“Knife Menace every 4 Minutes” was a headline in The Sun newspaper, 17th July 2008. It reported that more than 350 knife crimes are committed everyday and nearly 130,000 offences involving knives last year, not even including under-16s: what is believed to be the leading age group in violent crime. So knife crime is on the rise, with nearly 1 in 8 violent crime involving school-age children, 52% committed by criminals aged 16-24. But why is knife crime suddenly such an issue in the UK with youths?
Maybe it is because of the media, and also moral panic. The moral panic about violent crime started when 11 year old Rhys Jones was shot dead in a pub car park in Croxteth. This widely publicized event then led to many more reports of violent crime by youths, meaning more stories to be reported in the media. The media then uses its power to present to the public the amount of knife crime and the involvement of youths; people assume that most teens are associated with violence, gangs and crime.
Alf Hitchcock, Deputy Assistant Commissioner, spoke on the age groups associated with knife crime, and was talking about the “worrying change in the age profile” of knife crime victims and offenders, which had decreased from mid-late teens to early twenties, down to early-to-mid-youths. Maybe this is down to the presentation of the media, or maybe the fact that youth culture has changed a lot over the years, but springing to mind of the Metropolitan police is the effects of violent films, video games and music that are influencing young people.
Using the effect videogames have on youths, the Metropolitan police decided to create an advert to address the seriousness of carrying a knife. “Knife City” is an advert commissioned by the Metropolitan police to warn the public about the dangers of knife crime in youths. Animated using CGI (Computer Generated Imagery), it follows a teenager clad in hoodie and hat, and, placing a knife in his back pocket, he runs into a gang in a small underpass in a residential estate. Confronting them, knives are produced and our hoodie ends up using his knife on the gang leader.
Changing from CGI to real life, we see reality: the face of the gang leader as he slowly dies; the gang members fleeing from the estate; the body arriving at the hospital in an ambulance; a mother figure collapsing tearfully into someone’s arms as she sees the stabbed youth and our hoodie, still a CGI image, being taken into custody. At the end of the advert, as our hoodie’s animation starts to flicker, we see the CGI youth sitting in a jail cell, flickering as his video game animation changes into reality. “Carrying a knife – it’s not a game. are the final words written on the screen.
Aired on 4 channels in 2005, including hit teen channels MTV and Trouble, the Metropolitan police were keen to discourage violence amongst teenagers, but why use video game-style? At the beginning of the advert, the police tried to make the main character feel like a video game character. When we first see the character, he is in CGI, which is used in many video games such as “Grand Theft Auto” (GTA) and “World of Warcraft” (WoW), to replicate the idea that you are experiencing a real video game.
They do this because they are trying to make you believe you are in a real video game, and it appeals to the target audience as it is something they are familiar with. Further on into the advert, the CGI stops, as the knife plunges into the gang members chest. This is an important point in the advert as they change from CGI to reality to show the audience the seriousness of the incident, and the change to reality shows that because it’s not in a video game style, the consequences of carrying a knife are real; it’s not just a game.
Also the fact that the main character doesn’t change from CGI till the last section shows that although it feels like you are playing a game, the consequences are real, and as it’s flickering he realises it’s wrong, and feels guilty, finally realising it’s not just a game. Throughout the advert they try to make us feel like we are witnessing a crime. By using long shots, such as when it follows the youth as he runs down the street, it makes us feel like we are surveying the scene, and makes us feel as if we are watching, and are a part of what is going to happen.
However, when the knife gets used on the gang leader, they use an extreme close-up. This makes us feel like we are witnessing the crime as we are so very close to him, we feel like we are there, and empathise with him. The camera angles used in the advert differ quite a lot to show the different ways they portray the character. At the beginning as we see the youth, it changes between a low angle shot when we have a close up of the youth, and a high angle shot when it follows him running down the street, They use the low angle shot to make the youth look bigger, taller and stronger, and makes you feel more vulnerable.
They use this to make the audience feel not only a part of the story, but a little scared of the main character, which would help when leading on to show how dangerous it is to carry a knife. Using the high angle shot as the hoodie runs down the street makes us feel like we are surveying the scene, as if we are watching the crime. They use the changes in the camera angles in a different way later on in the advert to show the seriousness of the crime.
When the knife is used on the gang leader, they use a slightly low angle shot as they have a close up on his face, and after he falls to the floor, there’s an extremely high angle shot, even a birds-eye view of the situation. Using the low angle shot with the close up has a different affect to the one used with the hoodie previously. This very slight low angle shot teamed with the close up really makes the viewer feel as if they are in fact the victim of the stabbing; we really empathise with the character and care for them.
The very high angle shot was used to make the victim look vulnerable, helpless and small, and as there is a slight camera tilt, which makes the murderer look bigger, the audience senses the fear of the attacker, and we also feel as if we are the attacker, looking down at our victim. This is a good camera angle to use after a stabbing as it truly connects with the victim and the fear and consequences that comes with carrying a knife. The camera movement realistically represents a computer game.
When the character is first introduced, they use pans, just like on GTA and WoW. This is used to make us feel like we are surrounding the character, as if we are truly in the game. This is a good way to introduce the character as using a pan from a low angle lets us know that this is the character we will be controlling. Also when the youth is running down the street the camera follows the movements of the boy exactly. This makes it feel realistically like a video game because it feels as if we are that character, and are experiencing it exactly as the character does.
