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In contemporary society, “closure” refers to “end to a traumatic event or an emotional process” (Berns, 2011, pp. 18–19)—and, in the more specific context of capital punishment, controversy over what, if anything, is needed for murder victims’ families to attain healing and finality or move forward with their lives, including the execution of their loved one’s killer. The term is highly politicized, and is used by both death penalty advocates and its opponents to build arguments in favor of their respective positions. Closure has been indelibly linked to both capital punishment and media institutions since the late 1990s and early 2000s. The media’s penchant for covering emotional events and its role in informing the American public and recording newsworthy events make it perfectly suited to construct, publicize, and reinforce capital punishment’s alleged therapeutic consequences. Legal and political officials also reinforce the supposed link between closure and capital punishment, asking jurors to sentence offenders to death or upholding death sentences to provide victims’ families with a chance to heal. Such assertions are also closely related to beliefs that a particular offender is defiant or lacks remorse. Surprisingly, however, the association between closure and capital punishment has only recently been subjected to empirical scrutiny. Researchers have found that victims’ families deem closure a myth and often find executions themselves unsatisfying, provided that a perpetrator does not enjoy high media visibility so that the execution has a silencing effect, as did Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh’s execution by lethal injection in 2001. Recent empirical examinations of the link between capital punishment and closure prompt a redefinition of closure through which victims’ family members learn to cope with, work through, and tell the story of a murder and its impact. This redefinition is less sensational and thus perhaps less newsworthy, which may have the salubrious effect of discouraging extensive media emphasis on executions’ closure potential. Another way to decouple closure from capital punishment is for media organizations to change their practices of covering perpetrators, such as by not continually showing images of the perpetrator and by incorporating a more extensive focus on the victims and their families. While government officials have called for the media to exercise restraint in the wake of such events as the Oklahoma City bombing and 9/11, victims’ groups are now beginning to advocate for this same goal, with much success.
Thalia Anthony and Kieran Tranter
The car and crime become entrenched in the cultural imagination with the widely circulated images of the bullet-hole-ravaged Ford V8 that Bonnie (Parker) and Clyde (Barrow) were in when they were killed by Texan and Louisianan police in 1934. This couple of outlaws (and their gang) had kept newspaper readers enthralled and appalled as they robbed, murdered, and kidnapped throughout the Midwest since 1932. The scope of their activities and their success in evading authorities, along with their crimes, which included many vehicle thefts, were facilitated by the mobility of the car. Before Bonnie and Clyde, car crime in the public consciousness comprised images of the foolish and antisocial behavior of the well-to-do car-owning elite. After Bonnie and Clyde, the famous image of their death car and the celebrity-making image of Bonnie as the archetypical gangster moll with cigar and revolver leaning over a stolen car, linked in the cultural imagination crime and cars as everyday through a visceral mix of bodies, sex, and violence.
In particular, the visceral imaginings of car crime after Bonnie and Clyde separated into four locations. All involved, to certain degree, bodies, sex, and violence, but distinct contexts and meanings can be identified. The first location is the imaging of car crime itself; of risky use of the car—speeding, dangerous driving, racing, drink driving—actions evidenced by carnage on the roads. There have emerged two frames for this location. The first is the serious and deadly context of the usually male driver fueled by “combustion masculinity” taking irresponsible risks with bloody consequences. The second is the humorous, over-the-top risky, subversive, and illegal car-based activities, a frame tapped into by television shows like Top Gear (Klein, 2002–2015) and Bush Mechanics (Batty, 2001) and manifest in the car chase trope. The second location is the car as a crime scene. From JFK’s assassination in a Lincoln convertible, to the car as site of sexual assault, to the illicit imaginings of the goings-on in a VW microbus, the car is a place in which crimes happen. The car is seen as constructing an internal geography in which crimes occur. The third location has the car as a facilitator of criminal activity. In the road buddy narrative from On the Road (Kerouac, 1957) to Thelma & Louise (Scott, 1991) the car becomes the outlaw’s mechanical horse facilitating a crime spree and evading arrest. At the fourth location, the car became imaged as property, the car as a crime object. From Gone in 60 Seconds (Sena, 2000) to the advertisements of the vehicle insurance industry, the car became conceived as vulnerable property, the target of theft. While distinguishable, each location is not segmented in the cultural imagination, but, as role-played by gamers in the Grand Theft Auto computer game series, cross and coexist. Now well into its second century, the car, notwithstanding contemporary transformations, nurtures a vivid imagining of its culture gone wrong.
