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The UK's premier new media criminologist - on Twitter @criminology4u, facebook and blogging on Criminology in Public and Sports Criminology.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

My Crime and Media book reviews: the highlights

I’ve reviewed a number of books on crime and media over the past decade or so.  Most recently Policing and Media: Public Relations, Simulations and Communications, Murray Lee and Alyce McGovern, Routledge, 2014 on this blog.

Many more are published in journals so here are some highlights.

In Crime, Media, Culture I review Anita Lam’s ‘Making Crime Television: Producing entertaining representations of crime for television broadcast’.  Here’s an extract:

Lam’s ethnography takes us through the thinking, writing, rewriting and re-rewriting involved in getting a crime show idea to script, then filmed for TV in North America. She rightly points out crucial legal, political and cultural differences between Canada and the USA and alludes to some in UK/Europe. That ranges from different regulatory regimes to different numbers and length, or even existence, of advertising breaks. The setting for, and partial funder, of the various series she examines is Canada; but for sound commercial reasons, including the Writers Guild of America strike 2007/8, Toronto often stands in for Anywhere/Anytime. One of the series briefly gets a showing on a US network.

Brooding over all this is the hydra-headed CSI franchise and skulking in the corner is The Wire. The latter is lauded by the critics and studied or referenced by academics (guilty) but is not a ratings success. CSI may be studied by academics for its effects but more still by networks seeking to replicate its success.

Lam makes something of the five (usually)-act structure of such shows and once even metaphorically presents her material as if she were a detective assembling the suspects in the drawing room but her book has an introduction, five chapters and conclusion. The introduction is materially substantial enough to warrant an act/chapter of its own, as is the conclusion, which she does not explicitly foreshadow in the introduction.

The following all appeared in The Howard Journal of Criminal Justice:

Law and Order (BFI TV Classics). By C. Brundson Volume 50, Issue 4, pages 441–442, September 2011

Here’s an extract:

Though a short book, it is a model: in examining the text, the means of its production and critical reception.  Crime and criminal justice are at the heart of the text and criminal justice politics at the heart of the reception.  The Police Federation, the Prison Officers Association and assorted MPs objected strongly.  BBC minutes reveal that some of the difficulties of production turned on the delicate relationship between Government and broadcaster.  Perhaps too much is made of the, then, shared ministerial responsibility for broadcasting and criminal justice but the Home Office did refuse assistance during production, and access for news and current affairs after broadcast.  Such was the fuss that a repeat was delayed until 1980. Until the DVD release in 2008 it remained an ‘absent classic’.


Framing Crime: Cultural Criminology and the Image by K.J. Hayward and M. Presdee (Eds.) Volume 49, Issue 4, pages 421–422, September 2010

Here’s the extract:

Hindley appears again in Jones and Wardle’s discussion of the image of Maxine Carr.  They carry out a quantitative and qualitative content analysis of the images of Carr and Huntley.  They find a concentration on Carr which could be taken to indicate an equality of responsibility (or ‘evil’ in tabloidese) which were it set out in cold print might have constituted contempt of court.  A damning irony is that the images analysed were alleged by newspapers to fall under the subsequent ‘Mary Bell’ order granting Carr lifelong anonymity, so could not be used here.  Gender is an issue but they find a case from the late 1960s where a woman initially covered for her murderous husband yet faced no prosecution and little press censure.

Yar runs through the reasons for criminology to engage with film (valid, but missing the extent to which legal studies already has - see Greenfield et al, 2001) and gives and discusses others analyses of, mostly US, films.  Perhaps under Hayward’s strictures about what the book is not about it sticks to marxist/modernist and postmodern readings of film ignoring the vast feminist and psycho-analytical tradition, mentioning Mike Nellis’s 1988 article on British prison movies in this journal (27: 1) only in passing.


Criminal Visions: Media Representations of Crime and Justice P. Mason (Ed.) Vol. 43, No. 3, pp. 341-355, July 2004

Here’s the extract:

Mason admits the reason for the book is his own search for a book to teach media and crime courses and his desire to cover the visual – so I cannot complain about the lack of a radio chapter.  He also sets out the logic behind the division of the book into three parts: part 1 concentrates on the concerns of the media; part 2 on the construction of offences and offenders and part 3 on representations on of criminal justice.

