High speed car chases are one of the most highlighted broadcasts in television today. Using aerial shots to give viewers a better preview of the scene, the media even interrupts regular programs to bring special reports of these fast-moving headlines. The media launches multiple fleets of helicopters (which main purpose for existence is to watch and update traffic conditions in real-time) to follow these car chases until they end either losing the perpetrator or catching them; sometimes without casualties, and sometimes with multiple damages added to the casualties of innocent bystanders.
Throughout modern history, television entertainment and racing has been closely related spawning many different events to the fore such as F-1 and NASCAR racing. Many would owe their popularity to the adrenalin rush these high-performance vehicles incite in their viewers, and likely, this reason also trickles down to high speed car chases, which are growing more prominent over the recent years.
More to this, the growing debate on whether the police are to blame for the chases they give to problematic drivers incites more people to add to the fray, as well the intrigue surrounding the matter of why the driver didn’t pull over in the first place. This and many other factors have made car chases a media staple – something that viewers will look forward to watching (Settgast 2008).
With death tolls, injuries and intrigue surrounding these special broadcasts, editorials appear criticizing the police for actually giving chase and not letting these vigilantes go on their way. But even bombarded with criticisms, the police don’t give up the chase and continue with the pursuit of these reckless drivers (Sowell 2007). There are many reasons as to why police officers give chase to reckless drivers.
As a matter of fact, courts have continuously investigated on whether the chases are necessary and the use of force by the police to stop them are justified such as the case of “Scott v. Harris” where a police rammed the car of a 19-year old, rendering him quadriplegic (Settgast 2008). This, and other cases has set the media hogging up more airtime for police chases because of several reasons; one of which is because police car chases, by themselves, already have the star factor to attract viewers.
The media exposition of the high speed car chases, from the thrill of the chase to the dramatic (or non-dramatic) ending, have always had viewers finding themselves hooked on the screen once it turns on. The interpretative model is one of the models that explain viewer behavior on media. As Giddens describes, the model views that the “audience has a powerful role…The interpretative model views audience response as shaping the media though its engagement or rejection of its output” (2000).
This means that the media is actually beholden to their viewers if only because of the competition they have with other television media companies, and their desire to increase their rating. With more viewers attuned to them, the higher their ratings would become, therefore they would attract more sponsors and more sources of income. In this regard, the media’s duty is to please their viewers also because it is a necessity for them in order to survive.
Because of the wide acceptance by the public of high speed car chases as a from of entertainment, the media has jumped at the chance to improve their ratings by showing these through “special live reports”. One of the most famous and iconic showcase of this is the car chase involving O. J. Simpson in 1994 where “For two hours, 95 million Americans ignored the sixth game of the professional basketball finals in the East and the sunset in the West to stare at the tube as a white Ford Bronco drove sedately along one strand and then another of L. A. ‘s web of freeways” (Reuven 1994).
With this kind of attention the media gets from the public and the media’s response to getting more of this on television, it is evident that audiences now have the freedom to watch what they want (Chinni 2005) . We see that the public’s attention to high speed car chases actually seems like a glorification of the crime, especially as they are portrayed in movies and are used to be redeeming factors no matter how disastrous a movie turns out to be (Dean 1993).
Another side to the story is that high speed car chases sometimes involve violence and some people hope there would be some action if only for reasons of entertainment. Some even consider high speed car chases, themselves to be violence on its own as it capitalizes on aggressive behavior. There are multiple evidences that point to the fact that violence is a form of entertainment is multiple and that the media jump on the chance to be in the action increase their ratings. However, media influence on people is a part of the deal and cannot be ignored.
Exposure to almost anything the media imparts creates a permissive atmosphere for aggressive behavior which translates to action over time. Whether the effects are little or the effects are large (in the midst of the ongoing debate of the extent of media influence over its viewers), the bottom line is with the media’s emphasis on aggressive behavior (such as high speed car chases) it is important to note that there is a high likelihood of people imitating the high speed car chases themselves due to drug or alcoholic influences (Felson 1996).
In this case, not only do the people dictate what the media will showcase and highlight in their programs, but the media also influences how people perceive the world and influence their choices and preferences of shows and broadcasts. Also of considerable notice is the fact that people, devoid of the factors that control their inhibitions, are susceptible to be the perpetuators of high speed car chases themselves as can be read from the study.
Such factors that contribute to the removal of inhibitions include the influences of drugs, alcohol, and others. As such, the likelihood that people would be experiencing and trying out for themselves the “thrill” of high speed car chases is high.
We see that these two factors together (public influence on media and media influence on the public), creates a vicious cycle of the continuous glorification of aggressive behavior, such as high speed car chases. This glorification is, first of all, seen in how people are attracted like moths to a flame by the star factor of this broadcast/report. Owing to the high speed car chases’ innate ability to arouse emotions (such experiences can also be found in pro-sporting events such as football and NASCAR racing), people become more and more addicted to watching them, and in the end, spurring the media to feature more whenever these incidences take place.
Moreover, high speed chases in Hollywood add to the thrill effect of this dangerous pursuit making them more palatable to their viewers. Secondly, the glorification comes in the form of media sensationalizing these high speed car chases by making it seem more exciting than it actually is like adding the words “special” and other effects to these reports. Also, the media takes these high speed chases to the editorial newsroom to spur more of the excitement even if it only lasts for a few days.
In essence, the thrill effect of high speed car chases and the sensationalism by the media glorifies this dangerous sport. Coupled with the emotion-evoking nature of high speed car chases, people are becoming more and more susceptible to its influences (Felson 1996) making the vicious cycle of watching, getting involved in, and broadcasting them unending.