Karen J. Terry
Media attention on child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church led to awareness of a serious social problem and increased the levels of disclosure of abuse. The three “emergencies of clerical sexual abuse in the media” occurred in 1985, 1993, and 2002 (Maniscalco, 2005). The catalyst for the media coverage was high-profile clergy offenders with multiple victims and in 2002 also included the claims of cover-ups by high-ranking cardinals in the United States.
Most victims of clergy sexual abuse disclosed their abuse decades after the abuse occurred, and the increased rates of disclosure coincided with the three periods of increased reporting in the media. Though the constant reporting in the media led to some misconceptions about CSA generally and CSA within the Catholic Church, it also led to policy changes in how the church responded to allegations of abuse and aimed to prevent future acts of abuse.
Shanna R. Van Slyke and Leslie A. Corbo
Consumer fraud is the intentional deception of one or more individuals with the promise of goods, services, or other financial benefits that either never existed, were never going to be provided, or were grossly misrepresented. In contrast to ancient times when consumer fraud and other white-collar crimes were considered to be at least as serious as violence and other street crimes, today’s consumer fraudster tends to be viewed as less dangerous and deserving of harsh sanctioning. Despite several social movements against consumer fraud and a proliferation of popular and scholarly literature on the topic, contemporary U.S. society has maintained a relatively lenient stance toward white-collar crime—a “soft on crime” position that is inconsistent with conservative “tough on crime” approaches that have dominated U.S. penal policy since the 1960s.
Lisa A. Kort-Butler
Content analysis is considered both a quantitative and a qualitative research method. The overarching goal of much of the research using this method is to demonstrate and understand how crime, deviance, and social control are represented in the media and popular culture. Unlike surveys of public opinions about crime issues, which seek to know what people think or feel about crime, content analysis of media and popular culture aims to reveal a culture’s story about crime. Unlike research that examines how individuals’ patterns of media consumption shape their attitudes about crime and control, content analysis appraises the meaning and messages within the media sources themselves. Media and popular culture sources are viewed as repositories of cultural knowledge, which capture past and present ideas about crime, while creating and reinforcing a culture’s shared understanding about crime.
In content analysis, media and popular culture portrayals of crime issues are the primary sources of data. These portrayals include a range of sources, such as newspapers, movies, television programs, advertisements, comic books, novels, video games, and Internet content. Depending on their research questions, researchers draw samples from their selected sources, usually with additional selection boundaries, such as timeframe, genre, and topic (e.g., movies about gangs released from 1960 to 1990).
There are two primary approaches to conducting content analysis. In quantitative forms of content analysis, researchers code and count the occurrence of elements designated by the researcher prior to the study (e.g., the number of times a violent act occurs). In qualitative forms of content analysis, the researchers focus on the narrative, using an open-ended protocol to record information. The approaches are complementary, as each reveals unique yet overlapping concepts crucial to understanding how the media and popular culture produce and reproduce ideas about crime.
The term “copycat crime” implies that the root of a crime can be found in exposure to a live model or media content concerning a prior crime. The four basic components of a copycat crime are a “generator crime” (a media portrayal of a crime or a real-world crime that is the precursor of a subsequent crime), “criminogenic models” (media content or real-world offenders that portray a subsequently copied crime), “copycat criminal” (an individual who commits a crime after being influenced by criminogenic media content, live models, or a combination of the two), and “copycat crime” (a crime whose occurrence or form is influenced by prior exposure to media content and/or live criminal models). The linked crimes are seen as sharing a unique criminogenic dynamic with the first crime serving as a generator for later copycat crimes with substantial elements of the first crime present in the second. The premise of copycat crime is that exposure to a generator crime is the linking mechanism and that the removal of the exposure would eliminate the occurrence or form of the subsequent copycat crime.
