Eliminating Crime From TV?

Within Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow she explains a multitude of assumptions and myths that are seen to be commonly believed by our culture about the criminal justice system. Areas such as each individual is given a fair trial, everyone gets a lawyer who will work with them on their behalf and even the fact of everyone gets a trial. Along with these examples there are so many more commonly believed myths about the criminal justice system that have gone on for decades without people truly understanding what occurs in the system. The thought process that I have about these myths and assumptions by the public is where are they coming from? Are they originating decades ago and passed down by word of mouth through discussions with family members? Or is it from the recent boom of crime shows on television?

For me personally, I think that the crime shows on TV are the largest factor that play into these myths about the criminal justice system. But also the ideas of particular people committing particular crimes generalizing races. As Michelle Alexander talks about in her book with the crack outbreak and how the white rich younger generations in the 70’s were using cocaine and not being scrutinized as much as the black population that was using crack cocaine at the same time. These generalizations of race belonging to particular crimes is still apparent in the crime shows today. The amount of CSI, Law & Order, and other criminal justice/ police force shows truly can not only give false information to a community that may not necessarily understand what the criminal justice system consists of, but also aids in the racial thought process that can be connected with crime. If I had the opportunity and time I think that there would be a significant amount of information that could come from research conducted on a younger population who would not be allowed to watch any crime shows for an extended period of time. When such melodrama shows are taken out of someone’s life they do not necessarily think about the criminal justice system the same way that the general public does and how particular races are connected with particular crimes, and even the fact that not all bad people are caught for their crimes. I really do believe that if there was a study done on these crime shows it would have such an impacting result that it would force someone to step up against the broadcasting networks and show how truly negative these shows are for out community. Let the public create their own generalizations and assumptions about the criminal justice system. Maybe then people will be more informed about the truths because they will have to actively seek out information, rather than just turn on the TV and see what fantasy crime is teaching us.


17 thoughts on “Eliminating Crime From TV?

  1. Great points, Nick!! I hope (suspect?!) that someone has done a hard data analysis of this question, but if not, maybe you can!! Imagine watching all the Law & Order or CSI or Criminal Minds shows to see who the “perps” and victims are. Holy cow. That would be epic, but ever so fascinating. I do wonder if they are skewed in terms of race, though. I used to watch Criminal Minds until I realized that the number of serial killers/crime spree killers that they portray is VASTLY greater than the number that exist. Imagine if there were that many active serial killers in any given 6 month period?! These shows grossly overcount the numbers of crimes.

    BUT it’s important that these shows arose AFTER the War on Drugs and the great fear of crime generated in the 1950s. Think of Mayberry and how the Andy Griffith Show portrayed police life, then compare it to how policing is portrayed today. VAST DIFFERENCES. Again, that would be a super-interesting research project!! See if you can find some articles about these connections. I’m curious.


  2. It’s intriguing how many of our blog posts have centered around television. I think that in itself demonstrates the significance of the technology in our generation. With this in mind, I think your point about crime shows is extremely relevant. I think many people gain information from television, especially about things we have no experience with. For example, I’ve never been arrested, yet I can state the Miranda rights, thanks to television. I’ve never been part of a jury, but I have a pretty distinct idea about how jurors act, thanks to television. Thus, I think that you could definitely be right, Nick. Like Dr. Pool, I would love to see if research has arisen about it. My question to you, Nick, is should real court cases be seen on television? I vividly remember watching the prosecutor presenting evidence in the Trayvon Martin case. I also remember watching the jurors. Do you think these realistic “crime shows” are valid because they show the truth about proceedings? Or do they do more harm than good?


  3. Dr. Pool, after reading your comment and seeing your ideas for a hard data analysis of this television crime shows, I did some research and could not find one data set that examined the fictional “perps” in crime shows on TV. However, I was able to find a study that looked at the show COPS and what their racial representation was during the course of one week in 2004. Not surprisingly the results were out of fifty one police officer they arrested sixty perps and the percentage of police officers being white were 92% while the perps were 62% nonwhite. Now I understand that this is reality TV and the director cannot script what occurs, but they can determine which recordings of police officers and events that occur while filming do end up making it on the show. I would have to imagine that someone is sitting behind a desk somewhere making the decision of what makes it to the show, and they are leaving out a large number of the white perps on purpose. These numbers however I would take a guess and say they are close to the numbers for the racial divide in fictional TV crime shows. Which again is an astonishing number seeing how in the fictional world people are able to cast and write scripts that can be designated to a person of a particular race.


  4. Allison, I think your comment about how much we have talked about television is important. Our country really does run on television and I have already talked about this in another comment somewhere, but I can’t speak enough to how important I think it is to have a major shake up in terms of having people of color play major roles in television and movies. Anytime people of color, especially blacks and Hispanics, are on television or in movies, they play the very stereotypical roles like criminal or token friend. I swear, anytime a crime show like Law & Order is on, the suspect board always has a litany of minorities on it.

