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Stefan Machura and Michael Böhnke
Legal themes, especially those related to crime, abound in German popular culture. This article covers some of the most politically significant and popular examples from the Weimar Republic period to present times, putting them into their social and media sector context.
Due to the country’s experience with totalitarian regimes, one main topic of popular culture is the political abuse of the law. Run-of-the-mill crime stories, of course, are a staple of literature and audiovisual media. Their appeal did not lessen in the age of the Internet. Due to genre and narrative conventions, mainstream media tend to shed a positive light on the institutions and personnel connected with the law.
Much of German fiction is heavily influenced by the example of US films and TV series, so far that they misrepresent the German legal system. Other influences shape content as well. Economic pressures rank high among them, while overt censorship was evident during the Third Reich (1933–1945) and after partition in the German Democratic Republic (GDR; 1949–1990). Highly regarded artistic works often focus on the topic of individual guilt, while lesser productions typically draw on the sensational aspects of crime detection. The ordering hand of the judge, putting things right after a tumultuous court hearing, signifies the German TV judge show (the equivalent of Judge Judy). Measured degrees of social criticism are typical for many of the better TV productions. And, despite television’s influence, novels and plays still claim a stake in popular culture.
Although US media productions dominate the international market for legal fiction, German TV shows, especially police series, became a success story as well. They project the image of the clean, unbiased, correct, and efficient police inspector. Critical films and programs aim mainly at the domestic market due to their specific issues. Nevertheless, the overall effect of German popular fiction dealing with crime and justice tends to be positive, with trust in the law being supported.
Meda Chesney-Lind and Nicholas Chagnon
Though it is generally given less attention than sexual assault, domestic violence is quite often depicted in corporate media products, including news broadcasts, television shows, and films. Mediated depictions of domestic violence share many of the same problems as those of sexual assault. In particular, the media tends to imply that women are somehow culpable when they are being beaten, even murdered, by their partners. News on domestic violence is often reported in a routine manner that focuses on minutiae instead of context, informing audiences minimally about the nature, extent, and causes of domestic violence. Though it is encouraging that over the past several decades the media has begun to acknowledge that domestic violence is a serious problem, this recognition is challenged by antifeminist claims-making in the media. Such challenges generally cite contested social science research as proof that feminist research on domestic violence is biased and inaccurate. Furthermore, media representations of domestic violence often supply racializing and class-biased discourses about abusers and their victims that frame domestic violence as largely the product of marginalized classes, rather a problem that affects the various strata of society. Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, media coverage of the violence against women abroad, particularly in Islamic nations, has provided more racializing discourse, which juxtaposes “progressive” Western cultures with “backward” Eastern ones. On the domestic front, news focusing on indigenous communities replicates some of the racism inherent in the orientalist gaze applied to domestic violence abroad. Generally, the media do a poor job of cultivating a sophisticated understanding of domestic violence among the public. Thus, many researchers argue such media representations constitute a hegemonic patriarchal ideology, which obfuscates the issue of domestic violence, as well as the underlying social relations that create the phenomenon.
Researchers across varied disciplines have begun to explore social media as a new delta of communication; however, few are taking a hard look at social media as it relates to crime. Sites such as Twitter and Facebook increasingly are being used by law enforcement as tools for engaging in criminal investigation, improving public relations, and increasing public awareness. Similarly, persons engaging in crime increasingly employ such sites in novel and unique ways to network, exchange information, and execute and record criminal activities. A survey of research in fields ranging from computer science to sociology to communications demonstrates that both quantitative and qualitative research on and about social media have the capacity greatly to advance contemporary understanding of social organization and protest, crime and criminal behavior, and law and social control. For example, Facebook and Twitter have become key sources for gaining insights into criminal behaviors, such as gang activity, as well as on-the-ground data regarding significant events, such as the Occupy Wall Street, Arab Spring, the Black Lives matter movements, and elections of public figures. Other applications, such as Snapchat and Kik, provide the opportunity for immediate transmission of content and a new source of evidence to be used in criminal prosecutions. Studying social media from a criminal justice perspective, however, is a complex endeavor. While the Internet offers seemingly limitless opportunities for social organizing and networked engagement, the forum bears as much capacity for exclusion as it does for liberation. The growth of new social ills or crimes, such as “doxing,” “phishing,” and “revenge pornography,” for example, highlight that the confluence of immediacy of communication, perceived anonymity, and lack of moderation often renders the online environment threatening for perceived outsiders, particularly young women. On the other hand, as incidents, such as online threats against gamer Zoe Quinn and blogger Anita Sarkeesian, have come to light, online content is increasingly monitored, regulated, and controlled by its corporate ownership, who generally reveal little about how information is sorted, prioritized, and disseminated. As a researcher, one must be mindful that data, particularly qualitative data, collected from social media sites may not be random, representative, or generalizable. In addition, attendant to studying the Internet are unique ethical and privacy concerns not present in non-virtual fora. Many describe the Internet as a public sphere, and law enforcement often treats the online environment as a location in which Fourth Amendment privacy protections can be less rigorously observed. For researchers, however, it is essential to carefully consider whether the study of online discourse is archival or is human subjects research, and in the case of the latter, whether and how consent might be obtained. It is also important that researchers are attentive to the particular characteristics of the online site or sites they choose to examine, as the mission, rules, and practices of each site vary dramatically.
