moral panics & folk devils representation of people, events, places, issues

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Moral Panics & Folk Devils

Moral Panics & Folk DevilsRepresentation of people, events, places, issues.

1What are Moral Panics'?

If we do not take steps to preserve the purity of blood, the Jew will destroy civilisation by poisoning us all.

(Hitler, 1938)

Surely if the human race is under threat, it is entirely reasonable to segregate AIDS victims, otherwise the whole of mankind could be engulfed.

(The Daily Star, 2 December 1988)

2& Folk DevilsFrom the Witch Hunts of the Renaissance to the Pokmon Panics of the early 21st century, the media has long been a central part of the sociological phenomenon known as 'Moral Panic'.

According to Key Concepts in Communication (O'Sullivan, Fiske et al 1983)"Moral panics then, are those processes whereby members of a society and culture become 'morally sensitized' to the challenges and menaces posed to 'their' accepted values and ways of life, by the activities of groups defined as deviant. The process underscores the importance of the mass media in providing, maintaining and 'policing' the available frameworks and definitions of deviance, which structure both public awareness of, and attitudes towards, social problems."Those deviant groups were labelled by Stanley Cohen in 1971/2 as folk devils.

3Moral Panics in the media can formally be broken down into 3 stages1. Occurrence and significationAn event occurs and, because of its nature, the media decide it is worthy of dramatic coverage ("Full Colour Pics of Satanic Abuse Site", "Razorblade Found In Babyfood" etc) and the event is signified as a violent, worrying one.

2.Wider social implications (fanning the flames)Connections are made between one event and the wider malaise of society as a whole. After the initial event, the life of the story is extended through the contributions of 'expert' opinionmakers, who establish that this one event is just the tip of the iceberg, and that it is part of an overall pattern which constitutes a major social menace ("Child abuse figures on the up" "Safety concerns at babyfood packing plants" etc etc). Thus public attention is focused on the issues

3.Social ControlMoral panics seek some sort of resolution and this often comes with a change in the law, designed to further penalise those established as the threatening deviants at the source of the panic ("New clampdown on devil-worshippers". "Strict New Safety Controls on Babyfood"). This satisfies the public who feel they are empowered politically by the media.

4Mods & Rockers Cohen goes on to discuss the way in which the mass media constructs, frames & represents these episodes, or stylises them, amplifying the nature of the facts and consequently turning them into a national issue, when the matter could have been contained on a local level.The Mail, Express & the Sun repeatedly ask for something to be done!

Cohen's study originated from his interest in the youth culture and its perceived potential threat to social order. Throughout each era, a group has emerged who 'fits' the criteria, such as the Teddy Boys, Mods and Rockers, Skinheads and Hells Angels. They all become associated with certain types of violence, which in turn also provoke public reaction and emotion, as topics in their own right. Youtube

5Mods & rockers & Moral Panic issues as football hooliganism, drug abuse, vandalism and political demonstrations, all struck a chord in public opinion, but the impact might not have been on such a large scale, were it not for the part the mass media play in the exposition of the facts.

7Amplification & RepetitionThe 'amplification' which takes place through the media's work serves to appeal to the public so that they agree with ready-made opinions about the course of action to be taken, and these opinions have been found from the members of what Cohen refers to as the 'moral barricade', i.e. bishops, politicians and editors. Combined with the opinions of the 'experts' who are wheeled out to give their diagnosis, they reach an agreement(often legislation) about how to cope with the situation in hand, and the problem either disappears or at least deteriorates.


The McCarthy Witchunts & the HUACIn the post WW2 period, 1945, the new threat to the U.S was seen to be the Soviet union, The USSR This marked the beginning of the Cold War. McCarthy argued that covert communist messages and propaganda were in Hollywood filmsMany in the film industry were called to testify and name names to save themselves. Have you now or ever been a member of the Communist party...answer the questionMany writers, directors & stars were blacklisted, sacked and many never worked again. Youtube HUAC

9He May Be A Communist!

