Moral panics maintains hegemony and serve to justify the agendas of those in positions of power (ex. government, CEOs).
Hegemony: the social, cultural, ideological, or economic influence exerted by a dominant group. Stay in tact through the use of signifying and signifiers (ex. “Trailer park trash”).
Moral panics have three distinguishing characteristics:
- Focused attention on the behavior, whether real or imagined. The media strips people of their positive qualities and assigns exclusively negative characteristics. (ex. Shootings in Dallas).
- Threat is far less than perceived. Media exaggerates before knowing the facts.
- Results in the passing of legislation that it unnecessary and serves the agenda of those in power.
Stanley Cohen: theorist and author of “Folk Devils and Moral Panics” (1972). Cohen said that moral panic occurs when a condition, episode, person or group emerges to become defined as a threat to societal values and interests.
- the media plays a massive role in enforcing moral panic.
- the media overreact to behaviors that challenge existing social norms
- media response and representation of the behavior aids in defining it, communicating it,and portraying it as a model for outsiders to observe and adopt.
Cohen says that three processes are involved when developing moral panic:
- Exaggeration and distortion of who did or said what.
- Prediction of the dire consequences of failure to act upon whatever is being presented.
- Symbolization that signifies the threat.
Moral panic sends society into mass hysteria over a particular issue or event that occurs. The public believes that whatever is being reported is happening everywhere (in their neighborhood).
Moral panic plays into young people as irresponsible and without having consequence for their actions.