Fear is an emotion, our emotions
are based upon our own and others actions. Fear of crime perpetrates the
risk-fear paradox which is prevalent across all societies, independent of
actual pertinent levels of crime and security within said society.  “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).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Only a minor proportion of individuals have had
personal experience of violent crime, the remaining numbers of individuals whom
do not hold any prior first experience of involvement with violent crime are
found to show belief systems which portray the world worse than it is in
reality, this results in 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). Vanderveen (2008) 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 (Mouzos et. Carcach, 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 (Mouzos et. Carcach, 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).  (Markey et al.
2015) went as far as to not only disagree with previously consistent data
implying that there is a correlation between violent crime and violent video
games, instead offering a narrative where there was “no evidence was found to suggest that
this medium was positively related to real-world violence in the United States.
Unexpectedly, many of the results were suggestive of a decrease in violent
crime in response to violent video games” distorted’ (Albany.edu, 2018).

‘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 2002 an
English schoolboy decided to take a firearm and shoot it at his mother’s
assailant in a midnight robbery attempt of their property.   

 

By the 1970s the
crime or police drama had replaced the western for the most prevalent
prime-time television fare (Barak, 2015). 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 (Barak, 2015). 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 (Curiel, 2017). (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’ (Albany.edu, 2018); 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; media has
always been a factor in the rise of both crime and the fear of it.  

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