Sport is a part of our shared global and separate national popular cultures. Understanding of baseball may be low in the United Kingdom and may come from films like Field of Dreams, but the phrase “three strikes and you’re out” has entered English and Welsh Criminal Justice practice. Such mandatory sentencing for repeat offenders are, like “zero tolerance” or “the war on drugs,” often seen as imports from the Unites States. The popularity of baseball in Japan may be known to only a few outside that country. Many will associate Sumo with Japan, fewer will know of corruption and betting scandals (on baseball!) in the sport. The global sports of football and athletics/track and field have seen major corruption scandals. In athletics, that corruption may also involve the covering up the use of performance enhancing drugs. The sport most associated with drugs is cycling. The premier cycling—and popular cultural, event—the Tour de France, has seen occupational drug taking on a considerable scale, with the rise and fall of Lance Armstrong being the only knowledge of the sport that many will have.
All these sports have waged their “war on drugs” or corruption, and these have entered popular culture through books and films. Yet many still believe sport to have noble roots and beneficial outcomes. Projects set up to prevent crime or encourage desistance from it are popular around the world; examples being soccer or rugby for prisoners, car racing for “joyriders,” or challenging adventure trips. Even tennis, golf, and video games have their supporters. Many successful boxers speak of troubled pasts from which their sport (and popularity) has saved them. However, many have found that fame (or loss of fame) and physical prowess have led them into trouble. There are also political and moral objections to sport. Specifically, there are feminist objections to the violence of some sportsmen towards women, as shown by stars of the NBA and NFL, NCAA athletes, and even local college teams. The occasional violence of sportswomen is treated, like women’s crime, as doubly deviant and especially newsworthy.
Street culture, the states of being, beliefs, and patterns of behavior associated with the most excluded urban populations, can be observed across the world in numerous varieties. Scholars of “slum” life have noted concerns that bear curious similarities over time and space, speaking to issues of exclusion, crime, and criminalization, and to expressive practices that have come to inspire a range of cultural products that are now heavily marketized. Street cultures are at the apex of different debates and studies. Are street cultures, which emphasize entrepreneurial “hustles” and fierce competition, fundamentally different from mainstream cultures of neoliberal capitalism and consumerism? Studying varieties of street culture and the extent to which individuals adhere to them in different ways highlights the complexities of the relationship between the impoverished self and contemporary social structures: new iterations of racism, patriarchy, and inequality. Examining street expressive practices, such as graffiti art, streetwear, and a variety of musical genres, is far from decorative where it reveals new ways in which the disadvantaged are criminalized while the culture industries are reinvigorated. Included populations are both fearful of and fascinated by the urban poor in a manner that simultaneously supports harsh criminal justice measures and cultural exploitation.
The survey, a research methodology in which variables are measured through the answers to questions on a data collection tool called a “survey questionnaire,” has been used to investigate several potential relationships between mass media and crime. In almost all studies, the relationship hypothesized is media influence, in which the media images change the consumer’s attitudes, beliefs, and behavior. Most commonly the hypothesized change is behavioral: individuals who consume violent, sexual, or otherwise suspect media images purportedly have a heightened risk of engaging in criminal acts. Other hypothesized effects of media consumption that are studied frequently include racist or otherwise biased attitudes, which could impact decision making during the criminal justice process; inaccurate beliefs about crime, with an impact on fear of crime and resultant changes in public policy; and the CSI Effect, an exaggerated belief in the efficiency of forensic science in identifying criminal offenders, which could sway jury decisions.
Survey-based research studies have rarely found that mass media consumption has a significant impact on criminal behavior or biased attitude, and its impact on beliefs about crime are contingent on many more significant factors. While these poor results may suggest that there is indeed minimal impact, the problem may lie within the methodology itself, in the ability of survey-based questions and answers to adequately measure the independent variable (media consumption) and the various dependent variables. Additionally, the problem may lie within the essential premise of media influence, with its passive, naive viewer and a radical disjunction between media and real life.
Legal discourse is language that people use in a globalizing and multicultural society to negotiate acceptable behaviors and values. We see this played out in popular cultural forums such as judicial television dramas. In the American context, television judge shows are virtually synonymous with reality courtroom television. There have been a few judge shows, but these have been completely overshadowed by the success of reality courtroom television. The first reality courtroom show was The People’s Court, and its history and early success are discussed in the opening section of this article. The next section looks at the television judge show landscape after the first incarnation of The People’s Court up to the present day in the United States. The third section is dedicated to a discussion of television judge shows outside the United States, chiefly in Europe. The focus is on German and Dutch versions and on the ways in which they differ from the original U.S. versions. This section also briefly looks at the effects of modern digital technology on the judicial genre and asks whether enhanced viewer engagement and crowdsourced justice in the near future will force judges to bow to the popular will, on and off the small screen.
