Popular Culture, Crime and Social Control: Volume 14

Cover of Popular Culture, Crime and Social Control

Table of contents

(18 chapters)

Crime and social control present important issues that move and affect large segments of society. Whether we consider the impact of criminal events in terms of victimization, the construction of deviance into criminalized acts, or the many socially relevant aspects related to criminal justice policies and other social control activities, crime and justice are matters that deserve our most serious attention. It is largely for this reason that scholars develop astute theoretical models and sophisticated methodologies to study crime and social control in their many significant components. Yet, the world of popular culture, which we tend to associate with playfulness and fun, has also embraced themes related to crime and its control. It is perhaps a sign of the very earnestness associated with crime and social control that these themes are also dealt with in the social institutions of entertainment. The study of such portrayals of crime and criminal justice in popular culture is the focus of the present volume.

Purpose – This chapter analyses the independent U.S. film Reefer Madness, a fictional full-length feature about marijuana use and selling that has grown in cult status since it was produced in 1936. In addition, this chapter discusses a number of examples of early and contemporary illegal drug films that focus on marijuana, including a short film scene from Broken Flowers (2005).

Methodology – Drawing from critical and feminist criminology, sociology, and cultural studies, this chapter provides an analysis of fictional illegal drug films with a focus on marijuana.

Findings – The significance of a century of film representations that reinforce a link between illegal drug use, immorality, and crime is discussed. It appears that these themes are quite enduring.

Value – It is worthwhile to analyze illegal drug films, not just to explore the stigmatization of users, but to examine the social/political effects of these films, particularly the ways that certain kinds of negative images support drug regulation and its attendant policing.

Purpose – This chapter explores the commercially successful and critically acclaimed motion picture The Dark Knight as a cultural artifact that both reflects and influences popular notions of crime and justice in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Design/methodology/approach – From a cultural criminological perspective, this chapter examines ideological messages pertaining to crime and justice presented in the film, including the framing of conflict as one between good and evil, justifications for extralegal violence, and reliance on absolute power as a means of social control. This chapter assesses reactions to the film as a “ritual moral exercise” in which viewers assuage their anxieties and insecurities in a post-9/11 world.

Findings – This chapter investigates representations of justice in the film, including the construction of the villain as “other,” the perception of constitutional procedures as impediments to justice, the embrace of vigilantism, and the willingness to sacrifice transparency of government authorities while accepting widespread surveillance in a time of crisis. Such themes resonated with some viewers who interpreted the film as offering explicit vindication for many of the questionable tactics used in the war on terror.

Originality/value – This chapter argues that popular media, specifically fictional entertainment media, play a role in reflecting and informing collective sentiments of justice. It offers an analysis of The Dark Knight as celebrating individualized, American-style retributive justice in a post-9/11 context.

Purpose – Crime, criminals, the criminal justice system, and criminal justice system actors have traditionally occupied a prominent place in popular media. Comic books and graphic novels are no exception to this trend. Despite this, these media have received comparatively little attention from criminal justice scholars. This chapter seeks to explore the depiction of crime and justice in modern-era comic books and graphic novels.

Methodology/approach – Content analysis techniques were used to examine 166 individual comic books from the modern age (mid-1980s to present), including those compiled in graphic novel form. Particular emphasis was placed on issues of crime control and due process.

Findings – Clear criminal justice themes were seen across the sample, including an emphasis on crime control and crime prevention. Further, comic books featuring the individual characters of Superman and Batman portrayed opposing conceptions of justice, such as justified/unjustified use of force and a willingness to follow or break the law.

Research limitations – This research represents an exploration of the depiction of crime-related themes in comic books and graphic novels, but is by no means definitive. It would be useful to extend this research by examining other eras in comic book history as well as other comic book characters and publishing companies.

Practical implications – The public's perceptions of the criminal justice system ultimately affect societal views of the legitimacy of the system. Since legitimacy is a requisite for compliance, it is important to understand factors that may influence these perceptions. These may include comic books, graphic novels, and other popular media.

Originality/value of paper – Comic books stories and themes have long reflected the times. However, it is unclear how crime and the criminal justice system are portrayed in the comic book world. This chapter is an attempt to fill a gap in the extant literature by examining this often neglected form of popular media.

Purpose – The purpose of this chapter is to examine televised images of jail by looking at televised documentaries and reality-based programs. Since jails are closed institutions, the way the media depicts them can have a significant impact on people's perceptions of these institutions.

