Most members of the public lack first-hand experience with the criminal justice system; nevertheless, they believe that they possess phenomenological knowledge about it. In large part, the public’s understandings of crime and punishment are derived from television and film, which provide modern audiences with a vision of institutions that are normally occluded from view. While public rituals of punishment used to take place on the scaffold, equivalent moral narratives about crime and punishment now occur on film because modern punishment is imposed outside of the public gaze. Yet because crime films distort what they depict, the public’s view of crime and punishment may not correspond to social realities. Thus, instead of building social solidarity as Adam Smith, Émile Durkheim, and Kai Erikson suggest, mass media may actually increase the public’s fear of crime, increase rates of offending, and fuel a cycle of punishment-as-entertainment and penal populism
J C. Oleson,
Rituals Upon Celluloid: The Need For Crime and Punishment in Contemporary Film,
63 Clev. St. L. Rev.
available at http://engagedscholarship.csuohio.edu/clevstlrev/vol63/iss3/6