Application of Criminology Theories to Movies

The film also presents a critical question of which law is closest to a consensual perspective of justice: the fanatic or trackers? It reveals an Aboriginal perspective, which allows them to define and apply their own version of deviance onto white Australia with the colonial period.

The film contains references to Positivism, Marxist criminology, Labelling theory, Republican Theory, Strain Theory, Classical Theory, New Right Criminology and Critical Criminology. The predominant theories throughout the film however are Biological Positivism and Marxist Criminology. The Europeans view Aboriginals as an inferior race, which would accord with Biological Positivism perspective. Biological Positivism posits that crime is not the choice of the offender. Moreover, it is a 'fault' in their biological nature, which causes them to commit crime . Positivists believe that behaviour is determined and shaped by forces, which are outside the control of the individual .

Lombroso proposes that Aboriginals are born with atavism , which is defined as a biological throwback characterised by atavistic stigmata . Atavistic stigmata is in turn characterised by re-emergence of primitive traits such as narrow forehead, protruding cheek plus jawbones and also large lips and ears . Lombroso even went so far as to suggest that dark hair and skin, which are aboriginal characteristics, are fundamental elements, which make a person criminal.

The movie from a European perspective conveys the theory that racial inferiority equates to criminality. However the movie deviates from the positivist approach, which argues that responses to crime should be orientated towards individualised treatment . Indeterminate sentences should be imposed which take into, account the nature of the act committed and the classification of the offender .

Throughout the movie, the fanatic deals out retributive punishment to all Aboriginals, which he encounters. It should be noted that the Fanatics response to crime is not associated with any criminological theories, indeed his form of punishment is racially motivated and is more akin to that of a hate crime . This raises the issue that one must be wary of dispensing inproportional, punishment. As the use of the criminal justice system as a tool of social control has potential through misuse of power, to "…sow the seeds of dissent…and fan the flames of inter-group conflict" , one can view this from the trackers perspective and reaction to the crimes of the fanatic.

It should be noted that although racism is not relevant to any criminological theory , race is a relevant factor in criminological theories. Through the actions of the Europeans in the movie, one can see that the Positivist explanations of crime, held by such people as the fanatic, "remain in popular consciousness to give content to the stereotypes that fuel the mythologies of black criminality" .

The movie also depicts inter-racial conflict, oppression, unequal class relations and racism. These depictions represent Marxist characteristics as Marxist criminology views crime as a manifestation of social conflict, structural inequality and differential treatment .

During the movie the fanatic states that "…the natives have deteriorated in their moral worth and if they are not taken in hand, they will be worse than ever". As crime in Marxist perspective is defined as the adverse affect upon the interests of the powerful social classes , this would seem to suggest that the activities of the police during the film , perpetually maintain unequal social relations . Utilisation of Marxist criminology in the film demonstrates how class situation legitimises crimes of the powerful yet criminalises the resistance of European domination and abolition of Aboriginal traditional culture.

It is seen in the film that the values and interests of the powerful classes (the Europeans) of society directly influence and shape the laws, policies and practices of the criminal justice system , which then results in a view that Aboriginal crimes and indeed Aboriginality are more harmful than crimes of the powerful. This is clearly evident in the fact that the Aboriginal who is being tracked by the Europeans is taken to have "allegedly" raped and killed a white woman yet is treated as if he is already guilty by the simple reality he is Aboriginal . However the murders of innocent Aboriginals by the fanatic as a representative of the state goes unpunished and his actions are not criminalized.

This is because such actions are seen as a justifiable response to counter "the positive menace to the state" of which non-assimilated Aboriginals pose . Marxist criminology posits that the criminal justice system protects and labels the activities of the powerful as legitimate exploitations , which are unworthy of criminalisation or sanction. The film demonstrates that denying the reality of deviance of the powerful will perpetually preclude any remedy for change .

Another example of active Marxist criminology in the film is how crime stories divert attention away from the real problems of capitalist society, orchestrate moral panics and thereby legitimate the introduction of greater social control measures. The tracker highlights how the Europeans dominate the news stories and are able to raise public awareness of aboriginal crimes through increased reporting without any actual increase in crime rates, which in turn leads to Aboriginal culture as a whole situated under greater surveillance and the resulting increase in visibility of Aboriginal crimes .

