Moral Panics Continue to Impact Negatively on Young People

Topics: Criminology, Sociology, Crime Pages: 6 (2173 words) Published: March 21, 2015


'Moral panics continue to impact negatively on young people' 

1Jock Young was the first published reference to moral panic but it was renowned Sociologist Stanley Cohen who was first to introduce the term in his 1972 speech, following extreme public reactions to youth violence and crime amongst the Mods and Rockers in the 1960s. 2According to Cohen, 'a moral panic occurs when a condition, episode, person or group of persons emerges to become defined as a threat to societal values and interests.' 3Moral panic dates back as far as World War One when the government used the media to portray the Germans in a negative manner in order to provoke a response, and inevitably win the war. Stanley Cohen's research was mainly qualitative; he found that minor fights between Mods and Rockers in beach side resorts were very much exaggerated by the media. 4One headline in 1964 by the daily mail read “97 arrests as Wild ones invade seaside town,” in actual fact there were actually only 24 arrests. This media exaggerating led to increased policing which instead of helping intensified the problem. Whilst his work had a considerable influence and positive effect, in more recent years criticisms have been made and have shown us some of the theoretical weaknesses.

5Goode and Ben Yehuda have voiced theories that moral panic consists of five key attributes. The first one they recognised is concern, concern that the behaviour of the group is most likely to have a negative impact on society, Concern is revealed through modes of opinion such as media attention, polls and legislation. The second characteristic is hostility, as hostility towards “youths” increases; they will eventually become “folk devils” therefore creating a negative division. The third is a form of consensus; it is necessary that society as a whole see the threat posed by the rule breakers as significant and serious, they continue on to the fourth characteristic which is formed up of disproportionality which according to Cohen is key to assessing whether a panic is a moral panic or not, as Goode and Ben-Yehuda also comment, ‘the concept of moral panic rests on disproportionality’. 6Young agrees and sees the disproportional reaction to the particular behaviour as a key attribute of any moral panic. Disproportionate is Whether the action taken is disproportionate to the actual threat posed by the accused group, even though this is a popular and well backed up concept, It has also had criticisms, 7Garland highlights difficulties with the measuring and the valuing of dis proportionality but suggests that they can be resolved through appropriate data methods, 8Waddington argues that disproportionality is nothing more than a value judgement. The fifth and final attribute is volatility; moral panics are highly volatile and tend to disappear as quickly as they first appeared. 9Goode and Ben-Yehuda offer three theoretical models for analysing the causes of moral panics, The first model recognized is The Grass Roots Model which suggests that the public itself creates and maintains most moral panics, it suggests that a moral panic arises spontaneously across a broad spectrum of a society's population. Whilst the media take the lead in spreading and reinforcing moral panics, they do so in response to widespread concerns among the public. An example of a grass roots moral panic happened in 2002 with the Soham murders, involving the kidnapping, abusing and murdering of two young girls by their school caretaker. 10Although Statistics show that children and young adults are more in danger from immediate family members the media succeeded in creating a moral panic that children were no longer safe, and they needed to be supervised 24/7, this resulted in street fights and the famous ‘name and shame’ campaign being launched against paedophiles, which resulted in innocent citizens getting terrorized and assaulted because they shared either a name or a resemblance to a convicted sex...
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