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Chapter 5

CRM312 (Textbook//Keith Hayward and Mike Presdee): FRAMING CRIME - UNIT 6 (Chapter 5 and 6)

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Department
Criminology
Course
CRM 312
Professor
Stephen Muzzatti
Semester
Fall

Description
CHAPTER FIVE: SCREENING CRIME (Majid Yar) - Ferrell: “cultural criminology references the increasing analytic attention that many criminologists now give to popular culture constructions and especially mass media constructions, of crime and crime control” - Within criminological study, film has been a poor relation: lagging behind studies of factual reportage through newspaper and TV, criminologists dismiss film – why the neglect?  Fictional characters? Marginalization of film: - There is no a priori basis to assume that fictional representations will play a lesser role in articulating/shaping social sensibilities where it comes to crime and criminality - Distinction between the “factual” and “fictional” is somewhat suspect on epistemological grounds (factuality is complex) - Film has long been “parasitic” upon historical personalities and factual events in organizing its narratives -> Jack the Ripper, Ted Bundy CONCLUSION: film crimes are a worth object of criminological analysis for those aiming to uncover the “media loops” through which we experience crime, come to know it, reflect upon it and react to it. FOCUS: symbolic constitution of crime in crime films Counting criminal representations: the content analysis approach - CA: skip subjective interpretation of textual meaning in favour of a supposedly “objective” approach that aims to enumerate the presence of absence of particular words, phrases, or images - CA counts frequency (how many times does this image/word appear? What are the trends?) and therefore typically studies large sets of data (all outlets in a medium at a given point in time or cross-section of outlets over a span of time) - Example of CA used in film study: Allan et al (1998) – they examined the representations of crime in British films between 1945-1991 and examined detailed synopses of a sample of all 15,000 films  “crime films” were being defined as such if (1) the central focus of the narrative is the commission and/or the investigation of a crime and/or (2) te principal protagonist is either an offender or a professional working in the criminal justice system  EX: Found 48% of crime films dealt with homicide, totes disproportionate  Found over time the representation of violence in such films grew increasing graphic, victims of crime became increasingly traumatized, law-and-order protagonists were increasingly shown resorting to vigilante methods being justified  Backed up by another study showing that representation of violence, graphic violence, and death increased over a four-decade time period - Criticism of CA: counting frequency does little to help us understand the meanings of those representations  The above EX: we know 48% of postwar crime centre on homicide but it tells us very little about how homicide is constructed by either the producers of the films or interpreted by the audience  Moves away from Verstehen because it reifies (make something abstract more concrete) cultural codes into objective artefacts In the shadow of Marx: crime films as ideology - For Marxists, cultural products embody a set of “truths” and values that serve to legitimize and thus assumes a functional role in preserving a false understanding of society  This can lead to dismissing popular culture as irretrievably corrupted by the interests of capitalism and its ruling class (such as Adorno)  View media as “ideological apparatuses” that support capitalist state by producing conformity through he versions of reality that they propagate  Gramscian tradition: the production of political authority (hegemony) is viewed as a contested terrain (along those images and narratives that encode dominant interests, there is ALSO a counter-hegemonic understanding that offer critical and alternative understandings of society  Thus we see films such as Rambo and Top Gun (legitimize militarism) as well as Platoon and Missing (critique militarism) = contested terrain - Traditional films VS critical films:  Traditional films: send reassuring messages about heroism and fundamental decency of law-enforcer, wickedness of offenders and inevitable justice; they establish clear-cut distinction between the “normal” law –abiding majority and the “abnormal” deviant minority going against society’s values and reinforce the authority of existing legal institutions and normative codes and deflect attention away from any critical questioning of sectional interests or the ways in which crime is linked to prejudice/inequalities (they offer “casual hypnosis”);  Critical films: establish clear-cut distinctions between good and evil, maintain a dark and pessimistic vision of social conflict and insist on the impossibility of heroism and the inevitability of injustice and are commonly found in courtroom dramas, and serial killer fiction such as Silence of the Lambs  EX: “The Bad Lieutenant (1992)” -> there are NO good cops  “Dead Man Walking (1995)” -> futility of the death penalty and its inability to secure a just outcome - CONCLUSION: MARXIST APPROACH IS HELPFUL for exposing the ways in which popular representations embody dominant narratives of law and order and in doing so help to maintain existing systems of power/powerlessness, normalization/stigmatization, and inclusion/exclusion - Criticism of MA: (1) can adopt an overly monolithic conception of ideology (meaning content of particular texts embodies a clear and distinctive commitment to upholding dominant class and other interests (films are either traditional; hegemonic, or critical; counter-hegemonic)  Leaves little room to explore the ambiguities and tensions And (2) assumes that textual and representational meaning is something that is structurally “built into” communication, all analysts have to do is uncover them  Leaves little room for appreciating the role played by audiences in actively constructing the meanings of film Postmodern pluralism: the semiotic free-for-all in crime films - Postmodern perspective: stresses the inherent indeterminacy of meaning, the fragmented, multiple and often contradictory nature of representation - Criticism of Marxist approach: it is not possible to talk anymore in terms of any dominant ideology that permeates popular culture; such postmodern sensibilities have made their presence felt within cultural criminology  It is claimed that the social basis of any dominant ideology no longer exists as structures of class have fragmented through social change (social structures have become so fluid that we have a multiplicity of transitory voices which reflect the shifting and unstable character of contemporary society)  It is argued that Mar
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