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’. Visual-memory.co.uk. 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.