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May 21, 2013 / C H Thompson

Media and moral panics

Stanley Cohen’s research into moral panics, identified how the increased reporting on a category of antisocial behaviour or other undesirable events led to moral panics.

Deviancy amplification spiral is the term often used to describe the media hype generated over on issue which causes a moral panic. The process of moral panics is best explained via the cultural effects model.

  • Moral Panic –an exaggerated fear or outrage by the media and the audience, over an issue that has been blown out of proportion by the media in the first place. These become issues of public concern, about the behaviour of certain groups of people who are seen as a threat to the moral order and stability of society.
  • Folk Devils – these are groups targeted by a moral panic, fictional or not. They are groups seen by the media as evil or deviant and a threat to the moral well being of society.
  • Self-fulfilling Prophecy – a prediction that makes itself become true. An external view is internalized by a person or a group and taken on in their actions and behaviour.

The term moral panic was developed by Stan Cohen. BBC’s Thinking Aloud discusses the work of sociologist Stan Cohen (1942-2013)

It is based on a false or exaggerated idea that some group’s behaviour is labelled as deviant and is a menace to society.

Cohen used the term ‘folk devil’ to refer to such groups. Laurie Taylor discusses a contemporary moral panic on Boy Racers with Dr Karen Lumsden author of Racer Culture: Youth, Masculinity & Deviance.

‘Moral panics’ are generally fuelled by media coverage of social issues.

          Mods & Rockers (1960s) (Cohen)

          Mugging in the 1970s (Hall et al).

          HIV/Aids (1980s).

          Satanic child abuse (1980s).

          Heroin and crack cocaine distribution (1980s/1990s).

          Video-nasties (1980/1990s).

          Guns (1990s and 2000s)

          Acid raves, Ecstasy, (1990s) (Thornton and Critcher).

          Male under-achievement in education (1990s).

          Asylum seekers (2000s).

          Islamic terrorism (2000s)

          Knife crime (2000s)

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