Juvenile Delinquency The Clashing Cultures Of Media Criminology Essay

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It doesn't matter what area of the world one lives in, there are always reports of juvenile delinquency taking place in one form or another. In some cases, the offenses may be as minor as defacement of property though, in other cases, the offences may become more serious involving bodily harm or death. Throughout history, scholars have attempted to discover what it is that gives certain juveniles the inclination to take part in delinquent behavior. Through this research several theories have been developed one of which is called the culture conflict theory. Culture conflict as it pertains to criminality is a clash between two different cultures of people focused around what each culture deems to be appropriate or inappropriate behavior (Schmalleger, 2006). Arguably, one of the largest influences upon the culture of juveniles, either positive or negative, is that of popular media. One cannot come into contact with a juvenile without witnessing an imitation of a currently released movie or hearing the lyrics of the most current song topping the charts. In many cases, this imitation can lead to delinquent behaviors such as was mentioned above. This manuscript will briefly discuss the culture conflict theory and how it pertains to juvenile delinquency. Also discussed will be the influence that popular media, such as motion pictures and music, have upon juvenile delinquency.

Literature Review

In order to accurately compose a manuscript, a concrete definition was needed upon which to found any further conclusions. Schmalleger (2006) provided a sufficient definition for cultural conflict theory. Sellin (1938) provided a slightly more detailed discussion on cultural conflict theory as well as defining primary and secondary conflict as the two different types of cultural conflict.

Popular music plays a distinct part within the life of many juveniles. Prinskey & Rosenbaum (1987) as well as Roe (1985) provided studies indicating that there is a large number of young people who listen to music in the background during different activities. Many studies even found a link between popular music and juvenile identity construction (Gracyk, 2001; Laughey, 2006; Roe, 1999). A study by Asbridge, and Wortley (2009) provided important information on the link between juvenile delinquency and rap and hip-hop music. The study found that rap and hip-hop plays more of a role in juvenile delinquency in white youth rather than black youth. It is theorized that this is partly because white youth are more receptive to the gangster image portrayed within the rap and hip-hop message, a theory which has been echoed in other studies (Mahiri & Conner, 2003; Quinn, 2005).

Another form of popular media playing a major role in the shaping of juvenile culture are motion pictures. They have been lauded as the storytellers of our time (Gerbner, 2003; Roden, 2007) though many have cautioned of their negative influence (Benshoff & Sean, 2004; Giroux, 1996, 1997). Bandura (1986) claims that many juveniles learn to be violent through being exposed to violent scenes portrayed in motion pictures, a finding which is also echoed in other studies (Snyder, 1995; Ellis, 1989). Two examples of motion pictures that portray delinquent messages to juveniles include Kids (1995) and River's Edge (1987) both of which Kleeman & Rodan (2009) as well as Giroux (1996) provide descriptions of some of the scenes within the movies.


Cultural Conflict

Culture conflict theory was first fully discussed by Sellin (1938). According to Sellin, the values that delegate proper human behavior within a society's culture are acquired in early childhood through socialization within the individual's culture. It is the disagreement between the values of these two cultures, which are generally the basis for law, that ultimately leads to what one culture deems as criminal activity while the other culture does not. Sellin also discussed how there are two different types of cultural conflict including primary conflict, in which there is a fundamental conflict between two different cultures, and secondary conflict, in which there is a conflict between the primary culture and one of its subcultures.

Cultural conflict has been used to explain the correlation between cultures and criminality in many different studies. The studies included subjects such as economic status and violent delinquency (Heimer, 1997), the effects of globalization on criminality (Karstedt, 2001), an examination of violence in contemporary Albania (Arsovska & Verduyn, 2008) as well as examining the differences in culture between the indigenous Maori and New Zealand's post-colonial criminal justice system (Bull, 2004). A basic example of cultural conflict may be witnessed within any preschool classroom when a child is caught by the teacher using vulgar language. When punished, the child does not understand why he is in trouble because he had heard his mother and father use the offending word many times at home and, therefore, thought that it was acceptable language. In this case, a form of primary conflict is being represented in that the home culture and the preschool culture were in disagreement causing the child to be punished for what he believed to be acceptable behavior.

Influence in Music

Music is a form of popular media that is readily available to individuals of all ages within various stores, on the radio, or on the internet. Many young people even utilize it as an accompaniment to different activities including driving, relaxation, and work (Prinskey & Rosenbaum, 1987; Roe, 1985). It has even been shown that popular music may even play a role in the identity construction of juvenile listeners (Gracyk, 2001; Laughey, 2006; Roe, 1999). This gives popular music the potential to be tremendously influential in many areas of a juvenile's life including the acting out of delinquent activities. This section will focus upon a study that was performed upon rap and hip-hop, considered by many to currently be two of the most controversial music genres, and their possible ties to juvenile delinquency.

A study by Tanner, Asbridge, and Wortley (2009) attempted to shed some light upon the claims that the rap and hip-hop genres contribute to delinquent behaviors in juveniles. The researchers surveyed 3393 juveniles aged 13-18 in multiple Canadian schools. The results of the research found that approximately 56 percent of those surveyed claimed that they liked rap and hip-hop very much or quite a lot making it the most popular music genre amongst those surveyed. Of those that claimed rap and hip-hop as their favorite music genre, 46 percent were black, 19 percent were white, 19 percent were Asian or South Asian, and 16 percent were from other racial groups. These results indicate the strong popularity of rap and hip-hop music with an interestingly diverse racial listenership.

