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CRIM 1650 NOTES FROM BOOKS.docx

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Department
Criminology
Course Code
CRIM 1650
Professor
James Williams

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CRIM 1650 NOTES [KAPPELER] The Social Construction of Crime Myths - Two perspectives explain the existence of a social problem 1) Individuals who have vested interests in an issue bring the problem to public’s attention  characterized as “claims-makers”, “moral entrepreneurs”, etc  advocate formal social policy to address the new problem, which they feel is unique, real, and grave 2) Perspective by those who study the construction of social problems  problems constructed from collective definitions rather than individual views and perceptions - Myth: traditional story with a historical basis that explains some practice, belief, or event  often reveal underlying ideals, and tell us more about our social and cultural values than they do about any particular circumstance  more often instruct us on how to integrate an event into our belief system - Fiction in crime myth comes not from fabrication of events, but from the transformation and distortion of those events into social and political problems - Events gain their persuasiveness and motivating power from their ‘larger than life’ quality - Power of crime myths come from their seemingly natural explanations of crime The Functions of Crime Myths - Crime myths are powerful constructions of reality because they speak to our personal values and beliefs, and are steeped in rich symbolism which reinforces those values and beliefs - Provide us with a conceptual framework from which to identify certain social issues as crime related, to develop our personal opinions on issues of justice, and to apply ready-made solutions to social problems Catalog Social Actors - Crime myths catalog social actors into artificial distinctions between law-abiding citizens, criminals, crime fights, and victims - Myths condemn others and reinforce self-perception through contrast Reinforce Existing Social Arrangements - Once a crime myth has been generated and accepted by the public, it provides the foundation to generate other myths of crime and justice - This can prevent defining issues accurately, exploring new solutions, or finding alternatives to existing, socially constructed labels and crime control practices - Crime myths fill gaps in knowledge and provide answers to questions social science either cannot answer or has failed to address - Myth imperatively guides action and establishes patterns of behaviour Reconcile Contradictions - Myths are conceptual schemes that assist us in interpreting reality and organizing our thoughts and beliefs about reality - EXAMPLE: prisons do not rehabilitate offenders, and released inmates often commit additional crimes. However, our solution to crime is to enhance punishment and incarcerate people more Create Collective Belief System - Broad social myths make our constrictions of criminal justice and response to crime seem reasonable and unchallengeable - Crime myths tell us who we are by constructing criminals; they tell us what we value; and they tell us what we should do about any challenges in social arrangements POWERFUL MYTHMAKERS - The mass media, government, and reform groups select our crime problems for us and focus our attention on social issues - The largest and most powerful mythmakers are the mass media Media as a Mythmaker - modern mass communication system has enabled unprecedented numbers of myths to spread - technology has enhanced our ability to generate, refine, distribute, and reinforce myths - increased ability to project myths and the tendency to localize them have been accompanied by a shrinking number of people who control the means and mediums of myth production - the selection of crime problems is often limited to the most bizarre problem a journalist or investigator can uncover - by promoting unique and fascinating issues, the media insures marketability and success - whenever examples substitute for definitions, there is a risk that our understanding of the problem will be distorted - Using the worst case to characterize a social problem encourages us to view that case as typical and to think about the problem in extreme terms - Yellow Journalism: practice of using sensational stories to attract reader and increase profit - We problematize events, turning particular criminal acts into examples of types of crimes - EXAMPLE: Central Park Jogger  attackers were “wilding” Government as Mythmaker - The government has a vested interest in maintaining the existing social definition of crime and extending this definition to groups and behaviours that are perceived to be a threat to the existing social order - Public service announcements, controlled press briefings, and the release of research reports are a few examples of how the government can shape the content of messages - EXAMPLE: government collects and disseminates information on number of murders and assaults committed, as well as the number of police officers killed in the line of duty on an annual basis. It does not however collect and dissimilate information on number of citizens killed or brutalized by police each year - Government events provide the media with material for their stories  the directed information helps refocus media attention on a topic the government wants to emphasize, such as drug prohibition - Governmental officials, criminal justice practitioners, and politicians have a distinct advantage over researchers and scholars  one advances ideology, while the