Keep calm and morally panic


Moral Panic goes hand in hand with new media. Today we live in fear of smartphones, robotic companions and cars that practically drive themselves, however, society was known to panic well before the development of these current technologies.

‘CRACKED’, albeit crudely and without much courtesy, has compiled a list of the ‘6 Most Insane Moral Panics in American History’. Featuring in the article is Rock & Roll music (because we all know someone deeply affected by the subliminal messages in backwards rock songs), Dungeons & Dragons, and my personal favourite Comic Books. According to this article, Fredric Wertham was a strong crusader against comic books due to messages of homosexuality and more importantly violence that the characters broadcasted to teenagers. As a side note, “Dr Fredric Wertham is often considered to be as slimy and evil as any creature ever to appear in the horror comics he criticized”.

Simon Shaps 1994 article, I think puts it best: “The essential elements of the moral panic are now all in place. No obvious beginning, no single individual responsible, a rapid escalation precipitated by an alliance of disparate but powerful voices, the indifference of the vast majority, and an insider prepared to dish the dirt. And, of course, most important, no evidence at all to support the case.” Simply put, moral panics are unjustified fears with no factual support.

It seems that throughout history, there has always been something to worry about. It’s the high amount of time I spend on my computer or with my smartphone that makes me question the social and mental effects that current technology is having on me. I can almost guarantee that this is not a fear I have developed of my own accord. Without the constant public murmur of the potential risks associated with smartphones, I may not even be aware of how much time I spend on the darn thing! Will one day I wake up and be incapable of real human interaction?

This week’s lecture highlighted that the “public hold anxieties about the invasion and contamination of the home by the ‘mass media’ and its evil influence”. This got me thinking about the various types of media that may be perceived as infiltrating the family home. George Gerbner, for example, has suggested that Cartoons in particular, depict violence, which infiltrate the home and in turn have an effect on the audience. However, the problem lies in the definition of violence. When is one example defined violence and the other harmless?

The argument that violence can penetrate the family home via media (such as a television) is not a strong one at all. “Violence” (however it is you define it), enters homes across the world daily, yet not all of the people living in these homes strive to replicate the actions they see via the media. So why then is the argument against media instigated violence such a widespread moral panic? *refer again to Shaps (1994) article for my answer.


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