For lack of a better term, the visual culture of a rising-crime period is more stylized. It's clearly aiming away from photorealism, yet it's not minimalist or abstract, which are other ways of achieving that goal. In a falling-crime period, the visual culture looks more bland and uninspired, whether photorealistic or abstract / minimalist. In graphic design, this means a greater fascination with and reliance on photography in falling-crime times, and on illustration in rising-crime times.
From the turn of the 20th century through the early '30s, there was a golden age of illustration. From the mid-'30s through the '50s, that was out, and photography was back in (like during the falling-crime Victorian era). The Bauhaus movement promoted photography and sans serif typefaces during the 1920s, but nobody paid any attention to them back then. Not until the mid-century did their ideas finally find an enthusiastic audience.
Starting in the '60s and lasting through the '80s, the mainstreaming of Bauhaus was overthrown, as graphic designers returned to the stylized approach of Art Nouveau and Art Deco, with a more hand-drawn illustration look. Since the '90s, the pendulum has swung back toward photography and Helvetica once more. The collage-y look that Bauhaus propagandized for, but that only caught on during the mid-century, is back again, this time with a little help from Photoshop.
You can read about this in any good graphic design history book, with pictures from across a variety of visual domains. Here I thought I'd restrict the focus to something everyone knows something about, but might not have noticed the historical pendulum swings -- movie posters.
Aside from the greater use of illustration during rising-crime times, they're also more likely to use bold contrasting colors and bright-dark lighting contrast. The falling-crime fanaticism for photorealism can go so far as to include screenshots from the movie right there on the poster, not just any old photographs that might entice the audience.
I chose posters from movies that did very well at the box office, to make sure that we're looking at ones that resonated with audiences. Granted, they did well because of the movie itself, but the poster served to lure them in as well. I tried to cover a range of genres and years within each larger phase of the cycle. But to check on others -- your favorites or ones you're just curious about -- the movie's Wikipedia entry usually has a picture of the original poster near the top.
So, here's a quick but representative look at some posters from periods when crime was rising (1900 - 1933), falling (1934 - 1958), rising again (1959 - 1992), and falling again (1993 - present). Click any for a larger image.
Whatever you think of the movies themselves, their posters from the mid-century and Millennial eras sure do look bland in color and lighting, not to mention awkward and obvious in their reliance on screenshots. The photorealistic look doesn't mark itself or the movie it's advertising as something special, out of the ordinary, in the way that a stylized, charming illustration does.
It's not like the rising-crime posters are Caravaggio or Goya, but they're not supposed to be. They're part of our everyday lives, a kind of advertisement. But why shouldn't that stuff look cool too? Within reasonable, expectable bounds -- the studio isn't going to commission Rubens to slave away for who knows how long, just to come up with a large-scale ad for a movie. That still allows for creativity and enjoyment, though.
I can't stand the Puritanical strain in our culture that says we ought to just shut up and accept our boring, lifeless, and joyless popular culture, because none of that really matters anyway in the grand scheme of things. It comes from a seething misanthropy, whether the guy is a Baudelaire-reading emo faggot or a bitter reactionary/traditionalist. It's no different from the radical activist who loves humanity but hates people -- the main reason why "the movement" never lasts.
Whoever thinks that malcontents are going to prove to be any kind of guide out of our cultural mess is in for a real disappointment. If you aren't life-loving enough to enjoy cool-looking movie posters, everyone's going to tune you out when they might otherwise lean toward your side.