Moral panics and folk devils

Moral panics and folk devils

“ Young killer fell through cracks” ” Mauled girl savaged by mans best friend” Each of these headlines from recent New Zealand newspapers is illustrative of an ” episode, condition, person or group of persons” that have been defined as a ” threat to societal values and interests”-what Stanley Cohen terms a Moral Panic. So how relevant are Moral Panics today? What role does the mass media play in shaping how our society views its youth and youth sub-cultures? This essay will examine not only the essence and meaning of the term Moral Panic but also the importance of the involvement of the media in the process of creating one. Moral Panic was an expression coined by Stanley Cohen in his 1972 book “Folk devils and Moral Panics”. Cohen, a Sociology Professor at the University of Essex in the 1960s, developed the concept of Moral Panic as a way to describe the media coverage of the violence that erupted between two rival youth gangs (the Mods and Rockers) and to explain the subsequent societal reaction to that era’s youth sub-culture. According to the findings of Cohen, a Moral Panic is a mass media generated movement based on the belief that some individual or group (frequently a youth or minority group or sub-culture) is dangerously deviant and poses a threat to society. “Moral’ being a challenge to the moral order of society and “Panic’ meaning ” a sudden feeling of fear, that is overwhelming and may seem to be unfounded”. These Moral Panics are generally fuelled by exaggerated media reports of social issues. Cohen’s study originated with the Mods and Rockers and the treatment they received at the hands of the press and then the public. Cohen’s study recorded the 1964 conflict between the rival gangs in Clacton, UK. The two youth gangs fought in an incident resulting in minor damage and led to the arrest of ninety-seven people for petty offences. However Cohen saw that the English med…


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