Fear is an emotion, our
emotions are based upon our own and others actions. Fear of crime purpotrates
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 though 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 has 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 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 behaviour (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.

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Fear of
crime exists outside the realms of societal pretences 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 behaviour 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 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 neighbourhoods, furthermore,
research has also elucidated that individuals whom both watch a lot of crime
related television and live in high risk neighbourhoods 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 afterwards, whereas an individual who has no prior experience being
involved in crime, would become more fearful after watching 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 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 analysing 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 has declined leaving 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 whom 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 simulation. 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 increasing 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 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 higher level of viewer engagement; this is achieved
through depicting unrealistic imagery of crime which is unflattering to its coverage
in the real world. Surette (2006) confirmed the importance of an 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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