American popular culture dominates international markets. Among its most enduringly successful products are police dramas and movies. Many of these contain frequent and overwhelmingly positive depictions of police violence – a popular example and one of the most beloved at this time of year is Die Hard.
These works, of course, are fiction. But popular fictional depictions of policing can have real-world consequences for police and communities.
Our new book chapter, published in November, argues that continued exposure to frequently repeated media metaphors and narratives can affect the public’s perception and expectations of policing.
In many parts of the world, policing is increasingly militarized. Even in Great Britain and New Zealand, two of the few jurisdictions where police do not routinely carry firearms, the appetite for gun policing has grown. This change is justified by the police to ensure security.
However, there is no clear empirical evidence that routinely armed police are less likely to be killed or injured in the line of duty, or that communities whose police routinely carry firearms are safer.
Rather: our research shows that a more armed and aggressive policing style is associated with lower levels of security.
Weapon product placement
Most of us are familiar with product placement, the use of identifiable products and brands in the media. Where items such as sunglasses or suitcases are relatively harmless, the application is likely relatively harmless.
But there is a greater concern when products such as alcohol and tobacco are inherently riskier, such as products where their use could be harmful in the real world.
Depictions of smoking on screen became more and more restrained.
However, less attention has been paid to the sponsored use of well-known brand name firearms, especially in police procedural dramas and films of the United States. We call this “weapon product placement”.
Firearms company Glock features its guns prominently in many US TV series and movies, so much so that in 2010 a brand website awarded Glock a “lifetime achievement award for product placement.”
Product placement can have a significant and long-lasting impact on behavior, expectations, and popular perceptions. Before the restrictions introduced in the 1990s, smoking on television and in movies was often synonymous with glamor, refinement, and success. US police-based dramas and movies now portray firearms as essential to successful policing.
Police gun violence on screen is often respected
A study of US TV programming from 2000 to 2018 found that the rate of gun violence increased in popular TV series, both in absolute terms and as a proportion of the violence in those programs.
Depictions of police gun violence in US movies and TV series typically echo the US National Rifle Association’s age-old mantra: “The only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”
Viewers of TV series and movies focused on US police are subject to frequent and excessive gun violence by police officers. Most are presented as basic, positive, and heroic.
But such valuation risks eroding the public’s understanding of the crucial doctrine of policing with minimal force. This requires police officers to use the minimum amount of force necessary to contain a situation.
The glorification of police gun violence can create unrealistic and undesirable public expectations about how police do their job and how critical incidents should be resolved.
Police-focused movies and TV shows rarely contain realistic depictions of the consequences of a shooting, such as the screaming of the wounded. The potential for police to shoot the wrong person, or someone with a mental illness, or someone presumed guilty because of racial or other stereotyping is often given little consideration.
The human consequences of gun violence—pain, suffering, loss—often only recognized when one of the “good guys” is injured or killed. The overall effect is to dehumanize those portrayed as “bad guys” and present their deaths as if they mattered little.
More often than not, this dangerous perception arises in real-world policing.
Excessive force is commonplace in the United States, and roughly 1,000 people are killed by police officers each year, many of them needlessly and some illegally.
Breonna Taylor and George Floyd are recent high-profile examples.
Still, studies examining public perception of US police gun violence have found that respondents typically support the use of lethal force.
Do these media metaphors add to the belief that firearms are central to effective policing? And do they add to real-world police aggression?
There is no simple causal link between the fictional presentation of police gun violence and specific actions in the real world. Indeed, the effects of screen depictions of police gun violence are complex, nuanced, and multidimensional.
However, the relationships between media preparation and copycat behavior are well documented. That is, people may perceive what they watch (for example, how the police act in a TV show) as an indication of real life, and some may even portray what they see on the screen.
Imitation is an important learning tool. We derive such learning from many sources, including family and friends, as well as from broader social and cultural influences.
Our research suggests that the prominent use of firearms by police in US TV and movies, and the specific ways in which their use is depicted, may influence public perceptions and expectations of policing. For example, it may lead to the belief that it is appropriate for the police to arrive with their guns drawn and ready to fire in almost any scenario.
Despite the publicity surrounding high-profile illegal killings, one study found that participants who watched US crime shows (compared to those who didn’t watch such shows) were more likely to believe that power was used by police officers only when necessary.
The current and future police officers are also television and movie watchers. Our contention is that pervasive and positive portrayals of firearms-focused, aggressive yet heroic fictional policing have the capacity to influence the behavior of police officers.
Ultimately, real-world evidence confirms that policing with minimal force is safer and often more effective than the style of policing so colorfully portrayed in US police dramas and movies like Die Hard.
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This article has been republished under a Creative Commons license from The Conversation. Read the original article.
Quotation: Police gun violence is glorified on screen, but more armed and aggressive policing doesn’t actually make us safer (2022, 22 December) Retrieved 22 December 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-12-police-gun. -violence-glorified-screen.html
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