Examining The Trope Of Crime Fighting

He’s surrounded. Late night in a dark rat-infested alleyway armed goons close in on a poor old man. Comments, jokes and, demands are made by the goons, while the man mutters his final words. Suddenly, a masked individual swoops down; Utilizing martial arts, magic, superpowers or a combination of all them, the masked vigilante defeats the goons as quickly the hero appeared. Not only saving the man, but ultimately saving the day. That’s the lifestyle of a crime fighter. It’s one of the most popular tropes in comics appearing everywhere from spiderman, batman, to everything in-between. As with most successful and widespread tropes it’s popularity is connected to the underlying emotional basis of our societies allowing us to see ourselves in fiction and reflect, because like criminals our emotional basis’s, if left unchecked can cause real problems on a interpersonal and political level if we refuse introspect.

Overestimations due to sensationalism.

Reports and stories of robberies have flooded the news cycle. Naturally we respond becoming more fearful strangers, staying home instead of enjoying the night out; even spending a good sums of money on tools for self defense and home security to assure our safety. Maybe it’s time to call up a caped crusader to solve our woes? Maybe not. A big reason why the crime fighting trope became so widespread is because our perception of the frequency of violent crime is distorted: we assume more danger there actually is.


“A study conducted by Dorfman and Schiraldi in 2001 “in the United States From 1990 to 1998, the number of homicides, which account for 0.1% of all arrests, has declined by more than 30%, while it’s appearance on the screen skyrocketed and in the end made up more than one quarter of the examined media coverage.”[1]


What would be the reason for the media to be so fixated on problem so unlikely to happen? The problem lies in the use of Sensationalism.  Simply put by Wikipedia is


 “the use of exciting or shocking stories or language at the expense of accuracy, in order to provoke public interest or excitement”.


Sensationalism can even go beyond the need for more viewership. Some cases it’s done intentionally to propagandize and deceive; creating an artificial narrative for the sake of an agenda. The goal is to color our views on various areas of public life leaving us paranoid, untrusting, more likely to stereotype and judge based on what were primed to expect. in some situations, such campaigns have been successful in manipulating public perceptions for decades onward. Comic fans would know from guest celebrities appearances(see Superman vs Muhammad Ali), product placement, to the coverage of various social issues of the time comics has always been a victim of following the trends of the Sensational. However crime in all its aspects have always been the comic go to: because we all love action and if there isn’t any crime who would our fictional crime fighters fight?


The lack of Police effectiveness

Going back to the scenario of the poor old man. The most exciting part of the trope is always when the vigilante shows up just in the nick of time to save the day, unfortunately, that’s not how it usually goes.


“A Justice Department report shows that the ‘determined the average response time to a 911 call to be four minutes, while the average interaction time between a criminal and his victim is 90 seconds. “[2]

This means criminal incidents on average are dealt with afterwards not during; leaving us unlike the comics we enjoy at the mercy of our attackers, or in the worst case allowing them a chance to get away with it. It appears when comes to saving the day superheroes are “super” for reason, unfortunately being at the right place at the right time is an power we wish our system was able to do.

Bad guys aren’t one dimensional

A writer has only so much pages to tell a story. A writer

shouldn’t have to make individual history for every goon in a unexpected fight hundred man fight. Or has to give a demon from a different dimensions a noble reason for causing mayhem and destruction. This isn’t the case for reality. Every person has a story. Every criminal has an story. Likely a bad one. Looking a study conducted by the Kaiser Permanente and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Adverse Childhood Experiences


“Subjects from 4 different offender groups (N = 151) who were referred for treatment at an outpatient clinic in San Diego, CA, subsequent to conviction in criminal court, completed the Adverse Childhood Experiences(ACE) Questionnaire. Groups (nonsexual child abusers, domestic violence offenders, sexual offenders, and stalkers) were on the incidence of ACE, and comparisons were made between the group offenders and a normative sample.

Results indicated that the offender group reported nearly four times as many adverse events in childhood than an adult male normative sample. Eight of ten events were found at significantly higher levels among the criminal population. In addition, convicted sexual offenders and child abusers were more likely to report experiencing sexual abuse in childhood than other offender types.”[3]


This study clearly shows that the road to criminality is very commonly paved by negative and traumatic experiences in childhood; a time when one’s ability to be the arbiter of their own lives is limited. This should be not taken as a justification for the horrendous action a criminal commits, But when we refuse to understand the interplay of situations that lead to the path of criminality the effect are not comical. Without understanding we lose visibility of those at a high-risk to commit crime severely limiting our ability to prevent crime; also we lose sight of the subjective experiences that our society creates allowing negative systems to continue unperturbed adding to the problems we seek to solve.


Moving Beyond the Trope

In conclusion, let’s move beyond the trope; towards less comical views of crime. Views not fueled by everyday sensationalism of the media, containing clearer knowledge what the police capabilities actually are and on the flipside, a better understanding of criminals themselves; Because unlike the world of superheroes which is dependant on action, we can move towards a world where there’s no need for crime at all.


  1. Off Balance: Youth, Race & Crime in the News[http://www.justicepolicy.org/mobile/research/2060]
  2. Corrected link to: Average Response Times: [http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/cvus/previous/cvus107.pdf]
  3. [https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3662280/]
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