This essay deals with two distinct topics. The first is whether so-called “reality television” in fact distorts reality, and if so whether the reality crime shows one sees on TV (both documentary-style and the fictional variety) are misleading in that what they portray is not a faithful reflection of the reality of actual crime statistics. In addition to perhaps misleading the viewing audience as a consequence of distorting reality, there is the possibility that such TV shows actually incite / encourage more crime, simply by being screened. The second topic is a definition and discussion of what are generally considered to be the defined components of a crime.
Pancieria (1991) reported in a Chicago Tribune article “Panelists Agree Tv Violence Distorts Reality” that a meeting of the Northeastern Association of Criminal Justice Sciences discussed the issue during a presentation on Violence and the Media. The panelists were unanimous that violence on TV is “a distortion of reality”. They also concluded that although there was some evidence of so-called “copycat” crimes occurring as a consequence, the numbers of such crimes were very small relative to the numbers of TV viewers. The panel’s chairman, Richard R.E. Kania, stated: “We need to move away from the simplistic idea that if we simply knock off the number of crime shows, crime will go away”. James Carlson – a political scientist and author – noted that whilst 36 percent of “TV crimes” involved murders, FBI statistics showed that the true figure was below one percent of all crimes. John Martin, a TV writer, reminded the meeting that the goal of the TV shows is entertainment, not reality.
Doyle (2003) in his book “Arresting Images: Crime and Policing in Front of the Television Camera” discusses the editorial decisions made while creating the TV show Cops. In Doyles’s view that process results in the creation of “an example of reality fiction” (p.35).
Blacker (2009) wrote a piece in the Independent newspaper, under the title: “Reality TV police shows are criminal”. He stated that the documentary type presents a misleading and one-sided view of reality which usually features “the good-hearted, sincere cop” who later re-appears “to assure us all that the streets are that little bit safer tonight”. Blacker ends the article with: “Here is a form of TV's dumbing down which requires some attention”.
Lilly (2009) wrote in the Pharos Tribune under the headline: “TV’s crime dramas affecting reality”. He referred to a study by Purdue University researchers that concluded that people who watch TV crime and forensic dramas tend to have a distorted view of the U.S. criminal justice system. On the positive side, viewers can be inspired to take up careers in law enforcement or forensic science, but conversely viewers overestimate the numbers of serious crimes and the numbers of police, attorneys, etc in the justice system.
Arising from the foregoing research, it is apparent that both the “reality” and the fictional TV crime shows exhibit the same faults of misleading TV viewers in respect of actual reality.
Components of a Crime
An article entitled “What Are the Elements of a Crime?” (n.d.) introduces the topic by stating that “The elements of a crime are a series of components which must be present in order for it to be demonstrated that someone is guilty of a crime”. These four elements are:
The article explains that the prosecution have to provide evidence that all four components are present.
Intent (sometimes called mens rea or guilty mind) means when someone intends to commit a criminal act and possesses the mental capacity to do so.
Conduct describes actions taken by a person in the perpetration of a crime.
Concurrence can sometimes be defined as meaning “at the same time” but really means a connection between intent and conduct.
Causation is when the intent and conduct lead to actual crime. For example, if a would-be assassin shoots at the target but misses, intent and conduct exist, but causation does not.
Blacker, Terence. (November 2009). Reality TV police shows are criminal. The Independent. Retrieved from http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/terence-blacker/terence-blacker-reality-tv-police-shows--are-criminal-1817749.html
Doyle, Aaron. (2003). Arresting Images: Crime and Policing in Front of the Television Camera. Toronto. University of Toronto Press. Print.
Lilly, Kevin. (November 2009). TV’s crime dramas affecting reality. Pharos Tribune. Retrieved from http://pharostribune.com/local/x546238808/TV-s-crime-dramas-affecting-reality
Panciera, Andrea. (June 1991). Panelists Agree Tv Violence Distorts Reality. Chicago Tribune. Retrieved from http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1991-06-07/features/9102200851_1_tv-violence-tv-world-crime
What Are the Elements of a Crime? (n.d.). wiseGEEK. Retrieved from http://www.wisegeek.com/what-are-the-elements-of-a-crime.htm