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Sociological explanations of the relationship between crime and the mass media Essay

There has been a lot of debate in sociology regarding what consequences the mass media has on the rate and/or production of crime in society. (The mass media being avenues of communications that reaches out to the masses. ) Functionalist concerns as regards to the study of deviance can be traced back to Emile Durkheim; that societies are held together by a value consensus. There is always the possibility of a collapse in society if values aren’t constantly reaffirmed and passed on from one generation to the other; therefore maintenance of values is functional of society.

Functionalists see the mass media as an agency of socialisation; that integrates its audience into the universal norms and values of society. They see the mass media as giving us what we want, and caters for our needs. Therefore has nothing to do as regarding to what we will be discussed later on, that the mass media increases crime. They see the mass media as acting as neutral servants for the public and see power being given to the consumer. Where crime does occur, it is presented in an objective manner, where no biases are portrayed.

However, interactionist approaches criticise functionalists along with other structural approaches as being overly deterministic, because they given causal status to human agencies and neglect the interactional process that the mass media endures. Becker looked at the process of the labelling theory and saw that deviance didn’t start with an act itself, but an act that is somehow ambiguous (that doesn’t really have a meaning to it) that leads to an act as deviant. The critical phase is when the label became public. I. e. hen the authorities notice it and along with this come the stigmatisation process. Everyone now starts to evaluate the identity of the person who has been publicly labelled. Not only does this label become the master status of the individual, but also everyone re-evaluates that person’s past events and behaviour in line with their master status. This makes it ever more difficult to maintain their “normal” identity, so what happens is that it becomes more and more difficult to engage in everyday activities and opportunities become blocked.

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So the only way a person will be accepted is when they go back to the deviant act, therefore causes the person to reorganise their sense of self and results in the self-fulfilling prophecy. Interactionists see the mass media as being the creators of moral panics. They look at the agencies of social control and how the mass media facilitates folk devils. I. e. the drug pusher. Stanley Cohen looked at the sensitisation process the mass media has regarding crime in the case of the Mods and rockers.

During the 1960’s bank holiday scene, the mass media operated to reinforce and give shape to the crowds expectancy and provide the content of rumours and shared definitions with which ambiguous situations were restructured. The behaviour of Mods and Rockers were seen as ambiguous and the mass media exaggerated their behaviour. This lead to stereotypes being portrayed in the mass media which then resulted in a moral panic- who ultimately epitomised juvenile delinquency.

This reaction from the social audience sensitised the youth; it isolated them from others. Parents warned their children about becoming a mod and because of the nature of teenagers; it provoked them to do it more. However, at the same time, it amplified the deviance and glamorised the image of the delinquents who are being reported. It also sensitises the public, who along with the mass media, engage in the social reaction, which results in the polarisation between the young and old.

Lastly, it sensitises the police, who will now be more vigilant on those who looks like a mod. Because of this, everyone is now sensitised as to where the next “riot” between the Mods and rockers will take place. Once a place is announced, every mod will go down because of the sensitisation, and now, 1000’s of police will be there. Mods will now know that they are news and will exaggerate their behaviour and pose in front of the cameras. This further reaction amplifies delinquency and secondary deviance kicks in.

The next time a riot happens, Mods will act like the newspapers saw that they are acting and results in the script that has been written by the media to become reality. The major interaction study that was carried out was by Jock Young, who carried out an overt participant study. He looked at the relationship between the police and the marihuana smoker in Notting hill over the period of 1967-1969, and engaged in primary deviance (i. e a few teenagers smoking pot etc. ) He showed the difference between the media typification of the drug user (fantasy) and the reality that he was experiencing.

There was a distinct different between the stereotype that the mass media portrayed and what reality really was. Such examples are given below: It is a typical bohemian scene that is a highly organised community involving tightly interrelated friendship nets and intense patterns of visiting. The stereotype that is held in the mass media is that of the isolated drug user living in the disorganised area, or at best, a drifter existing in a loose conglomeration of misfits. Drug taking is, at least to start with- irregular.

It isn’t an essential pre-requisite of membership, but is used instrumentally for hedonistic and expressive purposes and symbolically as a sign of the “differentness” of the bohemian. Therefore drugs are not as central to such groups. However, drugs are a great fascination for the non-drug taker and in the stereotype drugs are held to be the primary concern of such groups. Lastly, another example is that the culture consists of largely psychologically stable individuals. The stereotype however, sees the drug taker essentially as an immature, psychologically unstable young person, corrupted by the drug pushers.

This resulted in the intensification of the deviancy of the marihuana user, and a change in the lifestyle and reality of the user, so that certain facets of the stereotype became reality. (The translation of fantasy to reality. ) The police are THE most segregated in society, so when it came to the hippie drug user, they didn’t have a clue what they were like. So they got their ideas from the mass media, which resulted in a severe social reaction. The police then started to increase its action and as a result made hippies distant from society.

They started to exaggerate and emphasise their distance by smoking privately and isolated them from the non-smoker. The group became more cohesive, since everyone in the group has the same common values and marked a symbolism against the police. The police will have the stereotypical picture of the drug user and when looking for them will be very vigilant. The drug users will then start to isolate themselves from the non-user; a technique to protect themselves since they become paranoid that the non-user will report them to the police.

They also become secretive; what was a peripheral activity now becomes central to hippie culture. Because of the intense police activity, the police now begin to understand hippie culture, and as a result, the hippie entrepreneur will stop selling the drugs, thus prices will rise. The gangster scene etc will be flooding in with the money since they start to sell it for more, and organised crime increases. This results in the social amplification spiral, and thus shows how the mass media results in the increase of crime.

It can be seen that interactional approaches provide good empirical evidence on moral panics and drug use. They also acknowledge agents of social control, and criticise functionalists for having a naive view. Functionalists do not provide a balanced view; it is the end of a series of problematic steps, not an automatic procedure. However, interactionists can be criticised since people do not always accept labels given to them. It suggests that the individual being labelled is passive, which is not always the case. There is also too much focus on the social reaction.

It is a good explanation of recreational crime and the “grey” areas of crime such as delinquency, however it focuses on the areas at the expense of other crimes. Labelling doesn’t always lead to a deviant continuing to commit a deviant act as interactionists suggest, as they might just start to drift into the deviant act because they enjoy. Lastly, they fail to locate deviance at macro levels in the society, they only look at the micro deviance in society, and this is where neo Marxists come into the equation who look at the wider socio economic framework that the mass media and the police have to work in.

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