News programs such as CNN or the local news can be used to keep the public informed. Without shows like this many people would not know what was going on not only locally but worldwide as well. Even though these shows are not directly crime television, these shows do report crimes. To not report this would be like trying to shield people form what is already going on around them.
News programs are not the only way crime comes into people’s lives. Misdemeanors have been making their way into our lives through various programs on television everyday. On the plus side entertainment can be an advantage of crime television. Any of the three CSI shows have “over 70 million” viewers on any given week (Shelton 2008). If these types of shows disappeared completely there would be millions of unhappy viewers. Taking away these programs altogether is not going to solve anything. Taking crime out of the public eye does not mean that crime goes away. The “CSI effect” is still enough of a concern that it should be taken into consideration a little more.
Even though not every viewer is a potential criminal, the risk of copycat crimes does exist. Researchers have been studying if the “CSI effect” really does exist. The “CSI effect” is simply the phenomena of the popular CSI shows, or shows like it, impacting crime. An example of the risk of copycat crimes is mode copiers who already intend to commit a crime and who receive a method from a media event or show (Shelton 2008). This could be a person, who is potentially going to steal a car, using techniques that they saw in a police drama to break into the car.
Reality and fiction are being blurred these days. The average American spends about 170 minutes a day watching television or movies (Yang 2004). Copycat crimes do exist. With more people in America spending unnecessary amounts of time watching television, the risk of a copycat crime is even greater. Excessive sex and violence on the television can lead to similar behavior in real life. People become inspired by the portrayal of criminal activity. As one study shows, “violent content [on television] increased others’ aggressive tendencies”(Hoffner 1999). The Tylenol tampering incidents of 1982 and the assassination attempt depicted in the 1976 film Taxi Driver are two actual copycat crime examples.
In the Tylenol tampering incident of 1982 someone murdered seven people in the Chicago area by putting cyanide in Tylenol capsules. The Food and Drug Administration “counts 270 incidents of suspected product tampering that have been reported around the country in the month since those Chicago-area deaths (Church1982).” Warnings about the tampering were spread throughout the nation. The story gained a tremendous amount of covering following the event. A couple years later Excedrin was tampered with. Tampering with the product Encaprin, a pain reliever similar to Tylenol, forced the product to stop being sold (AP 1986). The Tylenol tampering incident sparked other crimes involving a variety of medicine and food; some of the crimes occurred within just a month after the incident.
A movie released in 1993 called “The Program” had a scene where the college football star shows how tough he is by lying in the middle of a busy highway while cars rushed by him in the dark. Multiple teenagers have repeated this stunt. On the same Saturday night three guys from different places laid down right in the middle of busy highways. One of the boys was killed instantly during the reenactment. Witnesses confessed that everyone there that night had seen the movie in the past week. Witnesses also admitted that the act was a direct imitation of the scene (Hinds 1993). Another incident of a copycat crime occurred when an episode of Beavis and Butt-Head was “suggesting to kids that they burn down their homes…[the episode] led to a child trying to do just that” (Learning 2005). Many television viewers are imitating what they watch.
Although crime and the court system make for great entertainment, there can be a down side to entertainment besides copycat crimes. These shows have brought viewers’ expectations even higher in an actual court because of all the new science and technology that is used in these entertainment shows. Jurors are treating forensic evidence like gold meaning that this life or death evidence is highly regarded as truth. However forensic evidence wrongfully accused Cynthia Sommer of killing her husband when he died in 2002. Doctors originally believed there was no evidence of arsenic; however, tests had shown an abnormal amount of poison in the husband’s liver. In a second trial, DNA tests found no trace of arsenic, so Sommer was released after being sentenced to life (Jimenez 2008). The tissue sample had somehow been contaminated in the lab. Even though the expert had reported that the arsenic levels were “very puzzling,” no one had any reason to doubt the expert or the evidence (CBS 2008). Many jurors think that forensic evidence is foolproof. Jurors even expect this kind of evidence to convict someone.
Even if crime television does not provide the motivation for crime in real life it greatly influences the techniques used by criminals. Most copycat crimes are by repeat offenders rather a first-time offender. At least a third of prisoners who are released will end up back in jail within three years. Also there are over 2 million prisoners currently (Henslin 2007). Even if you only take these people into consideration it is a substantial enough number of people that can be influenced by television to commit copycat crimes.
Extensive research has been done on copycat crimes. One researcher argued that copycat crimes are “common enough to influence the total crime picture” (Learning 2005). The current relationship between copycat crime and media coverage is still not completely understood.
The risk of copycat crimes is not the only relationship between television and crime. Some crimes are used to make for great television. Occasionally major news stories get slightly altered so that a program like CSI can use it for a show. Additionally some crimes are committed so that a person can get on television. One can only wonder if one of the many factors playing into the shooting at Virginia Tech was that the shooter wanted to be on television. This is shown by the fact that two hours after the first shooting a package of a video recording and writings were mailed to NBC News. Nevertheless even the Virginia Tech shooting has inspired copycat crimes. There have also been links to the Virginia Tech shooter and the columbine shooters.
If all types of crime television shows disappeared completely there would be millions of unhappy viewers. The problem is not going to be solved by taking away these programs altogether. It would almost be insulting to shield people from is already going on around them. Nevertheless television should be censored to some degree. There has already been several hearing in the U.S. Congress about the issue of controls on the depictions of crime and violence. These hearings will continue as long as people decide that the media should be censored to some degree. One question remains: if a child watches thousands of violent acts and crime in cartoons and other programs will the child have any long-term impact as they grow up?
Ap. "Two Chain Stores Halt Sales of Encaprin After a Threat." The New York Times 29 Mar. 1986. 23 Apr. 2008
Church, George J. "Copycats are on the Prowl." Time 08 Nov. 1982. 20 Apr. 2008
Hendershot, Heather. Saturday Morning Censors: Television Regulation Before the V- Chip. Duke UP, 1998.
Henslin, J. M Essentials of Sociology: A down-to-earth approach. 7th ed. Boston: Allyn & Bacon, 2007.
Hinds, Michael D. "Not Like the Movie: a Dare Leads to Death." The New York Times 19 Oct. 1993. 20 Apr. 2008
Hoffner, Cynthia. "Support for Censorship of Television Violence." SAGE Journals Online (1999). 15 Apr. 2008
Jimenez, Jose L. "Charges Against Widow Dropped in Marine's Death." The San Diego Union Tribune 17 Apr. 2008. 22 Apr. 2008
"Learning." 22 Nov. 2005. FSU. 7 Apr. 2008
Shelton, Donald E. United States. The Research, Development and Evaluation Agency.
Department of Justice. The 'CSI Effect': Does It Really Exist? 17 Mar. 2008. 8 Apr. 2008
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Yang, Sarah. "Americans Spend More Energy and Time Watching TV Than on Exercise, Finds New Study." UC Berkley News 10 Mar. 2004. 15 Apr. 2008