OK so I have touched on the subject of Moral Panics many times in the past, I have discussed things such as the ''Video Nasties'' the Horror comics of the 1950's, Violent Video games but its a subject I feel I just have to keep returning to, why? Basically because I think it is an important topic one which needs to be discussed for multiple reasons a number of which I hope will become clear by the end of this post.
OK so what is a Moral panic? Well I will offer up the following Quote/Definition for clarification ''A moral panic is a widespread fear, a fear which is most often an irrational fear, a fear that someone or something is a threat to the core values, the safety, and the interests of a particular group of people, a community, or even wide spread society in general.''
To talk about moral panics it is probably best to start of by talking about the man who is credited with both coming up with the phrase ''Moral Panic'' and with the development of the sociological concept, this man was called Stanley Cohen. Stanley Cohen was a South African Sociologist who was born in 1942 and died in 2013. Cohen introduced the social theory of moral panic in his book Folk Devils and Moral Panics which was published in 1972.
In this book, Cohen detailed his study of the public reaction in England to fights between the "mod" and "rocker" youth subcultures of the 1960s and '70s. It was through studying these youths and the media and the public's reaction to them that Cohen developed a theory of moral panic that outlines five stages of the process.
- Something or someone is perceived and defined as a threat to the social norms and the interests of the community or society at large.
- News media and members of the community/society then depict the threat in simplistic symbolic ways that quickly become recognizable to the greater public.
- Widespread public concern is aroused by the way news media portrays the symbolic representation of the threat.
- Authorities and policy makers respond to the threat, be it real or perceived, with new laws and/or policies.
- The moral panic and actions by those in power that follows it results in social change within the community.
Cohen also suggested that there are five key sets of actors involved in the process of moral panic. They are:
- The threat that incites the moral panic, which Cohen referred to as "folk devils";
- Enforcers of rules or laws, like institutional authority figures, police, or armed forces;
- The news media, which breaks the news about the threat and continues to report on it, thereby setting the agenda for how it is discussed, and attaching visual symbolic images to it;
- Politicians, who respond to the threat, and sometimes fan the flames of the panic;
- And the public, who develop focused concern about the threat and demand action in response to it.
The truth was that Cohen found that rather minor fights between groups of Mods and Rockers in beachside resorts were highly sensationalised by the media they were blown out of all proportion. One headline was “Wild ones invade seaside town – 97 arrests”. In this case the real truth of the matter was that there was not 97 arrests the number had been highly exaggerated there were in fact only 24 arrests, which when you do the maths it means that the media had in fact decided to make out 4 times as many people had arrested. Cohen found that this media reporting in fact led to increased policing which actually intensified the problem.
So why is this being brought up on a blog that's about gaming, horror films and other geeky pursuits you might ask well that's simple. The first proper research in moral panics might be the above case, at the very least its the first known research where this term and concept is used however when you look at things both before and after this point it is easy to see lots of examples of moral panics.
I have seen people argue that the concept of Moral panic goes back as far as World War One when the British wartime government used the media to portray the Germans in a certain manner in the hope of provoking a response from them, however I think you can go even further back than that, it all depends on how you view this. Think of the Salem Witch Trials for example and I would argue that there is an element of Moral Panic there.
Some people perceived certain women as a threat to social norms because of either certain practices they engaged in or in some cases just how they looked, these individuals were the folk-devil's, a panic was stirred up by those with power or social influence and if you think about it from that point and follow the steps you will see how it could be seen to fit all of the patterns of a moral panic (yes there was no media in the way we think of it today but there were town meetings and councils and gossip etcetera).
Historically society looks for things to blame and there are those who resist change and/or anything which is out of there comfort zone or anything which they choose to see as wrong. If like me you are a geek and you enjoy video games, or horror films or even comic books then it is important to realise that all of these areas of interest have been targeted by moral panics.
As a child born in the 80's I have lived through a fair few moral panic's in some cases I was aware of them in other cases not so much. In the 1980’s a moral panic was created in the media over HIV/AIDS. I was too young to really understand this, my basic memory of it is school pushing sex education right down our throats, they seemed very keen to push a massive fear of aids into all of us, to scare us into using condoms or even avoiding sex altogether now being scared in to remembering that sex can be risky and that sexually transmitted diseases exist might not be the worst thing to happen but then I also remember some media outlets nicknaming HIV/AIDS the ‘gay plague’ stigmatising a specific section of the population as being the primary cause and carriers and to put it mildly this was not cool in the slightest, anything which leads to one group of people unjustly being looked down on is simply wrong and should not be accepted in a civilised society.
The irony was that the next major examples of Moral Panic I can think of are the video nasties panic and the violent video games panic, in both of these cases it was suggested that young impressionable minds might be corrupted by them witnessing blood and violent acts in various forms of media, that these images might somehow blacken our hearts and cause us to become monsters.... this was suggested by the very same media which had effectively tried to make us hate a whole group in society based on there sexual preferences.
This is the point where this whole post should begin to make some sense. I have raised the point of moral panic's because I think people need to stop and think about what is written in the media, who is writing the things that you read, why are they writing them, who do they work for and what is there agenda both as an individual and as an employee?
The world around us is in a constant state of change and some people are better equipped to deal with that, some people embrace new ways of thinking and new challenges, other people feel that the world is slipping away from them that it is becoming less there world, less the world they grew up , less the world they feel safe in and to this end they will try to do anything they can to try to halt progress to try and keep a hold of what they know, but in truth you cant do this if you try then it will just slip through your hands like grains of sand. I hope this has given you something to think about dear reader.