Monday, September 20, 2010

'Making Scary Kids' & 'Stupid Policy Tricks' in "The Culture of Fear"

In pages sixty-eight to seventy-four of The Culture of Fear, Glassner sheds light on how the media has altered society’s perspective on childhood violence. Highly covered media stories in the 1980’s and 90’s become markers in American history that suggest the beginning of these so-called epidemics. Thus linking ideas that rising and gruesome violence committed by preteens and teenagers has led to a new age of degeneracy and lawlessness. After these markers, the public becomes oversaturated with a redundant amount violence that is happening everywhere (even in the suburbs)! When one looks at 1950 advertisements and solicitations of the suburban lifestyle with the cliché “white-picket fence,” there is an absence of crime. It appears to be a safe-haven from booming, industrial cities where one can safely raise a family of two and a dog. There is still evidence of this suburban dream as reporters summarize the recent event. Glassner quotes the New York Times description of the area as, “a quiet neighborhood of neatly tended bungalows” (1999:69). Another paraphrased description states, “journalists stress that violent kids live not just in the South Bronx or South Central L.A. but in safe-seeming suburbs and small towns” (1999:68). From the perspective of an American who has freedoms and rights, one will most likely feel that his or her life and property is in immediate or possible danger. However, as Glassner states, if one closely analyzes the way the media tells (or chooses to tell) these stories, that particular American would realize there fears are dramatically exaggerated.

The constant and vivid retelling of teenagers and their crimes, the dedication of reporting on the anniversary of these crimes, and the so-called evidence that shows increases in violence are all methods of deception. Glassner notes two elements of journalism that are always present when referring to crimes and children. This being, “vivid depictions of the young criminals and their crimes, and numbers showing dramatic increases on some dimension or other” (1999:70). This can be seen in photographs, surveillance tapes, 911 dispatches, courtroom sketches, screenshots of MySpace pages, photocopied letters, and an entire slew of material that will intensify the audience’s experience and the magnitude of the crime. This bombardment of images and sounds, one might argue, is sensationalistic nonetheless, but still tells the story in a truthful manner (depending on the story). It becomes largely problematic when deceiving percentages of increases of crime are attached to sensationalist stories. Thus, leading to excessive fear mongering and an inaccurate response by local authorities, parents, teachers, and children themselves. Glassner identifies this as society’s unacknowledged guilt and inability to face the reality of societal and individual problems. For example, instead of funding programs and creating pathways for educating youth in Baltimore, officials have plans to build a $100 million (roughly) juvenile center for the city’s deviants. Not only does this overlook deeper problems, it doesn’t take into account that prison (or any anti-rehabilitative model) fosters crime rather than purging it. Additionally, going back to the actions of the media, it is important to look at what the media does not cover. At the time that correspondents were reporting on the anniversary of the teens who were shot while trick-or-treating, the city had a successful outdoor carnival without violence and violence in Pasadena had dropped 20 percent. However, that won’t get the New York Times higher ratings...

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