    I thought it was funny at the White House Correspondents Dinner when President Obama said to ABC about their new show, “Blackish,” that “Being blackish only makes you popular for so long. There’s a shelf life to that thing.” I think that is sadly true in popular media today because people of color are not given the dominant roles making being “blackish” only popular for a little. There are so many commercials, for example, that are 100000000000000% race neutral, but always use white people. I just think that is such an issue for a society that lives and breathes television, movies, and other forms of media.


  5. The same connection could be made with the Walker Scott murder video, as well as all the other videos or recording that have been publically circulated of the same sort of topic. We hear about murders and injustices in the news. We can talk about it in class, but do we really understand the violence until we’ve seen it in person? Society has adapted in such a way that fiction isn’t enough. In order to understand and relate to social violence, we need some sort of nonfiction or tangible evidence so that we can actually acknowledge the truth and horror of the situation. On one hand, circulating a video like Walker Scott’s is an invasion of that person’s right as a human being. As a society, we should show greater respect for that person’s dignity.

    In the case of fiction, I’ve also noticed the way in which shows like CSI and Law & Order racialized the so-called “perps.” If we can’t get rid of racism in fiction, how are we supposed to get rid of racism in the real world?


  6. I agree with grahamj2 about the necessity of tangible proof in principle, as I think most people would, but don’t think think most individuals are the discerning agents to keep separate reality and fiction. I watch a scary movie, and everything becomes scary. I know clowns aren’t frequent knife-wielders, but they may as well be in my mind. Reality and fiction walk a thin line. There are multitudinous ways in which evidence can be slanted, and the example above suggests the mental slant change the event’s perception. You might have been tickling me, clown, but I think I felt a knife.
    I do think the veil of “reality” makes the emission more important and influential for the person. Therefore I in the most broad sense disagree with the Nickm7 and posit that news outlets are the most potent contributors to misconceptions about our legal system. I think Nickm7 may be right for certain demographics of people, and even within certain institutions, but I guess in total most people’s conceptions and false conceptions are derived from “the news,” and maybe “history books,” as opposed to entirely fictitious shows. I guess popular shows, such as CSI, are most often the result of topic salience in the public’s attention due to perceived conditions, which I suggest is a result of news outlets, than they are contributor to the creation of the reality. I think this aligns with Dr. Pools’ evidence that the show’s arose after the broadcasting of the war on drugs. They certainly can mold affections towards entities and from these new preferences new social patterns appear, but I think it’s more often that they’re building and inflating beliefs sentiments previously present.


  7. I think what is also interesting is the fact that in many households, watching these criminal justice t.v. shows is the most “appropriate” of choices. C.S.I. and Law and Order re-runs are always playing at my Grandma’s house, because my young cousins are in the room next door playing, and watching something with excessive cussing or sexual references or scandalous content might be considered an inappropriate show in family settings. It is interesting to me that in America, it seems normal that we continue labeling said shows as family friendly, as if they portray a justice system that doesn’t wreak of racially loaded assumptions and incredibly awkward situations of injustice. Why are these shows family friendly? We are numb to the fact that people, REAL people, sometimes INNOCENT and sometimes PROFILED, are incarcerated by an unjust and skewed system that ruins the rest of their life as a form of invisible injustice like Alexander talks about in her book. The law as portrayed in these shows is indeed violent. Yet we are not only numb to it, but it’s entertaining and appropriate for most ages! How wild! Not to mention that there’s usually the token black guy who is super fit, light skinned, and “tough on crime” (aka the kind of black people most white people like…just “black” enough). How do these shows play on politics of respectability in their inclusion of the token black cop? Further, these shows operate along the notion that justice is indeed black and white, that there are no grey areas, and there are no mistakes that aren’t immediately corrected. While this is an ideal version of the American justice system, I think you’re right Nick, that if there was to be a generation that wasn’t exposed to the “American dream of criminal justice” though melodramatic television shows, this might lead to younger thinkers seeking out resources on the REALITY of criminal justice, thus dismantling preconceived notions about police behavior as always and unquestionably fair and just. Interesting post!

    (p.s. I totally watch these shows, though my analysis is kind of harsh lol)

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I think you bring up an interesting point Nick. I am not a big fan of many of these shows, but my parents are. My parents continue to indulge in Law and Order and I always hear the comments by my dad about how crazy the criminal justice system is. Yet, my father sees that perspective and doesn’t really understand what goes on in the real system. People are influenced so much by television that it is hard to get them to see reality any differently. We become satisfied with the fictional nonsense that we see and forget that there are actually people out there doing those same jobs for real.

