Moral panic

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A moral panic is a public panic over an issue deemed to be a threat to, or shocking to, the sensibilities of "proper" society. This is often fanned by sensationalist selective reporting in the media and exaggerated accounts offered by "moral entrepreneur," a category that includes politicians on the make and activists in search of a cause. Moral panics can result in what is a real phenomenon being blown way out of proportion, or in what is not a real phenomenon in the first place being widely believed to be real. Moral panics often feature a caricatured or stereotypical "folk devil" on which the anxieties of the community are focused, as described by sociologist Stanley Cohen who coined the term in his study Folk Devils and Moral Panics, which examined media coverage of the mod and rocker riots in the 1960s.[1][2]

Where the moral panic involves a group whose members are conscious of their subordination, the denounced behavior may become "a symbol of opposition and rebellion."[3]


[edit] Examples

Examples of things over which there were actual moral panics, or arguably could be called moral panics, organized by category:

[edit] Crime panics

[edit] Media panics

  • Backward masking in your rock & roll records
  • MP3s can be downloaded as digital drugs which gets kids high[4] (see also I-Doser)
  • Pokémon is a bad influence on the children - promotion of psychic abilities and evolution.
  • Harry Potter
  • Music piracy and file-sharing
  • The "video nasties", a set of movies banned in the United Kingdom for supposedly causing immoral behavior

[edit] Political panics

[edit] Religious panics

[edit] Sexual panics

  • Hypersexualizing our children
  • Europe and Japan losing population because of their low birth rates (blamed on socialism, feminism and abortion)
  • Rainbow Parties, oral sex-themed get-togethers that almost certainly don't actually exist.
  • "White slavery," the belief that girls are being abducted from middle America and sold into the sex trade.
  • Rampant Teenage Sexuality.
  • "Snuff" movies
  • "Crush" videos
  • Joycelyn Elders comment about teaching teenagers that masturbation is acceptable.
  • "Non virgin clubs" in the early 50's.
  • AIDS in New York City

Child predators on the internet, and child sexual abuse, are two examples of things which are real but the hysteria over them grew way out of proportion to the actual threat they posed.

[edit] Miscellaneous panics

  • "Seduction of the Innocent", a moral panic that gave rise to the Comics Code Authority.
  • Violence and sex in video games
  • The Recovered Memory movement
  • Marijuana, most notably during the era of social guidance films like Reefer Madness
  • Drugs in general
  • Underage drinking
  • Child abduction
  • Dungeons and Dragons players summoning and worshipping devils and pagan gods
  • Kony 2012
  • Hitchhiking: While it's common sense to be wary of hitchhikers because they indeed might be dangerous, a 1974 study by the California Highway Patrol found that hitchhikers were far more likely to be the victims of crime from those who picked them up or from passersby than they were to be the perpetrators of violence. (In fact, just standing on the shoulder of a roadway is more dangerous than driving in a car.)[6]
  • pit bulls[7] [8]

"Satanic ritual abuse" and the "War on Christmas" are examples of things that probably never existed at all. For others, for example gangs, hate groups, and outlaw motorcycle clubs, and a perceived epidemic of Satanism during the 1980s, the response to the moral panic often takes the form of law enforcement officials (fanned by activist groups drumming up moral panic over those groups' existence) treating them as criminal activity, which can then become a self-fulfilling prophecy or result in violations of their civil liberties in the name of combating something deemed a threat.

[edit] Things which are not moral panics

Some issues may actually be amoral in nature, but do cause a panic. In general these are worthy of attention. There are currently several pressing public issues which have led to needed public debate and action that include:

Environmental hazards like global warming are often written off as "alarmism" or "moral panics" by deniers in a bullshit use of the term in order to downplay the dangers posed by these hazards.

Issues like abortion, terrorism, drinking and driving, and child sexual abuse need not have become moral panics had the level of public discourse over them not descended into hysterics.

[edit] External links

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  2. Stanley Cohen. 1980. Folk Devils and Moral Panics: The Creation of the Mods and Rockets. 2nd. New York: St. Martin's Press.
  3. Mark Fenemore. 2009. Sex, Thugs and Rock 'N' Roll: teenage Rebels in Cold-War East Germany. New York: Berghahn Books. p. 216.
  4. "Teens Today Are Getting High Off Their Computers"
  5. Actually he really is the anti-Christ but we need to turn down the rehtoric a bit.
  6. [ "California Crimes And Accidents Associated With Hitchhiking"] -- text of 1974 CHP study
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