Internet and telecommunications, ubiquitous sensing devices, and advances in data storage and analytic capacities have heralded the age of Big Data, where the volume, velocity, and variety of data not only promise new opportunities for the harvesting of information, but also threaten to overload existing resources for making sense of this information. The use of Big Data technology for criminal justice and crime control is a relatively new development. Big Data technology has overlapped with criminology in two main areas: (a) Big Data is used as a type of data in criminological research, and (b) Big Data analytics is employed as a predictive tool to guide criminal justice decisions and strategies. Much of the debate about Big Data in criminology is concerned with legitimacy, including privacy, accountability, transparency, and fairness.
Big Data is often made accessible through data visualization. Big Data visualization is a performance that simultaneously masks the power of commercial and governmental surveillance and renders information political. The production of visuality operates in an economy of attention. In crime control enterprises, future uncertainties can be masked by affective triggers that create an atmosphere of risk and suspicion. There have also been efforts to mobilize data to expose harms and injustices and garner support for resistance. While Big Data and visuality can perform affective modulation in the race for attention, the impact of data visualization is not always predictable. By removing the visibility of real people or events and by aestheticizing representations of tragedies, data visualization may achieve further distancing and deadening of conscience in situations where graphic photographic images might at least garner initial emotional impact.
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.
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 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.
Paul Kaplan and Daniel LaChance
Crimesploitation is a kind of reality television programming that depicts nonactors committing, detecting, prosecuting, and punishing criminal behavior. In programs like Cops, To Catch a Predator, and Intervention, a real-life-documentary frame creates a sense of verisimilitude that intensifies the show’s emotionally stimulating qualities and sets it apart from fictional crime stories. Crimesploitation programs create folk knowledge about the causes and consequences of criminal behavior and the purposes and effects of criminal punishment. That folk knowledge, in turn, reflects and reinforces two ideologies that legitimized the ratcheting up of harsh punishment in the late-twentieth-century United States: law-and-order punitivism and neoliberalism.
Cara Rabe-Hemp and John C. Navarro
In the study of crime media and popular culture, researchers have a wide range of research methodologies at their disposal. Each methodology or standardized practice for producing knowledge involves an epistemological foundation and rules of evidence for making a claim, as well as a set of practices for generating evidence of the claim. The research methodology chosen is contingent upon the question being studied, as each methodology has strengths and weaknesses.
As the most stringent research design, experiments are unique because they are the only methodology able to establish causality. This is because experimental design’s major advantage is that researchers can control the environment, conditions, and variables that are being studied. However, experiments suffer from a major disadvantage as well: the precision and control utilized in experiments make it difficult to apply the findings to the real world, referred to as generalizability. This is especially poignant in crime media and popular culture studies where researchers are often interested in exploring how the criminal justice system, participants, and processes are socially constructed and how the mediated images impact our conceptualization of criminality and appropriate criminal justice system responses.
Nancy C. Jurik and Gray Cavender
The academic literature notes that male-centered protagonists dominated the crime genre (novels, film, television) for many years. However, beginning in the 1970s, when women began to enter the real world of policing, they also began to appear in the crime genre. Scholars describe how in those early years, women were depicted as just trying to “break in” to the formerly male world of genre protagonists. They experienced antipathy from their peers and superiors, a situation that continued into the 1980s. In the 1990s, television programs like Prime Suspect addressed the continuing antipathy but also demonstrated that the persistence and successes of women protagonists began to change the narrative of the crime genre. Indeed, some scholars noted the emergence of a feminist crime genre in which plot lines were more likely to address issues that concerned women, including issues of social justice that contextualized crimes. Not only was there an abundance of women-centered genre productions, there was a significant increase in academic scholarship about these protagonists. Some scholars argue that once women in the crime genre reached a critical mass, some of their storylines began to change. There was a tendency for women to be seen as less feminist in their career orientations and more like traditional genre protagonists, e.g., brooding, conflicted, and oppressive. Plots abandoned social justice issues in favor of more traditional “whodunits” or police procedural narratives. The same darkness that characterized men in the crime genre could now be applied to women. Some scholars have argued that a few feminist-oriented productions continue to appear. These productions demonstrate a concern not only with gender but also with issues pertaining to race, class, sexual orientation, and age. For the most part, these productions still center on white, heterosexual women, notwithstanding some attention to these larger social matters.
The enduring popular fascination with crime and criminality suggests that history matters. In the most obvious sense, current representations of crime in the media bear traces of earlier codes and practices. Recognizing this past enables a more sophisticated understanding of the present—especially since many current controversies have much longer histories than is usually acknowledged. This is not to suggest a long line of steady continuity stretching back to the earliest forms of oral, face-to-face storytelling from the latest mediated technology that encompasses the lives of millions around the world. Instead, the argument is that understanding changing forms of representation requires attention to how developments in communication media are themselves integral to the formation of modern societies. For example, it has been argued that the blurring of fact, fiction and entertainment is indicative of a postmodern “hyperreality,” where the boundary separating reality from its representation has “imploded” to such an extent that there are now no real-world referents (Baudrillard, 1988). However, the boundaries between fact and fiction have always been fairly fluid. For instance, during the 16th and 17th centuries, both novels and news reports were seen as neither entirely factual nor as clearly fictional (Davis, 1980, 1983). Moreover, what we now regard as a “news story” would have to have been cast in the form of fiction for it to appear in the press during the 18th century. None of this is to suggest that people are incapable of distinguishing between the real and the imaginary, but to insist that understandings of crime in everyday life are continually informed by representations of crime in popular culture.
The importance of bringing to bear a historical perspective is emphasized throughout, as is the sheer range of material. The tendency to refer to “the media” in the singular obscures the diversity of media forms (film, television, magazines, newspapers, the Internet, books, and so on) that surround us. The word “media” is the plural of “medium,” which was initially used to refer to the materials used for communication (Briggs & Burke, 2005, p. 5). From the papyrus, clay, and stone of the ancient world to the plastic, metal, and wire of modern media, it is clear that the technologies of communication have an immense influence, ranging from the most inner dimensions of personal experience to the global organization of power. In a time of fast-paced media developments and rapid information delivery, a thorough understanding of media history and changing forms of representation is needed more than ever.
Rachel Austin and Amy Farrell
Although the exploitation of people for profit is not a new phenomenon, in the late 1990s and early 2000s international leaders, advocates, and the public became increasingly concerned about the risks of exploitation inherent in labor migration and commercial sex work. In 2000, the U.S. government passed the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act (TVPA), which defined a new crime of human trafficking and directed law enforcement agencies to begin identifying and responding to this form of victimization. Following passage of the TVPA, U.S. media interest in human trafficking as a crime increased steadily, though the framing of the problem, its causes, and its solutions has changed over time. Media coverage of human trafficking spiked around 2005 and has risen steadily since that time. Human trafficking has become a “hot topic”—the subject of investigative journalism and a sexy plot line for films and television shows. Yet, the media often misrepresent human trafficking or focus exclusively on certain aspects of the problem. Research on human trafficking frames in print media revealed that portrayals of human trafficking were for the most part oversimplified and inaccurate in terms of human trafficking being portrayed as innocent white female victims needing to be rescued from nefarious traffickers. Depictions of human trafficking in movies, documentaries, and television episodes in the United States have followed a rescue narrative, where innocent victims are saved from harmful predators. Additionally, traffickers are commonly portrayed in the media as part of larger organized crime rings, despite empirical evidence to the contrary. Incorrect framing of human trafficking in the popular media may lead policymakers and legislators to adopt less helpful antitrafficking responses, particularly responses focused on criminal justice system solutions.
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.