Emotions and Crime Media Narratives: Shifting Focus to Victims
Criminological Unit National Research Institute of Legal Policy Helsinki, Finland
In this paper I discuss one of the most significant changes that have occurred in crime reporting during the last decades: the shift from portraying crimes and perpetrators to portraying crime victims and their experiences. This emotional transition has moved crime victims from having a merely functional role in crime narratives to being in a more and more focal position, their suffering increasingly constituting the subject position of the story. The crime victim is no longer portrayed as an unfortunate citizen but instead as a character that represents everyone and whose experiences are expected to be general and collective instead of individual and atypical.
Contemporary media narratives not only invite, but seem to actively encourage consumers to identify and empathise with victims of crime. This is done by making the viewers see what the victims are seeing and feel what the victims are feeling. The audience is also seduced to become emotionally involved with the narrative and to join in the punishment of the offender, who is portrayed as evil and beyond redemption. Nevertheless, crime media can also serve other kinds of needs and even be pleasurably consumed. It can for example offer excitement, feeling of danger or enable cathartic experiences.
The emotional shift in news production that has occurred in several Western societies during recent decades is apparent also in Finland. For example, homicide reporting has become more sentimental and it appeals more and more to the subjective experiences of lay people. Moreover, the consequences of a homicide, such as grief and shock are stressed to a much larger extent than before. There appears to be a growing interest in emotion in the news media as more and more space is devoted to the representations of mourning in the coverage of major disasters or extraordinary deaths. These developments have taken place simultaneously with the growing amount of crime related material in Finnish media. It appears that the rise of the mediated victim image in crime reporting is heavily connected to the general "emotionalization" of news media witnessed in several countries.