The themes of terrorism and counter-terrorism have infused the America media’s cultural production for several decades. These popular culture products were designed first for consumption by domestic audiences but also for export to audiences throughout the world, quickly assuming a role in US cultural imperialism. Much of this production took the form of news reports about political turmoil, sectarian violence and liberation, independence or nationalist movements—almost always occurring “somewhere else” in the world. Still others appeared as fictional narratives embedded within diverse entertainment genres such as political thrillers, war, sci-fi, romance and suspense, sometimes in a lifeworld that paralleled that of the domestic audience. But more often than not this production took the form of lifeworlds mimicking foreign lands, mythical pasts, or dystopian futures. Popular culture’s tales of terrorism and counter-terrorism maintained this relatively stable pattern for much of the last quarter of the 20th century. Al-Qaeda’s terrorist attacks against the United States on 11 September 2001 considerably impacted that narrative pattern, and while not fundamentally changing the script, this attack resulted in significant rewrites. To begin, the portrayal of terrorism and the War on Terror, both real and fictionalized, became the central theme in a great deal of popular culture, including television programs, feature films, PC/video games, YouTube videos, advertisements, popular music, and of course, the news. These mediated texts—in essence, stories that the US cultural industries tell about terrorism and the state’s attempts to fight it—reconstituted the social reality of terrorism and counter-terrorism. In the immediate aftermath of al-Qaeda’s attacks, the American cultural industries increasingly served as a conduit for US hegemony, both at home and abroad. While there is a long history of arm’s-length cooperation between the state and the entertainment industry in the production of popular culture products that can be traced back to the early 1930s, the immediate post-9/11 period heralded an era of not only more terrorism and counter-terrorism narratives but also narratives whose content changed incrementally (but ultimately markedly) largely as a result of the state’s direct involvement in crafting them.
Chief among the changes was the streamlining of a narrative that emphasized the growing ubiquity of terrorist threats to the American people on US soil. Indeed, in the lifeworlds created by post-9/11 popular culture, terrorism and counter-terrorism are no longer things that happen primarily or exclusively elsewhere. America’s business interests abroad, its embassies and military installations, are no longer the only likely targets of terrorist activity. These traditional targets have been augmented by many others, including iconic buildings in major cities, national monuments, and critical infrastructure—as well as by more mundane parts of the US landscape, such as schools, sports stadiums, amusement parks, and shopping malls. Like that espoused by the state, the culture industries’ narrative is clear; no one is safe from terrorism.
Predictably, the narrative shift that amplified the danger, barbarism, and proliferation of the terrorist threat was complimented by one which aggrandized the counter-terrorist efforts of the United States. In popular culture’s various lifeworlds counter-terrorism strategies, no matter how extreme, are understood as reasonable and legitimate. The narratives, comprised almost wholly of fetishized presentations of military, national security, and law enforcement agents with state- of-the-art weaponry dispatching terrorists with deadly force, provide virtually no political or socio-historical context and offer no alternative to resolving conflicts other than the unfettered use of state violence.
As such, popular culture’s presentation of terrorism and counter-terrorism serves to provide the resolution that the real-world War on Terror promised but did not deliver, while at the same time contributing to a narrative that demands its continuation.
Prosecutors and members of law enforcement have complained that television shows such as CSI: Crime Scene Investigation have cultivated in jurors’ unreasonable expectations about forensic evidence, specifically that jurors require definitive forensic proof of guilt, or else they will wrongly acquit. This is popularly known as “CSI Effect.” Despite the popularity of this belief, there is little empirical evidence substantiating it. In fact, the majority of studies exploring CSI Effects have found evidence supporting a variety of impacts that advantage, rather than disadvantage, the prosecution. For instance, these programs frame forensics as objective and virtually infallible, bolster forensic technicians and the value of evidence associated with them, and promote schema that endorse prosecution narratives. Indeed, it appears that among CSI’s most salient impacts on the legal system comes not from these television programs distorting juror decision-making, but because lawyers and judges mistakenly believe such an effect exists, and, therefore, alter their behavior in response. It thus appears that the realities of the CSI Effect are quite different than the persistent mythology of it.
