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Video Gaming, Crime, and Popular Culture  

Timothy Rowlands, Sheruni Ratnabalasuriar, and Kyle Noel

A product of the military-industrial complex, from the origins of the medium, video games have been associated with violence. As they have become increasingly popular, finding their ways into many households in the United States and around the world, video games have come under increasing scrutiny for the graphic depictions of violence and sexuality some present. An overview of the history of video games suggests this is not a recent problem. As early as 1976, there has been public outcry for regulation of the industry to prevent antisocial content from findings its way into the hands of children. While some politicians, newsmakers, and activist attorneys have stirred up moral panics in response, courts in the United States have generally remained dispassionate. Unmoved by the inconsistent research exploring the connection between video games, aggression, violence, and crime, these courts have insisted on a hands-off approach in order to avoid infringing upon freedom of speech. Nevertheless, likely unrelated to this question of transference, video games have created new venues for the commission of real criminal acts such as fraud and harassment. This points to the ways video games and the virtual worlds they sometimes present have become very real and meaningful parts of everyday life for many people.


Folk Heroes and Folk Devils: The Janus Face of the Robber in Popular Culture  

Simon Hallsworth

In this study of how the street robber has been positioned in popular culture, two starkly opposite views are presented on how this figure has been represented: namely, as folk devil and as folk hero. This relatively low-level criminal is involved in criminal activity that delivers low rewards and that is largely inflicted on other poor people. As a result, this robber is on the one hand represented as evil incarnate, a folk devil imagined as posing an existential threat to society and its values. On the other hand, the robber can be positioned as an audacious folk hero, a champion of the downtrodden. This positioning is explored by tracing the changing characterization of the robber over time: notably, the heroic representation of the outlaw in medieval culture, the myths that surrounded the highwaymen of the 18th century, and a more demonic representation by the 19th century, a representation that continues to the present day. While it is no longer possible to conceive of robbers today as folk heroes, many attributes of the heroic robber are still celebrated in popular culture in detective fiction and in RAP music.


Moral Panics and Folk Devils  

Nachman Ben-Yehuda

Moral panics refer to cultural and social situations where heightened and exaggerated attention is given to a moral issue, accompanied by inflated demands to activate and practice steps to control what is portrayed as the challenging and threatening danger to morality. The nature of the threatening challenge materializes characteristically with the emergence of increased anxiety and fear from the moral threat to the well-being and future of a culture, or part of it. Down-to-earth representatives of such threats are epitomized by folk devils. These folk devils can be drug users, those who supposedly practice witchcraft or Satanism, sex traffickers, drivers involved in hit and run car accidents, muggers, AIDS carriers, terrorists, immigrants, asylum seekers, and—obviously—criminals. The concept of moral panics left its convenient zone in sociology and criminology to become extremely popular. It has been applied to such diverse fields as global warming, child sexual abuse, trafficking in women, soccer hooliganism, 9/11, and more. Many panics are short-lived, but such panics can also linger for longer periods. Moral panics are comprised of five basic building blocks: disproportionality in portraying the moral threat and the requested responses, concern about an issue, consensus regarding the threat, and hostility towards the folk devils. Moral panics do not stand alone and need to be understood within larger cultural and social processes composed of negotiations, struggles, and conflicts focused on moral codes. Indeed, while folk devils are typically vilified, stigmatized, and deviantized, complex cultures also enable folk devils to fight back. Moral panics are thus significant and important occurrences in the social construction of moral boundaries. These panics represent reactions, counter-reactions, and moral challenges—presented by folk devils—to cultural cores, which form central symbolic structures of cultures and societies.


Moral Panics  

Chas Critcher

The concept of moral panic was first developed in the United Kingdom in the early 1960s, principally by Stan Cohen, initially for the purpose of analyzing the definition of and social reaction to youth subcultures as a social problem. Cohen provided a “processual” model of how any new social problem would develop: who would promote it and why, whose support they would need for their definition to take hold, and the often-crucial role played by the mass media and institutions of social control. In the early 1990s, Erich Goode and Nachman Ben-Yehuda produced an “attributional” model that placed more emphasis on strict definition than cultural processes. The two models have subsequently been applied to a range of putative social problems which now can be recognized as falling into five principal clusters: street crime, drug and alcohol consumption, immigration, child abuse (including pedophilia), and media technologies. Most studies have been conducted in Anglophone and European countries, but gradually, the concept is increasing its geographical reach. As a consequence, we now know a good deal about how and why social problems come to be constructed as moral panics in democratic societies. This approach has nevertheless been criticized for its casual use of language, denial of agency to those promoting and supporting moral panics, and an oversimplified and outdated view of mass media, among other things. As proponents and opponents of moral panic analysis continue to debate the essentials, the theoretical context has shifted dramatically. Moral panic has an uncertain relationship to many recent developments in sociological and criminological thought. It threatens to be overwhelmed or sidelined by new insights from theories of moral regulation or risk, conceptualizations of the culture of fear, or the social psychology of collective emotion. Yet as an interdisciplinary project, it continues, despite its many flaws, to demand sustained attention from analysts of social problem construction.


