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True lies: changing images of crime in British postwar cinema

Allen, Jessica, Livingstone, Sonia ORCID: 0000-0002-3248-9862 and Reiner, Robert (1998) True lies: changing images of crime in British postwar cinema. European Journal of Communication, 13 (1). pp. 53-75. ISSN 0267-3231

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Identification Number: 10.1177/0267323198013001003


Academic and public attention has long focused on media images of crime. Crime media create and reproduce cultural narratives about social and moral order, and the putative links between such images and their effects on society have been much debated. While acknowledging the complexity of the relationship between media representations and social influence, this article argues that the assumptions concerning actual trends in crime media which underlie and inform these debates have received little empirical investigation. Particularly neglected has been research on the cinema, and little research has adopted the historical perspective necessary to make claims regarding long-term trends. As part of a larger project, we report a quantitative and qualitative content analysis of popular crime films in Britain released between 1945 and 1991. Despite common beliefs, we find no overall increase in the number of crime films. However, the nature of representations of crime and social order shows a variety of significant shifts over this time. In brief, the nature of crime changes, the violence and threat of crime increases, as does the portrayed suffering of victims. To combat this, police officers increasingly assume the hero role and they increasingly use vigilante, even corrupt, tactics to achieve their goals, although their chances of bringing criminals to justice actually decrease. Such findings lead us to propose a three-stage periodization for crime films.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 1998 Sage
Divisions: Law
Media and Communications
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
N Fine Arts > N Visual arts (General) For photography, see TR
Date Deposited: 04 Mar 2013 13:15
Last Modified: 01 Jun 2024 03:28

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