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Moral panics

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Voorkant Thompson 'Moral panics' Kenneth THOMPSON
Moral panics
London - New York: Routledge, 1998, 154 blzn.;
ISBN: 02 0398 0905

(viii) Preface

"The reason for mentioning these theoretical and methodological issues at the beginning is that the very term ‘moral panics’ seems to imply a negative judgement, implying naivety on the part of some of those involved and manipulation on the part of others. Even the word ‘panic’ might well be regarded as an unfortunate choice, since it has the negative connotation that the behaviour has to be dismissed as irrational. Provided care is taken to avoid jumping to conclusions about the motivations (e.g. manipulative) or mental state (e.g. implied ‘irrationality’) of those involved, the concept of ‘moral panic’ can be useful in spotlighting a form of behaviour and pattern of events that is increasingly common in our media-saturated (or media-rich) modern society." [mijn nadruk] (ix)

(1) 1 - ‘Why the panic?’ — The topicality of the concept of moral panics

""It is widely acknowledged that this is the age of the moral panic. Newspaper headlines continually warn of some new danger resulting from moral laxity, and television programmes echo the theme with sensational documentaries." (1)

[De rol van de media is vaak enorm. Er zijn steeds meer media, de invloed ervan groeit en dat lijkt niet in het voordeel van de samenleving. Het boek beschrijft met name Groot-Brittannië waar 'moral panics' vaak voorkomen. Als dat waar is dan zou ik graag weten of dat samenhangt met al die riooljournalistiek - bladen als 'The Sun' en zo - die daar zo'n grote rol speelt. Ik denk het namelijk wel. Op p.14 wordt het wel genoemd: "exceptionally large readership of a national tabloid press". Vanaf p.25 is daar verder aandacht voor.]

Het verschil met vroeger: ze volgen elkaar steeds sneller op en worden steeds breder getrokken. Een voorbeeld laat het volgende zien.

"This suggests a number of points relevant to understanding the phenomenon of moral panics. The first is that they take the form of campaigns (crusades), which are sustained over a period, however short or long. Second, they appeal to people who are alarmed by an apparent fragmentation or breakdown of the social order, which leaves them at risk in some way. Third, that moral guidelines are unclear. Fourth, that politicians and some parts of the media are eager to lead the campaign to have action taken that they claim would suppress the threat. Finally, the commentator judges that the moral campaign leaves the real causes of social breakdown unaddressed." [mijn nadruk] (2)

"It is part of a perspective that looks backwards to a golden age of moral certainties from which there has been only moral decline, in which people — especially the young — can no longer tell the difference between right and wrong. The remedy prescribed is a return to a basic set of rules, in the style of the Ten Commandments, which can be taught in families and schools." [mijn nadruk] (4)

"The interesting point about this statement is that it highlights the spiral effect produced by the interaction of the media, public opinion, interest groups and the authorities, which gives rise to the phenomenon which has become known as a moral panic."(7)

Stanley Cohen kwam als eerste met een duidelijke beschrijving van wat een morele paniek is. De hoofdkenmerken:

"1 Something or someone is defined as a threat to values or interests.
2 This threat is depicted in an easily recognizable form by the media.
3 There is a rapid build-up of public concern.
4 There is a response from authorities or opinion-makers.
5 The panic recedes or results in social changes."(8)

"The reason for calling it a moral panic is precisely to indicate that the perceived threat is not to something mundane — such as economic output or educational standards — but a threat to the social order itself or an idealized (’ideological) conception of some part of it. The threat and its perpetrators are regarded as evil ‘folk devils’ (S.Cohen 1972), and excite strong feelings of righteousness. Events are more likely to be perceived as fundamental threats and to give rise to moral panics if the society, or some important part of it, is in crisis or experiencing disturbing changes giving rise to stress. The response to such threats is likely to be a demand for greater social regulation or control and a demand for a return to ‘traditional’ values." [mijn nadruk] (8)

[Het vervolg vind ik problematisch: ]