This is used a lot in video games, and watching the GTA advert, they also use a lot of crane shots to follow the characters too. The setting of the crime and of the area that the youth lives in is quite significant, as is the mise en scene. The first setting image we see is of a square of greenery in the centre of an urban city, with tall buildings as a backdrop. The urban cityscape is used to appeal to the target audience, as it is a typical stereotype of where stabbings and gang violence occur. The mise en scene in this scene is the garden square in the centre of this estate.
This is used to make the video game style seem more unrealistic because, as in GTA, using greenery, sunlight and quite appealing settings make the video game lifestyle seem more tempting; as if to say, if I were to have this lifestyle, I would benefit from it. However, this doesn’t seem to fit in with the message the police are trying to send out, as they are contradicting themselves putting both a pleasant setting with an urban residential estate. Although both messages are quite clear, you would not expect them to be put together, and because of this their meanings are both quite tangled up.
As the advert continues, the place where the confrontation occurs also appeals to the audience. After the youth has jumped over the wall, and comes face to face with the gang members, they are situated in an underpass in a residential area. This is, like the urban area before, used to appeal to the audience, as it is a typical stereotype of where gang violence and knife crime takes place. The clothes are an important mise en scene too. The youth is wearing a baseball cap, with a hood over the top, baggy tracksuit bottoms and trainers.
This is a very stereotypical view of what violent crime aggressors look like. This is what the Metropolitan Police think the attackers look like too, so use this to try and appeal to the audience, to understand who they are playing and what the person is like. The gang too are all wearing hoodies, with two of them also sporting baseball caps. The Metropolitan police use this to try and connect with the audience and acknowledge that the characters involved are stereotypically the type of person to become a part of violent crime.
The music playing throughout the video game-style part of the advert is important in being able to understand the feeling of the advert. This non diagetic sound is very upbeat, and gets exceedingly louder as the advert continues. Also adding in diagetic sounds like car alarms and police sirens gives the impression that the video game lifestyle is quite exciting and fast-paced, with everything moving very quickly and at the same time adrenaline-pumping. However the sirens could indicate the police, and consequences of actions, as well as car alarms associating with crime and trouble.
But this appeals to the audience as something upbeat and exciting overrules secret connotations of consequences, as it is considered cool and fun. The diagetic sounds as the confrontation occurs are meant to appeal to the audience. When the hoodie approaches the gang, the gang leader shouts, “Yeah this boy thinks he’s going somewhere blud! “, and after shoving the youth, another gang member says “I don’t think he’s going nowhere, you get me”. As the youth pulls the knife out, the gang leader shouts “easy brav! ” and then takes a knife out too.
After doing this, he then says “You’re in trouble now man! This language is used as the police believe it is the common terms used by stereotypical troublemakers in our society today, so uses it to relate to the audience and to the perpetrators. As this is also the dialogue stereotypical youths use, the police also use it to show the audience who their intended attackers are. The change of sound is important too when changing between reality and video game-style. As the knife enters the gang leader, the non-diagetic music changes straight away to a diagetic sound, from loud upbeat fast-paced music to the quiet sound of the victim’s blood flow.
This is used to make you empathise with the victim, and the sound of the blood flowing through the victim makes you really experience the pain and the suffering the youth is feeling. The Metropolitan police use this to tell us that it could all change in a heartbeat, switching from video game exciting to reality and consequences; although you think of carrying a knife as if it were a game, and that it couldn’t happen to you, this is real life, and the consequences are serious.
The technical codes used in the advert really recreate the look and feel of a video game. As well as the CGI discussed before, when the youth steps out of the house there is a life bar at the top of the screen, quite like one you would see when in a real video game. Also as the youth jumps over the wall, the health bar loses health, also like what you would experience in a real video game. The use of this health bar makes the advert seem like a true video game, as it is what youths would expect to have in a video game.
Another technical code is used to recreate the feel of a video game. When the youth walks out of his house, two symbols appear in the bottom left-hand corner; a fist symbol and a knife symbol. The knife symbol is highlighted as the youth is carrying the knife. As he puts the knife into his back pocket, the highlighted symbol changes from the knife to the fist. During the confrontation, the youth pulls the knife out, and again the highlighted symbols change, from the fist to the knife.
This, as well as the health bar, makes the advert really feel like a video game, as in video games such as WoW and GTA this is what happens when you change weapons. This really destabilises the distinction between reality and fantasy, as when the youth stabs the gang leader, both the health bar and weapon symbols disappear. Using this really makes the audience feel that it has changed from fantasy to reality, and is a great way to destabilise as the audience will understand the difference between the video game and real life.
Overall, I think that using a videogame style in “Knife City” was a success, as it is quite effective; using video game codes and styles really connects with the target audience, and I feel that youths watching would really understand and acknowledge the fact that carrying a knife is not just a game. I agree with the whole principle of “Knife City” as it seems like a perfect way to relate to teens and youths who are associated with knife crime to understand the seriousness of carrying a knife.
I believe that watching this advert would really get the message out there as it is a clever way to connect with the audience. Unfortunately the “Knife City” advert was only aired on 4 channels, which were also only on digital or subscriber channels, not on terrestrial, meaning only a handful of people may have seen the advert. I myself did not see the advert until researching it, so I think they could have tackled the issue of knife crime more effectively; the Metropolitan Police should have broadcast it on terrestrial channels as well as on subscriber and digital channels.