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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.
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Criminology and Criminal Justice. Please check back later for the full article.
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 and 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 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 leaning 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 with 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 crime is linked today 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 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 an influence on 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 individuals to be copycat offenders are hypothesized to be socially isolated but criminally confident offenders who are exposed to multiple live criminal models and who have 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.
Popular culture has always displayed a fascination with topics of criminological significance. Crime, deviance, and the agencies of their control have long been a staple concern of multiple entertainment industries, and nowhere is this more pronounced than in television. From classic serialized “whodunits,” to the countless police procedurals, right up to CSI and other investigative shows, the notions of good and bad, law and order, justice and retribution (to name but a few) have never been far away from television screens across the globe. However, in recent years, the quality—along with the availability—of television shows has undergone something of a transformation. From the somewhat kitsch roots of the genre, TV crime dramas such as The Sopranos, The Wire, and Boardwalk Empire are now widely recognized as existing at the very high end of cultural significance. Put simply, these shows and others like them have moved on—they currently demonstrate a standard of production and artistic merit that their forerunners simply could not.
There are good reasons why the television medium transformation occurred how and when it did, yet they are not of great concern here. What does matter is the fact that, as the standard of TV crime dramas has improved, so too has the level of attention they have received from criminologists, sociologists, and other cultural theorists interested in crime and deviance. The evolution of criminology’s relationship with media representations has—just like the representations themselves—moved at an increased pace of late. The case has been made by some scholars that the days in which representations could be understood as existing somehow separately from peoples’ social worlds are now long gone; that the line between representation and reality is now irrecoverably blurred. As such, and crucially here, this has come to mean that representations can—and indeed should—be treated as sites of knowledge and meaning in and of themselves. That is, some crime dramas are now better understood as examples of social science fiction than they are as mere television shows.
The results of these concomitant developments in both the standard of broadcast television and the attention it receives from criminologists have been significant for the broader field of cultural criminology. This is primarily the case because of the ways in which the study of crime dramas can free criminology from some of its intellectual constraints. That is, the study of crime dramas as social science fiction can take intellectual inquiries in directions that—for any one of a multitude of reasons—other forms of criminological investigation do not (or cannot) go. This is not to say that representations constitute a strictly alternative understanding of crime per se (and it is certainly not to say that they constitute a superior one), but rather that they should be understood as offering complementary knowledge of criminological subjects; and moreover, and importantly here, they have the realistic capacity to reshape and redirect on-going criminological debates in new and innovative ways.
Frankie Y. Bailey
The commonly accepted definition of crime fiction is a work in which crime is central to the plot. The roots of crime fiction are traceable to the earliest human narratives, including the Greek and Roman myths and the biblical tale of Cain and Abel. Sensational accounts of real-life crimes and criminals in gallows confessions, broadsides, and pamphlets also contributed to the development of crime fiction. Historically, crime fiction has evolved parallel to political and criminal justice systems.
Many authors have explored the nature of crime and punishment in literary works. For example, Susan Glaspell, playwright, novelist, and actress, was inspired by a real-life murder trial she covered as a journalist. In her 1916 play, “Trifles” and in a 1917 short story, “A Jury of Her Peers,” Glaspell offered a feminist critique of gender relations in a domestic setting.
However, as a genre, crime fiction has “literary formulas” that distinguish these works from other genres such as romance and adventure. Within the genre, subgenres such as traditional/classic, PI, and police procedural novels have plots, characters, and settings that are recognizable to readers. As a genre, crime fiction has both provided source material for theater, radio, films, television and, now, social media, and, been influenced by these media.
One of the enduring questions about crime fiction is why readers enjoy sitting down with a book that is often about murder, sometimes graphically depicted. Critic and writer Edmund Wilson described detective fiction as an addiction to which readers succumb. However, he saw reading mysteries as a minor vice that “ranks somewhere between crossword puzzles and smoking.” He heard claims by readers about “well-written mysteries” as “like the reasons that the alcoholic can always produce for a drink”.
When academics attempt to understand and interpret the texts of crime fiction, they draw on a variety of theoretical perspectives (see discussion under Research). In recent decades, mystery reviewers, writers, and readers have used social media, particularly websites and blogs, to share their own perspectives. One question of interest is the influence such non-academic discussion of crime fiction has on the perceptions of readers and on writers engaged in the process of creation.
Currently, both publishers and authors are dealing with the challenges and opportunities of a changing marketplace. Self-publishing (now known as “independent publishing”) has allowed writers to by-pass traditional publishing. At the same time, the lack of diversity in the publishing industry has drawn increasing scrutiny.
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Criminology and Criminal Justice. Please check back later for the full article.
Crime abounds in 19th-century British fiction, although the kinds of crimes depicted, as well as the narrative significance, thematic weight, and cultural meanings assigned to them, varied widely over time and across fictional genres. As the 19th century’s dominant literary form, the novel was necessarily an admixture of art and commerce; for the burgeoning class of professional novelists, and particularly those whose livelihood required them to produce popular works in quick succession, criminality was an invaluable element of story that reliably performed several key narrative functions. Criminal characters and actions engaged readers’ imaginations and emotions, crimes undetected or unpunished created suspense, and the restoration of order brought stories to satisfying conclusions. Utility alone, however, cannot fully account for crime’s ubiquity. Fictional representations of criminality reflected, and sometimes inspired, changes to Britain’s social, political, and legal landscape, as authors used crime thematically to examine or exploit popular anxieties regarding the apparent instabilities of a rapidly changing society, to comment on current controversies, or to prescribe or dispute codes of conduct and morality.
Crimes and criminal behavior form an essential component of three key precursors to detective and mystery fiction, both of which emerged as recognizable genres in the late 19th and early 20th centuries: conspiracies and crimes, ranging from forgery and fraud to kidnapping and murder, characterize late 18th- and early 19th-century Gothic fiction; the Newgate novels of the 1830s and 1840s depict urban criminal underworlds of thieves, fences, and prostitutes; and sensation novels of the 1860s and 1870s rework such Gothic crimes as bigamy and blackmail in contemporary British settings. Although popular with readers, Gothic, Newgate, and sensation novels were frequently decried as immoral or corrupting. Yet fictional genres typically deemed less scandalous are also rife with criminal activity. Walter Scott’s immensely popular and influential historical novels, published between 1814 and 1832, feature several memorable villains and spectacular crimes. Similarly, the Industrial or Condition-of-England novels of the 1840s, which sought to anatomize the plight of England’s factory workers for middle-class readers, are frequently plotted around conspiracies involving murder, arson, or riots.
In the mid-Victorian period, Charles Dickens reworked elements of these narrative traditions to create a catalogue of crimes and criminals unrivaled in scope and inventiveness. Contemporaries, including Eliot, Thackeray, and Trollope, exploited the narrative possibilities of criminality in a somewhat more restrained fashion; although violent crime is rarely a central element, their works are nevertheless populated by cheats, swindlers, forgers, and thieves. Conversely, lurid crimes featured prominently in much of the period’s cheap popular fiction. Later in the century, new forms of criminality appeared in the fiction of the British Empire, in New Woman novels, and in the literature of aestheticism and decadence. Across these vastly different works, crime captivated readers while encoding cultural values and beliefs regarding not only law and justice, but also property and authority, social class and social change, individual and collective responsibility, faith, forgiveness, and life and death itself.