Research suggests, children and adolescents spend between seven and eight hours a day on various forms of media. Considering technological advances in the form of software and devices, viewing on the go is dramatically increased. An average American youth will see 200,000 violent acts on television alone before they reach the age of eighteen (AAFP, 2018). Some content in video games or online venues, for example ‘YouTube,’ which compounds the violence today’s’ youth are exposed to.
Television crime shows such as ‘Criminal Minds,’ or reality shows for example ‘Mind of a Murderer’ in some sense seem to glamorize the criminals or their actions.
It could be argued that with the amount of detail provided through the writer or an interview that this type of media entertainment could serve as a ‘how to’ guide. Thus, it could also be argued that the media content, real or fictional, is for entertainment purposes. The glamour and hype of these shows are introduced for purposes of gaining an audience, and as such, should not be viewed with any real level of seriousness.
Analyzing these shows and applying social profiles and sociology theories to the deviance portraited, the evidence will reveal the influence of the media and tv do not directly correlate to real crime and deviance today.
Crime Entertainment Analysis
Many crimes shown on television today depict a certain level of crime and violence. However, ‘Criminal Minds’ seems to have come closest in its depiction of real crime. The graphic visuals and description of the real criminals have made it not only the subject of debate, but also one of the longest-running and popular crime shows on network television. It is based on a team of criminal profilers who use various psychological and sociological theories to catch killers.
Some Criminal Minds episodes are more memorable than others. For example, in S7E15 more than one suspect is introduced. The victims are families and immigrants. The crime is family annihilation being framed on immigrants who are also killed. The crime scene is then staged to look as though the immigrant committed the crime and was killed during the crime. The motive behind the crime is political gain. The first suspect is a white, lower class, weak minded individual, who is manipulated into committing the violent acts by an intelligent, stronger, more powerful individual who stands to gain from the murders. This scenario gives a good example of ‘Power Theory’ which explains ones need for control and power as well as dominance over another.
In another memorable episode, the profilers are called on to help in solving a string of child murders where something of the children is kept as a trophy. At first, the suspect is a white male in his twenties, until a victim survives. The killer turns out to be a child ‘Jeffrey’ of the same age of the victims. In this episode, the child killer is resentful of his father (a school counselor) not spending enough time with him after being abandoned by his mother and bullied at school. His victims are weaker children he feels dominate his father’s time. This episode is reminiscent of cases involving child killers Eric Smith who violently killed 4-year-old Derick Roby.
What makes this episode so memorable is that it mirrors the real case of Jesse Pomeroy. In a comparison of Jeffrey (a character from season two) and Jesse Pomeroy (real-life counterpart). Jeffrey committed his murders in his adolescence by luring other children to remote areas where he would beat them, much like Jesse Pomeroy, who did the same thing, though his victims in those crimes survived. Both also had birth conditions that made interaction with other children difficult (Jeffrey had a severe allergy to dairy, while Pomeroy suffered from epilepsy and a pale eye), were abandoned by one parent and cared by the other alone, committed their first crimes when they were twelve years old, and visited a police station while their crimes were being investigated. This is an example of Hirschi’s “social control and bonding theory,’ which explains the weak ties among family and friends leads to deviance.
‘Criminal Minds’ gives reference to several other real-life serial killers in every episode. Giving it appeal to the curious nature of impressionable young individuals who may relate to the introverted, shy, or bullied suspect acting on impulse to release built-up frustration. This tv show is not the only how of it is kind that could influence societies deviance. For Example, Law and Order SVU, which also has a memorable case that is worth mentioning. The episode involves two young girls trying to murder another because of a fictional character ‘Glasko Man’ from a story they are told. In this episode of SVU the crime mirrors yet another real crime story where two young girls were drawn into a fictional story online about ‘Slender Man.’ The girls were convinced if they did not murder their friend ‘Slender Man’ would kill them. In both reality and fiction, three young girls have involved one victim and two attackers, also in both the victim survived. It should be noted that the two young girls involved in perpetrating this violent act had been diagnosed with a mental deficiency and or a learning impairment. This is a significant fact to consider when evaluating the role of media violence in this instance.
‘The Mind of a Murderer’ is a documentary series on the Discovery Channel, hosted by Dr. Michelle Ward, a well-known criminal psychologist, and trial consultant. Dr. Ward has personal insight into deviant behavior, as both the victim and survivor of a stalker that had become obsessed with her. This show paints the picture in some detail of how a killer thinks and what drove them into committing the crimes they did.