Military justice films occupy a unique space in film and legal studies, marrying two popular genres—courtroom dramas and military-themed films. This article examines the military justice film as a distinct genre in popular culture depictions of crime and punishment. First, it provides a brief overview of the history of the military justice film, from Classical Hollywood to the present. It then examines what sets military justice films apart from civilian courtroom dramas—the context, hierarchies, procedural rules, and broader implications of justice in the military context. It discusses why military justice films remain an enduring genre, with their appeal to universal themes and archetypal narratives. It further describes how military justice films have paralleled military history and serve as a critique of military, political, and national security policies. The article concludes by examining contemporary depiction of military justice in film, analyzing how the genre has changed since its inception, and discussing how military justice films may continue to evolve to keep pace with shifting norms of both law and warfare.
The concept of moral panic was first developed in the United Kingdom in the early 1960s, principally by Stan Cohen, initially for the purpose of analyzing the definition of and social reaction to youth subcultures as a social problem. Cohen provided a “processual” model of how any new social problem would develop: who would promote it and why, whose support they would need for their definition to take hold, and the often-crucial role played by the mass media and institutions of social control. In the early 1990s, Erich Goode and Nachman Ben-Yehuda produced an “attributional” model that placed more emphasis on strict definition than cultural processes. The two models have subsequently been applied to a range of putative social problems which now can be recognized as falling into five principal clusters: street crime, drug and alcohol consumption, immigration, child abuse (including pedophilia), and media technologies. Most studies have been conducted in Anglophone and European countries, but gradually, the concept is increasing its geographical reach. As a consequence, we now know a good deal about how and why social problems come to be constructed as moral panics in democratic societies.
This approach has nevertheless been criticized for its casual use of language, denial of agency to those promoting and supporting moral panics, and an oversimplified and outdated view of mass media, among other things. As proponents and opponents of moral panic analysis continue to debate the essentials, the theoretical context has shifted dramatically. Moral panic has an uncertain relationship to many recent developments in sociological and criminological thought. It threatens to be overwhelmed or sidelined by new insights from theories of moral regulation or risk, conceptualizations of the culture of fear, or the social psychology of collective emotion. Yet as an interdisciplinary project, it continues, despite its many flaws, to demand sustained attention from analysts of social problem construction.
The literature on sexualization is replete with controversial debates surrounding the sexualization of the female body in multiple media formats and how various scholars have sought to understand the social significance of this phenomenon. These debates not only focus on the sheer extent of the sexualization of the female body compared to the male body but also on the types of sexualization in terms of the use of the female body for commercial purposes. Debates range from those with a protectionist theme focused on protecting young women and girls from the damaging effects of sexualization, to those that advocate the imposition of a stricter moral standard for female dress and behavior to feminist debates about the agency of women and girls who freely choose to sexualize their bodies.
Neighborhoods are central to popular and news media portrayals of crime and theories of social control. By setting agendas and framing crime problems, news media in particular are an important part of the policy process. Media representations influence public perceptions and attitudes about crime as well as public responses to crime, which are known to vary across neighborhoods. Media representations of crime are thus likely to have important implications for the distribution of social control across neighborhoods.
Media and crime literature has focused primarily on the social construction of crime by examining victim, offender, and situational characteristics of crime. Concerns about over- or underrepresentation of racial groups or genders have driven attention to these characteristics. Research finds consistently, for example, that “normal crimes” and “deserving victims” are differentially present in media accounts of crimes. In addition to the normative consequences, there are methodological reasons for taking more seriously the study of neighborhoods for the broader media and crime literature.
Few studies have contributed to the understanding of neighborhood context in the study of media and crime. The findings of the research are mixed and are limited in a variety of ways, although there is evidence that disadvantaged communities and communities of color are underrepresented in news media accounts of crime. These findings confirm expectations from theories typically applied to individual characteristics. Research on the intersection of media, crime, and neighborhoods is of importance to the study of crime and social control, but can be expanded upon in a number of ways. Focusing research on qualitative differences across neighborhoods, expanding the scope of variables connected to common theoretical perspectives used in the literature, accounting for neighborhood dynamics, and drawing upon a wider array of variables connected to concepts of community power, interest group politics, and control of institutions are all recommendations for advancing this line of inquiry.