This article explores what happens to criminal evidence after the conclusion of legal proceedings, described here as the afterlife of evidence. The text investigates the ways that this material proliferates in the shadow of the law, in both cultural and commercial contexts. During the criminal trial, the rules of evidence and criminal procedure operate to tightly regulate the collection, admissibility, and interpretation of evidence. After the criminal trial, these rules no longer control evidence, and this material is sometimes subject to the substantial cultural curiosity associated with true crime and its artifacts. This article sets out some of the new questions that are posed by this material when it is transferred beyond the law’s control.
In examining Aboriginal riots, the conditions of political antagonism and the distinct ways these relations of antagonism are played out take precedence. Ethnographic approaches that analyze the substance of situated cultural meanings are central to understanding these relations. Drawing upon Allen Feldman’s ethnographic account of the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland for some of its interpretive framework, this article surveys the methodological value and importance the Manchester School of Anthropology placed on “atypical events,” moments when irresolvable tensions boil to the surface. For anthropologists, what is important in understanding riots is the manner in which participants themselves extract meanings in violence. What do they say about the violence? How is it culturally situated in particular social and political contexts? Different antagonists create their own moral economy that then legitimates their repertoires of violence.
Taunya Lovell Banks
Crime films defy precise definition. This category includes traditional courtroom films like Witness for the Prosecution (1957), detective films like Gone Girl (2014), prison films like The Shawshank Redemption (1994), comedies like My Cousin Vinny (1992) or Find Me Guilty (2006), gangster films like The Godfather series (1972, 1974, 1990), and even musicals like Chicago (2002). Thus crime films provide an almost limitless variety of plots, characters, and settings. Adopting a very broad definition of what constitutes a “crime film”, the representation of race in crime films throughout the 20th and early 21st centuries is examined.
During much of the early and mid-20th century, crime on American Main Street silver screens was largely a white phenomenon. The absence of people considered nonwhite from early crime films is unsurprising because “whiteness is positioned as the default category, the center or the assumed norm on which everything else in American society is based. Under this conception, white is often defined more through what it is not than what it is.” Racial outsiders like African and Asian Americans, Native Americans, Latinos, and other persons considered nonwhite were not featured on America’s movie screens. If they appeared at all in early crime films it was as marginal stereotypical characters.
Stereotyping, when used in film, is designed “to quickly convey information about characters and to instill in audiences expectations about characters’ actions.” During the early days of American films nonwhites were encoded with negative, often criminal, stereotypes. In silent films like Birth of a Nation (1915), for example, African American men were depicted as rapists and violent brutes. Mexicans in The Greaser’s Gauntlet (1908) and Guns and Greasers (1918) were depicted as criminals. Silent films like The Massacre (1912) and The Battle of Elderbush Gulch (1913) portrayed Native Americans as lawless savages, an image reinforced throughout the 20th century by western films. In The Cheat (1915) Japanese male immigrants were depicted as wily sexual predictors. The stereotypes attributed to ethnic Chinese were slightly different and more exaggerated. Films like The Heathen Chinese and the Sunday School Teacher (1904) and The Yellow Peril (1908) demonized Chinese immigrants as villainous predictors. In episode 13 of the film serial The Exploits of Elaine (1914) the protagonist, Pearl, “[t]rapped in a lair of Chinese devil worshipers . . . is spared rape, a fate worse than death, in favor of ritual sacrifice to an Oriental demon who demands a bride ‘blond, beautiful and not of our race’.” Although nonwhites’ conduct was criminalized in these films, the films themselves were not crime films.
Transgressive imaginations refers to the breaking of rules and taboos including, but not limited to, acts of crime and violence as they are represented in fictive texts and ethnographic research. The focus here will be on the fictive, rather than ethnographic, element. Transgression can be understood not only as exceeding boundaries or limits but as resistance, protest, and escape. Particularly apposite is the portrayal of “heroes” and “villains” in different cultural forms, and how these contribute to popular understandings.
Cultural portrayals of those who transgress societal norms are frequently stigmatizing, and label them as mad, bad, and abject. However, the analysis of transgression also entails radical democratic possibilities, whether this is through research that challenges restrictive stereotypes and normative assumptions, or the means through which those labeled “outsiders” defy their marginalization. Cultural representations of transgression are not necessarily supportive of culturally dominant or conservative positions and can instead offer new ways of imagining social identities and social change. The ways in which transgression is imagined can both construct and challenge moral boundaries.