So part 1 quite appropriately starts with Reiner et al setting out their work on press coverage of crime.  They affirm the relevance of Surette’s ‘law of opposites’ – that media representations of crime are largely the opposite of ‘reality’.  Two interesting points are: the finding of the under-representation of black people as criminals (p21), which goes unexplored, and their conclusion that there is an increased tendency to see crime as hurting individual victims rather than morality, the law or society.  Julian Petley has written elsewhere about the ‘media effects’ debate, here he is concerned with an analysis of the treatment by the British Board for Film Classification and the Video Appeals Committee of a video release of Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left.  They ignored his advice.  Innes concludes the part by examining ‘signal crimes’ such as the murders of James Bulger and Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman.  Such crimes ‘function as mnemonics, subsequently framing the production of new signal crimes, which in turn reverberate with meaning for their audiences.’ (p66)

Crime and Law in Media Culture S. Brown Vol. 43, pp. 99-111, February 2004

Here’s the extract:

In late August 2003 the Chief Constable of Manchester, Michael Todd, was reported, by many papers, as saying: ‘Some of them would have been better off being interviewed by someone who has watched The Bill or Inspector Morse’.  He was describing his observations of his own officers interviewing burglary suspects.  Several days earlier his force had arrested a BBC undercover reporter who had undergone full training and was now on probation.  The journalist had infiltrated to investigate allegations of racism.  In the same month Jake Arnott published truecrime: the third volume of his gangster trilogy, which contains as much criminology as it does literary allusion and action.  All of these, and more, examples come too late for inclusion in Brown’s book but I think they illustrate her contention that ‘empirical’ or ‘administrative’ criminologies, render crime no more comprehensible and law no more legitimate than do the supposedly ‘fictive’ cultural maps of detective novels, or the imagined justice of the courtroom drama, or the hybrid genres of news docudrama and reality TV. (p182)

Policing and the Media: Facts, fictions and factions Frank Leishman and Paul Mason. Cullompton:Willan (2003) Volume 42, Issue 4, pages 397–407, September 2003

Here’s the extract:

On 26 February 2003 Detective Superintendent Craig Denholm of Surrey police wrote to the Guardian to complain of the hypocrisy of that paper’s leader the previous day, which had attacked police handling of the arrest of TV presenter Matthew Kelly.  Just as in previous years the tabloids had raised the stakes over paedophilia, so the broadsheets and mid-market tabloids now weighed in on behalf of the wrongly accused.  The same day the Daily Express spent 1,766 words on this and a number of other cases ranging from the arrest of Neil and Christine Hamilton to football manager David Jones and other less well-known names.  Det. Supt. Denham made the point that the Police had never named Kelly and had only acted so quickly – arresting him at the theatre – after the media had named Kelly.  So the police blame the media and some parts of the media blame other parts.  Then, to put it as this book does, others take those facts and create fiction and ‘faction’. By faction they mean the, “uneasy amalgam of ‘fact’ and ‘fiction’ that often goes under the name ‘infotainment’.” (p4)  However, as the Superintendent’s bitterness indicates, faction suggests antagonistic groups and the division is not just between police and media.  The Daily Star’s leader of 25 February is a masterpiece of insinuation, opening with these words: “Matthew Kelly is innocent. Everyone says so.  Dave Lynn, the drag queen he used to live with.  All the luvvies who've worked with him.  Even Jonathan King. And now, Surrey police agree too.”


Y. Jewkes, Captive Audience: Media, Masculinity and Power in Prisons and R.C. Mawby, Policing Images: Policing, Communication and Legitimacy, Vol. 42, pp. 93-104, 2003

Here’s the extract:

