Selective Exposure to Communication

By Dolf Henry Zillmann; Jennings P. Bryant | Go to book overview
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7
Fear of Victimization and the Appeal of Crime Drama

Dolf Zillmann Jacob Wakshlag Indiana University

Gerbner and his associates (e.g., Gerbner & Gross, 1976a, 1976b; Gerbner, Gross, Morgan, & Signorielli, 1980) have drawn much attention to the possibility that extensive consumption of television, especially of violence-laden crime drama, leads to exaggerated perceptions of crime in society, to apprehensions about becoming a victim of crime, to interpersonal distrust generally, and to fear of one's fellow citizens. In their theorizing, the heightened sense of risk and insecurity is said to increase the citizen's dependence on established authority and to promote the acceptance of its use of force in accomplishing social pacification. Television's "cultivation" of fear, together with the acceptance of authority that this fear nurses, is considered "the established religion of the industrial order, relating to governance as the church did to the state in earlier times" ( Gerbner & Gross, 1976a, p. 194).

To back up such a grand proposal, Gerbner and his associates have presented data that show a significant positive correlation between the magnitude of television consumption, on the one hand, and perceptions of dangers in the environment, interpersonal distrust, and apprehensions about becoming a victim of violent crime, on the other. Specifically, heavy television viewers (defined as persons watching 4 or more hours a day) were found to perceive the world as more dangerous, to report greater distrust, and to be more apprehensive about becoming a victim of crime than were light television viewers (persons watching 2 hours a day or less). This correspondence between heavy television consumption and concern about crime was observed in several social strata.

The interpretation of this simple correspondence as proof of a causal relation between exposure to television and fear of victimization has prompted immediate challenges. Doob and Macdonald ( 1979) considered the observed relationship

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