Moral Panic Essay, Research Paper
Firstly I would like to examine the definition of moral
panic and then go on to discuss an example in order to demonstrate its cycle
and characteristics.According to Goode & Ben-Yehuda (1994) ? A moral panic
is characterised by a feeling held by a substantial number of a members of a
given society, that evil-doers pose a threat to society and to the moral order
as a consequence of their behaviour and, therefore, ?something should be done
about them and their behaviour?.The term ?moral panic? suggests a dramatic and rapid
overreaction to forms of deviance or wrongdoing believed to be a direct threat
to society. They tend to occur at times of social upheaval when people are
struggling to adjust; there is a general feeling of lack of control and declining
standards.? At these times people tend
to group into a kind of social collective, further defined by identify victims
on which all that is wrong of society may be blamed.? This helps them feel better and more assured.? They have someone to blame for everything
that is wrong, a scapegoat or ?folk devil? as describe by Stanley Cohen.The cycle of moral panics begins as suggested with a deviant
or criminal act, which is generally considered to be a threat to the fabric of
society.? The media identify and exaggerate
the deviancy in simplified terms, sometimes selectively misrepresenting and
occasionally even deliberately instigating events in the pursuit of headlines.
The deviants are as a result stigmatised and acknowledged as an ?out-group?
from mainstream society ? being represented and rumoured as ?not to be trusted?
and as ?troublemakers?, social isolation of the ?out-group? results, and they
are categorised almost as a sub-culture.?
In turn those involved may gradually identify with this role, further increasing
the likelihood of deviant behaviour. People generally hark back to what they
perceive to be the ?good old days? when everything was more secure, it just
probably seems that way because of course nothing is the past can be altered
and of course when people think back they tend to concentrate more on happy
rather than unhappy experiences.??
Following the media frenzy and stigmatisation of the ?out-group?; public
fears and indignation are aroused and agitated, there are calls for action to
be taken and for ?something to be done? in order to defuse the deviant actions,
so that society can return to stability and order.?? This is followed by a response from public figures such as
politicians, the police force, magistrates and religious leaders amongst others,
which in turn further concentrates focus and concern by the pubic at large,
this is known as deviancy amplification. The authorities must then be seen to
be acting on the professed threat by providing remedies, possible solutions,
punishments, and in some cases, legislation and social reform.?? Where these are not seen to be effective,
action groups may spring up and in extreme cases lynch mobs formed where people
take matters into their own hands, therefore, breaking the law themselves.One recent example of a moral panic was the case of the
James Bulger murder in the early 1990s.?
Two 11-year-old boys, Robert Thompson and Jon Venables abducted James
from a shopping precinct in Liverpool. They walked him two miles through crowed
streets to a railway line, where they inflicted massive injuries resulting in
his death. This deviant act committed by fellow children dominated newspaper
headlines and created a panic and outrage.?
The murder was portrayed by the media as a horrific act, which
symbolized the degeneration of modern British society, despite the fact that
statistically such murders were extremely rare and the UK, though not unique.
When Mary Bell killed at age 11 murdered two toddlers in 1968 there was no such
moral panic, and seemed to be largely ignored by the press.? The media used the Bulger case to symbolise
all that was wrong with Britain, they focused on the difference between
innocence and evil and why we as a society had allowed it happen, it suggested
the increase of public indifference, lowering family values and increasing
isolation, generating massive public guilt and predicting a breakdown in the
cohesive fabric of society itself.Fuelled by the press reports, people searched for reasons
why this might have happened.? There was
increasing focus on child crime, this group?s stigmatisation was further
fuelled by police claims that juvenile crime was on the increase, and young
people were out of control, flouting the law due to insufficient penalties for
their misdemeanours.? This prompted
demands for tighter controls, curfews for young people and stricter laws.
However, other statistics showed that juvenile crime had indeed dropped, these
were dismissed by the authorities because claiming the figures a
misrepresentation and only appeared so due to a reduction in numbers in the
juvenile population.?? Politicians and
religious leaders called for the restoration of traditional values of the past
?when such crimes didn?t happen?, a debatable point, as it could be argued that
in fact we are probably just more sensitised and to it now due to increased
reporting and public awareness campaigns etc.?
Public opinion demanded stricter authoritarian controls and
even censorship as the deviancy situation was amplified. There was little
public opposition to the government proposal to install more CCTV cameras to
control crime, after all, surveillance cameras proved instrumental in the
identification of James Bulger?s killers, however, they had also served another
purpose, and that was to make the public feel more involved with the tragedy,
conveying highly emotional images which will probably be never forgotten by
those who saw them, images of a small boy being led away to his death.? There were also calls for stricter controls
on violent films as it was reported that the boys may have been influenced by
the film Child?s Play III though there is little evidence in place to support
this argument.In conclusion, moral panics are not a new phenomenon; they
tend to arise in periods of social upheaval and change.? The path of a panic can take one of two
directions; it can quickly die down and is more or less forgotten to a great
degree or can have more serious and lasting implications such as new
legislation and changes in social policy. Society plays their part, encouraged by the press – people
who are in the midst of a moral panic clamour for any available news and
basically believe anything they are told.?
Moral panics feed off guilt that is spread by contagion to make people
feel more comfortable by blaming another group for their deviances.