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Fear is an emotion, our emotions are based upon our own and others actions. Fear of crime gives rise to the risk-fear paradox which is prevalent across all societies, independent of actual pertinent levels of crime and security. “Fear of crime can be considered contagious because social interaction is the mechanism through which fear is shared and chronically worried populations are created. Even those that have never been a victim of crime can be seriously worried about it” (Curiel, 2017). The media does engender fear of crime; the media’s socially constructed distorted view of crime does result in higher levels of fear of crime within populations, despite the fact that these media representations very rarely reflect or represent the outside world.
Fear of crime exists outside the realms of societal pretenses and instead is a condition embedded within the human psyche. Factors such as the levels of crime and security within any society are obvious predictors for levels of fear of crime, further predictors are factors such as past experiences, demographic factors, and the perception of insecurity; which as of recently has emerged as a social problem. Jean Baudrillard’s theory of hyperreality is one which will be closely considered in the answering of the question posed in the title. Fear of crime and hyperreality are associated in that Surette (1998) put forward that fiction is closer to news than to reality, this statement being founded upon a study performed by Mandel (1984) which determined that between 1945 and 1984 over 10 billion crime thrillers were produced. The theory most often used to explain the effects of exposure to certain media contents is called cultivation theory and was introduced in the 1970s by George Gerbner. His research was based primarily on the possible effects television may have on its viewers. Gerbner concluded that heavy exposure to media content could over a longer time period gradually implement attitudes in its audience that “are more consistent with the world of television programs than with the everyday world” (Chandler 1995). While Dowler himself found that there was a statistically significant relationship between the watching of crime shows regularly and the fear of crime, he also found that it was not a strong relationship (Dowler K., 2003).
Heath and Gilbert (1996) suggest that the relationship between the mass media and the fear of crime is contingent on the audience and the message. Large amounts of local crime news increased fear among those who lived in the area while large amounts of non-local crime had the opposite effect (Dowler K., 2003). Chiricos et al (2000) also found that local and national news affected the fear of crime. They found that the effect of local news was greater for residents of high crime neighborhoods. Also, those who live in high crime areas and watch large amounts of television were more likely to be fearful of crime (Dowler K., 2003).
Other factors, like experience and demographics, influence whether or not media consumption affects the fear of crime. For instance, when a person has a direct experience with a particular crime in a story, he or she is less likely to be influenced by that story. It is when direct experience is lacking that the media influences the fear of crime the most (Liska & Baccaglini, 1990). Gerbner et al (1980) found that the relationship between the fear of crime and the amount of television watched was greatest for females and whites. Another researcher also found that the females, whites and the elderly were more likely to be fearful of crime even though they had a lower risk of being victimized (Dowler K., 2003).
By the 1970s the crime or police drama had replaced the western for the most prevalent prime-time television fare (Doyle, 2006). The boundary between crime entertainment and crime information has been blurred progressively more in the past years (Dowler, Fleming, & Muzzatti, 2006). Roughly half of the newspapers and television items people come into contact with are concerned with crime, justice or deviance (Doyle, 2006). With the bombardment of criminal images surrounding people every day, the mass media often influence how people look at crime. The picture presented in the media of crime differs from the picture by official and other statistics (Doyle, 2006). Crime in the media is edited, stylized and formatted in a way that is camouflaged as realistic and informative (Surrette, 2006). People associate the information they see on the television to real life. If the television shows elevated crime rates, real life must also. The line between media crime and real-life crime has become blurred.
Flately (2010) also points out that there has been a steady fall in crime since 1995, but people still tend to believe that it is increasing. Public belief in rising crime levels, as aforementioned, can be directly correlated to increased levels of the media’s representation of crime. Fear of crime is something which can be used as a tool by government in that a certain level of fear of crime is desirable to inspire problem-solving action and inspire the fearful to take precautions; “exaggerated public perceptions of crime risks can also lead to serious distortions in government spending priorities [and policy making]” (Bureau of Statistic and Research 1996). Functional fear is a tool used by the masses for the purposes of self-preservation, although this is often taken out of personal context and, one would argue, has led to people’s preconceived views in reference to the pertinence of crime in their environment, giving rise social isolation and the breakdown of social cohesion and solidarity. Political policy changes are also thought to be influenced by the media. Since we are contently surrounded by media texts, it is reasonable to conclude that the media would have some influence on policy. Particularly gruesome, heinous crimes have tremendous appeal to the media. Since these stories sell and are attractive to both consumers and the producers, these types of crimes often saturate the airwaves and print material. The media can construct a new crime problem or can construct a moral panic around a particular crime by twisting and relaying facts. By creating a moral panic or by creating fear and anxiety around a crime, public pressure for solutions to problems are put on political figures. Some researchers found that the presentations of crime news increase public pressure for more effective policing and more punitive responses to crime (Dowler K., 2003). Dowler (2003) also found that those with a college education were more likely to hold non-punitive attitudes. It was suggested that these people were more likely to recognize the inequality of the justice system (Dowler K., 2003). Crime news has been long understood to have influence in moving society towards law and order campaigns, increasing social control and punitive responses to criminal conduct (Dowler, Fleming, & Muzzatti, 2006). Research has indicated a sophisticated understanding of the interplay between the media and policy (Dowler, Fleming, & Muzzatti, 2006). The message from the media outlets is clear: there is a strong support for more critiques of police efforts, harsher measures, stronger laws and/or an increase in prison sentences.
