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Do films and TV series glamourize crime?
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The reel world is mistaken for the real world, giving rise to copycat criminals

Curiosity killed the cat, or so they say. This saying is apt when describing copycat criminals who have been inspired by fictionalized narratives from films or TV series. In recent times, an increase in criminal incidents imitated from films and TV shows are seen all over the world.

The Argument

During the 1960s, psychologist Albert Bandura conducted an experiment among 3-6-year-olds to see if aggressive behavior could be learned by simply observing a violent individual. What came to be known as the famous Bobo Doll experiment[1] revealed that most children imitated the aggressive behavior that they observed. If children were able to get comfortable with violence so quickly, how much more of an impact could aggression have on adults, especially when surrounded by media 24/7? Human beings thrive on sensationalism given to them through films and TV series. Most are content with living vicariously through the characters on screen, but some take it a step further. Crime, when televised, ceases to remain illegal and dangerous, taking on a new role of becoming a story belonging to the genre of suspense and thrillers. From then on, its more of a search to see if the reality lives up to its fictionalized version. Copycat crimes inspired by films and series are more common than one would imagine, particularly in the 21st century, with easy access available to both. In 2011, a couple from Illinois attempted to rob a bank based on the 2010 Ben Affleck movie, “The Town”. While definitely not trivial, it was tame compared to the horrific mass shooting in Colorado, at a screening of “Dark Knight Rises”. The 24-year-old accused proclaimed that he was Joker, who intended to copy the murder of the television studio audience as seen in the widely acclaimed Batman comic series by Frank Miller.[2] Copycat crimes are not just restricted to America but are a worldwide phenomenon. In a small town in Belgium, truck driver Thierry Jaradin, inspired by the cult horror “Scream”, brutally murdered a 15-year-old schoolgirl, Alisson Cambier, in 2001. In India, inspired by the film “Darr”, a 24-year-old woman was stalked and kidnapped by a man who wanted to marry her.[3] It has been found that copycat crimes are committed because the individual wants to feel just as exhilarated and "alive" as the characters on the screen. While Oscar Wilde correctly said that “imitation is the purest form of flattery”, this is flattery in its most gruesome form.

Counter arguments

While the knowledge of a crime is necessary to imitate it, the motivation behind a copycat crime is also necessary to take in question. Contagion effect and copycat crime are often used interchangeably despite differences in their meaning. The former refers to the effect similar to the Bobo Doll experiment, where the criminal actions of one individual rouse the need to act criminally within another. Copycat crimes on the other hand simply refer to crimes that are an imitation of the original. Different theorists state that while crime in different shows and films can be copied, it is unlikely that they can cause criminality within an individual. Anyone who copies a crime already has a criminally bent mind, and because of this, such media should not be accused. The violent content on a film or series does not have an explicit educational intent. Its purpose is primarily to entertain or as a plot device that moves forward the story. The director should not be held responsible for what people decide to do after watching their film.



[P1] Films and series present the life of crime as an acceptable career choice. [P2] Human beings learn by imitation, so imitating a crime from the media is completely possible.

Rejecting the premises

[Rejecting P1] Films and series are created mainly for entertainment and do not have an explicit educational intent. [Rejecting P2] Violent behavior is not caused by films, but by people who already have violent tendencies.

Further Reading

Copycat Crime by Ray Surette [4] The Psychology of Copycat Crime by Jeanette Ferrara [5] The Media Needs to Stop Inspiring Copycat Murders. Here's How. by Zeynep Tufekci [6] Do Violent Movies Cause Aggression? The Answer May Depend by Linda Carroll [7]


This page was last edited on Friday, 17 Jul 2020 at 20:55 UTC

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