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Cultivation Theory and the Crime TV Genre

Categories: CrimePsychology

When it comes to the cultivation impact in crime genres in television, Dominick (1973) examined Gerbner’s theory specifically his studies in cultivation when it comes to crime- or violence-related shows. Dominick mentioned that prior to Gerbner’s study published in 1972, there were already past studies as to the presence of crime-related shows as found on television. In fact, as the author mentioned, it was found that even in the majority of the television shows in the 1950s demonstrated many programs of this genre, and that law enforcers were already highly stereotyped.

Dominick (1973) cited Gerbner’s previous study as a stepping stone to further analyze crime and violence on television; according to the author, Gerbner’s studies, which covered television shows in the later half of the 1960s, showed a significant amount of violence and crime on television yet, in reality, there was the noted decrease in violence among criminals but the law enforcers maintained a certain degree of violence. In reflection, Dominick noted that on television, the law enforcers were seen as the main authoritative figure that always saves the day.

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Hence, in agreeing with Gerbner’s study, Dominick’s analysis lead to further contribution as to the role of cultivation theory especially as to how the audiences are influenced on their stereotype perceptions, especially in crime- and violence-related shows. Stereotyping seems to be a common element in television crime shows especially as this genre play up certain norms when it comes to the supposed social reality of crime. What is interesting is that racial elements were found to be contributory to these portrayals.

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For instance, in a study by Dixon (2007), the author noted that responses from heavy television viewers of crime-related programs are most likely the ones to reflect a racial bias in the identification of the perpetrator and the police officer. This shows that even though fact-based programs such as the news present reality, as also adapted in fictional programs, there is the aspect of racialized portrayals. Hence, cultivation in this context has led to certain media imageries that have become a social reality based on the collective perception towards crime racial stereotypes.

However, what challenges this is presented by a study conducted by Grabe and Drew (2007) in which the authors examined how crime in the media would actually successfully cultivate specific crime orientations. According to the authors, the study of crime in the media has been a prominent subject in studying cultivation. Grabe and Drew conducted a study among 505 selected adults located in Indiana, and from this, the study concluded that there was a significant variance depending on the many media genres and channels.

Hence, the study showed that crime orientation among individuals may not be as strongly influenced by the media especially as viewers have different personal orientations that may affect their own worldviews. This is also reflected by a study executed by Diefenbach and West (2001) in which the authors tested the effect of cultivation theory when it comes to perceptions on violence and crime as seen on television. However, Diefenbach and West also showed results which point at the influence of light versus heavy viewers perceptions. The study showed that projections on crime rates are higher among heavy television viewers.

On one hand, it should be also noted that in this study, as the authors pointed out, the samples were limited among the participants from a small North Carolina town with crime rates below the national average. The background of the participants can then be said to factor into perceptions, which is to say, for instance, that projections from samples from a small town may differ from those from the city who have a greater exposure to criminal incidences in their communities. Another variation of a study applying the cultivation theory in crime television is conducted by Heath and Petraitis (1987).

According to the study, adapted perceptions projected from the “television world” were believed to be mostly realistic in distant settings and not in their immediate environment. The study concluded that the fear viewers feel towards crime are more apparent among viewers who see the possibility of such incidents in a distant urban setting rather than in their neighborhood. Basically, based on these applications of the cultivation theory in the crime genre, it can be observed that the varying results are due to the different impacts of many factors.

It is evident that one of the crime genre norms is the utilization of stereotyped portrayals which, in the end, does lead the viewers to make certain conclusions thereby affecting their crime orientations. On one hand, other studies further look at the derivatives at the actual effect of crime television exposure among the viewers, and this shows that the cultivation theory is applicable only up to a certain extent. The validity of Gerbner’s cultivation theory still has to rely on the background of the viewers, the relevance of the show’s content to the viewers’ reality, and the amount of media exposure a viewer may have.

Hence, it is possible that some viewers demonstrate a quintessential example or a manifestation of Gerbner’s cultivation theory, but as time went on and as can be seen in the more recent cited studies on audience response towards crime television, perceptions in this context are not homogenous. The impact of television towards perception and behavior can then be regarded on a case-to-case basis, especially as audience exposure is no longer limited to the offerings of television, in addition to the fact that there has been also the emergence of sub-genres among many other shows.

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Cultivation Theory and the Crime TV Genre. (2020, Jun 01). Retrieved from

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