When pairing the above results with results of additional demographic and criminal inquiries, the outcome of the study indicated that juveniles involved in delinquent activities are more likely to enjoy rap or hip-hop than their counterparts who refrain from delinquent activities. Interestingly enough, when broken down by race, it was found that an appreciation of rap and hip-hop is found to be a strong indicator of delinquency among white and Asian or South Asian youth. For black youth, an appreciation of rap and hip-hop was found to be an indication of feelings of social injustice, younger age, and lower cultural capital. The researchers theorized that the lack of delinquency in black youth was founded upon a strongly instilled racial identity and status living in a white society. White and Asian youth who are fans of black music are thought to be outsiders to their own culture and therefore feel the need to be accepted into black culture. In trying to emulate black culture, they strive to over-imitate what they believe to be the ideal model of black street life outlined in the songs to which they listen, many of which indicating criminal activity as authentic gangster behavior. This study along with others (Mahiri & Conner, 2003; Quinn, 2005) indicates that this message is more readily accepted by white and Asian youth rather than their black counterparts.

Influence in Motion Pictures

Another form of popular media which plays a major part in not just juvenile culture but in a society's culture at large is motion pictures. While television and motion pictures have been lauded by media theorists and critics as the dominant storyteller of our time (Gerbner, 2003; Roden, 2007), it has also been accused of creating negative and degrading images within the cultural environment of masculinity and femininity (Benshoff & Sean, 2004; Giroux, 1996, 1997). Bandura (1986), a leading authority in the discipline of social learning theory, claims that many juveniles learn to behave aggressively through emulating the behaviors that they observe in motion pictures. Also, research has shown that youths are more willing to accept peers' delinquent behavior after only briefly watching a violent scene from a movie, this acceptance on the part of the youth makes it more likely that the youth would take part in delinquent behavior themselves (Snyder, 1995). Research by Ellis (1989) found males more supportive of aggressive behavior towards females after being exposed to violent pornography. These findings provide valuable insight into the possible harm that improper exposure to visual media may pose to impressionable individuals. In the following section, examples of motion picture glamorization of delinquent behavior will be briefly discussed.

One does not have to look far to find motion pictures involving scenes glamorizing delinquent behavior through violence as a means of instilling power over others while minimizing the consequences of these actions. Two examples of this are provided by the motion pictures River's Edge (Pillsbury & Hunter, 1986) and Kids (Chambers & Clark, 1995). In River's Edge, the opening scene is of the main character, John, leaving the body of his naked and strangled dead girlfriend by the side of the river. Throughout the rest of the movie, the lives of John's friends, to whom he has shown the body, are depicted as they minimize the crime and attempt to hide the fact that the crime took place altogether. Further delinquent actions are displayed as some of John's juvenile friends are shown stealing beer for John. There is also a distinct lack of proper parental supervision in the fact that the mother of one of the delinquent juveniles not only makes light of her son's juvenile behaviors but also proceeds to share marijuana with him (Kleeman & Rodan, 2009).

In the movie Kids (Chambers & Clark, 1995) directed by Larry Clark, recklessness as well as uninhibited drug and sexual activity are exhibited by two white, lower class male juveniles by the names of Telly and Casper. During the movie, Telly, who is the self proclaimed virgin surgeon, seduces a young twelve year old virgin and has sex with her during which time he infects her with the AIDS virus. His level of disregard for others is displayed prominently when, later in the movie, he proceeds to have sex with another girl infecting her also after which he claims that sex is one of his only worldly pleasures. Giroux (1996) provided a critique of Kids that attempts to sum up the juvenile decadence displayed within the film:

Clark provides a 1) glamorization of predatory adolescent male sexuality and 2) construction of adolescent female sexuality as sexual objects to be taken up or put down at will of they are sex-crazed and on the make, 3) demonization of inner city African Americans in the film as the kids talk in stereotypical African American slang calling themselves niggers and appropriating blackness as a signifier of dangerous youth. (Kleeman & Roden, 2009, pp. 137)

If box office statistics are any indication, movies with messages such as this are viewed by more and more individuals each year, many, undoubtedly, being juveniles. In cases such as this one must wonder if juveniles are being influenced by the wrong message.


Juvenile delinquency is a serious issue that is encountered no matter what area of the world an individual lives in. In some cases, juvenile delinquency can be as mild as simple spray painting while other forms of delinquency may involve injury or death. Scholars have found that the cultural conflict theory may be utilized in an attempt to explain certain variables which may influence juvenile delinquency. It is clearly evident that popular media plays a clear role within the culture of juveniles today. What kind of message are the juveniles in today's society being exposed to? In many cases, the popular media portrays scenes of violence, drug use, and sexual misconduct without any indication of repercussions or consequences giving many juveniles a view of a culture that does not exist. Scott (1995) said it best when he said "Children and adolescents with limited ability to think in the abstract may have difficulty following complex plots and may come away with the wrong message" (p.336). Again, what kinds of messages are being conveyed to juveniles today?

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