Methodology – Content analysis, a common media research technique, was employed to analyze how jails are portrayed on television. More specifically, a sample of seven televised documentaries and 24 episodes of the reality-based programs Jail and Inside American Jail were examined to determine the accuracy of these images, as well as the underlying themes presented in these programs.

Findings – There were both similarities and differences in the way these programs depicted county jails in the United States. Overall both programs offered a selective look into the jail system. Whether depicting the largest jails in the country or focusing exclusively on the areas of the jail where inmate outbursts are most likely to take place, these programs offer a sensationalized view of jail that supports current crime control policies.

Research limitations – The sample used in this study is a purposive sample and only focuses on reality-based images (excluding news broadcasts). Examining additional televised images of jail would add to the strength of this study.

Originality of paper – Although research on prisons in the media is becoming more popular, that on jails is nonexistent; therefore, this chapter adds to our knowledge of how these institutions are portrayed in the media.

Purpose – This chapter studies the lyrics and music videos of Palestinian hip-hop artists, exploring their narratives of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict and constructions of identity and place.

Design/methodology/approach – This semiotic analysis profiles lyrics and music videos found almost exclusively on the Internet. The dominant themes that the chapter discusses emerge directly from the data, creating important connections across borders and requiring a transnational analytical framework.

Findings – Artists in Palestine and in the diaspora appropriate concepts and terminology from criminal justice to narrate life under occupation. In contrast to this construction of occupation, artists also employ metaphors of nature to signify a biological connection to the land of Palestine that represents both victimization and a steadfast and “rooted” resistance. Mapped onto this cross-borders shared semiotics are implications for new understandings of place and identity.

Research limitations – Limitations exist in both content and methodology. Interpreting in the lyrics an embrace of a primordial connection to the land should raise concerns about Orientalist representations of non-Westerners. I devote a section of the chapter to problematizing the primordial Palestinian. In terms of method, I speak no Arabic or Hebrew, though I have taken steps to mitigate this problem, including privileging songs in English or with English translations and employing the assistance of an Arabic and Hebrew speaker.

Originality/value – Despite these limitations, this chapter contributes to an understanding of the transnational potential of hip-hop to craft counter-hegemonic narratives of identity, place, and conflict.

Purpose – We review the literature on the general effects of rap music and discuss in detail those studies that purport to examine how it affects attitudes and behavior related to violence and misogyny.Methodology – Critical review of the popular and scholarly rap music literature.Findings – We describe four critical weaknesses in this literature that limit our ability to draw firm conclusions on rap music's effects: (1) the nonempirical nature of most writings on rap; (2) vagueness regarding the precise relationship between rap music and attitudes and behavior, and the associated lack of theoretical perspectives in rap literature; (3) the exclusion of the perspectives of rap music listeners in most studies; and (4) the drawbacks of both experimental research and existing ethnographic studies in this area.Value of chapter – Based on the deficiencies in the literature, we provide recommendations for future work and discuss why it is imperative, despite the many challenges that exist, to conduct research on rap music and its effects.

The use of art as resistance is well documented in academic scholarship. Gregerson (2007) acknowledged that taken for granted realities and histories are rewritten through lyrical poetic uses of pauses, words, and articulations. Ortiz and Raquel (2005, p. 107) explored the portfolio of Puerto Rican artist Alicea and concluded that he “successfully researches and rescues broken pieces of history to construct new images…he rewrites history through his portfolios, offering us a version of history that invites us to learn about and to question what has previously been written and presented” (Ortiz & Raquel, 2005, p. 107). Addressing black resistance through soul music, Yancy (2004, p. 289) explains that “style is the dynamic expression or articulation of the motif of overcoming…we need to move within the space of soul and style where our collective languaging is a commentary on both” (emphasis added).

Purpose – This study explores music as a philosophical reflection of protest. It focuses on two movements: one from each end of the philosophical protest continuum, the civil rights movement, based in community (modernist), and the Punk Movement, based in individualism (postmodernist). The music of each movement is interpreted to explain how its style illuminates the underlying philosophical values and beliefs from which it comes.

Design/methodology/approach – This chapter first analyzes the background music of the civil rights movement and subsequently investigates the same themes in the Punk Movement. Analytically, a comparison of the two musical styles and their philosophical foundations are offered.

Findings – The philosophical values of each movement were reflected in its music.

Originality/value of paper – Music is often overlooked in the field of criminal justice. This chapter is an introduction to a comparison of different types of protest music. It shows the value and importance music serves to those involved in fights for justice.

