What is a Moral Panic?

The term moral panic was coined in 1972, (Hunt, 1997) and is projected through the media across a range of topics. The theory is described as a “period of heightened concern over some group or issue in which the societal reaction is disproportionate to the actual seriousness of the event.” (Soulliere, 2010) But because of the heightened panic it, “adversely affect the media’s ability to handle moral issues seriously.” (Hunt, 1997). In plain speak, a moral panic has the power to control a certain group of people because of the concerns that it expresses, but generally these concerns overlook the actual issue.

A moral panic is formed because of the representation and interpretation of stories and concepts that we confront in the media which comes from the scientific study of semiotics. Semiotics is the science of signs, it explains how an experience influences what the end take away point is. When people view media and the news, the semiotics in play, bridge a connection between the actuality of the story and the personal conclusion that people draw, in some cases a moral panic can be the conclusion.

An example of this is the panic surrounding the loss of childhood innocence in this modern age of technology. I would suggest, and to make no assumptions, but every middle age mum could probably tell you that the violence portrayed in her newly teen-aged son is the end result of playing violent video games. In reality it is the anger from being asked to stop playing the video game that is being displayed, its the addiction, rather than violence from the exposure, that is causing these outbursts. (Dana Foundation, 2020)It’s a classic example of a moral panic because the real issue is the addiction that young people have to technology, but we focus on the violent scenes that they are being exposed too. It is also a section of the puzzle that makes up the moral panic that children are losing the magic that comes with childhood too quickly.

Overall, you can see briefly how panics control, and contort the people around them to almost manipulate them into thinking the same. These panics are placed into our heads because of mainstream media.

To continue reading about this topic click on the link below and it will take you to my other post discussing moral panics further.

Soulliere, D., 2010. Much Ado about Harry: Harry Potter and the Creation of a Moral Panic. The Journal of Religion and Popular Culture, 22(1), pp.6-6.

Hunt, A., 1997. ‘Moral Panic’ and Moral Language in the Media. The British Journal of Sociology, 48(4), p.629.

Semiotics for Beginners: Denotation, Connotation and Myth (last modified 2020). Available at: http://visual-memory.co.uk/daniel/Documents/S4B/sem06.html

Do Violent Video Games Lead to Violence? | Dana Foundation (2021). Available at: https://dana.org/article/do-violent-video-games-lead-to-violence/

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