Whilst both deal with the media it is Jewkes book that specifically addresses theories of media. in Chapter 1 in parallel with her review of the prison literature - specifically the importance of 'doing', 'killing' and 'marking' time.  Particularly important - given her emphasis on masculinities (derived from Connell and Messerschmidt) - is the tendency in some media theory of seeing TV viewing and radio listening as 'passive'.  Within media theory both right and left have their versions of this.  Thus for the right the media subverts all that is good - respect for motherhood and homemade apple pie - and replaces it with promiscuity and ersatz 'pop tarts'.  Equally for the left the media is a 'narcotic' (anyone remember the Yippies?) or a tool of capital (for instance, noting Silvio Berlusconi's control of the Italian State and commercial media respectively as prime minister and owner).  To overcome the deficiencies of these 'hypodermic' or 'cultural dope' models media theorists have developed the 'uses and gratifications' model. This recognises that audiences can be active in 'reading across the grain' of media texts.  Jewkes uses Bourdieu and Giddens (discussed in Chapter 2) to emphasise the interplay of structure and agency in the uses made and the gratifications available to prisoners through various media. Thus the deprivations of imprisonment can be seen to structurally emasculate far more effectively that the castration visited on the couch potato.  She notes, 'like the unemployed, prison inmates are likely to have a far greater degree of attachment to and appreciation of media as a source of entertainment, escapism, identity and opinion reinforcement, social interaction, or simply a means of enduring painfully slow-moving periods of time' (p63).  As we can see watching television or listening to radio has never been so active.

Where Jewkes is largely looking at the reception of media by audiences, Mawby examines the extent to which the media is shaped by the police or, indeed the extent to which the image created of the police is the police. Clearly an ideological reading of the police as reflection or refraction of class, race or gender power has always hinted at this. In using the term image work he recognises that some effort is expended even if he doesn't quite see it in terms of a or 'the' struggle (no Gramsci or Althusser). Mawby tackles some of the theory (Habermas) but mostly offers a history of police image work and a closely observed case study of South Yorkshire Police.  Thus the first two chapters are given over to setting out the four phases he identifies in the history of police image work: 1829-1919 (informal but evident in the choice of uniform and force orders); 1919-1972 (starting from the formation of the Met's Press Bureau and including the 'golden age' of PC Dixon); 1972-1987 (the appointment of Robert Mark and the art of 'winning by appearing to lose') and finally from 1987 (increased professionalism and Imbert's change of force to service and the appointment of Wolff Olins as corporate identity consultants.


News, Crime and Culture M. Wykes Pluto (2001) Vol. 41, pp. 209-217, 2002

Here’s the extract:

Early on Maggie Wykes sets out the premise of this book, which is:

that the media actively, routinely but not exclusively constructed discourses of legitimacy empathic with the interests of conservatism during the period of the Tory Governments of Margaret Thatcher (1979-92) and John Major (1992-97) (p25)

Thus readers will not be surprised to find that the crimes covered are: the criminalisation of black communities; the working class; youth; the homeless; violence between men and women and sex and sexuality.

A context for all this is given in the first chapter which charts the course of a number of ‘criminological crises’.  In short this sets out the marxist and feminist challenges to conventional mainstream criminology.  She argues that it has systematically failed to understand let alone reduce crime moreover that, ‘for most people the major source of information about crime is mass media news.’ (p8) . It is a commonplace to show the news media routinely over report some crimes and under report others.  Thus our understanding of murder (and, as I write, of terrorism) is clearly mediated by press and broadcasting. Yet if we draw the definition of media as broadly as the third term of the book’s title - culture - then there can scarcely be a time when this was not the case.  Those who crowded to the theatre of Shakespeare to see Corialanus or Greek Tragedy should have been as frightened as the inhabitants of Morse’s corpse-strewn Oxford.  However, direct and local experience of everyday mundane crimes such as vandalism, harassment and discrimination is not mediated in quite the same fashion.  Tudor patrons of the theatre would experience the cutpurse much as the modern city dweller experiences ‘mugging’ today – directly.  Wykes is right that there is clearly a punitive discourse in much current media.  However, it is less clear that this can easily be traced back unequivocally to the demands of capitalism or its political puppets.


I also reviewed Crime and Culture: an Historical Perspective Amy Gilman Srebnick and René Lévy Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing (2005) for HoJo but can’t find it was ever used.  So here full text.

I asked to review this book because I am trying to write something on 'cultural criminology' however this is not a work of cultural criminology but of history. It is a history of criminology, of criminal justice and of representations of crime; with three or four articles on each.  This review necessarily concentrates on the criminological and the cultural not the history but there are arguments around historical method, Foucault and narrative to detain those with appropriate knowledge.

