Mediated representations of prisoner experience and public empathy
Clifford, K and White, R, Mediated representations of prisoner experience and public empathy, The Palgrave Handbook of Incarceration in Popular Culture, Palgrave Macmillan, MK Harmes, MA Harmes, and B Harmes (ed), Switzerland, pp. 265-287. ISBN 978-3-030-36059-7 (2020) [Research Book Chapter]
Not all "bad news" about prisons is necessarily bad. Negative framing may, in fact, be reflective of real events (e.g. assaults on prisoners by prison guards or vice versa) and real conditions (e.g. overcrowding) that require media exposure from the point of view of social and natural justice. In these instances, news reports of negative events and associations may well have productive effects, such as exposing new problems and taboo topics. These types of progressive possibilities have been ascribed to the use of virtual reality (VR) as a storytelling device and its ability, in a journalistic context, to allow audiences to "step inside a story" and experience connections with people whose lives may be far removed from their own. This chapter examines this "empathy proposition" through the lens of media criminology. It provides an analysis of 360° video and VR experiences, such as The Guardian’s 6x9: A Virtual Experience of Solitary Confinement, which aim to highlight the psychological deterioration and sensory deprivation that segregated prisoners experience by virtually placing users inside a solitary confinement prison cell. Examining social networking responses to 6x9 and other VR experiences of a similar ilk, the chapter critically explores the potential of immersive journalism to enhance public understandings of the harsher realities of prison life.