other attempts to find reason/cure - The politicalization of social problems into crime myths have a direct effect on the public’s perception of crime issues - Fear about domestic terrorism and random violence prompted calls for fever restrictions on government surveillance - After the 9/11 attacks, attorney general for George Bush stated there was a direct link between terrorism and drug use, without providing any real evidence Merging Mythmakers - During the latter part of the 1980’s, television crime programs blended entertainment and government sponsored messages, using government officials, well-known relatives of crime victims, and law enforcement officers to inform the public about crime - The programs encouraged viewers to report crime and criminals in exchange for monetary awards - These programs filled the uncomfortable void of not having answers by reconstructing the event through the perspective of law enforcement officials (use of government officials gave impression of official credibility) - Viewers are presented a distorted view of the world as more dangerous than it really is - Media depictions of crime and justice in the united states have consequences beyond individual miscarriages of justice. They represent a new form of knowledge construction where crime and the response to it is a hybrid product of governmental ideology and media distortion CREATING CRIME MYTHS - Crime myths are created and given power because of several important and interrelated features: 1) Every media story that is written or broadcast is done so at expense of another story  if the media give a disproportionate amount of attention to crime, they have a limited space for other issues 2) Media stories have a social context that includes previous constructions about the nature of social reality  humans want to see the world as orderly, predictable, and safe 3) Crime myths incorporate some measure of social or economic conditions 4) In order for a myth to develop to the point where it becomes more than a social concert, it must be properly packaged and marketed Exaggeration - Requirement for myth production is that crime must be reported to occur in “epidemic” proportions - Exaggerating the magnitude of the problem sustains public attention long enough for fear to take hold - Organization of these presentations can create the image of a crime problem when they are taken out of their geographical, temporal, or social contexts - EXAMPLE: Halloween candy being poisoned or sharp objects being inserted in them NEWSPAPER STORY Media Images - Crime-related television programs have been estimated to account for about one-third of all television shows - The least committed crimes such as murder and assault, appear most frequently than crimes committed often - Violent crimes portrayed as caused by greed/avoid detection rather than passion accompanying arguments - The use of illegal police tactics is seemingly sanctioned - Police nearly always capture the ‘bad guys’ in violent confrontations - Depictions of crime in the news are not reflective of either the rate of crime generally, the proportion of crime which is violent, the proportion of crime committed by people of colour, or the proportion of crime committed by youth - Local tv news contributes to the construction of blacks and Hispanics as social threats - People who watched more television were more fearful of crime and that they tended to support politicians and policies directed at the types of crimes shown on television programs - *would the public continue to support death penalty if media only reported executions of mentally disabled youth juvenile offenders?* Statistics - Misuse of statistical information can range from limiting public access to information to deliberate attempts to mislead the public by presenting false information or using deceptive formats to present information - Statistics often mislead the public when they are stripped from their original context, are collected with political intent, or inferences are made between research studies - When causally linked with other social problems, the perception of an epidemic is insured CHARACTERIZATION OF CRIME MYTHS - Momentum is achieved if the crime problem has traits that either instill fear or threaten the vast majority of society in some appreciable way - There must be “virtuous” heroes, “innocent” victims, and “evil” villains who pose a clear and certain threat to the audience Theme of Difference - Crime myths are often build around unpopular groups in society  vulnerable if distinguishable from dominant social group - Distinctions are often race, colour, national origin, religious beliefs, political views, or even sexual preferences - Fear of minorities, foreigners, and differences in cultural or religious values has led to creation of myths of organized crime Theme of Innocence - Helpless or innocent victims must be depicted as suffering the brunt of the newly found social evil - Women, children, law enforcement officers, or unwitting business people are often used as virtuous victims - Casting victims as innocents authorizes the implementation of stiff criminal sanctions against the deviants, accompanied by feelings of moral superiority and satisfaction of retribution Theme of Threatened Values - Myths of crime and justice become more powerful when blended with threats to religious beliefs, traditional family, or middle-class values - Idea that “normal” life might break down adds to the value of a crime myth - Similar to moral panics  they clarify the moral boundaries of society and demonstrate limits to how much diversity will be tolerated - Answer is usually stronger social