A survivor of an eight-year stalking ordeal, ‘Criminal psychologist Dr. Michelle Ward has made it her mission to probe psychopathic behavior. In `The Mind of a Murderer’, Ward goes behind bars to interview violent killers and offer insight into what drives people to commit heinous acts.” (Google, 2018)
While this show is informative and interesting the reason and level of descriptive violence also glamorizes and appeals to the curious nature of most humans. To some, the candidness of these killers seems disturbing, while others may find it fascinating. There are those few impressionable people who admire these killers often idolizing them.
Violent video games are considered in part ‘media’ as well. So, it is also worth a mention. Violent video game effects have been argued all the way through the courts. Again, logic is presented on both sides of the argument. While this paper does not get deep into video game violence some interesting information was found in the research process. “Some researchers have noted that Columbine High School shooters Dylan Harris and Eric Klebold were avid computer gamers. Ironically, Seung-Hui Cho, the Virginia Tech shooter was seen by his roommates as odd because he never joined them in video games.” (Beresin & Scholzman, 2012).
“Analyses of school shooting incidents from the US Secret Service and the Federal Bureau of Investigation National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime do not support a link between violent games and real-world attacks. In 2011 the Supreme Court struck down California’s law barring the sale or rental of violent video games to people under 18.” (Beresin & Scholzman, 2012)
Applying Sociology Theories and Social Profile
According to the text, the social profile of a serial killer is white, in the late twenties or early thirties, with average or better intelligence. It further explains the serial killer is likable and able to conduct themselves in a social situation and even hold down jobs. The text further says serial killers are more likely to kill strangers weaker than themselves, and their motive for the killing is usually an intense need for ‘power and Sadism’ (Thio, Taylor, & Schwartz, 2013). The kill temporarily gives them the feel-good fix they need. While this may be true for most serial killers there are still that handful of serial killers with high intelligence. For example, Edmund Keepers first committed murder at the age of fifteen Killing his Grandmother to see what it would feel like. He then killed his Grandfather, so he would not have to see his Grandmother dead. This earned him a stay at a mental hospital, however, he did not stay long as he had convinced the doctors he was cured. Kemper tested at an IQ of 136. His intelligence effectively aided in manipulating the system, as well as remaining undetected among law enforcement for quite some time.
After analyzing Criminal Minds episode on serial killers and applying the referenced text it clear that the show profiled only one of the serial killers correctly, and completely missed the mark with the second killer. However, the social profile provided in the text does seem to fit the real serial killers interviewed on Mind of a Murderer. The second Criminal Minds Episode and the SVU episodes the suspect are children. The text does not give a social profile for child killers. Yet, after examining the fictional cases in the show and the real crime cases, it is clear the children have a suffered a breakdown in social control and social bonding. Travis Hirschi’s social control/social bonding theory explains that the lack of social bonds or control is when deviance occurs. According to Hirschi it is weak family and friends ties that weakens an individual, and are, therefore, more likely to commit deviant acts.
What the experts say.
There has been violence in the media since the beginning of media. Real life crime can be traced back to the beginning of time. What then, is the media’s role in violence and aggression in today society? Does the exposure to violence through the many media resources available directly affect the crime rate and violence among society?
Sociologist have debated this question throughout history, yet, they still cannot say that mass media directly correlates to the real-life violence of today. On the other hand, sociologist also cannot say that mass media does not directly correlate with the real-life violence of today. Many sociology theories can be found on this subject. For example, ‘Play Theory” and “Uses and Gratification Theory.’ These theories explain that media does not directly influence violence, they have the opposite effect.
In this theory of mass communication William Stephenson counters those who speak of the harmful effects of the mass media by arguing that primarily the media serve audiences as play experiences. Even newspapers, says Stephenson are read for pleasure rather than information or enlightenment. He sees media as a buffer against conditions which would otherwise be anxiety producing. The media provides “Communication-pleasure” (Hakim, 2014).
Uses and Gratification Theory:
This theory has emerged out of the studies which shifted their focus from what media do to the people to what people do with media (Katz,1959). The uses approach assumes that audiences are active and willingly expose themselves to media and that the most potent of mass media cannot influence an individual who has “no use” for it in the environment in which he lives. The uses of the mass media are dependent on the perception, selectivity, and previously held values, beliefs, and interests of the people (Hakim, 2014).
Other theories state that media and violence are related. For example, ‘Aggressive Cues Theory,’ and the ‘Observational Learning theory.’ These theories explain the position of the direct link between media violence and real-life violence.
