Criminology Goes to the Movies: Crime Theory and Popular Culture

Criminology Goes to the Movies: Crime Theory and Popular Culture

Criminology Goes to the Movies: Crime Theory and Popular Culture

Criminology Goes to the Movies: Crime Theory and Popular Culture

Excerpt

This book grew out of conversations about two problems we repeatedly encountered in our scholarship and in our teaching. As specialists in the area of crime and the media, we long ago realized that criminology is produced by not only scholars but all participants in popular culture, including everyone who rents or downloads a crime film or buys a ticket to a movie theater. In the past, we have written about the relationships between popular and academic criminology, demonstrating their overlaps and arguing that crime, while it is indeed a negative phenomenon, is also a cultural resource, one into which everyone dips for ideas about crime and justice. Discussing these matters in our writing and teaching, we often use movies as examples. This created the first problem. Not every reader of our books or student in our courses had seen the films we mentioned as illustrations. In the lead-up to this book, we tried to find a way to get our audiences on the same page— or, rather, the same screen—so they would all understand our examples.

The second and much more general problem that this book addresses is pedagogical. All students majoring in criminal justice and criminology are required to take a course in criminological theory, but as any instructor can attest, about four weeks after the course has ended, if you ask a former student something about, say, strain theory, you get an anxious look and a bit of head-scratching. Even top-notch graduate students, when asked after a lapse of several months to relate a new idea to social disorganization theory or differential association theory, will respond uncomfortably, “Which one was that again?” We concluded that students have few ways to connect the criminological theories they study with actual criminal behavior; they simply cannot visualize the theories in action. Another aspect of this problem, unfortunately, is the deadly dullness of most criminology textbooks—huge costly tomes that mainly inspire a hope for the course’s speedy conclusion.

When we asked students if keying each theory to a specific movie would help, they responded with something close to joy. Narratives that exemplify the theories, they told us, would help them remember theoretical abstrac-

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