The media can portray role models with glamorous lifestyles and exaggerate the reporting of events, according to the item in the AQA’s Crime and Deviance SCLY2/3 exam paper from November 2021 (1)
In these 10 mark ‘applying material from the item questions you need to use the two ways (in this case) as hooks and elaborate how these may contribute to an increase in crime, applying sociological concepts and theories.
According to the mark scheme you also get some marks for evaluation.
A key hint here is to remember that this is a Crime and Deviance paper, not a media paper, so don’t get too carried away with media concepts, although you should be credited for them, it’s always safer to use core crime and deviance material.
Another thing to be careful of is to include theories and concepts rather than relying on popular examples from the media. You can use examples, and you should do, but make sure you link them to theory.
The rest of this post considers how you might go about expanding on the two points mentioned in item A:
- The media portraying glamorous lifestyles
- The media exaggerating events.
How glamorous lifestyles in the media might contribute to an increase in crime
Examples of the media portraying glamorous lifestyles include cribs, many music videos and also lifestyle vloggers on YouTube, which tend to celebrate wealth, conspicuous consumption and people generally having a good time.
Such portrayals give the impression that being wealthy is the norm in a society, and, following Robert Merton’s strain theory this might increase the level of anomie, which can lead to different types of crime depending on how people respond.
Merton theorised that if people don’t have the opportunties to reach what they perceive to be the ordinary success goals in society some of them will turn to utilitarian crime to get what they think they should have, which means economic crimes such as burglary, robbery and theft.
This might explain the prevalence of crimes such as moped snatch-thefts in London recently, and also drug related crimes: those who can’t get jobs might believe the only way they can earn enough money to achieve ‘glamourous lifestyles’ is to deal drugs, maybe as part of a gang, which is something Venkatesh found in Gang Leader for a day.
The media, at least some aspects of it also glamorises gang, gun and drug culture: with many films showing crime as glamorous itself, which might encourage people into gangs and crime more generally.
Other people may look at glamorous western lifestyles in the media and react against it, seeing it as shallow and anti-religious and this might inspire anti-western sentiment and increase conflict in the form of fundamentalist terrorist attacks, this would be a rebellious response in Merton’s theory.
However most people don’t turn to crime because of media portrayals, they just give up on achieving and settle for ordinary jobs and average lifestyles or develop retreatist subcultures, which aren’t necessarily criminal, so it isn’t as simple as the media causing criminal behaviour, people aren’t that passive.
Finally, the portrayal of glamorous lifestyles might themselves be criminal – such as with people on social media boasting about their sports cars and wealth in order to encourage people into investing into get rich quick schemes, such as dodgy crypto DEFI schemes, whereas in reality these are just rug pull scams.
How media exaggeration might contribute to an increase in crime
You could apply moral panic theory here: when the media exaggerate the deviance of youth subcultures , according to Stan Cohen, this attracts more violent people to the subculture so the subculture becomes more violent in reality.
The problem with this is that it relies on the passive audience theory, but audiences are more active today.
There are theories which suggest violence in the media can cause people to be violent, such as Bandura’s Copy Cat theory, but there are many flaws with his original experiment which tried to prove a direct link between media violence and real life violence, and little evidence that there is a link.
Violence in the media may, however, desensitise people to violence in real life and make them less likely to react when they see violent acts.
Similarly with increasing fear causes by the exaggeration of violence. Ordinary people are less likely to go out in public meaning there are less people around to informally police the streets if crime is happening.
The news often exaggerates the extent of violent street crime compared to property crime, and working class street crime compared to middle class white collar crime, and both of these might cause an increase in particular types of crime.
One thing the media exaggerates is the extent of stranger sexual assault and child abduction by strangers, which keeps domestic abuse cases hidden, and may make it easier for partners and friends to keep on abusing because no-one is looking out for these criminals, who are the usual perpetrators.
Similarly with focusing on violent street crime: the lack of focus in the media agenda on high level fraud allows governments and corporations to carry on their criminal operations as usual, according to a Marxist perspective.
Signposting and sources
The main material to draw on to answer the above questions comes from the Crime and Deviance module.
For more examples of how to answer all sorts of A-level sociology exam questions please see my exams page.
The question above can be found in the the AQA’s November 2021 A-level sociology crime and deviance paper, SCLY2/3.