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What Are Moral Panics

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6/8/12

What are moral panics?

What are 'moral panics'?
Hayley Burns
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) Although an extreme illustration, the above quotes serve to set up the creation of a 'moral panic'. Just as Hitler's 'facts' were unfounded, so too were The Daily Star and what resulted from both incidents was, in effect, the persecution of two minority groups within society. Hitler's quote stemmed from the use of propaganda, and although it would be fair to say that the essence of what is termed 'propaganda' does not exist in such a force today, it is nevertheless evident that what was quoted from The Daily Star is tantamount to propaganda. Throughout history, the mass media industry has been utilised as a tool to appeal to the public at large, particularly in the field of politics, where people in a position of power can tempt society into believing what they want them to believe. As Eldridge describes "The media, wittingly or unwittingly, reproduce the definitions of the powerful." [Eldridge 1997: 65] This document will examine not only the essence and origin of the term 'moral panic' but the very important nature of the media's involvement in the whole process of creating a 'moral panic'. It was Stanley Cohen, in his work, Folk Devils and Moral Panics. (1987) who first coined the term 'moral panics'. He defined the concept as a sporadic episode which, as it occurs, subjects society to bouts of moral panic, or in other terms, worry about the values and principles which society upholds which may be in jeopardy. He describes its characteristics as "a condition, episode, person or group of...

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