Labelling Theory is a theory, which is also present in the film. Labelling theorists posit that crime is the result of labelling interaction process occurring between people . Becker suggests that crime is "not the quality of the act the person commits, but rather a consequence of the application by others of…sanctions to an offender" . Labelling theorists argue that those who wield power in inter-class relationships largely determine who and what is to be labelled as deviant . In the film the fanatic applies a deviant label to Aboriginals, and criminalises the actions of Aboriginal people for reasons of resistance to and non-assimilation into European culture .

One can see how the fanatics possession of power and influence enable him to avoid being negatively labelled himself Essentially the label when applied creates a stigma , which denies the labelled legitimate opportunities of employment and interaction with more conventional social relationships .

The predominant criticism of labelling theory is that the offender who is labelled deviant is stigmatised and eventually ostracised . Stigmatisation fuels further engagement in criminal activities and the individual is pushed further into deviant culture, whereby the label is provided with justification for their continuing deviance .

This concentration of the negative effects of labelling and stigmatisation lay at the heart of the republican theory, which is also present in the film. Republican theory sees crime by aboriginals as a lack of self-sanctioning conscience whereby social norms are not accepted as right and just . In the film, aboriginals are depicted as not conforming to social norms and failing to accept such norms in favour of retaining their own traditional culture.

Republican theory posits that the response to crime should be one of reintegrative shaming , whereby an offender is shamed for the deviant acts, but then is forgiven and reintegrated into society . When applied to the film, the republican view on crime allows one to critically question reintegration into a society of foreign norms and values as a response to Aboriginal crime. The film shows how Aboriginals prefer to retain their simplistic lifestyle and traditions and do not wish to be integrated into "white" society. This highlights an overlooked perspective of the republican theory, which assumes that Aboriginals wish to be reintegrated into a society ruled by conflicting values and then shamed by conflicting values.

The movie also briefly contains patterns of Strain theory. Strain theory hypothesises that crime is the result of a "disjunction between culturally defined goals to which most members of society aspire, and…legitimate means for achieving the goals" . Merton argues that crime occurs when goals take precedence over the means to achieve them as people resort to deviant behaviour as a result . In the film, through a European perspective, the alleged rape and murder of a white woman by the Aboriginal could be seen as a disjunction in the means of achieving sexual intercourse with a white woman , and thus rape was resorted to in a means to achieve this goal.

Classical Theory and New Right Criminology also are referred to during the film. These theories argue that crime is the result of bad moral choices and as such place all responsibility on the individual, while asserting the importance of punishment . The traditionalist conservative view, which falls under the umbrella of New Right, argues that punishment may represent a response to crime, which is not proportional to the offence and can often be greater for the reasons of its symbolic role .

The film illustrates this clearly as the trackers refusal to unhang the fanatic from the tree was left as a symbolic message which serves to bond the community together through punishment of racism in society. The tracker and the follower both see the fanatics crimes as bad moral choices in the pursuit of immediate self gratification in fulfilling racist desires ahead of official duties.

As with Marxist criminology, Critical criminology views crimes of the less powerful as the result of structural oppression . Critical theorists posit that the cause of crime for the less powerful is the marginalisation, criminalisation and racialisation of crimes by the powerful . In the film it is evident that separation from mainstream institutions, intervention by the police and oppressive social/racial relations caused the tracker to kill the fanatic, even though, through an Aboriginal perspective this was justice served.

Critical criminology also suggests that the pressures associated with securing and maintaining the power of the state cause crimes of the powerful . This would accord with the European perspective of the fanatic that his crimes are a justifiable response to maintain social control by the government.

Red Dragon

This film contains strong references to Positivism, and Hirschi's Control theory. In the film Dr Lector uses forensic psychology to devise a criminal profile, alongside FBI profiler Will Graham, which is hoped to predict possible patterns of reoffending by the unknown subject.