Aggressive Cues Theory:
Then there is the opposite view, that violence DOES have an impact. Most prevalent of these theories is the Aggressive Cues Theory that has as its central assumption this: Exposure to aggressive stimuli will increase physiological and emotional arousal, which will increase the probability of violence. In other words, all that violence gets the adrenaline juices in us flowing and makes us edgier, increasing the chance that we will be more aggressive or more violent. Aggressive Cues theorists are quick to point out that watching violence does not mean we will always be more aggressive or violent, but it increases the chances. And the way in which the violence is presented will have an impact on us, too. If we can relate to the protagonist committing the violence, or if the violence is presented in a justifiable way, we can be led to aggressive behavior. If a bratty kid gets spanked in a media portrayal ‐‐clearly an aggressive and violent act‐‐ it sends a message that corporal punishment is acceptable under the right circumstances. If steelworkers see a show where steelworkers drink and brawl after work every day, they are more likely to accept that drinking and brawling are normal behavior (Hakim, 2014)
Observational Learning Theory:
The Observational Learning theorist would take the Aggressive Cues theory a step further. This theory says that people can learn by seeing aggression in media portrayals and, under some conditions, model its behavior. If there are 50 ways to leave your lover, then there must be at least 49 ways to be violent or aggressive. And watching violent media portrayals will teach you new ways to be violent. Ever watch a whodunit, such as a Columbo episode, where you spot where the criminal makes the fatal mistake? Ever catch yourself saying, ‘If I ever committed a murder I would not make THAT mistake?’ (Hakim, 2014).
These are examples of the many theories of media and violence in society. It is clear with two theories in the yes column and two theories in the no column, more research or better methods are necessary to decide if media violence is related to violence today.
Research suggests that although criminologist do not refute that the media has influence, “they most often reject a ‘violent media cause violence.’”…”Overall, a causal link between media exposure and violent criminal behavior has yet to be validated, and most researchers steer clear of making such causal assumptions.” (Phillips, 2017).
“Media violence poses a threat to public health inasmuch as it leads to an increase in real-world violence and aggression.” (Huesmann & Taylor, 2006).
It is logical, and most would agree, exposure to violence can have a significant impact on an individual. Effects of prolonged exposure to violence can be seen both socially and psychologically. The immediate question is not whether media violence has an impact, it is “does media violence directly impact the reality of crime in our society today”?
Much of what is seen on television, in video games, or online venues today depict a certain level of crime and violence. After looking over the shows and reading some of the data, there appears to be sound logic to both sides of this ongoing debate. However, there does not seem to be any solid evidence linking the violence in the media and the real-life crime in society today.
Violence does not just happen because individual watches violent television shows. Many factors play a role in why the violence occurred and who committed the violence. After viewing the analysis of crime television and sociological theories, we are still no closer to saying with absolute certainty, that there is a direct link between crime in the media and crime in real life.
- (2018, July 25). Retrieved from Google: https://www.google.com/search/mindofamurderer
- AAFP. (2018). Violence in the Media and Entertainment. Leawood: AAFP. Retrieved July 24, 2018, from https://www.aafp.org/about/policies/all/violence-media.html
- Beresin, E. M., & Scholzman, S. M. (2012, December 22). Inside Out, Outside In. Psychology Today. Retrieved July 24, 2018, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/inside-out-outside-in/201212/
- FBI. (2016). Crime in the United States. US Dept of Justice. Retrieved July 24, 2018, from https://ucr.fbi.gov/crime-in-the-u.s/2016/crime-in-the-u.s.-2016/topic-pages/violent-crime
- Hakim, K. M. (2014, June). Impacts OF Media on Society: A Sociological Perspective. International Journal of Humanities and Social Science Invention, 3(6), 56-64. Retrieved July 2018, from www.ijhssi.org
- Huesmann, L. R., & Taylor, L. D. (2006). THE ROLE OF MEDIA VIOLENCE IN VIOLENT BEHAVIOR. Annual Review of Public Health, 27(1), 393-415. Retrieved 7 28, 2018, from https://annualreviews.org/doi/full/10.1146/annurev.publhealth.26.021304.144640
- Thio, A., Taylor, J. D., & Schwartz, M. D. (2013). Deviant Behavior (11th ed.). Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson. Retrieved 2018
- White, I. D. (n.d.). Definition of Mass Society. Retrieved July 28, 2018, from https://study.com/academy/lesson/mass-society-theory-definition