Criminology Goes to the Movies
Crime Theory and Popular Culture
Publication Year: 2011
Published by: NYU Press
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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...
Note on Use of Dates
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1. Introduction: Taking Criminology to the Movies
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What is the relationship between criminology and crime films? What kinds of intellectual enterprises occur at the intersection of criminological theory and cinema? What sorts of encounters might occur were criminology to go to the movies? These questions lie at the heart of this volume...
2. “For Money and a Woman”: Rational Choice Theories and Double Indemnity
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Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity (1944) begins with the film’s protagonist, Walter Neff, mortally wounded and confessing to murder. “Yes, I killed him,” declares Neff. “I killed him for money and a woman. And I didn’t get the money and I didn’t get the woman. Pretty, isn’t it?” Here the conventions of film noir, Hollywood’s most...
3. “He’s Alive!”: Biological Theories and Frankenstein
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The very first efforts to explain crime scientifically—those made in the 1870s by the Italian psychiatrist Cesare Lombroso—held that the causes of crime lie inside criminals themselves: in the inherited, primitive quality of their bodies and brains. Lombroso’s theory of criminal anthropology caught the imagination of...
4. “Blood, Mother, Blood!”: Psychological Theories and Psycho
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The umbrella term psychological theories of crime covers explanations drawn from three “psy-sciences”: psychology, psychoanalysis, and psychiatry. The three types of theory resemble one another in nomenclature and in subject matter, since all deal with mental phenomena and the causes of human behavior. Otherwise...
5. “You Talking to Me?”: Social Disorganization Theories and Taxi Driver
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Explorations of the city lie at the heart of the theories, research questions, methods, and findings of the Chicago school, the community of scholars who, at the University of Chicago in the first half of the twentieth century, introduced social disorganization theories of crime. At a time when American cities were experiencing...
6. “You’re Giving Me a Nervous Breakdown”: Strain Theories and Traffic
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This chapter deals with strain theories—explanations arguing that individuals turn to crime when they cannot cope with the strains and stresses of life through legitimate means. We begin with Traffic (2000), Steven Soderbergh’s celebrated film about the effects of drugs trafficking. Then we turn to strain theories, showing...
7. Getting the Drift: Social Learning Theories and Mystic River
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Social learning theorists argue that crime is the result of the same learning processes that are involved in all types of behavior. In their view, criminal values are learned mainly through associations with others, especially those who belong to deviant subcultures, groups that transmit criminal values across generations...
8. “Pornography in Foot-High Stacks”: Labeling Theory and Capturing the Friedmans
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One of criminology’s theoretical assumptions is the idea that the causes of crime precede criminal justice interventions. Labeling theory counters this perspective, arguing instead that social responses to deviance, including defining individuals as “criminals” or “labeling” them, may worsen criminality...
9. Fight the Power: Conflict Theories and Do the Right Thing
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Criminologists have long confronted the fact that those who get caught up in the criminal justice system are disproportionately drawn from the lower social classes. Some have examined biological, psychological, and social factors that may help explain this disparity, while others—conflict theorists—go further, questioning...
10. “Let Her Go”: Feminist Criminology and Thelma & Louise
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The open road. Blue skies. The great American West. Traditionally these have been settings for cowboy movies about men’s adventures, masculinity, and male bonding. So how do two women wind up in this landscape, on the lam with state and federal law enforcement in close pursuit, speeding through conventionally...
11. A Matter of Time: Life-Course Theories and City of God
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What would happen if criminologists took time more seriously? How might the field change if, instead of simply studying incidents of criminal behavior and types of crime, researchers examined offenders’ personal histories from birth through old age, studying the impacts of crime on their entire lives? Would...
12. Conclusion: The Big Picture
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When criminology goes to the movies, we discover, first, that domains that often seem to belong to different universes—academic discourses on crime, on the one hand, and popular culture, on the other—actually overlap. These overlaps are the topic of popular (or cultural) criminology, a relatively new discourse in the criminological world...
Appendix of Films
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About the Authors
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Nicole Rafter is Professor and Senior Research Fellow in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Northeastern University and the author of many books, including The Criminal Brain: Understanding Biological Theories of Crime (NYU Press, 2008) and Origins of Criminology: Readings from the 19th-Century...
Page Count: 256
Publication Year: 2011