This is associated to psychological Positivism as forensic psychology is a contemporary example of positivism . Practitioners of this new field undertake criminal profiling to identify the personality type of an unknown offender during police investigations, helping to narrow the police scope of focus . Psychological positivism posits that a criminal is made not born and that crime resides within the criminals mind which is in turn the result of a different manner of thinking as opposed to social conditions .

In the film the criminal known as the "tooth fairy" is portrayed as the product of poorly conditioned behavior and a dysfunctional personality as the result of childhood abuse, perpetrated by his mother. Freudian psychological explanation of criminality focuses on childhood experiences, particularly parent-child relationships . Freud posits that an improperly socialized child fails to learn the concept of self-control and subsequently acts out inner impulses in the form of deviant behavior

Freudian psychologists believe that a dysfunctional personality can have a wide array of causes, such as improper learning or early childhood trauma, which result in an adult mental imbalance. In an extensive study of serial killers, researchers the majority suffered from varying degrees of trauma inflicted during their youth , which accords with the theory put forward in the film.

The tooth fairy's personality is characterized by cruelty, egotism, no remorse for his actions, selfishness and an inability to give love and affection to others. The film portrays the cause of crime as psychological trauma inflicted to the "tooth fairy", as the childhood abuse inflicted upon him is manifested in patterns of antisocial and later psychopathic behavior. At the heart of any psychological positivist theory is the assumption that behavior reflects personality .

Hirschi's Control theory posits that the question to be asked is not why do people deviate from norms?, but rather why do people conform to norms? Hirschi identifies attachment, commitment, involvement and belief as the four elements, which bond an individual to conventional society .

  • Attachment to others is a means of morally restraining oneself.
  • Commitment to conventional norms renders the engaging of any criminal act as too much of a risk when compared to investment in occupational success.
  • Involvement in conventional activities enables a person to become too preoccupied to contemplate crime.
  • Belief in the norms and laws of society, which prohibit crime.

The absense of any of these elements frees an individual to "maximise their own self interest[s]" in the form of crime. In the film, the "tooth fairy" lacks all these bonds to society , which through the control perspective can be seen as the cause of crime.

As with psychological positivism, control theory also emphasises self-control as a reason for why most people do not commit crimes . It is argued that poor attachment to a father figure and poor parenting in early childhood are the prime causes of the development of poor self control in adulthood . Control theorists believe a criminal is made not born , and indeed in the film, Dr Lector suggests that the offender "[was] not born a monster, but made one through years and years of abuse".

Although not a theory explored within this unit, neutralisation theory is another criminological theory, which this film contains strong patterns towards. Neutralisation theory falls under the umbrella of strain theory and its main premise is that crime is the result of offenders neutralising the bond to a conventional society by self-justification of the behaviour before it is enacted . Samenow also suggests that a criminal is able to freely shut off considerations of responsibility and morality to enable them to commit heinous crimes .

In the film it can also be seen that the "tooth fairy" is able to turn off his moral conscience and neutralise his bond to society by providing a denial of responsibility, dehumanising his victims and equating his crimes with mandatory authority.

Through the analysis of these films, one can see how image not reality is the primary concern of the justice system and the media through its production of films. This is evident in how films portray crime associated with fear and violence as the central characteristics and the police are justified in breaking the law themselves in pursuit of the criminal. However the reality is almost 50% of prison populations are constructed of people incarcerated for non-payment of fines , and through only this distorted reality of a film it is when one finds an audience of ordinary people cheering for Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lector.

"Films package violence and fear into commodities which can be sold to the public" , who are then influenced by a particular portrayal of crime and build a 'common sense' understanding of the causes of crime based on media portrayals distorted reality. The media for example portray young people as the most likely perpetrators of crimes in society, this portrayal builds public understanding, gathers consensus and subsequently leads to changing policing stratergies, which target young people . However the very reality is that young people are more likely to be both victims of personal crimes and be the offenders of less serious crimes .

Crime is not a static phenomenon but rather a consequence of dynamic social interactions, which are continually constructed and modernized . As crime is socially defined , the media through films are able to have a tremendous impact in who, what and why something is defined as criminal and the process of change over time. However as White and Haines suggest , it is important for one to be able to look through these portrayals and be able to subjectively separate images of crime from the realities of crime, which occur in our society.


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