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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.

Article

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.

Article

Since the inception of television, portrayal of crime and justice has been a central feature on television. In particular, the police are featured as prominent characters in many fictional crime programs. Some television cops, such as Joe Friday, Columbo, and Kojak transcend the genre and become enshrined within popular culture. Sometimes referred to as a police procedural, the police drama is a staple of both current and past television programming. In fact, almost 300 police dramas have aired on American network, cable, and syndicated television, with several new shows premiering each year. The vast majority of these shows are short-lived and are largely forgotten. However, some police dramas capture large viewing audiences and/or achieve critical acclaim. Sweeping changes within society have resulted in shifting portrayals of the police on television. Early portrayals focused on a law and order approach, in which the police were moral agents who represented a conservative, pro-establishment point of view. These types of shows represent the so-called “authentic” police drama. The authentic police drama features storylines and characters that engage in somewhat realistic investigative practices and depict relatively common criminal events. The classic example of an authentic police drama is Dragnet, while more recent versions would include shows such as the very popular Law and Order franchise. The 1970s represented the golden age of the police drama, with numerous shows that can be described as gimmicky, with police appearing as super-cops who could singlehandedly fight corruption and achieve justice. Moreover, demographic shifts in the field of policing led to more diversity in media depictions of police, with shows that featured female and African-American characters. In the 1980s, the portrayal of police became even more complex with the appearance of Hill Street Blues, a genre altering show that introduced serialized storylines and characters that were depicted with distinctly human characteristics, with real emotions and flaws. Moreover, the standard law and order approach was challenged, as a more liberal explanation of crime emerged with social inequality as a cause of criminal behavior. Contemporary police dramas, especially shows that appear on network television, tend to focus on a law and order approach. The emergence of cable networks has allowed the police drama to push the limits of television by depicting the police in a more realistic fashion.

Article

Annette Hill

Crime reality television is a significant origin story in understanding reality entertainment. In the 1980s, crime reality television captured the public’s imagination with cold cases, ongoing criminal investigations, surveillance feeds, and live appeals to the public for information to catch criminals. Early crime reality television borrowed from other factual genres, including news reportage, crime and observational documentary, and crime drama; this mixing of different generic elements helped to create representations of crime that were a combination of dramatized spectacles, surveillance footage, and public appeals. What united this mix of factual and dramatic styles was the sense of liveness; the live address to the public and the caught-in-the-act camerawork contributed to an experience of watching as immediate and real. This feeling of liveness, a central component of television itself, meant that crime reality television was popular entertainment that also connected to the real world, inviting audiences and publics to engage with crime in their local neighborhood, in society, and in public debates about law and order. This was citizen crime television that had commercial and public appeal. At some point in the origin story of reality television, crime was overshadowed by the global development of this entertainment genre. In early studies, books such as Entertaining Crime (Fishman & Cavender, 1998) or Tabloid Television (Langer, 1998) examined the influx of infotainment and sensational news reportage primarily on television in Europe, Australia, and America. These books were about reality television and addressed the first crime wave in the genre. Studies of the 2000s books, such as Reality TV (Hill, 2005) or Staging the Real (Kilborn, 2003), examined docusoaps and competitive reality and talent shows, addressing the second and third waves in the genre. More recently, companions to reality television (Ouellette, 2014) contain research on global reality television formats, as well as scripted reality or business reality, and analyze issues concerning politics, race, class, production, celebrities, branding, and lifestyles. Crime is conspicuous by its relative absence from these discussions: what happened to crime reality television? Today, true crime is flourishing in commercial zones, for example, on branded digital television channels like CBS Reality or the international surveillance format Hunted, and subscription video on demand true crime Making a Murderer. Many of these popular series tap into that feeling of liveness that was so crucial to early crime reality television, particularly the connection between representing crime, law and order, and the real world. This makes crime reality television a rich site of analysis as an intergeneric space where there are tensions surrounding the staging of real crime for entertainment, and its connection to traditional values of authority and duty, representations of ethnicity, gender and social class, and broader moral, legal and political issues.

Article

Criminal justice is a perennial theme in modern comics published in the United States and United Kingdom, with dominant narratives revolving around the protection of the innocent from crime and harm or the seeking of justice outside the authority of the state. The history of the comics medium and its regulation in the mid-20th century, particularly in the United States, shows how the comics medium itself—not just its popular content—was embroiled in questions of criminality, in relation to its perceived obscenity and fears that it caused juvenile delinquency. Indeed, the medium’s regulation shaped the way it has been able to engage with questions of crime and justice; the limitations on moral complexity under the censorship of the 1954 Comics Code in the United States, for example, arguably led to both a dearth of critical engagement in crime and justice concerns, and an increased evil or psychopathy in criminal characters (because more nuanced motivations could not be depicted under the Code). From the 1980s onwards, the restrictions of the Code abated, and a broad “maturation” of the form can be seen, with a concurrent increase in critical engagement with criminological questions. The main themes of comics research around crime and comics after the 1980s include questions of vigilantism and retribution, seen as the dominant concern in mainstream comics. But other leading questions go beyond these issues and explore comics’ engagement with the politics of crime and justice, highlighting the medium’s capacity to question the nature of justice and the legitimate exercise of state power. Moreover, stepping back and considering the general relationship between comics and criminology, comics can be seen as important cultural forms of expression of moral and social values, as well as potentially alternative orders of knowledge that can challenge mainstream criminology. From free speech, juvenile delinquency, and vigilantism, to politics, culture, and disciplinary knowledge, there are significant interactions between comics and criminology on a variety of levels.