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Media Influence on Crime

Updated on May 22, 2013
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Criminology in the Mainstream Media

The media is all around us. From billboards and signs to commercials and catchy slogans, advertising and influential people alike get their messages across on a daily basis. It is very easy to see how this could affect the way we perceive crime or offenders themselves. The media is very capable of painting pictures, and they are not always the most relative to reality. A talk show attempting to pin down the mentality of an individual standing trial can easily skew the facts, and sway an entire viewing audience. Popularity of the personality speaking about the topic and the so-called ‘dirty laundry’ in the details are always a recipe for disastrous misinterpretation.

The case of Jodi Arias was a long running media circus. She was just recently found guilty and is up for sentencing under life or death. The sheer amount of testimony and grisly, violent photos included in evidence made this case a very graphic and emotional one. Many people found themselves glued to their televisions, enraptured at the often uncaring expression of a woman who had allegedly so brutally murdered her boyfriend. There were even lottery seats available to the lucky few able to gain entrance to the courtroom in which she sat. There were rumors of her stalking him after he had begun to date other women, rumors that she had been abused and eventually snapped because of his treatment of her, and even rumors of a romantic fling with a previous lover very shortly after she committed the murder. After a while, it became difficult to tell what was fact and what may have been popular fabricated opinion. The purpose of the story was like every other criminal case made public. It was to inform the general, curious population and perhaps family or friends about any progress or details surrounding the case. It simply became incredibly popular, giving it more of the feel of a drama series rather than a serious trial. The majority of the case was focused on Jodi Arias’s psychological status through the murder and during the long running trial.

The defense argued that she killed in self-defense, having been the victim of forced sex and beatings at the hands of her boyfriend for quite some time. The prosecution rested heavily on her mindset, claiming that stabbing someone 27 times, slitting his throat while he still attempted to breathe, then shooting him in the head and hiding the body in the shower is not the way someone defending themselves would commit the crime. The articles and the followers of the case were abuzz with Jodi’s apparent lack of empathy for the man as she sat in court, only weeping occasionally and never truly breaking down. Quite a bit of this case was focused on the prosecution and the defense, the overall sense of the case being very legal. There was no real negative perception of criminal justice, except for those who believed the prosecution portrayed Jodi as a monster when she was nothing but an abused victim. In general, the system was allowed to speak its mind on the case, and the general audience listened intently.

The most memorable portion of this case was the prosecution’s testimony and the grisly photos presented as evidence in the courtroom. The jury was driven to tears and visibly shaken by what they had to witness and how the prosecution made its case during closing arguments. Evidently, it took Jodi’s boyfriend two minutes to die from the plethora of stab wounds she had inflicted on him, including the wound to the throat. The prosecution asked the entire courtroom to sit silently for another two minutes, feeling how long it truly takes for that time to pass. This was certainly difficult to see, and in such circumstances two minutes can seem like an eternity. The point was driven home, and Jodi was convicted of murder.

The largest underlying aspect present surrounding Jodi was the one not everyone spoke of. She had one factor that stuck out about her that could possibly surpass other female murderers historically. Jodi demonstrated a very prominent level of psychosexual dynamism, having a rather storied past and the ability to keep a cool mentality with a sensual overtone. This was the mind game she attempted to play, it seemed, throughout the duration of her trial. She was a poignant woman, victimized at the hands of a monster. At the same time, she was promiscuous and has experimented in sex many times with her late boyfriend and with others. There was also talk of dissociative personality disorder, compulsive lying, and drastic mood swings. Her appearance was an outward reflection of her sexuality. She changed midway through the trial from a blonde, wilder appearance to a brunette librarian visage. Many believe this was a part of her attempted image, working to garner trust from the jury and sympathy through an innocent perception. From a theoretical standpoint, the Choice Theory may make sense in this circumstance. Because of the time that elapsed during and before the murder had taken place, including his activity with other women and supposed stalking, and during the killing itself, it seems Jodi made the conscious choice rather than being pushed over the edge. It also seems that, judging by her personality and assuming the stalking and paranoia of other women in her boyfriend’s life were true, she committed the murder out of predetermined benefit to herself. The Trait Theory, although rather broad, could also help to explain the way she acted. If her psychological profile and previous history of mental illness is true, her personality disorder or virulent mood swings could easily have contributed to her behavior.

