Are we really anti-social criminals?

Anti-social behaviour has become an increasing problem in recent years and sociologists have examined the reasons for this in order to determine whether it is a real issue or merely a moral panic created by media amplification. Anti-social behaviour is usually associated with young people, and it is normally males who gain a worse reputation with the police and society for being ‘hoodies’, also, football hooliganism is another aggressive, predominately masculine culture that is depicted in the media more and more and is already a severe problem for police, especially since some football fans are in bitter, violent rivalry with the opposing teams’ fans.

It is important to distinguish between what is actually anti-social behaviour and what is a social construct created by the media. Some recorded anti-social behaviour is not serious or indeed, really anti-social but has been created by a fear of groups of young people, especially around town. Paul Willis did a study on macho lads and found that since they were labelled as disobedient by teachers and the police they began to believe and live up to this label, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. Although, statistics show that over the past few years a ‘ladette’ culture has appeared with female crime rising by around a quarter whereas male crime has remained at a steady level. All over the country men are telling their girlfriends, “leave it, it’s not worth it!” 🙂

Anti-social behaviour occurs due to boredom and the lack of places for young people in city areas to go in the evenings. For instance, over the past view years the amount of free youth clubs has declined meaning that young people find other places such as parks or even bus stations to meet and here they are seen as a threat by the neighbourhood and so become known as anti-social. The media has exaggerated this with help from the government and the introduction of ASBOs (Anti-Social Behaviour Orders) which were designed as a caution young people and were meant to put them off repeating deviant or criminal acts. The media reported where and when these ASBOs were being given out and so created a minor moral panic in certain neighbourhoods. Moreover, instead of being a deterrent to young people, having an ASBO was seen more as a badge of honour in some areas. In fact ASBOs were more affective for the middle classes, who are neither the main problem nor the main target group. (ASBOs have recently been replaced by CBOs – Criminal Behaviour Orders).

Marxists would argue that the media reports large amounts of anti-social behaviour in order to keep attention away from white-collar crime and the activities of the upper classes. Hence, media amplification serves to unite society against groups of young people who are most likely to be working class; an example of this was researched by Jock Young (1971) who used Becker’s ideas on the labelling theory in order to study marijuana users. He found that the police saw them as lazy, dirty drug addicts although at first they were not causing any trouble. Over time they became ostracized from mainstream society and so lived up to their negative label as deviant. The media coverage on the early hippies greatly emphasised the amount of drugs being taken and the amount of deviant or criminal acts being committed and as a result the hippies took to these labels and created a deviant subculture since they were excluded from the rest of society.

Of course, occasionally, a member of the middle to upper class will be singled out as deviant, and used as an example that white-collar crime isn’t ignored. Just think of Jimmy Carr’s tax avoidance, although it wasn’t illegal, it was a deviant act that led to criticism from both politicians and the media. For once, News International and David Cameron were seen as being able to take the moral high ground (not a regular opportunity for either).

Overall, over the years the media has had a profound influence on levels of anti-social behaviour due to its broad scope across society which ensures everyone in the country is aware of social issues that may or may not be exaggerated in a bid to attract readers, watchers or listeners. Is what we see in the media a true picture? Can we really trust our stereotypical images of ‘the criminal’?

On a Mission to Become a ‘Geek’ – why do we stereotype?

Recently my friend, Isabella, proclaimed she wished to pursue a new venture; that of becoming a ‘geek’.

This idea first came about when a fellow uni student took her into a comic book store in the city. A trip which prompted a trip down memory lane, remembering old Beano comics before the pages were “glossy”.

Anyway, after buying a Spiderman comic, insisting it stay in pristine condition and thus, putting it off reading it, I was reminded of the boys (as they can hardly be described as ‘men’ in my book) on ‘The Big Bang Theory’. A comparison which was strengthened with the declaration of a desire to learn the difference between ‘Star Trek’ and ‘Star Wars’.

Although my friends and I have always worked hard for our grades, the term ‘geek’ wouldn’t be first I think of. In fact, there are so many different aspects of people’s personalities, it’s wrong to group them according to one characteristic. Why can’t people take influences from different stereotypes rather than subscribing to just one?

It annoyed me (and still does annoy me) how in school the ‘cool’ kids would look down on those who didn’t fit their image and even those outside of the ‘cool’ group would similarly look down on the ‘nerds’ or ‘geeks’ while simultaneously complaining about how they were ostracised for having the wrong bag or clothes or family. Is this the same in all schools? It probably is. And when does this trend end? Probably never.

A survey shows that “more than 90 per cent of bosses admit that when they get an overweight and a slim candidate of the same ability, they are more likely to hire the worker of “normal” size.” It also suggest half of human resource managers believe weight to influence productivity, with bigger people lacking in discipline.

All through life you are judged on how you look, or how you speak, or where you come from, when in fact none of that should matter. What should matter is who you are, your individuality and abilities outside those stereotypes and prejudices.

I suppose as a sociology student it’s my job to question social phenomena like this, but it should be an issue recognised by all, not just those who have a vested interest in noticing things as it will help them pass their exams.

The question is, why do we stereotype? Is it because of what we learn from those around us? Many would argue our parent’s attitudes influence how we think about others and ourselves. Indeed, socialisation is key in shaping beliefs and values as children are impressionable and what they learn at a young age is very often carried through the rest of their lives, meaning they pass the same prejudices onto their children. This cycle can be broken, as can be seen throughout history with the end of slave labour and the decline in the belief in strict victorian values where the man is the sole breadwinner of the family. However, everytime one prejudice is abandoned, another takes it place. Why? Where does our compulsive need to judge people on first sight come from?