"Much of the literature on moral panics is concerned with trying to explain the motives of those who call for or impose social regulation in such cases —the mass media, pressure groups, politicians, sections of the public, the police and judiciary. However, we should be wary about placing too much emphasis on psychological factors such as stress, or positing motives such as a cynical desire to manipulate or control others. The capacity to tolerate stress varies enormously between individuals and societies, and moral panics can occur in situations where there does not appear to be any discernible increase in stress levels. Similarly, it would be wrong to assume that the motive of actors involved in generating a moral panic, such as journalists and other interested parties, is that of cynical manipulation for ulterior ends; they may genuinely believe what they say. (Although there might be a happy coincidence of principle and interest.) The first task in investigating cases of apparent moral panic is to try to understand the perceptions of those involved, without passing judgement on their beliefs or motives. The next step is to seek to explain why and how a moral panic developed. " [mijn nadruk]

[Ik zou niet alleen die motieven willen onderzoeken, maar ook een normatief oordeel willen vellen. Het eerste kan op een wetenschappelijke manier, het tweede op een filosofische manier. Ik begrijp dat een socioloog vanuit het idee waardenvrij wetenschap beoefenen - geen normatieve oordelen wil geven over alle motieven en opvattingen die hij signaleert. Maar dat betekent niet dat we alle betrokkenen 'of the hook' moeten laten. Thompson is wat naïef vind ik. Ik denk dat er wel degelijk sprake is van een hoop leugenachtige manipulatie door betrokkenen in zo'n morele paniek en dat moet duidelijk worden gemaakt. Het gegeven dat allerlei belangengroepen binnen zo'n morele paniek vaak lobbyen om gehoord te worden zegt al hoe bewust het proces verloopt. Vederop noemt Thompson de 'moral entrepreneurs', hetzelfde verhaal.]

Andere termen om morele paniek aan te duiden: 'concern' (over de status quo), 'hostility' (tegenover degenen die die bedreigen), 'volatility' (de paniek komt en gaat ook al weer gauw over), 'disproportionality' (er wordt in alles enorm overdreven: de dreiging, de maatregelen, etc.).

"The sociologist of deviance, Howard Becker, emphasizes the role of what he calls ‘moral entrepreneurs’ in defining behaviour and individuals as deviant and criminal. The public is often stirred up through the mass media by the efforts of ‘moral entrepreneurs’ or moral crusaders, who attempt to rouse public opinion through the media and by leading social movements and organizations to bring pressure on the authorities to exercise social control and moral regulation. Becker describes the moral crusader as fervent and righteous and holding to an absolute ethic; what he or she sees is truly and totally evil with no qualification (Becker 1963:147–8). " [mijn nadruk] (12)

"In our discussion of various case studies we will draw on a range of theories, but the main emphasis will be on the role of the mass media in relation to cultural politics and the politics of anxiety in the ‘risk society’. It is this aspect that has been least developed in the literature on moral panics, and it is also the factor that seems most likely to explain the frequency and spread of moral panics in Britain." [mijn nadruk] (15)

"Politicians have not been slow to adopt a populist ‘law and order’ agenda when public opinion has been incited by mass media stories about mounting risks from a range of threats from socially deviant behaviour. The mass media, for their part, are interested in dramatic stories, and studies of public awareness of risks show that dramatic events are judged to be more common than less dramatic events. Thus, although disease takes a hundred times as many lives as homicide in America, newspapers contain three times as many articles on death from homicides as death from disease (Slovic et al. 1980). The extent of fear of crime in a community is less strongly correlated with actual crime rates than with the amount of news about crime — and the treatment or process of manufacture of that news—in the media (Goode and Ben-Yehuda 1994:97; cf. Fishman 1980, on the manufacture of news). " [mijn nadruk] (22)

"The relevance of Foucault’s comments about discourses of sexuality and power is that it alerts us to the fact that moral panics about sexuality, and other issues, represent power struggles over moral regulation. Contemporary society is characterized by a profusion of discourses about sexuality and the regulation of bodies, each with different moral implications, and these are frequently in conflict. Not surprisingly, therefore, the mass media reflect those conflicts and amplify them, often giving rise to a spiral effect that results in what we have termed a ‘moral panic’. This is more likely to be the case where several examples of deviant behaviour can be linked to some more general risk from moral degeneracy, such as a threat to children from child abusers, pornography, video nasties, homosexuality, violence on television, etc. " [mijn nadruk] (25)

