific research interests and representing varying theoretical orientations. Green criminology spans the micro to the macro, from work on individual-level environmental crimes to business/corporate violations to state transgressions, and includes research conducted from both mainstream and critical theoretical perspectives, as well as arising out of interdisciplinary projects. With few exceptions, there has been little work attempting to explicitly or implicitly integrate cultural criminology with green criminology and vice versa. This article promulgates a green-cultural criminologyan approach that seeks to incorporate a concern with the cultural significance of the environment, environmental crime, and environmental harm into the green criminological enterprise. It begins by demonstrating how cultural criminology is, at some levels, already doing green criminology. It then attempts to map a green criminology onto several key dimensions of cultural criminology: (a) the contestation of space, transgression, and resistance; (b) the way(s) in which crime is constructed and represented by the media; and (c) patterns of constructed consumerism. This article concludes by showing how a green-criminology-cultural-criminology cross-fertilization would be mutually beneficial.
An event such as the attack on Manhattan on September 11th 2001 is socially, culturally and politically traumatizing. Those who saw the attack (in person or through media coverage) emphasized its visual impact. Faced with such visual trauma, it is unsurprising that the aftermath of the attacks had a representational dimension, as individuals and institutions strove to suture the resulting wound through image making. This article investigates the legacy of visual trauma after September 11th in the difficult interim years when disaster is no longer part of the immediate past. I focus on two texts (the Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States, or 9/11 Report, and a short film by the Mexican director, Alejandro González Iñárritu), each of which displays in different ways the effects of the trauma of witnessing disaster. The aim is to raise questions about the legacy of traumatic events for the legal and cultural responses which follow in their wake, and to that extent the article thinks through the demands of witnessing trauma, the ethical challenges for the cinematic documentation of a traumatic event, and the limits upon judgment in the aftermath of disaster.
Through archival research and an intersectional thematic analysis, this paper examines three key episodes of early-2000s sensation To Catch a Predator and situates them within crime media and journalism literature. The paper analyzes themes of journalistic integrity and the subjugation of women and girls by a television program that claimed to use the former to stop the latter. Based on the analysis, To Catch a Predator engages in forensic journalism as demonstrated by the treatment of women and girls as bait, claims of ownership over women and girls’ bodies, lack of nuance in reporting, and the liberties taken in their journalistic practices. Ultimately, this paper shows how To Catch a Predator acts as a spectacle of vigilantism, by creating the child pornography it claims to fight and by glorifying punishment, contributing to the ongoing moral panic around child exploitation.
Bunkerization, a term often associated with military fortifications on 20th-century battlefields or the fallout shelters of the Cold War, can now refer to the building, buying and selling of artificial environments designed to provide protective and defensive responses to the ecological, military, and political threats of the Anthropocene. As places of elite retreat, however, these are not spartan spaces. This article documents how—for some—forms of bunkerization have emerged as privileged reactions or responses to contemporary environmental crises, such as climate change, by considering the case of last-chance tourism and luxury cruising. In 2020, both climate change and COVID-19 became intertwined as global crises emerging from humans’ troubling relationships with nature. To examine bunkerization as an individualistic reaction to these converging crises, we first outline the challenges presented by COVID-19 and its connections with human exploitation of animals and the environment. We then turn to the particular uses of the environment—in this case, the oceans—as locations of leisure and retreat, and offer an analysis of the image, operations and impact of the luxury cruise industry. In light of our current path of crisis accumulation, we conclude with an urgent call to adopt a more holistic view of planetary public health—one that includes not only humans but also other species and the natural environment.
This article contends that contemporary writings on the representation of offending women provide a simplified outline of ‘available’ representations. To nuance and further complicate our understanding, this study lays bare the most salient media characterisations of women perpetrators in Swedish press. In contrast to much previous research, it covers various offence types and an extensive period of time (1905–2015) and moves away from the focus on mega-cases and cases of extreme deviance. First, the study illustrates that characterisations are contingent and that there is a greater variety in ‘available’ representations than previous research suggests. The characterisations rather tend to move between and beyond the categories of bad, mad and sad. Second, the study makes visible the narrative continuities (across cases and over time) and analyses the social and cultural work of gendered characterisations. While steering attention to sense-making and the construction of familiarity, the article complicates the assumption that women’s deviance primarily or necessarily is represented as otherness.