controls: more laws, longer sentences, more police, more prison cells, etc - The safe, convenient myth points to the different ones as the source of a problem, so we do not have to change our lifestyle or take responsibility for the problem - Alternative would be to expose the myth  organized crime is integral part of society, it could not exist if the citizenry did not wish to have ready access to drugs, pornography, prostitution, gambling, or stolen goods - Uncovering the myth of crime and vice carries no bureaucratic rewards for law enforcement or government; it would offend people and end law enforcement and political careers SELECTION AND DISSEMINATION OF MYTHS - Mythmakers do not simply uncover and transmit information; they structure reality by selecting and characterizing events – thereby cultivating images of crime Influence of Reporters and Editors - Collection of crime events for public presentation is often shaped by reporters’ perceptions - Accounts are rarely the product of actual observation - Frequently, the wrong questions are asked, essential questions are omitted, and sensationalism is focus - Editorial constraints often include the time available to present a story, the page space available, and marketability of the final product  decisions not always made in conjunction with advice of original observer Media Themes - Procedure to select news requires that an incident be stripped of the actual context of its occurrence so that it may be relocated in a new, symbolic context: the news theme - Something becomes a “serious type of crime” on the basis of what is going on inside newsroom, not out Public’s Selective Retention - Many will only remember the bizarre, hideous, or dramatic part of a communication to the exclusion of other information - While media focus on crime myth is often short-lived, the visceral images may linger with audience longer Techniques of Myth Construction - Propaganda: technique for influencing social action based on intentional distortions and manipulation of communications - Common techniques employed by the media, government officials, and interest groups include: 1) Creating criminal stereotypes  presenting crime as a unidimensional and nonchanging event. Stereotypes link broad and popular conceptions of crime to diverse criminal behaviour EXAMPLE: “organized crime” = large, structured groups of foreign-born people engaging solely as criminals 2) Presentation of opinion as fact  injecting personal opinion into media presentations without factual basis EXAMPLE: “schools are unsafe”, “crime threatens our family” 3) Making opinions through sources  collecting opinions of others that closely match the proponents viewpoint on a given issue 4) Value-loaded terminology  biased language is used to characterize and label crime, criminals, or victims. EXAMPLE: a group of individuals may be referred to as a “crime family” 5) Selective Presentation of fact  presenting certain facts to the exclusion of others strengthens a biased argument EXAMPLE: to emphasize issue of child abduction, a proponent could cite that thousands of children are missing each year without presenting the fact that vast majority of missing children are runaways 6) Information management  editorial process by which a particular news story is shaped and selected for presentation to the exclusion of other stories EXAMPLE: stories about sensational crimes like serial murder, stalkers, to the exclusion of stories on corporate crime and fraud (more common crimes) 7) Undocumented sources of authority  vague references including statements like “many police officials feel” without specific reference to who is saying what and what constitutes “many” is misleading 8) Selective Interviewing  interviewing one or two authorities and presenting their remarks as the generalized expert opinion on a given topic FEARS ABOUT CRIME AND CRIMINALS - “Typical criminal” as feared by Americans: poor, young, urban, most likely black, threatening the lives, limbs, and possessions of law-abiding citizens - Majority of the population believe courts don’t deal harshly enough with criminals - Majority support the death penalty for those convicted of murder FACTS ABOUT CRIME AND CRIMINALS - The U.S. crime wave is a myth  criminal victimization has been steadily declining past three decades - The overwhelming majority of crimes are minor incidents involving neither serious economic loss or injury - The violent crimes that threaten our well-being are not committed by psychopaths, but those we trust the most - The socially constructed image of crime that emphasizes street crimes committed by the poor, the young, and minority group members is false and shifts public attention away from the most serious threats of injury - Two primary questions must be asked about numbers purported to reflect the danger of crime in society: 1) Are they measuring what they say they measure? 2) What is the source of these numbers? Does the source have something to gain from the way crime is presented to the public? UNIFORM CRIME REPORTS - Most commonly recognized measures of crime in the united states are the FBI’s UCR - Idea originated in the late 1800’s to explore the complexion and scope of country’s crimes - This UCR would be based on “offenses known to law enforcement” - In general, date would consist of all reports of crime received from victims, officers who discover infranctions, or other sources  however, police report the number of offenses known regardless if anyone was arrested, stolen property is recovered, or prosecution is undertaken - Only requirement is that
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