"The topic of moral panics raises broader questions about the possibilities for rational communication and debate in the public sphere. Is it a question of distortions of communication that could be put right by enlightened regulation of the media, as Habermas and others suggest (cf. Habermas 1989; Scannell 1989)? Or are we in a postmodern epoch of media culture in which the public sphere is more like a hall of mirrors where all that exists is media reflections of other media representations, a world of simulations constituting a ‘hyperreality’ which is immune to rational critique, as Baudrillard (1981) maintains? Other sociologists refer to contemporary culture as overwhelmingly ‘a representation through spectacle’ or public dramas (Chaney 1993:33). Perhaps we should think in terms of ‘simulated’ moral panics, which succeed each other in rapid succession, and are often examples of the media feeding off each other — as in the newspaper-based moral panics about sex on television (discussed in Chapter 8). These are big issues that cannot be settled here, but they do highlight the wider significance of the study of moral panics for a sociological understanding of culture and communication in late modernity or postmodernity (cf. K.Thompson 1992) and cultural regulation (K.Thompson 1997). " [mijn nadruk] (28)

(31) 2 - The classic moral panic — Mods and Rockers

"A panic about what was happening to British youth in the 1960s was the occasion for the first sociological analysis of a moral panic (S.Cohen 1972) and this is significant for a number of reasons ... (...) Cohen shows that the media presentation or inventory of the Mods and Rockers events was crucial in determining the later stages of reaction"(31-32)

[Opvallend in de analyse is dat de waarheid in de vorm van de feiten voortdurend geweld wordt aangedaan door de media. Het gaat om sensatie, niet om waarheid. ]

"That is to say, the question of ‘is it news’ becomes as important as ‘is it real?’"(35)

(43) 3 - Moral panics about youth

"The subsequent development of the sociological analysis of moral panics in Britain continued to focus, like Cohen’s initial study, on youth cultures, and for good reasons. No age group is more associated with risk in the public imagination than that of ‘youth’."(43)

De rol van meiden werd in eerste instantie goeddeels genegeerd.

"It is significant that when girls did begin to feature more prominently in accounts of youth subcultures that gave rise to new moral panics, such as in studies of club cultures and Raves in the late 1980s and 1990s, the authors tended to stake out a critical distance from the Birmingham CCCS approach."(49)

"Studies of Rave culture and those engaged in it paint a different picture to that painted by the mass media. They stress the friendly atmosphere, typified by behaviour that is less aggressive, macho and violent than that of conventional night clubs, with more egalitarian gender relations (Evans 1990; Henderson 1992). In assessing the danger from Ecstasy it is argued that it is not so much the chemical substance alone that is the problem but the location of the drug-taking in the conditions of a Rave" [mijn nadruk] (52)

[Typisch: de massamedia zijn zoals gezegd niet uit op de waarheid, maar op sensatie om de oplages te verhogen en zo. ]

(55) 4 - Moral panic about mugging

"Probably the next most famous account of a moral panic after S. Cohen’s Folk Devils and Moral Panics (1972/80) is the book by Stuart Hall and his colleagues at Birmingham CCCS, Policing the Crisis: Mugging, the State and Law and Order (1978). It has been widely debated, usually in terms critical of its ‘Marxist’ perspective, or as an example of an ‘interest theory’ of moral panics (as we discussed in Chapter 1). "(55)

"The authors of Policing the Crisis began their analysis of ‘the social production of news’ by making clear that the media do not simply and transparently report events which are ‘naturally’ newsworthy in themselves. ‘News’ has to be seen as the end-product of a complex process, which begins with a systematic sorting and selecting of events and topics according to a socially constructed set of categories. There is a professional ideology of what constitutes ‘good news’ — the journalist’s sense of ‘news values’ — which structures the process.(...)
The next step in the analysis was to explain how the routine structures of news production tend to reproduce the definitions of the powerful. The explanation offered was that the practical pressures of constantly working against the clock and meeting the professional demands of impartiality and objectivity, and so being dependent on authoritative statements from ‘accredited sources’, combine to produce a systematically structured over-accessing by the media of those in powerful and privileged institutional positions. These powerful institutional representatives become the primary definers of topics.(...) According to the Birmingham researchers, this structured relationship between the powerful institutionally based primary definers and the media ensures that the dominant ideas or ideologies are constantly reproduced." [mijn nadruk] (55-56)

