Queen's University

TV, films entertain but don't inform when it comes to crime

 
2010-05-26

KINGSTON, ON – Most people get their information about crime and criminal justice from television and movies according to Queen’s University sociology professor Vincent Sacco. Unfortunately Professor Sacco – an expert on societal attitudes towards crime – says these programs do a great job of entertaining and myth-building but don’t inform very well.

One myth Professor Sacco would like to bust is that despite the shootouts and fights people see on Cops or in a Hollywood blockbuster, being a police officer is a less dangerous job than people think. The profession isn’t listed in the top 10 lists of deadliest jobs in the country. That title usually goes to miners and deep-sea fishermen.

“Policing is mostly about public order – stopping speeders and directing traffic. So much of that work is vital to the smooth operation to society, it’s really important,” says Professor Sacco. “There are some officers who have never drawn their guns in their careers but I don’t know if people would watch a television drama about people directing traffic.”

Another myth is that most crime is violent. Murders get big headlines and are the focus of countless TV shows and movies. Professor Sacco says homicides account for only one tenth of one percent of crimes of violence, and fewer than one out of five crimes involve violence. Most crime involves theft or violations of public order, like gambling.

Viewers watch what they think is the behind-the-scenes work of cops and lawyers on shows like Law & Order and get a false sense they are crime experts.

“Even though they are not criminologists, they have a confidence in their second-hand knowledge they’ve picked up from TV and movies. So people look at the problem of crime thinking they are experts, unlike in the case of an oil spill or starvation in Africa where people will say ‘I don’t know much about that,’” says Professor Sacco. “It’s important to separate the entertainment from information.”

Professor Sacco will be discussing the myths about crime in Canadian society created by the media during a lecture this weekend at Queen’s University’s annual MiniU event.
 

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