Folk Devils and Moral Panics in Malaysian Context

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  • Topic: Black metal, Heavy metal subgenres, Moral panic
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Discuss the notion of ‘moral panics’. Illustrate your discussions with examples of ‘folk devils,’ and incorporating concepts such as ‘the deviancy amplification spiral’ and the need for law and order. -------------------------------------------------

In one if his countless speeches, Adolf Hitler once said, “If we do not take steps to preserve the purity of blood, the Jew will destroy civilisation by poisoning us all.” Societies all around the world have been under the ‘attack’ of the moral panics countless of times in history. Moral panics, a term used to describe a state of panic in a society due to the occurrence of a certain event, fearing that the values uphold in the society are being threatened and may be in jeopardy, was first coined by Stanley Cohen in his writings in the year of 1987 entitled Folk Devils and Moral Panics. The characteristics of moral panics are explained by Cohen as ‘a condition, episode, person or group of persons who become defined as a threat to societal values and interests’ (Cohen, 1987). The study was primarily about the sub-cultures specifically those relating to Mods and Rockers in the 1960s scene. He studied the treatment received by the “deviants” due to their “immoral behaviours” as they were deemed to be a threat to law and order, mainly because of the way they have been represented to the society by the media in the form of control culture. Control culture refers to the media who reveal an event, and in some cases exaggerate the consequences of the event, and then “suggests”, or perhaps call for the “perpetrators” or “offenders” to be persecuted by the law. The perpetrators of the unacceptable behaviours are regarded as “folk devils”. More often than not, these folk devils are just merely scapegoats who are being blamed for being the cause and are responsible for the harmful consequences that have caused the moral panics. In some events, these scapegoats become the victims of the society who are not able to accept responsibility for its own failure. These “folk devils” are often classified, stereotyped and regarded as deviants by the society. Once a group has been identified as folk devils, the negative characteristics related to the identity that the folk devils are portraying will be exclusively and primarily highlighted to the public through media coverage and commentaries by certain parties such as the authorities and experts (Cohen, 1987; Goode & Ben-Yehuda, 1994).

Donson, Chesters, Welsh and Tickle (2004), cited the work of Chomsky and Hermans (1988) who views the mass media as frequently reporting ‘in events and behaviour, in a way that, arguably, intiates, reinforces and embeds large sections of the general public’s suspicions and fears’. Apart from that, Cohen’s (1972) (as cited by Donson et al., 2004) view on this matter regarding the media is that they the news published by them depends on the newsman’s ‘intuitive hunch about what constitutes a good story’, ranging from what they perceive the public wants, to structured ideological biases. Apart from that, Cohen (as cited by Donson et al., 2004) has also evaluated the role of the media by identifying three elements, which are exaggeration, prediction, as well as symbolisation. Firstly, the media exaggerates and distorts the details of an event while emphasizing on the negative characteristics of the event, usually using words that may bring more controversy towards that issue. Secondly, the media also predicts that upcoming event, similar to the initial incident, will follow through but with more disastrous and destructive effects. Finally, symbolisation involves the process of interpreting symbolic symbols which are typically turned into symbols that read “deviant”, such as clothing, hairstyles, and even the object themselves may become a symbol of a status.

Folk devils in Malaysia
The black metal phenomenon was once considered as a big issue that was spreading...
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