The rape law reform movement in the U.S. has made significant progress since the 1970s. All fifty U.S. states and the District of Columbia have now made changes to their rape statutes. Nonetheless, the incidence of reported rape has increased substantially since the 1970s, and rape conviction rates have remained frustratingly low. Such statistical evidence suggests that amending legal statutes has not proven sufficient to curb endemic sexual violence in the U.S. Effective prevention requires a deeper understanding of rape culture, the conglomeration of discourses, ideologies, and practices that normalize sexual assault. Of particular interest here are mass mediated representations of rape, and their power to authorize or critique sexual violence, its root causes, and its consequences. This paper interrogates and seeks to disrupt rape culture by critically analyzing three media texts with narratives based on real-world cases of sexual violence and secondary victimization, the films Anatomy of a Murder, 1959 and The Accused, 1988 and the Netflix miniseries Unbelievable, 2019. With roughly thirty years between these texts, they provide snapshots of shifting attitudes and practices around sexual violence and secondary victimization in the U.S., from the pre-reform era to the #MeToo era. The analysis reveals some heartening changes but also some disturbing continuities in the real-world ideas and practices that media texts reflect and amplify.
Wrongful convictions threaten the norms of crime reporting by shifting the media focus away from crime toward notions of innocence and fallibility. The 1989 attack on a jogger in Central Park resulted in a well-publicized response from the New York criminal justice system that eventually led to the wrongful conviction of five innocent youths. This research investigates reporting surrounding the Central Park attack and how the media's response altered over the past 25 years. It argues that the Central Park jogger case offers an insight into the development of narratives of wrongful conviction and offers a typology to better understand how cases of innocence develop in print media. By exploring this case in reference to concepts including public narrative, signal crime and mediated witness, this paper focuses on the reporting on the case within The New York Times. It argues the newspaper played an important role in the public's perceptions of the five men as they evolve from the accused, the offenders, the punished, and finally, to become the wrongfully convicted. The findings contribute to a better understanding of the malleability of the media on public narratives, its readiness for violent crime and the lack of accountability in constructing public opinions that potentially damage the innocent.
While media attention has focused on the visceral brutality of police chokeholds, less noticed are the breath-taking effects of air pollution caused by the (in)actions of state agencies dedicated to environmental protection. To think through how race and racism are embedded in the processes that underlie the Anthropocene, I reframe three key terms of engagement to analyze with greater rigor contemporary criminal anthroposcenes (i.e. scenes constituted by the inextricable enmeshing of crime and anthropogenic climate change): (1) climate and weather, (2) bodies and environments, and (3) anestheticization. Shaping a racial geography of dirty air, a climate of anti-Blackness in the US has been quietly impacting the health and lives of African Americans for centuries, so that the deadly impact of viral outbreaks can merge with existing modes of spectacular and slow violence. From the murder of George Floyd to the establishment of sacrifice zones, the complexity and messiness of recent breath-taking scenes of injustice are formed and maintained by a dangerous mixture of racial apathy and racially-charged violence.
This article analyzes media representation of minority offenders, and argues that media practice associates a minority status with criminal propensity through a process of minority signification. The focal point of the analysis is newspaper reporting of the 2003 Fukuoka family murder in Japan, in which three students from China killed a Japanese family. Close examination of two major Japanese newspapers suggests that their reporting of the Fukuoka case connects crime and a minority group in two ways. First, the newspapers frequently utilize nationality and immigration status as descriptors of the Fukuoka case suspects, and thus encourage an intuitive mental connection between foreignness and crime. Furthermore, opinion pieces and editorial articles interpret the murder in the context of immigration policies and the financial hardship often experienced by international students, suggesting that the Fukuoka case is one manifestation of international student criminality. The article concludes that signification of nationality and immigration status in the media may help explain the disparity between the relatively minor presence of foreign national offenders in Japan's crime scene and their major presence in the Japanese crime discourse.
This article considers one the less frequently elements of riots: the emotions to which they give rise. Based on testimony from interviews with people who took part in the 2011 England riots, it explores the curiosity which drew many onto the streets, the excitement and the fear involved in such quickly unfolding and unpredictable events, the impunity that many felt being part of such large crowds together with the sense of ‘empowerment’ many experienced as a consequence of their involvement. The article suggests that a number of concepts regularly deployed within cultural criminology – most obviously ‘carnival’ and ‘edgework’ - are useful in understanding elements of the emotional world of the riot. More fundamentally, however, it is argued that what the accounts describe more than aanything else is a pervading sense of ‘alienation’ among many of those involved in the disorder.
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Majid Yar
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Sandra Lyn Walklate
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