Purpose – The crime of child sex offending or child sexual abuse is a serious social problem. Since the 1990s, it has been popularly conceptualised as a ‘paedophile threat’ and has become one of the most high-profile crimes of our times. This chapter examines the social construction of paedophiles in UK newspapers and its impact on official regulation of child sex offenders.

Methodology/approach – Discourse analysis is used to establish how newspaper language produces common discourses around child sex offenders. Documentary research of government legislation and law enforcement helps analyse the ways in which official regulation is informed by media discourses.

Findings – Newspaper discourses around child sex offenders construct the paedophile as a distinct and dangerous category of person. This media figure informs government legislation and law enforcement in several ways. For example, discourses around paedophiles necessitate and legitimate punitive legal trends regarding child sex offenders and facilitate the conceptualisation of specific laws.

The conceptual shift towards understanding child sexual abuse through the figure of the paedophile has several detrimental consequences. This chapter offers a critique of contemporary media and governmental/legal discourses, pointing to misrepresentation, sensationalism, demonisation and insufficient child protection.

Value – This research indicates that discourses and conceptual shifts around child sex offenders are driven by the media but have come to be accepted and perpetuated by the government and the law. This dynamic not only illustrates the power of the media to set agendas but raises questions regarding the adequacy of official governance informed by media discourses.

Purpose – The CSI effect, as it is referenced in mainstream media, is a purported effect on public perceptions caused by the portrayal of forensics and investigations in popular entertainment programming. Despite the obvious popularity of the programs – a common source of blame for such effects and the focus of limited prior research – impacts on perceptions by way of media content must be viewed as a product of multiple internal and external factors, rather than a result of popularity and viewership alone.

Methodology – By examining the portrayal of programming within the context of contemporary news publications, this project focuses on the value and context of presentations of forensics television programming across media genres, highlighting the bidirectional flow of popular media cues through various influential media outlets and outlining the potential for resulting public effects.

Findings – The authors find that an increase in the overall media visibility of entertainment images of forensic science, coupled with news media's tendency to tie such images to real-world forensics on the local and national scenes given an absence of alternative sources for news-oriented stories, speak to the importance of the holistic examination of the role of CSI-related programming in influencing popular perceptions.

Purpose – Focusing on popular culture as unstructured, emergent talk, rather than encapsulated genre or text, this chapter dramatizes a slice of life riven by constant fear of violent assault.

Approach – I access accusatory discourse as the victim of the robbery that precipitates it. The chapter creates an impromptu alternative arena for reflexive ethnographic analysis of crime.

Findings – Most Brazilians live in South Atlantic coastal cities where beaches are loci of social and symbolic action carried out in a carnivalesque mode. The beach symbolizes the myth of national identity, or brasilidade. Culturally specific, yet transnational, beaches are sexually pleasurable spaces of race and class mixing. Armed robbery is the painful shadow-twin of celebration, as much a part of popular culture as bikinis, drink, and dance, but so, too, are the informal community mechanisms attempting to exclude less desirable carnival propensities from spaces marked safe and respectable. A whirlpool of rumor draws on an array of deviant images and acts.

Originality/value – Crime and social control are part of popular culture not merely as engines of re-presentation but as elemental aspects of practical living.

Purpose – To propose a radically new way to understand the science of Cesare Lombroso, the first scientific criminologist, and thus to broaden understanding of the origins of criminology.

Approach – Using both comparative and analytical methods, we locate Lombroso's science of criminal anthropology in the context of late nineteenth-century Gothicism.

Findings – Lombroso's born criminals were Gothic creations, holdovers (like the crumbling castles of Gothic novels) from an earlier, less civilized period, human gargoyles (like the characters of Gothic romances) redolent of death and the uncanny. Moreover, Lombroso's Gothic science, with its depictions of physically and psychologically abnormal criminals, contributed to a transformation in social control by scientifically legitimating the social exclusion and intensified control of those perceived as morally monstrous.

Originality and value – This study creates a new framework for understanding Lombroso's contributions to criminological science and social control. Moreover, in a way that is almost unique in criminology, it combines historical research in literature and art with the history of science.

Research implications – To a degree not usually recognized, a science and its social control ramifications can be shaped by the artistic sensibilities and cultural traditions of the period in which it develops.

Cover of Popular Culture, Crime and Social Control
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Book series
Sociology of Crime, Law and Deviance
Series copyright holder
Emerald Publishing Limited
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