Media and Crime

There has always been a longstanding relationship between the media and crime. The newspapers have a duty to report it and the stories can make for excellent TV and film, however the line between reporting facts and creating a story can often be blurred. The celebrity killer is now a recognized figure within society with D. Schmid describing how “The celebrity culture around serial killers has developed so far that one can now purchase the nail clippings and hair of some killers, as if they were religious icons.” But is the media to blame for glamorizing crime or is crime just automatically exciting and captivating? This literate review aims to analyze and critic research and theories concerning this field. Despite committing hideous crimes there are many killers who become elevated to an “anti hero” status within popular culture. Raoul Moat is the most recent and very modern example of the anti-hero. Lee Barron said “I think there will always be people who support those who set themselves against authority, it is a type of admiration and there is a romance within it.” Moat continuously battled against the police and instead of eventually surrendering to the authorities he instead took his own life, keeping himself in control. The public responded to his rebellion and related to him, his story and, as Barron stated, the “romance” to his story, yet others argued that it was the media saturation that created that romance. Johann Hari argued that the press cared more about “flashier front pages in a slow summer” than saving lives and stated that by presenting a relatable story it could lead to “copycat” killings in a bid for stardom. “Suddenly, they are shown a path where their problems won’t be trivial and squalid and pointless. No: they’ll be the talk of the entire country.

They’ll be stars.” Hari’s statement can be related to numerous crimes, the Virginia Tech Massacre in 2007 is just one of them. Seung-Hui Cho, the student who killed 32 people and wounded 25 in a shooting rampage at his school Virginia Tech idolized the students who went on a rampage at Columbine High School in 1999. It was widely reported that Cho sent a package to American news channel NBC that contained videos, an 1800 word manifesto amongst other items. By doing this it was proof that Cho did not just want to hurt people, but wanted to be recognized for what he has done and was inspired by a previous massacre which had been intensely reported by the media. Jack the Ripper (JTR) is the archetype of the celebrity serial killer and a primary example of sensationalizing crimes. Jane Caputi analyses the theory that “patriarchal culture has enshrined Jack the Ripper as a mythic hero” and stated that “as time goes by, the Ripper’s mythic representations have only increased” There is a large amount of research reinforcing the idea that Jack the Ripper has been propelled to a mythical, folk like, character. J. Walkowitz described how the Victorian papers reported the murders juxtaposed next to “mundane features of daily life” in order to make a political statement about London at that time “diagnosing them as a product of a diseased environment” leading to London, specifically White Chapel to be feared. This is one of the first examples of JTR being used as a character and glamorized by the media for financial and social benefit. However, David Schmid contradicts this statement by describing how murder’s where rare around the White Chapel area of London, therefore the press “resorted to the language of gothic melodrama” because they did not have anything else to report at that time. Both theories conclude that the coverage as glamorized and made to sound as horrific and exciting as possible, although for different reasons which may be due to their own personal research into the context of the murders. Jack the Ripper was also the first serial killer to attribute a name to him. Newspapers received thousands of letters from people claiming to be the mystery killer, one of those was one signed “Jack the Ripper” and despite many different names being used this was the one that transfixed the public. G. Coville &ump; P Lucanio analyzed why it was this name that stuck and found that “the name quickly came to represent in the collective mind not just a single murderous thug but rather a primordial way of life – a human predator devouring human prey.” This analysis describes how the press diverge the crime away from reality, the killer is turned into a character almost animal like and therefore, the public could get lost in the story and distance themselves away from a terrifying reality. Since Jack the Ripper there has been many nicknames affixed to serial killers by the media, the press in particular.

Wilson Et Al identified the relationship between serial killers and the newsworthiness regarding their actions as a complex one. The relationship is described as complex and depends on certain variables which propel a serial killer to “prime time” news. Wilson Et Al executed research regarding a serial killer called Trevor Hardy. Wilson Et Al aimed to discover why Hardy did not get a large amount of media coverage and conducted interviews with a large amount of journalists to try and establish a reason for this. One of the explanations was “The fact that Hardy was not labeled for his serial killing with a catchy nickname” Whereas other serial killers such as the Yorkshire Ripper remain in the public’s mind. However, other factors were identified as the reason behind the public’s non-existent relationship with this killer, these being that the attacks were not linked and therefore Hardy was not presented as a serial killer until the trial so there was no media build up. This relates to my hypothesis that without the media’s intervention there is no sensationalism and it is in the way it is reported that builds up the public’s interest. On the other hand it shows that not every story is glamorized and some are just reported as facts, therefore the media is not responsible for a particular serial killer becoming infamous or not. The gangster persona, in particular the American gangster is an important and instantly recognizable figure in all forms of media.