10Anti-Communist propaganda

11AIDS/HIV The Gay Plague & HomophobiaThe media have been involved in giving false information about several matters, including BSE, E-coli and the AIDS virus and HIV. Indeed several newspapers declared in the early 1980's that HIV could only be contracted and passed on through homosexual activity. This along with the opening statements had an increasingly damaging effect on the gay communityPress reports stated that AIDS was highly infectious. For example, "Cough can spread AIDS, warns Doc" (The Sun), "It's spreading like wildfire" (The Sun), "Kiss of Death" (The Star), "A million will have AIDS in six years" (Daily Mail), "AIDS threat to one in five" (Star), "March of the gay plague" (News of the World). This issue of infectiousness was reinforced by: AIDS Is Everywhere - There was no escaping AIDS - it was reaching into every corner of society. "AIDS on the QE2" (Sun), "AIDS death shock at BBC" (Star), "AIDS: Three British Airways crew die (Sun), "[Government] Minister killed by AIDS (News of the World), Can you think of any other medical moral panics?

12Child Abuse and Paedophilia

Easy for newspapers to sensationalise and it is an ongoing tabloid campaign in the UK 2005 a man in Manchester, England was killed by knife after being mistakenly accused of child molestation by an insane man in the neighbourhood.This resulted in the persucution of Paeditricians by an angry mob (which had confused the two words) in August 2000

13Wednesday, 30 August, 2000, 19:04 Paediatrician attacks 'ignorant' vandals

The front door was daubed with yellow paint

A hospital paediatrician has hit out at vandals who forced her to flee her home after apparently taking her job title to mean she was a paedophile. South African-born Yvette Cloete - a 30-year-old trainee consultant at the Royal Gwent Hospital, Newport, south Wales - said she planned to move home after returning to find the outside of her property daubed with the words "paedo".

She said she can not rule out the possibility that the paint attack was connected with her job at the hospital.

14Asylum & Immigrationas you can see the Mail & Express are obsessed...

15Immigration Bingo In pairs Tick off the words you find Read a Mail or Express story on immigration & identify the words in the bingo chart

16Looking at these examples list which social group is scapegoated by these panics. Work in pairsMoral Panic - IssueScapegoat social group blamed



Child Abuse




Youth culture has always been the focus of moral panics. The next slide represents youth subcultures.

In pairs identify the subculture & the decade.

Time 5 mins. 18

19How well did you do? 1950;s1960;s1970;s1980;s1990s2000s

Rock & roll (Elvis etc Devils music)Teddy boys

Hippies & drugs, Hells AngelsMods (and drugs & violence)Hells angels Drugs & violence)Punk

Ravers, Travellers & Crusties

Emos- Rappers -Can you identify others?

20The whole War on Drugs Discourse in the media is a moral panicTeens are represented as both perpetrator.s & victims. Did the Moral Panic about Meow Meow lead to legislation?

21Last night on my television I saw the dirtiest programme.. Mary WhitehouseMary Whitehouse (Defender of the public morals) introduced the term video nasty in 1982, which was then to emerge as a press label within the same year.

The phrase described an apparent influx of horrific and sickening videos that had arrived in the UK after the 1979 introduction of the VHS to the British market.

The uproar began in May 1982:Sunday Times journalist Peter Chippendale published an article entitled How High Street Horror Is Invading The Home. Uncensored horror video cassettes have arrived.

- The newspapers wrote articles to shock and grab readers attention with extremist points of view.

- murderers could use the excuse, and this would lobby press and public.

22Video recordings Act 1984When the Mary Whitehouse and The Daily Mail supported Video Recording Act was passed in 1984, it was noted that a survey taken of the general public was less supportive than the press were keen to suggest.

The full list of banned nasties can be found at editorial then attempted to use its considerable voice to bring about a new tough law even going as far as to print four of their own policies, and finishing with:

The Daily Mail, which has been in the forefront over the years exposing the obscenity of the video nasties, will not rest until this law is on the Statue book.


Can you think of any specific texts that have been the cause of a moral panic? In Pairs find examples..................