There is no theory of copycat crime, but there are four theoretical perspectives that are pertinent. Under the first perspective, imitation has been examined as a general human behavior within biology and psychology. The second perspective, social contagion, studies imitation in collective groups with a focus on the life cycle of crime waves. The third perspective is the study of the diffusion of social innovations and focuses on the factors that encourage adoption of a new, socially accepted and advocated behavior. In diffusion research, criminal behaviors have not been a major consideration. The final theoretical perspective is social learning theory, which focuses on how humans learn new behaviors in social settings. Despite the attention of these four research streams, research on copycat crime has not been extensive. One reason for the deficiency is the difficulty in identifying copycat crimes. Whereas other crimes are relatively straightforward to quantify and are routinely tallied in official law enforcement statistics, copycat crimes are not counted in any systematic way.
Copycat crime has traditionally been conceived within an emphasis on direct exposure to live person-to-person models. The media as a source of crime models has historically been downplayed. As the media evolved in the 20th century the study of mediated copycat crime models ascended so that the dominant contemporary view of copycat crime is that of media-sourced transmissions. Copycat crimes are today linked to literature, movies, television shows, music, video games, and print and television news, but despite concern and a large number of studies of violent media’s relationship to social aggression, the rigorous study of copycat crime has lagged. At this time, copycat effects are felt to be relatively rare and are most likely to appear in at-risk individuals predisposed to crime and in preexisting criminal populations. The effect of the media is thought to be more qualitative (affecting criminal behavior) than quantitative (affecting the number of criminals). Whether copycat crime effects influence any particular individual depends on the interaction of the content of a particular media product (its characterizations of crime and criminals), the individual’s predispositions toward crime (personal criminal history, family, and environmental factors), and the media’s social context (preexisting cultural norms toward crime, crime opportunities, and nature of the mass media). The most likely individual to be a copycat offender is hypothesized to be a socially isolated but criminally confident offender who is exposed to multiple live criminal models and has immersed themselves in criminogenic media.
The dead body has a history of being a source of fascination for the living, with ancient narratives relating to mysterious corpse powers that have fed into how the dead are portrayed and consumed by society. Corpses are graphically visible within the 21st-century West (namely America and Europe) in not only news coverage of natural disasters, war, and human-inflicted trauma but also, most prominently, popular culture. Popular culture will be interpreted here to refer to the ideas, attitudes, images, and texts within the mainstream of a given culture (specifically Western) from the 20th century onward that reflect products and activities that are aimed at the taste of the general masses of people. It is often considered “low culture” or unsophisticated, as it is synonymous with consumer culture and mass consumption; however, it can offer a space where new meanings can be made and explored by subverting or overturning taken-for-granted ideas. The manifestations of popular culture are varied, but the main focus here will be on film and television, which are largely unavoidable and visually vivid as a form of entertainment. Consuming the corpse within popular culture is dominated by portrayals of corpse parts via organ transplant mythology, the undead (zombies and vampires in fantasy and horror genres), and the authentic dead (fake corpses played by actors or mannequins most often used in crime procedurals and detective fiction are part of the forensic science process). Viewing death within the fictional context of the undead and forensics has made the corpse, particularly the opened and violated corpse, into an acceptable entertainment commodity. Accusations have been made that these dead bodies within forensics-based television shows and films border on pornographic in that they seek to be shocking and deviant while meeting the expectation to be entertained by violated, wounded bodies. However, we are no longer shocked. We are acclimatized, and the undead and the authentic dead within forensic science in popular culture have been central in this process. Death and the dead are safe when consumed through popular culture, which provides us with a softening lens. Popular culture portrayals particularly of forensic science enable distance between the dead and the consuming viewer. It is a point of safety from which to explore death and human mortality.