Not only are all but two of the thirteen contributors historians – only Clive Emsley will be known to most UK criminologists – but many are European and their work is presented in translated American English.  Moreover, much of the work has its genesis in conferences of the International Association for the History of Crime and Criminal Justice.  So this book suffers from some of the usual problems of such a collection.

The editors’ short introduction sees the history of crime providing ‘a way to study time, place, and culture’ (xiii) and claims ‘there are important continuities in the history of crime and its representations in modern culture, despite particularities of time and place’ (ibid).  A major source of continuity are media texts; broadly drawn to include news media, dime novels and Arrêts Criminels.   Other texts analysed include published criminological texts and unpublished police records.  Less interesting to HJCJ readers will be those like Rousseaux on a Belgian Department under French Rule in 1789 which is only tangentially about crime – the violence of a revolt and its suppression – and culture – French and Flemish perspectives.  Mátay and Csepeli introduce us to a legendary Hungarian Highwayman and the brief media flowering in the late 1990s of a bank robber likened to him. Miller’s account of dime novels doesn’t go much beyond noting a number of themes that will be recognizable to most readers – incompetent police, maverick private eye, innocence wronged etc. Lévy unpicks the legal fall out from a police drugs sting that went wrong – officers sent to prison - but doesn’t specifically tie it to an understanding of the culture of Police, Customs or civil servants involved.

Leaving aside these and the historical, indeed historiographical, first chapter we have six interesting chapters with three on criminology and three on police. Turning first to the criminology: Peter Becker deploys a Foucauldian method on the discourse of German criminology texts from the late 18th to the early 20th Century; Mary Gibson examines the ‘scientific’ narratives of Italian Criminology from 1880-1920 and Herbert Reinke discusses the influence of the criminologist Robert Heindl on policing before, during and after the Nazi period.

More central to criminological concerns is Gibson’s work as it relates to Lombroso and his acolytes, moreover she has recently translated – with Nicole Hahn Rafter – his work, with Ferrerro, on women and crime.  She notes his use of quantitative and qualitative narratives to show a particular sort of wrinkling on the skin of women criminals is evidenced by ‘the old woman of vinegar’ - said to have assisted women kill their husbands and memorialised in the museum of Palermo and granted a photo in Criminal Women.  Gibson asks is this bad science or a means – at the time – of strengthening his arguments by deploying both scientific and popular discourses to forge his new, and powerful, knowledge?  She notes, ‘criminal anthropologists were indefatigable in giving lectures and writing articles for popular audiences’ (40).

She analyses an article Lombroso wrote about the capture of a celebrated brigand which moves from derision at the forces of law, to the claim for the superiority of his methods - based solely on a picture of the man - before returning to admiration for his intelligence.  As this is later in his career, and consonant with his socialism, he mentions the poverty and illiteracy of the man’s background before slipping into casual ethnic stereotyping.  Rather than wondering why he wrote so badly or the editor did not rein him in she feels Lombroso is appealing to various audiences in the one text.  She gives a similar reading of Ferrero’s account of a murder by a casual prostitute but notes too the sexism and the anxieties that women’s crime raised.  Finally she analyses an article in a police and prison staff journal.  It is the notes of a lecture given by a disciple of Lombroso’s, Salvatore Ottolenghi, where a thief was physically and psychologically examined before a class.  Again it is a diverse text as the lecturer, the note taker and the thief all have a voice.  That is positivism took off because it told good stories.

Allen Steinberg examines a case of police corruption and murder in New York that lead to an officer, Charles Becker, going to the electric chair in 1915.  Politicians were involved in the case and often, through the media, in using it to pursue their own ends.  Jean-Marc Berlière shows how the narratives deployed by police during the Nazi occupation to gain promotion or bonuses could redound on them as collaborators.  Clive Emsley’s examines the case of Sergeant Goddard, sentenced to 18 months hard labour with a £2,000 fine in 1929.


Police and official historians note with satisfaction that he was bought to book by the police themselves – the rotten apple – but Emsley wonders if a diseased orchard was to blame.  He gives tables for those dismissed or transferred from the same Division.  Some were old hands others new recruits but the vice beat proved as problematic then as in later scandals of the 60s and 70s.  Clearly the media had a field day but he uses the historical records to flesh out the culture of the police then.  He comes nearest to cultural criminology when footnoting the fact that Spike Milligan may have met one of the criminals involved.

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