Tag Archives: Moral Panic

Historically, how has moral panic transformed over time?

Kiah Earl

(think about the shift from news being on TV to social media platforms)

1. Radio Broadcast:

Orson Welles – “The War of the World’s” (1938)


  • writers thought the story was too outlandish to be believed by the general population.
  • CBS for 17 weeks: “Mercury Theatre on Air”
  • Newspapers took this opportunity to reclaim the market by calling the radio a non-credible source of news.

“I had conceived the idea of doing a radio broadcast in such a manner that a crisis would actually seem to be happening,” he said, “and would be broadcast in such a dramatized form as to appear to be a real event taking place at that time, rather than a mere radio play.” – Orson Welles

2. Comic Books: 

Fredric Wertham – “Seduction of the Innocent (1950s)

  • Led the anti-comics movement that argued that comic books negatively impacted the imagination of otherwise “normal” children.
  • Blamed comic books for exposing children to violence, homosexuality, and erotic behavior. (ex. Superman=Nazi Germany, Batman and Robin=Homosexuality, Wonder Woman=Lesbian)
  • Wertham’s ideas spread rapidly in postwar (WWII) America, and many patriotic organizations and churches planned book burnings.
  • Resulted in the comic book industry declining. Credited for bringing the entire comic book industry down.

3. TV broadcasting & Print Journalism 

HIV/AIDS & sex represented in the media (1980s) “The Gay 80’s”

ex.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5oWu7FR-hZ0

4. Social media/Citizen Journalism:

  • based upon public citizens playing an active role in the process of collecting, reporting, analyzing, and disseminating news and information.
  • citizens can often report breaking news more quickly than traditional media reporters.

ex. the debate, police brutality (2014+)

Citizen Journalism main image.jpg

Works Cited:






Who benefits from public fear?

Kiah Earl

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:

  1. 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).
  2. Threat is far less than perceived. Media exaggerates before knowing the facts.
  3. 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.



  1. the media plays a massive role in enforcing moral panic.
  2. the media overreact to behaviors that challenge existing social norms
  3. 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:

  1. Exaggeration and distortion of who did or said what.
  2. Prediction of the dire consequences of failure to act upon whatever is being presented.
  3. 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).

  1. Ex. black lives matter movement and police brutality

Moral panic plays into young people as irresponsible and without having consequence for their actions.

  1. Ex. rioters in Ferguson


Works cited: