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Article

Neal King, Rayanne Streeter, and Talitha Rose

Crime film and television has proliferated such influential variations as the Depression-era gangster film; the post–World War studies in corruption known as film noir; the pro-police procedural of that time; and then the violent rogue-cop stories that eventually became cop action in the 1980s, with such hits as television’s Miami Vice and cinema’s Die Hard. Mobster movies enjoyed a resurgence with the works and knockoffs of Scorcese (Goodfellas) and Tarantino (Reservoir Dogs), resulting in such TV series as The Sopranos, and with a return to “blaxploitation” with the ’hood movies of the early 1990s. Recent developments include the neo-noir erotic thriller; the rise of the corrupt cop anti-hero, paralleled by the forensic procedural, often focused on baroque serial killers; and the near disappearance of black crime movies from cinema screens. Such developments may owe to shifts in relations between real policing, real crime, and citizens, but they may owe more directly to shifts in the movie/television industries that produce them. Such industry shifts include freewheeling depictions of social problems in early cinema; carefully controlled moralism over the 1930s established by such industrial regulators as the Production Code in Hollywood and the British Board of Film Censors; further repression of subversion as anti-Communism swept through Hollywood in the 1950s; then a return of repressed violence and cynicism in the 1970s as Hollywood regulation of depictions of crime broke down; and a huge spike in box office and ratings success in the 1980s, which resulted in the inclusion of more heroes who are not both white and male. The rise of the prime-time serial on television, enhanced by the introduction of time-shifting technologies of consumption, has allowed for more extended storytelling, usually marketed in terms of “realism,” enabling a sense of unresolved social problems and institutional inertia, for which shows like The Wire have been celebrated. The content of such storytelling, in Western film and television, tends to include white male heroes meeting goals (whether success as criminals or defeat of them as cops) through force of will and resort to violence. Such stories focus on individual attributes more than on social structure, following a longstanding pattern of Hollywood narrative. And they present crime as ubiquitous and both it and the policing of it as violent. The late 1980s increase in the depiction of women of all races and men of color as heroes did little to alter those patterns. And gender patterns persist, including the absence of solidarity among women and the absence of women from stories of political corruption or large-scale combat.

Article

Ferdinando Spina

Cinema, together with television, has proved to be perhaps the most extensive, popular, and powerful medium in the representation of crime. From a criminological point of view, the crime films are all those movies whose central theme is crime and its consequences. The crime films should be defined on the basis of their relationship with society. On one hand, crime films say something important about the social context that they represent and from which they have been fashioned. On the other hand, they themselves have an effect on the social context, since their representation of crime, law, justice, and punishment itself becomes culture, acquires meaning, and provides an interpretation of reality. The approach of criminology to crime films has a series of important theoretical and methodological consequences. It leads to a fundamental enrichment of academic knowledge, for example, regarding the themes to be tackled, the disciplines and research methods to be used, and even the forms of teaching. Indeed, the analysis of crime films can help to better investigate many aspects of the perception and understanding of crime, law, and justice in society. The criminological study of crime requires a multifaceted approach, looking at the changing representation of crime and criminals in relation to the wider political, economic, and cultural transformations, and to the commercial and technological development of the cinematographic industry. The historical and thematic reconstruction of the productive and stylistic cycles of crime films comprehends the gangster, noir, detective, courtroom, and prison film genres. Moreover, this perspective deals with the main reasons for the success of crime films, the elements that influence their production, and finally the thorny topic of the effects of crime films.

Article

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.

Article

Anita Lam

While there are multiple possible definitions of what makes a gangster film, ranging from the simple inclusion of a villainous gangster in a film to those that follow outlaws on the run, the classic definition of a gangster film has revolved around the rise and inevitable fall of an immigrant gangster protagonist, a career criminal with whom audiences are expected to identify. Yet this classic definition has been expanded by evolving theoretical and methodological considerations of film genre. From the outset, gangster films were one of the first film genres to be considered by early genre criticism. Based on structural and formal analyses of the so-called Big Three Hollywood gangster films from the 1930s—namely, Little Caesar, The Public Enemy, and Scarface—early scholars argued that the gangster genre reflected the ideological tensions that underlay the American Dream of material success. Interpreted as modern tragic figures, gun-toting gangsters in these films were trapped in dangerous cities characterized by anonymity, violence, and death. More recently, genre criticism of gangster films has not only shifted emphasis away from the classic gangster narrative, but also paid far greater attention to institutional intertexts that have highly influenced the production and historical reception of these films. By highlighting variability, contingency, mutability, and flexibility, scholars now speak of genre in terms of specific cycles of production, where each cycle produces different gangster figures to mediate changing societal concerns and public discourses around issues of criminality, class, gender, and race. More contemporary and culturally-specific extensions, adaptations, or articulations of the gangster genre can also be read as thematic explorations of blackness in the following two ways. First, the cycle of ghetto-centric American “hood” films in the 1990s, a cycle that helped to launch hip-hop cinema, points to a continuity between the mythic figure of the gangster and African-American self-representations as “gangsta.” Secondly, while the gangster genre has been defined as a distinctly and explicitly American genre, owing much to critics’ primary emphasis on examining Hollywood films, the genre has also played a significant role in revitalizing and popularizing Hong Kong cinema in the late 1980s and 1990s. Referred to as hak bong dianying (“black gang films”), Cantonese-language Hong Kong gangster films are part of the fabric of local Hong Kong culture, revealing the moral implications of joining “black society” (the Cantonese-language concept for triad) and the “black paths” that members take.

Article

The American trial and American cinema share certain epistemological tendencies. Both stake claims to an authoritative form of knowledge based on the indubitable quality of observable phenomena. And both are preoccupied with sustaining the authority that underlies the knowledge produced by visual perception. The American trial and cinematic form also increasingly share cultural space. Although the trial film (otherwise known as the courtroom drama) is as old as the medium of film, the continuing popularity of the legal drama centered on a courtroom verdict suggests more than a trend. The inherent affinities between law and film not only produce enduring and memorable stories about law and justice but help constitute a popular legal consciousness that sustains the authority of the rule of law in the United States. This article describes these affinities in more detail, tracing the common themes in trial films, the special case of trial film based on true stories, and the future of the genre in American popular culture. It concludes by reviewing the disciplinary approach to the study of law and visual popular culture.

Article

In 1940, Edwin Sutherland claimed that the discipline of criminology was operating with an inaccurate view of criminal behavior. He argued that criminology focused too much on the offending of working-class people via the causal mechanisms of poverty, psychopathy, and sociopathy. His theory on white-collar crime was an observation that people of high social class commit crimes and have their own forms of offending behavior. Of this behavior, Sutherland noted that it could be more far-reaching and damaging than offenses committed by the working class, while at the same time encountering less scrutiny and condemnation from society. By taking the first steps into the study of crimes of the powerful, Sutherland opened up discussion of a wide range of nonviolent, financially motivated offenses such as corruption of state officials, fraud, and embezzlement. He proposed the theory of differential association as an attempt to provide a more effective explanation of offending behavior inclusive of the offending of the rich and powerful. During the 20th century, research into white-collar criminals and the professional con artist has revealed broad typologies of offending behavior and patterns of offending. Today, white-collar crime is a broad term that applies to a range of activities and has become shorthand for discussions of crimes that involve deception, abuse of trust, and intelligent criminals. Media representations have emphasized these characteristics and portrayed white-collar criminals and con artists as offending elites, both in terms of social class and type of offending. Film and television depictions present an elaborate form of criminality based on guile and manipulation of victims. The image of the white-collar criminal, the professional con artist, and their victims in popular culture are equally nuanced and tap into ideas about the moral acceptability of this kind of offending. The influence of popular culture on attitudes toward white-collar crime is of great interest in the study of criminology.