This article brings together scholarship on crime and celebrity in media culture to offer an overview on the works that engage with their intersection points. Focusing on Anglo-American media culture in particular, it offers a useful overview of the field of celebrity studies and to the notable scholars that are sharpening their focus to include media discourses of notoriety and infamy. The text also includes approaches from film and television studies, cultural studies, and cultural criminology. After establishing an introduction to the place of notoriety within the context of celebrity studies, there follows a detailed, though not exhaustive, taxonomy of different types of notoriety (Infamous Crime, Celebrity Criminal, Criminal Celebrity, Celebrity Victim, Victimized Celebrity, Victims of Celebrity, and Celebrity Expert). This taxonomy draws on the work of media scholars studying fame and provides a vocabulary for theorizing and contextualizing the place of crime and transgression within contemporary media culture.
With the taxonomy of notoriety in place, the remainder of the article considers two significant cultural practices of criminalized celebrity: the first is the forensic framing of criminality, transgression, and violence made possible by the figure of the Celebrity Expert. Such experts provide a containment system for the atavism of the criminal act by offering rational explanations and analytical tools. In the hands of the Celebrity Expert, the sensationalism of the true crime story is tempered by discourses of scientific rationalism. This process is often problematic because forensic accounts of crime must balance the tension between telling sensational stories of (often sexualized) violence and offering reassurance that justice can be realized through systems of scientific procedure. The second practice is generally considered more contentious: the industries of crime tourism and collection, dubbed murderabilia. Fans of true crime are invited to take part in “Ripper walks” through Whitechapel or Black Dahlia–themed bus tours through Los Angeles. The murderabilia trade proves that crime is indeed a lucrative business, and that celebrity fandom is not a practice limited to the admiration of film stars or musicians. The article concludes with a consideration of the serial killer, a highly mediated figure around which all of the debates and discourses of crime and celebrity circulates.
Stephen Tomsen and Dick Hobbs
A focus on masculinity and crime has been an ongoing feature of popular culture, ranging from early pulp fiction, cartoons, popular music, commercial film and television, and contemporary forms of gaming and online media. In sociology and cultural studies, the search for unequivocal examples of ideological repression has been thrown into doubt by accounts that seek out nuanced readings of cultural depictions and that have reworked evidence from audience research to question ideology as an uncontested absorption of ruling ideas. The creative relationship between producer and audience, with shifting meanings for consumers of culture, means a hesitation about whether cultural items can be read as holding a single inner meaning. A consideration of these cultural forms shows that simpler depictions of crime and criminal justice as a terrain of symbolic struggle between rival masculinities contrast morally repellent offenders from law enforcement heroes who enact justice and guard society. Yet cultural accounts of crime often offer more ambiguous scenarios that are difficult for viewers to judge, and opportunities for viewers to identify with acts of violence and lawbreaking that play on the wider tensions between official state-based and outlaw “protest” masculinities in the criminal justice system.
The presence of crime in the visual media is a phenomenon shared throughout the world. In Brazil there is also a great level of consumption of it. The Brazilian production of media about crimes is deeply rooted in the social context that has emerged from intense social, political, and economic transformations that have taken place in the country since the second half of the 20th century. The depiction of crime in Brazilian visual media is based on three different genres: (1) television series, (2) films, and (3) police journalism. They deal with critical issues about the rule of law in Brazilian society such as violence, inequality, police corruption, failures of the criminal justice system, and the demands for public policies to improve it. Despite this common ground, the genres reveal different political and ideological views about the rule of law in Brazil. Productions centered on the plane of fiction (television and film) are more critical about the criminal justice system in Brazil, especially in relation to the performance of its police forces. Brazilian police journalism is the opposite. The style reinforces a view of the problem of crime founded from the viewpoint of problematic people rather than problematic structures. Finally, the media coverage of crime is an important field to help understand the different views in the public agenda about the criminal justice system’s reform in Brazil.