During the 1930’s a copious amount of gangster films were produced which “many respectable citizens believed…led to an increase in juvenile delinquency.’ Plans to produce a movie based on the life on John Dillinger, whose crime reign had only just ended, where halted by the former U.S Postmaster General Will H. Hays in the 1930s as he felt cinema was already glorifying the criminals. Following this the Motion Picture Production Code was created which prevented films from making criminals seem heroic or justified, because it may inspire potential criminals with a desire for imitation. Yet in recent years there has been many films re-creating the stories of various gangsters such as Good Fellas, Casino and Public Enemies. On top of these are the films depicting the lives of serial killers such as Ed Gein, BTK and The Deliberate Strangler. Film and TV elevated what the newspapers had already created – a romance associated with criminals and the life they lead. Good Fellas opens with the line “As far back as I can remember I always wanted to be a gangster” a direct quote from the films protagonist Henry Hill, a one-time mobster whose story inspired Good Fellas. Shadoian, J made the observation “Hollywood saw the glamour of the gangster, and even the pug-ugly ones were knowledgeably tailored to receive flattering attention from any woman”. Hill in his book Wiseguys describes becoming fascinated by gangsters as a child from the movies and newspaper as the connotations of becoming a gangster meant having power, status, money and women. However, it failed to depict the dark side of that lifestyle. One of the most important pieces of cinema when it comes to analyzing the relation between the criminal world and celebrity culture is Oliver Stones’ Natural Born Killers. Within the film two lovers, Mickey and Malory, go on a killing rampage and a police chase ensues, after being on the run they are finally caught however, they have gained a large amount of support and classed the ultimate anti-hero amongst the general public. David Schmid conducted a large amount of research into this film relating to the attack on fame he states that Oliver Stone “attacks what he sees as the root of all the evil that is the serial killer fame: the media.” The film makes a mockery out of all the TV documentaries, magazine shows and print media hype that surrounds serial killers during the peak of their fame.

Schmid carries on to discuss how Stone fails at his attempt of satire by saying “the so-called satire Oliver Stone attempts in this film is such an abject failure” and goes on to say that too much time is invested in the killings and not in the reaction of the media, he also criticizes the portrayal of Mickey and Malory as being far too sympathetic. Whilst agreeing that there is a large amount of sympathy felt for the characters, the director aimed to create an over-the-top film which mocks the superstar of the American serial killer. Schmid then continues when the character of the journalist Wayne Gale is killed it represents the death of the media – therefore it complies with the original proposal of the film regardless of where the sympathy lies. There has been a transition from not just wanting to see or read about horrific crimes, but to experience them. David Schmid explores the Jack the Ripper tour that brings in a large amount of tourism for the city of London, yet never once showing a figure of the Ripper. However, many customers complained that the tour was not bloody or scary enough so Madame Tussards had to comply and therefore had no option but to add in “more gore”. This situation can be analyzed various ways. The members of the public crave the glamour of a killer themselves regardless how it is portrayed to them, the media has re-told the story too many times therefore the audiences are always craving more and new elements to the story or the media has de-sensitized the audiences and they see the Ripper killings as almost fiction and ignore “the actual significance of what Jack the Ripper did, and what sexual killers still do a hundred years later.” Cameron’s statement is a strong one that is also replicated by J. Walkowitz “Media coverage transformed the unsolved murders of five poor women into a national scandal.” These observations agree with my hypothesis that the media concentrates more on stories than the victim. Over the years and with various mediums crime has illustrated in many different ways, ranging from the facts driven newspapers to the films that make the audience feel sympathy for the criminal. Although there is a significant amount of research conducted on the role the media plays in instigating people into the world of crime, there is a distinct lack of research and information on why the media is saturated with real life criminals-turned-celebrities and why the public continues to be fascinated by them. The information collected from a wide variety of sources indicate that criminal’s stories provide a source of entertainment and fascinate the general public and there will always been a strong desire to read or watch the next story. The majority of my literature agrees with my hypothesis and gives detailed examples and research into the subject matter.