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Fear is an emotion, our emotions are based upon our own and others actions. Fear of crime perpetrated 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. An important comparison which should be drawn in order to answer the question posed in the title is one between research completed to study the impact/effects which playing violent video games have on individuals. There is a distinct relationship shared between playing video games and watching violence on television, this is because both involve individuals watching depictions of otherwise unrealistic violence taking place in front of them. Social media is another sphere through which through media engenders fear of crime, as fear of crime is dependent on a number of varying social factors ranging from as race, age, gender, income, education; in order to understand whether fear of crime is engendered by the media or whether it is an inevitable consequence of living in late modern society, it is very important to take into account these other factors; in order to produce a complete answer to the question.
The corruptive nature of media has been an issue which society and philosophers have contended with since the early Greek/Roman times. Plato set a precedent for a society which would later unravel into debates on the consequences of watching too much television and playing violent video games. He set this precedent by clarifying that certain plays and poetry could negatively impact youth and should, therefore, be burned (Ferguson, 2010). In the 1930s social research commissioned on the basis of links between watching movies and aggressive behavior (Ferguson, 2010). This research set a precedent for all future research to come in this topic, in that it was found that there were lacks of control groups in the studies, as well as a difficulty in measuring levels of aggression.
Fear of crime exists outside the realms of societal pretenses and instead is a condition embedded within the human psyche. Levels of crime and security within any society are obvious predictors for levels of fear of crime, furthermore, predictors could be 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. Cultivation theory is most often used to explain the effects of exposure to certain media and was introduced in the 1970s by George Gerbner. Gerbner’s research concluded that heavy exposure to media content could over an extended time period influence individuals attitudes and behavior towards being “more consistent with the world of television programs than with the everyday world” (Chandler 1995). Results taken from Dowler (2003) indicate that “viewing crime shows is significantly related to fear of crime and perceived police effectiveness.” Dowler goes onto mention that regular crime drama viewers are more likely to “hold negative attitudes toward police effectiveness, although “regular viewers of crime shows are more likely to fear or worry about crime. Similarly, regular crime drama viewers are more likely to hold negative attitudes toward police effectiveness, although a bivariate analysis indicated that newspapers as a primary source of crime news and hours of television viewing are not significantly related to fear of crime, punitive attitudes or perceived police effectiveness.”
Fear of crime and the mass media share a relationship which is dependent on its audience (Heath and Gilbert, 1996). Dowler (2003) reported that local crime news “increased fear among those who lived in the reported area, whereas non-local crime news had the opposite effect” (Albany.edu, 2018). Local crime news has the effect of increasing fear of crime in occupants of higher crime neighborhoods, furthermore, research has also elucidated that individuals whom both watch a lot of crime related television and live in high-risk neighborhoods also had higher levels of fear of crime than their counterparts who did not (Dowler, 2003). An individual’s personal experiences, ethnicity, age, income, influence whether or not media has an impact on them. Individuals with prior experience of any involvement in crimes prior to watching crime-related television would not become fearful of them afterward, whereas an individual who has no prior experience being involved in crime, would become more fearful after watching the particular news or television dramas (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 white people”; Gerbner (1980) also pointed towards ‘female, whites and elderly people as more likely to have a fear of crime’; despite their lower likelihoods in finding themselves victims of it” (Dowler, 2003).
As a result of only a minor proportion of individuals having had first-hand experience of violent crime, the remaining numbers of individuals without any prior experience have been found to exhibit belief systems which depict the world as being worse than it is, resulting in the bolstering of the fear victimization paradox (McQuivey 1997). The fear victimization paradox is founded on one’s ability/inability 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). Past undertaken research has suggested that crime information portrayed in the form of facts and figures have no influence on said individual’s perception of crime, furthermore, that media influence is just one of many factors to be taken into account when analyzing prevalence to fear of crime, whether on an individual or societal basis (McQuivey, 1997). Older people have a greater fear of becoming a victim of 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 that those individuals who watch more television than average showed a ‘higher rate of fear towards their environment’ than those who watched less. More recently Dowler (2003) reaffirmed 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 (Dowler, 2003).
‘Hyperreality acts as a pretext for socio-political regression’ (Miller, 1997). Eco (1987) posits that Disneyland’s fantasy order is the opposite of the rest of the world, portraying a world which is supposedly real when in reality, the United States and the rest of the world as a whole are really the hyperreal simulations. An example of this ‘perfect crime’ (Baudrillard, 1995): in 2004, two English children, having been raised on cartoons, actually climbed into a bear cage and were mauled to death.
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 become progressively more blurred 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). The mass media has influence over the way people look at crime; and as a result, the images offered to the public are one of differing appearance to the ones founded on facts and figures, represented by the government (Doyle, 2006). (Surette, 2006) goes onto point out that crime in the media has become formatted in a way that it is depicted in a way to appear informative and realistic in nature. The research appreciates that ‘the images people see on television are contrasted against the world which they see’, and as a result people’s ‘perceptual understanding of crime on the media and real life becomes distorted’; people then fall into a hyperrealistic state in which their idealistic conception of reality, portrayed by the media; has replaced their real one (Miller, 1997).
Flately (2010) indicated that in contrast to the consistent fall in crime since 1995, 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 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.
This piece of writing would conclude that after taking into account the multitude of factors which go into changing individual’s perspectives and feelings towards fear of crime, in reference to the wording posed in the question, the media can be, but alas is not the solely to blame for rising levels of fear of crime. This was found out to be because the fear of crime is founded upon a number of different variables which can include exposure to unrealistic crime imagery as found in crime drama and violent video games, crime-related news, factors such as age, wealth, race and gender. Hyperreality is a condition where, as aforementioned, individuals can become enthralled in unrealistic media depictions of crime. The purpose of the media is to achieve a higher level of viewer engagement; this is achieved by depicting unrealistic imagery of crime which is unflattering to its coverage in the real world. Surette (2006) confirmed the importance of the emergence of crime committed through the vase of social media in that, the landscape of the criminal world around us is changing. People’s perspectives of crime vary so drastically due to the hyperreal illusions which people surround their psyche with through inundating their visual cortex with crime imagery which holds very little reality against it. In conclusion, this piece of writing would offer an argument based on the fact that measuring feelings, reactions and other elements; as found by all research undertaken in the past, is an incredibly difficult task. The task itself blurs the realistic line between perception, experience, and documentation in that, measuring whether fear of crime is independently engendered by the media or whether it is merely a part of living in a late modern society, is a nearly impossible task; although we have figured out, as with any social science research, a multitude of factors come into play within the analysis of whether the media give rise to fear of crime. As indicated by the introductory paragraphs in this piece of writing, fear of crime is a feeling which has existed since the early Greco-Roman period, ever since any form of media could have ever come into conflict with a human being’s psyche; it’s a consequence of being alive.
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