Nobody Panic, The media is here to help… kinda

Moral Panic is a concept described by Stanley Cohen’s as a threat to societal values and interests presented in a stylised and stereotypical fashion by the mass media. He also states that editors, bishops, politicians and other right-thinking people often control the moral barricades. The creation of moral panics stems from issues of representation and censorship within the media. Today many people believe that there is too much exposure to ‘Adult media’. This is seen as a problem, creating moral panic, as it is known that the portrayal of violence, sex and drugs and alcohol in the media can affect the behavior of children (Earles 2002). From interpretation of this panic we are taught that childhood sexuality is dangerous and something that we want to demolish completely. Majority of these panics come from the underlying assumptions that are made when viewing images in relation to children and the ideas of sex and beauty.

Reading images and understanding what they are truly displaying is known as Semiotics. Ferdinand de Saussure’s theory of semiotics is defined by the signifier, things that give meaning, and the signified, what is evoked in the mind (Chandler 2014). The understanding of these two together is Arbitrary meaning that it can be dependent on personal experience and influences. Images that portray children in provocative manors can often spark moral panic. People view these images to be imposing danger on both the children portrayed and the children viewing. The moral panic in these situations can cause social anxiety both for those who are a part of and interact with the media. Social anxieties are a fear of interaction that can affect self-consciousness and fear of being judged and evaluated by others (Richards 2012).

Protecting children from the likes of such ‘dangerous’ media portrayal can be referred to as ‘Cotton Wool Kids’. An idea that figuratively means that children are bundled up and protected by cotton wool in order to keep them safe and away from harm. Doing this has caused many to believe that we are desensitizing the youth to the world, making them psychologically fragile (Noone 2014). Not allowing children to have interaction with this media does present a fear. But a fear of what exactly? Is it a fear of the media? Or a fear of ourselves?

Apart of growing up is establishing an identity for ourselves. Albert Bandura does this through the Social learning Theory. His theory indicates that we develop our behaviour from our environmental and behavioral influences. The formation of identity is determined by cultural and moral codes. This is considered by Danah Boyd (It’s Complicated 2014) as a survival technique in order to fit in to today’s societal pressures. The debate of how we are influenced to develop our identities is the moral panic of such media. The debate establishes the fact that when children are portrayed in campaigns that are closed as sexy, we put them at risk in establishing an innocent identity.

The Public Sphere is a place where all the debate about moral panic occurs, the issues are ongoing, unresolved and unfinished (Turnbull 2015). The role of media in an issue of moral panic can in fact be dangerous. While they can be the source of the panic, they can also be the means by which the panic is spread (Turnbull 2015).

What is your opinion on moral panic in the media? Do you think that these anxieties are justified? Let me know in a comment below.


Bandura, Albert. Social Learning Theory. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1977. Print.

Boyd, Danah. It’s Complicated. Print. Chandler, Daniel. ‘Semiotics For Beginners: Signs’. N.p., 2015. Web.

Earles, K. A. et al. “Media Influences on Children and Adolescents: Violence and Sex.” Journal of the National Medical Association 94.9 (2002): 797–801. Print.

Noone, Richard. ‘Cotton Wool Kids At Risk Of Becoming Mentally Fragile’. DailyTelegraph. , 2014.


4 thoughts on “Nobody Panic, The media is here to help… kinda

  1. Nice summary of the points made during that week, you’ve made it much more digestible for sure! I definitely agree with Noone’s observations of aggressively controlling parents dictating specifics of a child’s watching habits when it comes to media and the acts of sex and violence causing their children to become susceptible and overly sensitive to the real world later in life. Without naming names, the one person I grew up with whose parents severely limited their exposure to mature content observably gets quite uncomfortable when talking about such topics, simply because, whilst not desensitized which is good, is TOO sensitive to the ways of the world. As we explored in one of Sue Turnbull’s earlier lectures during BCM110, children aren’t as brain-dead or oblivious as scaremongers would have us believe. They’re generally aware that what they’re watching is for their entertainment, but at the same time I feel modern media is a actually is an incredible tool for educating young minds, and while I don’t suggest barring children from watching certain shows and programs like too many parents feel they need to do, steer them in the direction of smart shows that acknowledge that violence is wrong and yet isn’t afraid to present it in a mature manner. While it may sound a bit tripe to some of the more high-brow, la-dee-da drama aficionados and connoisseurs of media, I cannot think of a better series than the seasons 3 – 10 of The Simpsons to perfectly encapsulate a show with subversive humor, social commentary laden dialogue and gags that appeals to kids and as they grow up watching it, learn that it actually has some amazing things to say and teach people. On a topical send off:


    1. Hahaha love the topical send off! The greatest thing about that scene is that it has been completely relevant to almost every lecture that we’ve had so far.
      Kinda shows how important children and youth are in todays media and that their influences are quite important. Thanks for the comment! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. You’ve made great ties between theories and metaphors that have been commonly used in the previous BCM110 lectures, a great explanation especially when delving into Semiotics, I definitely have a clear idea of what message you were trying to get across. Reflecting on the question you ask further on about moral panic, I do believe there is a substantial amount of parents and elder individuals that shun away from current media exposure. However, I cannot help to think that where does the balance lie? For instance I believe the world of the internet has profoundly shaped and advanced human evolution, but is there a point of over exposure? and how do we fight that? I guess I’m just saying I can understand parents who “cotton wool” their kids. The idea of myself having children one day and them asking me to go to a Nikki Minaj concert, frankly frightens me. A good read I found that demonstrates how parents can reduce the speed of their children growing up, gives some insight on the fears that surround parents and the simple overexposure that children of today are faced with.


    1. Thanks for your comment! I agree parenting is going to be so hard when it comes to our time to shine. As much as we want to be allowed technological freedom I feel like there will come a day when we ourselves will probably feel it necessary to protect our children from some forms of media. I guess it’s all going to come down to future technologies. We will just have to wait and see!


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