Only a minority of the population are involved in violent crimes, despite this, people with no or little first-hand experience with violent crime believe that the world is more dangerous and mean that it is in reality, and are generally more afraid of getting victimized than they need to be (e. g. Chandler 1995, McQuivey 1997). Fear Victimization paradox is constituted by one’s ability to master involvement in a violent crime. Fear Victimization paradox exists independently of the likelihood of involvement in crime, it can happen despite the likelihood an individual could be very likely to become involved in a violent crime; “a truck driver in the middle of the night at a rest area, its fear of crime might not be high because it thinks that it has control over such a situation” (Sandman 1993; Sparks and Ogles 1990). Vanderveen (2003) posits that “men usually think they can handle it. Women feel more vulnerable”, in reality, however, men are more likely to become a victim of a crime (Bureau of Statistic and Research 1996). Research has indicated that facts and figures have no influence on the people’s perception of crime, furthermore, that the media is just one of many variable factors to be taken into account when analyzing prevalent fear of crime, whether on an individual or societal basis. “A person’s personality or socialization are variables which have to be taken into account” (McQuivey 1997). Older people have a great fear of becoming a victim of a crime because they believe they are more vulnerable than younger members in society (Carcach et. al., 2001). Their physical fitness and strength have declined to leave them in a weakened state, and therefore possibly targeting them as easy victims as they are less likely to be able to defend themselves (Carcach et. al., 2001). Gerbner et al (1980) confirmed his previous research in those individuals who watch more television than average showed a higher rate of fear towards their environment than those who watch less. More recently Dowler (2003) found that even when taking into account factors such as race, age, gender, income, education, and marital status, those individuals who watch more crime shows tend to exhibit a significantly higher rate of being fearful of crime (Dowler, 2003). Dowler went on to discover that hours of watching television news programs did not have a significant relationship with higher levels of fear of crime.
Studies in Canada have found that despite significantly lower crime rates, Canadians are more afraid of crime than their American counterparts (Dowler, Fleming, & Muzzatti, 2006). It is not quite known why this is the case since both counties enjoy much of the same viewing habits. It seems that maybe the line between reality and media portrayals of crime have blurred even more for Canadians than for Americans. This could lead to potentially remarkable analyses of how people filter news, reality shows and drama to construct their ideas about crime (Dowler, Fleming, & Muzzatti, 2006). In addition, television series and movies have seemed to make the move towards criminal themes. These criminal justice themes run throughout many American television shows, each showing a skewed view of justice in which the public absorbs.
For centuries people have been concerned with the corrupting nature of media, dating back to at least ancient Greek and Roman times. Plato cautioned that plays and poetry may have detrimental effects on youth and should be burned (Ferguson, 2010). Throughout history, people have been arguing that violent media could lead to violent or unwanted behavior from those who are exposed to it. In the 1930s social research on the matter began and the Payne Fund studies were released which suggested a link between movie watching and aggressive behavior (Ferguson, 2010). Setting the stage for the debate that was to come, critics noticed a lack of control groups and difficulty measuring aggression (Ferguson, 2010). Several decades later the debate would really begin to take off with the introduction of the television into society and a few decades later moral crusaders began to link crime waves with the mass production of the device. Violent crime spiked in the late 1970s to the 1980s but even though the rates were comparable to those before 1930, a link was established by looking only at a slice of America’s crime patterns (Ferguson, 2010).
David Grossman, a respected activist, claims video games desensitize youth to killing because they simulate the real thing. His main argument claims these killing, violent video games mimic combat and the US military actually uses similar devices to desensitize soldiers so they will be more willing to kill an enemy combatant (Ferguson, 2010). He argues that since the military began to use simulators, soldiers in combat are more likely to shoot and kill an enemy soldier than a WWII soldier (Ferguson, 2010). He also claims that exposure to violent media and specifically violent video games can be a predictor of youth violence (Ferguson, 2010). In an extensive meta-analysis study conducted by Anderson et al (2010), they found that violent video games stimulate aggression in players and increase violent behavior later in life. After playing for a short while, Anderson showed that mild aggressive behavior increased in youth for a short while. After repeated, habitual exposure to the violent game, the youth’s aggressive behavior became worse and even became physical on occasion. However other researchers have found no relationship or a negative one, it has also been noted that “meta-analysis on video games produced weak and inconsistent results (Ferguson, 2010) and the results were even weaker than for the television (Sherry, 2001).
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