    Our society sometimes feels like it is built on generalizations and linking certain things to others because we ‘think’ they are similar. I understand that some of the aspects from these criminal shows are true, but what the uneducated struggle with is deciphering between what is real and what is fake. We often do not take the time to research and investigate what really goes on in the system and how messed up it actually is. I agree with Nick on the premise that if we took the time to know more about what these shows are about and the messages they relay, more people would think twice about watching them.


  9. Wow – you all are on fire here!

    And thanks, Nick, for looking up that data – I think you all bring up smart points. When the arrest and incarceration rate are skewed so heavily by race, it makes sense that “reality” shows perpetuate the image of the ‘blackmancriminal’ because that’s what the criminal justice system does. But it is really interesting to think about the distinction between documentaries and fictional representations. Would a fictional representation that DOESN’T match our perceptions of criminality succeed? Sure – think of something like Weeds or even Breaking Bad. It might be that these shows succeed not because they don’t portray reality, but because they portray a surprising reality that most shows ignore.

    The media is soooooo powerful in influencing how we see and make sense of race in the US, and when you put race and law through the lens of media interpretations, weird things come out the other side. (I can’t think of anything comparable for race, but the documentary Miss Representation – http://therepresentationproject.org/films/miss-representation/ – does a really fabulous job of showing how the media treats gender. It’s appalling. And enraging. AND UTTERLY CHANGEABLE.) Hmm. I wonder why there’s no comparable documentary on media portrayals of race?

    Also, I find Law & Order unbearable now after watching it for many years. But why police shows in general are so attractive to such widely disparate groups of people is really intriguing. It begins to become a chicken-egg question: do they create the perception of a ‘crime problem’ or do they simply confirm our suspicions that there is one? It could be both of course, but I do wonder if the former is the more worrisome.


  10. In response to the question of the chicken and egg, I personally believe that it is that the police shows simply confirm our suspicions that there is a perception of a “crime problem”. The stereotype of race in the criminal justice system has been around much longer than any kind of TV shows about crime. The news media institution has been around much longer than any TV shows have been with news papers and radio dating back much farther than the first televisions sets were created. This would mean that these perceptions of racial crime problems have been apparent much longer than just on TV. We can say that yes media as a whole may have created such perceptions but it may of not been the TV shows that we have grown up with that have created such problems and are only following in the footsteps of the media that have preceded them.

    Going along with Trent’s point about how people continue to watch these shows and believe what they see on these shows to be factual and do not want to take the time to understand what is truly occurring in the REAL criminal justice system. There are some shows on stations such as Spike and MSNBC that air shows such as “Jail” that accurately show the real situations of what occurs when people are going through the processing aspect of the criminal justice system and then again what it is like to be living in jail. However, what if there was a show accurately representing the situations that occur for the police force on a day to day basis. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a reality TV show, but what if the show was based upon true events and portrayed what really does occur for the criminal justice system? Could such a show gain the same popularity as something like Law & Order, or would it fail because it doesn’t have the same amount of excitement as the fictional crime shows? If such a show was created maybe then this could be a way in which the public could be better informed of what the criminal justice system is truly like and allow people to make more educated decisions about watching such false shows about crime in TV.


  11. The thing about these television shows is that the producers aim to show what will best increase their ratings and viewership. In doing so, it is inevitable that reality is distorted to achieve these ends so that viewers are captivated and entertained for the delgated time segment. With that being said, it seems easy for us to get consumed by our emotional responses to what is televised and not always step back to make sure we can recognize what is real and what has been over exagerrated (dramatized) for the sake of television. I say this because, Alex brings up a good point when he emphasizes the importance of having people of color playing major roles, because many people base their knowledge and perceptions off what they see on television and this can have a profound impact on how people think—especially given the increase in crime shows and growing popularity of TV dramas.


  12. Hey girl, thanks for being you. Love this sign! Once upon a time I had this sign happen to me, its real, its trngsformian, it reminds you of how much you’re loved, it opens wounds and heals others, it’s a gift from Ronan meant for his one true love! Hope you enjoyed every drop of your Coke and licked the Airhead stickies off of every finger!


  13. I'm with the reducers on this one — we spend a lot of energy on things that aren't necessary, such as automotive transport when we can walk, air conditioning and central heating (I know in some places these are necessary, but in most places not) and so on.David, are you familiar with the "hot rocks" project in Western Australia? It looks able to provide plenty of no-piollutnng power for the next couple of centuries. Of course, the main problem is that it's in WA, so transport of the electricity is an issue.And Ken: Deciding not to have a heated toilet seat is not regressing, it's progressing.




  15. Jami! I love this! I love this whole series, really echoes how I feel about leaving academia. Reminds me that I’m not totally lost, I did learn something in all those hours. Also your money/budget post is spectacular. You’ve got me started on a new strategy!Ryan and I would love to see y’all soon. It’s been since the wedding! Did i use enough exclamation points?!


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