The Emergence of Moral Panic

Our first topic of discussion this year was the concept of moral panic. Stan Cohen originally coined the term in his 1972 novel, Folk Devils and Moral Panic. He discusses the reactions of the media to ‘mugging’ entering British crime reporters’ vocabulary.  Many believed that this ‘new’ word meant an influx of new crimes of this nature.

The Daily Mirror published an article headlined: ‘As Crimes of Violence Escalate, a Word Common In The USA Enters British Headlines: Mugging. To our Police, it’s a frightening new strain of crime.’

To me this encapsulates the common societal fear of anything that appears to be new and foreign. Muggings have always taken place in the UK, however, with this new label the people feel that it is now ‘close to home’ and to be feared.

“The slide towards moral panic rhetoric depends less on the sheer volume of cases, than a cognitive shift from ‘how could it happen in a place like this?’ to ‘it could happen anyplace’.

This puts in perspective societies recognition of the norm and underlying morality. There is hegemony that dominates societies opinions of every matter. During my research I found a paper titled ‘Moral Panic and the British Media’ by Ian Marsh and Gaynor Melville. They suggest that major social concerns are only magnified by media reactions, which in turn widens the panic surrounding the issues. Not only this, but in order to gain widespread notoriety, these new concerns are essentially old ‘issues’ that have been reconfigured to apply.

With our media now consisting so highly of user-generated content, I feel there has been a very slight shift in the medias power over moral panic. Media outlets still provide an official source, but there is now far more room for debate and public opinion with this new age of social media.