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How the Image of Criminal Justice Figure (Police Officer) Has Changed Over Time in Popular Culture

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Criminal justice themes appear in various popular culture media—chiefly comics, TV, and movies. It sets up a preliminary scheme for classification of motifs, points to areas that are crucial for research, and makes some general observations about the significance of some of the trends observed for criminological researchers of differing viewpoints.

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Both harmful and helpful to Police Culture Officers, stress plays an important role in the effectiveness of a police officer both on and off duty. Police officers face several types of stress while on the job. The most common stressors come from internal and external factors. Eustress is a common type of stress that is normal and good, even considering the nature of the job of police officers. Distress is behavior outside of the normal range and is harmful to police over a long period of time. Within the department, internal stress factors include officers facing long hours, constant shift changes, issues of pay, lack of promotions, and excessive paperwork. Some external stressors include overly critical media coverage of police activities and investigations, lack of community support, overly lenient courts, and an ineffective criminal justice system. When it comes to race within law enforcement, male police officers still question whether women can handle the dangerous situations and physical confrontations that officers may be confronted with, while it is shown that most police women have easily met the expectations of their superiors. Indeed, studies have found that, in general, male and female officers perform in similar ways.

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Popular beliefs, audience desires, technology, and the diversification of the filmmaking industry all have the potential to shape the content of movies, including those about prisons. While the core elements of the quintessential prison film remain untouched, modern films about life behind bars have distinct qualities. One thing that has not changed is that Hollywood remains the main producer of these films. The British prison film tradition began in the 1940s and has developed over the decades with films such as Scum (Parsons, Boyd, Matheson & Clarke, 1979), McVicar (Daltrey & Clegg, 1980), and Greenfingers (Styler, Swords & Hershman, 2000). Yet, as noted by Wilson and O’Sullivan (2004), “the British prison film does not enjoy that high a profile” (p. 24). Other countries, including Brazil, Germany, and Spain, have also released movies about prison; however, none of these countries have established a large catalog of films in this genre. The literature on prison films is a reflection of these differences in production. Most of the research continues to focus on American and British movies.

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As has been noted, films as a cultural medium both reflect dominant attitudes in society and also play a pivotal role in the shaping of our perceptions and ideas. Within popular culture, crime has long been a popular theme, particularly for contemporary film-makers. While a substantial and growing body of research exists on the portrayal of crimes and criminals in the literature, few efforts have been made to conduct a systematic analytical study of the construction of justice in film.

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Cavender, G. & Fishman, M. (1998). Televised reality crime programs: Context and history. In G. Cavender & M. Fishman (Eds.), Entertaining crime (pp. 3–15). New York: Aldine de Gruyter.

Cecil, D. K. (2007a). Doing time in “Camp Cupcake”: Lessons learned from newspaper accounts of Martha Stewart’s incarceration. Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture, 14(2), 142–160.

Jarvis, B. (2006). The violence of images: Inside the prison TV drama Oz. In P. Mason (Ed.), Captured by the media: Prison discourse in popular culture (pp. 154–171). Cullompton, U.K.: Willan Publishing.

Daltrey, R. (Producer), & Clegg, T. (Director). (1980). McVicar [Motion picture]. United Kingdom: Polytel.

Drachkovitch, R. (Producer). (2005). Lockup [Television series]. Studio City, CA: 44 Blue Productions.

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How the Image of Criminal Justice Figure (Police Officer) Has Changed Over Time in Popular Culture
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