Article

Stories dealing with the detection of a crime, the hunt of the culprit, and his or her conviction were extremely popular in Nazi Germany. They were the product of an entertainment industry that remained in private hands far into the Second World War. Published as books, dime novels, films, radio plays, and dramas, crime stories were successfully commercialized and marketed through multiple media. Products of a popular culture must by definition be liked and consumed by the audience. Although this might sound like a tautology, it describes a premise that even the Nazi regime could not totally suspend. The products of popular culture were primarily a means to address the entertainment needs of the audience rather than being an instrument of indoctrination purposefully designed by the Nazi elite. These products could be regarded as the result of a negotiation process for a Nazi mainstream that tried to mediate the intentions of the producers, the interests of the regime, and the expectations of the recipients. What were the representations of law and order that the popular culture in NS Germany under these premises could offer? Telling about crime and justice in a popular and fictitious way demands a certain grade of reality. Such works result from genre conventions consumers of popular stories expect to be respected. The settings and ingredients in these novels and movies must be from this world. That does not mean realism in a literal sense but a rather realistic setting to make the fiction believable. What the story offers has to match the readers’ expectation at least in part. In a totalitarian society that wants to control potentially every aspect of life, the amount of realism required becomes problematic. As long as there is a gap between ideological theory and reality, any author who wants to incorporate aspects of the reader’s daily life to make the stories work cannot be sure if she or he has incorporated the necessary aspects. Stories that tell about crimes committed in a NS German society do not fit in this conception because they could create doubt about public security. Telling stories about police forces and a legal system that always acts in total accordance with the rule of law could point out the grotesque discrepancy of these descriptions with the reality of the rogue state of Nazi Germany.

Article

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.

Article

Steven Kohm

Popular criminology is a theoretical and conceptual approach within the field of criminology that is used to interrogate popular understandings of crime and criminal justice. In the last decade, popular criminology has most often been associated with analyses of fictional crime film, while in previous decades, popular criminology referred most often to “true crime” literature or, more generally, to popular ideas about crime and justice. While the term has appeared sporadically in the criminological literature for several decades, popular criminology is most closely associated with the work of American criminologist Nicole Rafter. Popular criminology refers in a broad sense to the ideas that ordinary people have about the causes, consequences, and remedies for crime, and the relationship of these ideas to academic discourses about crime. Criminologists who utilize this approach examine popular culture as a source of commonsense ideas and perceptions about crime and criminal justice. Films, television, the Internet, and literature about crime and criminal justice are common sources of popular criminology interrogated by criminologists working in this field. Popular criminology is an analytic tool that can be used to explore the emotional, psychological, and philosophical features of crime and criminal justice that find expression in popular culture. The popular cultural depiction of crime is taken seriously by criminologists working in this tradition and such depictions are placed alongside mainstream criminological theory in an effort to broaden the understanding of the impact of crime and criminal justice on the lives of everyday people. Popular criminology has become solidified as an approach within the broader cultural criminology movement which seeks to examine the interconnections between crime, culture and media.

Article

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.

Article

Bill McClanahan, Avi Brisman, and Nigel South

Since first proposed by Brisman and South, green cultural criminology has sought to interrogate human-environment interactions in order to locate meaning. Within the broad framework of green cultural criminology, work has emerged that follows visual criminology in looking to the visual cultural register for insights into the intersections of crime, harm, justice, culture and the natural environment. This article turns the green cultural criminological gaze towards motion pictures, by considering how cinema can serve as a central and essential site of the cultural production and communication of knowledge and meaning(s) that inform human interactions with the natural environment. Indeed, environmental crimes, harms, and disasters are constructed and imagined and represented in cinema, and the films discussed in this article illustrate the ways in which the environment-culture connection in the contemporary cinematic mediascape has influenced public discourses concerning environmental change and harm. This article begins by examining the capacity of documentary film to raise public awareness and generate shifts in public consciousness about environmental harms. From here, it explores cinematic science fiction representations of apocalyptic climate disaster, noting the power of the medium in communicating contemporary anxieties surrounding climate change. Finally, filmic communications of a central category of interest for green cultural criminology—resistance to environmental harm—are described, in addition to the various ways that resistance by environmentalists has recently been represented in popular cinema. The films discussed throughout—including An Inconvenient Truth, Cowspiracy, The East, If A Tree Falls, Night Moves, and Snowpiercer—are not an exhaustive sampling of contemporary representations of environmental issues in cinema. Rather, they represent the most salient—and are among the most popular—moments of contemporary cinematic engagement with the nexus of environmental harm and culture. This article concludes by contending that a green cultural criminology should continue to look to the visual register because sites of cultural production often overlooked by criminology (e.g., cinema, literature) can reveal significant and essential information about the moments in which environmental harm, justice, and culture intersect and collide.