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Moral panic revised

Moral panic, as described by creator of the term, Stanley Cohen in his book  Folk Devils and Moral Panics (1972) occur when “a condition, episode, person or group of persons emerges to become defined as a threat to social values and interests.”

Sighting those who start moral panic are refered to as ‘moral entrepreneurs” where the people who ‘threaten the social order’ are refered to as ‘folk devils. This such panic, generally starting with the press, when they fear a threat to prevailing social or cultural values.

Cohen first used this term when he examined the mods/rockers movements in the 60’s and 70’s. Although credited as polar opposites (class notes) The group termed “rockers”, usually manual workers who wore clothes such as black leather jackets and rode big motorcycles in gangs.

The other group, known as “mods”, were mostly from the cities who wore suits and rode scooters, and who saw rockers as “out of touch”.

Moral panic clearly existed prior to Cohen creating the term.  Virtually every dance style introduced in the 20th century created such panic. Even the waltz was condemned much earlier as a sure path to sin because the couples embraced each other.

Moral panic has occurred over a number of varied social issues, for example, football hooliganism of the 1970s, acid house parties in the 1980s, the rise of punk music and more recently explicit video games.

Defining features of moral panics

Moral panics occur when the media turn a reasonably ordinary event and
present it as extraordinary.
• The media, in particular, set in motion a deviance amplification spiral, through
which the subjects of the panic are viewed as a source of moral decline and
social disintegration.
• Moral panics clarify the moral boundaries of the society in which they occur.
• Moral panics occur during periods of rapid social change and anxiety.
• Young people are the usual target of moral panics, their behaviour is ‘regarded
as a barometer to test the health or sickness of as society’.
(Jewkes, 2004, p 67)

A contemporary example of Moral Panic lies with the influx and banning of head shops.

Head shops sprang up around the country, selling alternatives to the likes of coke and cannabis, perfectly legal alternatives  because of various loopholes in the Irish law.

The head shops would also sell drugs paraphernalia – smoking, snorting and plant growing equipment –  again, all perfectly within the law,

Dangerous or not, a moral panic whipped through the country.

Because of the bad press accompanied with these head shops the Irish government had a knee jerk reaction and banned all substances and their derivatives.

Rather  than explore the possibilities of introducing a legal & taxable alternative to drugs, and more importantly a method to exterminate drug dealers for good they were banned.

Some politicians were in favour of outlawing the shops while others argued this would be a “huge mistake” which would allow illegal street dealers to thrive


Moral panic… What is it?

Moral panics occur when media and society link youth culture to juvenile delinquency, as video games and music were to the 1999 Columbine shootings. Panics even arouse from Elvis Presley, impairing the morals of minors with his hip-swivelling.

While researching moral panic I came across this blog that introduced me to the concept. I feel it is so accurate I could not introduce it my self any better, so here goes:

“Moral panic is an interesting social phenomenon that can have tragic results. The term is used to describe a state of panic induced in a large group of people, who feel that a societal norm or an aspect governing the safety of people is being seriously threatened. The term is the creation of sociologist Stanley Cohen, who examined the way that Mods and Rock and Roll fans were perceived as a threat to society in the 1960s and early 1970s. Moral panic clearly existed prior to Cohen creating the term. Virtually every dance style introduced in the 20th century created such panic; even the waltz was condemned much earlier as a sure path to sin because the couples embraced each other.

Most new music styles, and the fans of such styles, have induced — at least in small-scale —moral panic. From ministers condemning the evils of rock and roll to significant news coverage of the hippie culture and from Kurt Cobain’s death to the Goth movement, people may become significantly afraid that a corruptible influence is likely to cause harm to their children and their way of life. These concerns are often inflated by excessive coverage in the media of a few events that would indicate all children who picked up a Nirvana album would commit suicide, or all children who donned black eye shadow would decide to worship vampires.”

Moral panics can be broken into 3 segments

1.  Occurrence and signification

An event occurs and, because of its nature, the media decide it is worthy of dramatic coverage (“Full Colour Pics of Satanic Abuse Site”, “Razorblade Found In Babyfood”, “Terrorist Cell plot attack” etc) and the event is signified as a violent, worrying one.

2.  social implications

Connections are made between one event and  society as a whole. After the initial event, the life of the story is extended through the contributions of ‘expert’ opinionmakers, who establish that this one event is just the tip of the iceberg, and that it is part of an overall pattern which constitutes a major social menace (“Child abuse figures on the up” “Safety concerns at babyfood packing plants”,”Youth Groups targeted by Extremists” etc etc). Thus public attention is focused on the issues

3. Social Control

Moral panics seek some sort of resolution and this often comes with a change in the law, designed to further penalise those established as the threatening deviants at the source of the panic (“New clampdown on devil-worshippers”. “Strict New Safety Controls on Babyfood”, “Hate Groups Banned”). This satisfies the public who feel they are empowered politically by the media.

Moral panic to me is like scaremongering,   the use of fear to influence other people into taking a certain action or thinking a certain way. for me, the biggest scale of scaremongering is been held daily in the US.

The Unites States terror alert, for me, is the biggest use of moral panic known at this age.  It was set up post 9-11 to warn US citizens and the world of the chances of an attack. in my opinion it is just a method to creating and justified  moral panic among the masses. by constantly raising and lowering it the masses do not know what to expect and are constantly been kept of their toes.

an example of moral panic been spread

If we do not take steps to preserve the purity of blood, the Jew will destroy civilisation by poisoning us all. (Hitler, 1938)

final quote from Cohen:

More moral panics will be generated and other, as yet nameless, folk devils will be created. This is not because such developments have an inexorable inner logic, but because our society as present structured will continue to generate problems for some of its members…and then condemn whatever solution these groups find