Throughout time there have been a number of panics over a variety of issues, ranging from crime and the activities of youth, to drugs and sexual freedom, each considered a threat to the moral fibre of society. As Furedi points out, ‘newspaper headlines continually warn of some new danger which threatens our health and happiness. Furedi suggests that moral panics have a tendency to occur ‘at times when society has not been able to adapt to dramatic changes’ and when such change leads those concerned to express fear over what they see as a loss of control.
The term moral panic was coined by Stanley Cohen in 1972. According to Cohen, society is often subject to such instances and periods of moral panic. Essentially a moral panic refers to an exaggerated reaction from the media, the police or wider public, to the activities of wider social groups. These activities may have been relatively trivial but have been reported in somewhat sensationalized form in the media, and such reporting and publicity has led to an increase in general anxiety and concern about those activities. An example of this is ‘jock young’ hippies who smoked marijuana in Notting Hill. Cohen described the process as a ‘deviance amplification’ which is a reinforcing effect that happens as a result of negative social reaction to such criminal or deviant behaviour. The ‘Jock Young’ study considers the effect of the beliefs and stereotypes held by police about drug users and conflict between them.
The 5 stages of a moral panic:
Someone or something is defined as a threat to vales or interests This threat is depicted in an easily recognizable form by the media There is a rapid build-up of the public concern
There is a response from authorities or opinion makers
The panic recedes or results in social changes
An example of Cohen’s 5 stages of a moral panic is the incident in Victoria station involving teenagers who a confrontation on Facebook escalated to a knife brawl...
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