Neighborhood Watch or Home Watch is internationally regarded as the largest voluntary crime prevention activity in the world. It is typically citizen instigated and police facilitated, with local groups having substantial autonomy in the organization and leadership, some with access to support and materials from overarching national organizations, contingent upon adherence to basic common standards. The local group presents itself as a partnership of people coming together to try to make their community safer, and it is primarily seen as a scheme coordinated between local citizens and their police. The relative autonomy of local groups is reflected in a variety of working collaborations with local or municipal authorities, voluntary agencies, and private business. Neighborhood Watch aims to empower people to protect themselves and their properties and to reduce the fear of crime by means of improved home security, greater vigilance, increased guardianship, and reporting of incidents to the police, and by fostering a community spirit. A further aim of the organization is to improve police and community liaison by developing effective two-way communication processes by which Neighborhood Watch leaders can disseminate up-to-date information among the members. Examples of Neighborhood Watches are now to be found in many parts of the world, and while initially schemes were launched exclusively by the police, as time and the organization have progressed, active citizens are now often initiating the establishment and organization of their own schemes. The closer linkage between police and the Neighborhood Watch organizations is reflected in the fact that the United Kingdom’s Neighborhood Watch national headquarters is located within an operational police station.
Joachim Savelsberg and Wahutu Siguru
Today, genocides and other episodes of mass violence are, under specific circumstances, subject to extensive media reporting. A case in point is the mass violence in Darfur, unfolding during the first decades of the 21st century and categorized as genocide by many, including the International Criminal Court. Media reporting about Darfur shows noteworthy patterns. They are revealed by a study supported by the National Science Foundation, involving content analysis of 3,387 reports and opinion pieces published in prominent newspapers of eight countries in the Global North, accompanied by expert interviews, and a doctoral dissertation on the journalistic field in Africa and its reporting on Darfur. First, today’s media reporting replaces denial with acknowledgment. Second, it frames the violence most often as criminal, and frequently as genocidal, even though humanitarian emergency and armed conflict frames also fare prominently. Third, throughout the history of reporting, Africa correspondents, central actors in the journalistic field, adapt to opportunities and external pressures from surrounding social fields. Economic forces (media markets) and politics affect the frequency of reporting. The criminal justice-oriented human rights field, the humanitarian field, and the diplomatic field influence the frames through which the violence is interpreted. Fourth, the criminal justice-oriented human rights field is especially effective in coloring reports, despite substantial barriers between criminal courts and the journalistic field. Fifth, reporting in all countries is affected by interventions by international institutions, including the UN Security Council, the International Commission of Inquiry on Darfur, and the International Criminal Court (ICC). The ICC’s decision to charge Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir with war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide, for example, intensified reporting in all countries. Sixth, the receptivity to the criminal justice frame varies by country. Seventh, in addition to cross-country similarities and differences within the Global North, a comparison of journalistic fields in the Global North with those in Africa shows distinct patterns, but also astonishing similarities between Global North and African reporting on Darfur.
Annette Hill and Susan Turnbull
Nordic noir is an emerging crime genre that draws on crime fiction, feature film, and television drama. The term Nordic noir is associated with a region (Scandinavia), with a mood (gloomy and bleak), with a look (dark and grim), and with strong characters and a compelling narrative. Such is the popularity of Nordic noir as a brand for crime that it can also, and somewhat confusingly, be associated with disparate, bleak dramas set in particular locations outside the Scandinavian region (Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Iceland, and Finland), such as Wales, Italy, France, Mexico, and the United States. As such, Nordic noir is a global brand that attracts transnational audiences, and at the same time, it is a genre that offers a specific style of storytelling that has the look and feel of a regional, moody, and compelling crime narrative.
The approach to Nordic noir taken in this article analyzes the genre as multidimensional, involving production and institutional contexts, creative practices, and the practices of audiences and fans. The research uses empirical and theoretical analysis drawing on genre analysis, as well as production and audience studies, including qualitative interviews and participant observations with executive and creative producers, viewers, and fans. Nordic noir is not a fixed genre; rather, it is in a constant process of iteration as it mutates, hybridizes and migrates from one location to another, where it may be received and understood in different ways. The concept of “genre work” is useful in helping to capture and critically analyze Nordic noir from multiple perspectives, taking into account the complex ways in which this genre is a cocreation between industries and audiences. This is particularly evident in the case of the Danish-Swedish coproduction Broen/Bron/The Bridge (2011), which provides an illuminating case study of these processes at work. It is this constantly ongoing notion of genre work that illuminates the fluidity of Nordic noir, where its meaning and symbolic power is cocreated by institutions, producers, and audiences.