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previous  Identity-related crime in films


Executive Summary

This study examines the manifestation of identity-related crime in films. Films draw on primeval stories and fears at least as much as on technological trends and topical situations. Identity “theft” and other forms of identity-related crime are a permanent feature in mass culture, since identity and its integrity, preservation and protection from others form an integral part of the human mind and society.

The working hypothesis of this research is that the average person most often comes across the issue of identity-related crime, and identity “theft” in particular, in mass culture indirectly rather than personally. It is therefore important to examine how identity-related crime features in mainstream films, particularly since media theory suggests that films constitute reality as source of information and have an educating effect on people.  

This study starts with a brief historical introduction. It then classifies international mainstream films (accompanied by short synopses) according to the various forms of identity-related crime. Next, it describes the occurrence of identity-related crime in reality, in order to conclude how identity-related crime appears in films as compared to real-life. 

This study shows that the picture of identity-related crime suggested by films is mostly misleading. Films, especially mainstream, mass-cultural products, oversimplify the issue and depict it as if victims have no means to defend themselves and are entirely at the mercy and whim of identity “thieves”. These films focus on the rare cases where the targeted individual falls victim to fraud, is robbed of his identity, and is completely replaced in society by the identity “thief”. Contrary to reality, this emerges as a standard or prototypical form of identity “theft” in films. This is understandable, since such a plot is more interesting, exciting, and more effective on the screen as compared with the bulk of credit-card frauds and other abuses taking place in reality. The bulk of real-life identity “theft” cases cause financial damage but do not completely disrupt the social life of the victims. In reality, invisible criminals do not strive to completely destroy their victims’ personality and identity but rather try to “simply” make money out of their crime without being seen or shedding blood. Such cases are unsuitable for mainstream films.

As a result, whoever receives their information mainly from films will form a false picture of identity-related crime and may remove the issue into the realms of fiction and the world of urban legends. The bias of films to focus on extreme and unrealistic cases therefore poses a risk that current trends in identity-related crime and legal, organisational, and technical countermeasures are underdeveloped in citizens’ world views.  

Given the importance of awareness-raising to combat identity-related crime, it is vital that actions are taken to adjust the picture of identity-related crime, in particular identity “theft”, as it is sketched in the media at large. Film producers could contribute to this by showing standard data-security measures, such as a virus check, as part of everyday life. However, films are not likely in future to sketch a substantially different picture of identity “theft”, given the primeval appeal of extreme identity takeover as a theme in visually mediated fiction. The required readjustment of the picture of identity-related crime will therefore have to rely on other mass-media, such as non-fiction literature and documentaries, the press, and blogs. 


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