Master of Arts (MA)
Faculty of Arts
Dr. Andrew Welsh
Professor in criminology, fully supervised and guided the thesis.
Criminal justice is a popular theme in both news and entertainment media. How crime and justice issues are framed can actually legitimize corruption in a society. As research reveals the public’s dissatisfaction with the current failing retributive justice system, popular television series’ are confronting its flaws (Jerre, 2013). Utilizing a cultural criminological and social constructionist orientation, the following research examines anti-hero narratives in two highly rated crime-drama series, Breaking Bad and Sons of Anarchy. The main research questions examine: How the criminal protagonist or anti-hero is constructed in television crime procedurals? What claims about crime, criminality, law and justice are made by these constructions? What criminal and cultural functions do the anti-hero protagonists serve? A qualitative content analysis examining all seasons of the selected series revealed that the anti-hero narratives are constructed in a moral universe emphasizing limited freewill and fatalistic determinism. Walter White of Breaking Bad and Jax Teller of Sons of Anarchy are constructed as having some free will and a pre-determined fate, experiencing Mertonian strain or goals without legitimate means, blocked opportunities and a faulty justice system. These major themes combine to limit the protagonists’ choices and predetermine their engagement in criminal careers. The anti-heroes create and follow personal moral codes reflecting their limited choices and rationalizing certain criminal behaviours. The results suggest that the anti-hero narrative represents a cultural criticism of neoliberal-capitalist “market societies,” the retributive justice system and their influences on breeding crime and violence in North America.
Henry, Amy, "Criminal Heroes in Television: Exploring Moral Ambiguity in Law and Justice" (2018). Theses and Dissertations (Comprehensive). 2105.