Another recent criminal case revisited the at-home medical malpractice fears of many friends and family of terminally ill individuals. A doctor by the name of Christine Daniel claimed she had found a cure for cancer, and its efficiency was at a rate of 60 to 80 percent. She came in contact with a desperate family seeking an answer for their 3 year old daughter, Brianica Kirsch. The little girl had been diagnosed with brain cancer, and despite chemotherapy and a number of surgeries, no progress was made. Dr. Daniel brought them in with new hope, praising her herbal supplement could very well be the answer to their prayers. Brianica’s parents, fueled by newfound promise, paid thousands of dollars to Christine, hoping against hope that the remedy would work where all else had failed. Most of the girl’s final months of life were spent being driven to the good doctor’s office in the San Fernando Valley. In the summer of 2002, Brianica died. Overall, Dr. Daniel netted around 1.1 million dollars from dozens of hopeful and desperate families from 2001 to 2004. After her trial process, she was convicted and awaits sentencing for crimes considered heinous and unsympathetic. She also claimed that the herbal mix could easily cure multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease, as well as cancer. The prosecution argued she prayed on emotional individuals in their most vulnerable state and gave them enough false hope for them to pay her egregious amounts of money to positive end. Clearly, someone must have no concern for the ailing to be able to ask the family of a dying loved one to pay her for a remedy that had no chance of healing. According to reports, Dr. Daniel ‘repeatedly demonstrated a merciless and callous indifference to the suffering of her patients and their family members’. The overall purpose of the story, at least from a general media standpoint, was to garner sympathy for the families and patients that were fooled into believing they may have a chance by Christine. The articles are quick to point out the heightened levels of pain and suffering endured by patients who had foregone traditional treatment for her herbal remedy. Not long after, they passed away or their condition severely worsened. It also seems like there was an underlying warning with the articles in relation to this case, pointing out that those who claim at-home herbal remedies should not be trusted in lieu of a true medical professional. It also made prominent that she was an Evangelical Christian, and preying on those of similar faith may have been a part of her motive.

The criminal justice system was portrayed as simply shocked, some even claiming that they would not see someone as callous as Dr. Christine Daniel anytime soon. Statements from the family members of those who passed away while on her herbal treatment expressed their guilt in believing the woman who had scammed them into losing a loved one. It could be said that most of us, when attempting to even think of taking money in return for a useless treatment that could only lead to death, it only leaves us with a nauseating sense of anger and sadness. Many of us have lost family or friends to cancer or another terminal illness, and to place oneself in this scenario from either perspective is very painful. To hand someone a useless so-called medicine and promise them recovery for around $60,000 over a four month period is unthinkable. Christine Daniel was even able to sleep at night. This entire lack of remorse and work towards personal gain seems almost sociopathic. The Cognitive Theory of criminology has a lot to do with how one perceives the world around them. Perhaps this could have had a hand in the way Dr. Daniel perceived her patients and the desperate friends and family who brought them to her. Rather than feeling empathy and simply referring them to medical professionals, she instead saw them as business and financial opportunities. She considered them customers, and she treated them like a salesman selling a low-quality piece of technology for the commission. Strain Theory may also have contributed, although this sits as somewhat of a broad interpretation. This theory claims that behavior is a direct result of the conflict of a personal goal and the method used to get there. We could assume that her only goal was to become financially stable. However, instead of working in a general career or raising money the usual way, she resorted to a consumer scam that cost many their lives.

In conclusion, criminology is a large part of the justice process, and the media only works to exacerbate public perception of the concept. Jodi Arias was a lengthy and complicated case, with a history of sexual promiscuity and a seemingly heightened desire to persuade. The grisly images of her victim will forever be imprinted on her jurors’ minds, as will the prosecution’s closing arguments on the general public. Because of certain aspects of the media perception, there are even some who consider her an innocent victim of domestic violence portrayed unfairly by the courts. The case of Dr. Daniel involves an act most of us could never dream of. Scamming money out of terminally ill people and their desperate families and friends is not something that can be accomplished by someone with a vulnerable heart. The media was quick to paint her as a monster, and judging by the online comments, the public wasted no time in following suit. Such is the power of media influence.

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