Drugs and Popular Culture  

Dimitri A. Bogazianos

While criminological analyses of drugs and popular culture often focus on media constructions of drug scares and epidemics, they also draw from a wide range of interrelated influences, including critical theory, cultural studies, feminism, and critical race theory, among many others. Given that current trajectories of hypermediated cultural production in a post-crack drug landscape is unlikely to change anytime soon, ever more fine-grained analyses will be needed in order to make sense of the inextricable links between drug-related representations, crime policy, and social justice. Future scholarship in this area will continue to draw from its rich heritage as well as innovate new methodological and theoretical emphases that pay closer attention to the nontextual elements of popular cultural forms.


Organized Child Sexual Abuse in the Media  

Michael Salter

Organized sexual abuse refers to the coordinated sexual abuse of multiple children by multiple perpetrators. It has proved to be a particularly controversial form of sexual abuse. Initial reports of organized abuse in the 1980s were met with shock and disbelief, followed by a significant backlash as journalists and academics claimed that organized abuse allegations were the product of “moral panic” and “false memories.” In the mass media, investigations into organized abuse were presented throughout the 1990s as evidence that public anxiety about child sexual abuse had generated a “witch-hunt” in which even the most outrageous allegation of abuse was considered credible. While this argument was advanced by journalists and academics, it developed first in the mass media, where the culture of news production promoted a particularly skeptical view of sexual abuse allegations. Claims of a sexual abuse witch-hunt were embedded within a broader backlash against feminism and child protection that called into question the prevalence and severity of sexual violence. Journalists and editors took a particularly activist role in the social construction of organized abuse as synonymous with false and exaggerated allegations. A number of recent developments have fragmented an apparent journalistic consensus over the incredibility of organized abuse claims. The mass media has played a key role in publicizing the problem of clergy abuse, focusing in particular on institutionalized cultures of silence and disbelief. Sexual abuse by celebrities and authority figures has also received global media coverage and emphasized the failure of authorities to act on reports or suspicion of sexual abuse. Such media stories directly contest prior claims by journalists that society and major institutions are overly reactive to sexual abuse disclosures. Instead, the contemporary mass media includes expanded opportunities for recognition and reporting on the diversity of sexual abuse including organized abuse. The emergence of social media has also generated new possibilities for reporting, information dissemination, and debate on organized abuse. Accordingly, public discussion of organized abuse has taken on polyvocal and increasingly agonistic qualities, as older tropes about “false memories” and “moral panics” are contradicted by factual reporting on organized abuse investigations and convictions. The capacity of victims, survivors, and others impacted by organized abuse to speak for themselves on social media, rather than through the mediation of a journalist, is a key development that introduces a new dynamic of accountability and transparency that had previously been absent in media coverage of this challenging issue.


Surveys and the Study of Crime, Mass Media, and Popular Culture  

Jeffery Dennis

The survey, a research methodology in which variables are measured through the answers to questions on a data collection tool called a “survey questionnaire,” has been used to investigate several potential relationships between mass media and crime. In almost all studies, the relationship hypothesized is media influence, in which the media images change the consumer’s attitudes, beliefs, and behavior. Most commonly the hypothesized change is behavioral: individuals who consume violent, sexual, or otherwise suspect media images purportedly have a heightened risk of engaging in criminal acts. Other hypothesized effects of media consumption that are studied frequently include racist or otherwise biased attitudes, which could impact decision making during the criminal justice process; inaccurate beliefs about crime, with an impact on fear of crime and resultant changes in public policy; and the CSI Effect, an exaggerated belief in the efficiency of forensic science in identifying criminal offenders, which could sway jury decisions. Survey-based research studies have rarely found that mass media consumption has a significant impact on criminal behavior or biased attitude, and its impact on beliefs about crime are contingent on many more significant factors. While these poor results may suggest that there is indeed minimal impact, the problem may lie within the methodology itself, in the ability of survey-based questions and answers to adequately measure the independent variable (media consumption) and the various dependent variables. Additionally, the problem may lie within the essential premise of media influence, with its passive, naive viewer and a radical disjunction between media and real life.