(69) 5 - Moral panics about sex and AIDS

"In this chapter we will focus on processes of representation and on mapping the discourses which the mass media use to construct a view of the events which gives rise to a sense of increasing risk and possibly moral panics, particularly panics about sexuality. A common theoretical feature of sociological analyses of these moral panics about sexuality is the focus on discourses that regulate sexuality and defend a notion of what is ‘normal’, ‘natural’ and so ‘moral’. Following Foucault (1979), many of these analyses argue that we need to recognize that the image of the threatened and vulnerable family is a central motif in modern society. Familial ideology is obliged to fight a continual rearguard action in order to disavow the social and sexual diversity of a culture which can never be adequately pictured in the traditional guise of the family of cohabiting parents and children—a situation which is now occupied by only a minority of citizens at any given moment. However, familial ideology is not the only factor that might explain moral panics about sexuality. Foucault (1979) and Weeks (1985) have attempted to explain why sex itself is so important, so separate from the other human ‘attributes’ in modern society. They conclude that it is because our culture believes that sex speaks the truth about ourselves, that it expresses the essence of our being, and that it is for these reasons that it has become the subject of controversies and panics. Any concern about the social order is inevitably projected on to this essence, and through this sexuality becomes both an anxious metaphor and a subject of social control. Consequently, moral panics about sex are increasingly the most frequent and have the most serious repercussions in modern society. " [mijn nadruk] (69-70)

Eerste voorbeeld is AIDS, door veel media - zonder ook maar enigszins rekening te houden met de feiten - afgeschilderd als de straf van god voor een 'promiscue leefstijl' (homo's etc.).

[Interessant vind ik de opmerkingen over Watney die liever spreekt van een voortdurende ideologische strijd waarbinnen dan bij tijden morele paniek-situaties voorkomen. ]

"Not only do the mass media attempt to address their audience as a unified, natural ‘subject’ (addressing them individually as ‘normal’, ‘healthy-minded’, ‘right-thinking’, commonsensical subjects), Watney alleges that newspapers in particular tend to construct ‘an ideal audience of national family units, surrounded by the threatening spectacle of the mad, the foreign, the criminal and the perverted’ (1987:84)."(74)

[Ook boeiend en bekend: de hoogste vertegenwoordigers van religies waren tegen zoiets als het stimuleren van het gebruik van condooms: ]

"The Government’s campaign did not completely halt the moral panic about AIDS. Religious leaders were not impressed with the campaign. The Roman Catholic Church disapproved of condom promotion and the Anglicans expressed doubts about the lack of accompanying moral guidance. The Chief Rabbi, Sir Immanuel Jakobovits, thought it ‘encourages promiscuity by advertising it’. The Chief Rabbi had his own message: ‘Say plainly: Aids is the consequence of marital infidelity, premarital adventures, sexual deviation and social irresponsibility — putting pleasure before duty and discipline’ (Garfield 1994). Some newspaper columnists continued to denounce the deviancy and permissiveness that they blamed for the spread of AIDS, and one of them, Digby Anderson, claiming to speak on behalf of the ‘moral majority’, regretted bitterly that there had not been more of a moral panic about AIDS (quoted in Watney 1987:45). " [mijn nadruk] (79)

"As Weeks (1985) points out, there have been three main strands in the moral and sexual shifts of the past generation: a partial secularization of moral attitudes, a liberalization of popular beliefs and behaviours, and a greater readiness to accept social, cultural and sexual diversity. The significance of the AIDS crisis has been that it could be used to call into question each of these, and to justify a return to ‘normal moral behaviour’. The changes were never accepted by moral conservatives, and since the 1960s there has been a reaction against them in the form of an attempted reassertion of absolute moral values and ‘social purity’. In the US a combination of television evangelism, big money and religious fundamentalism combined with New Right political forces to create the so-called ‘moral majority’. Although Britain did not provide the same fertile ground for such a social movement, moral entrepreneurs were able to use the national press’s interest in populist causes, especially those alleging threats to ‘normal’ family life from sexual promiscuity or deviance." [mijn nadruk] (80-81)

(83) 6 - Family, children and violence

"This point about increasing choice and diversity generating more of a sense of being at risk is crucial to understanding the frequency of moral panics and the part played by politicians and the media in amplifying those anxieties. It can be argued that in some cases politicians and the media have an interest in generating moral panics. The media are competing for audiences and are tempted to sensationalize, personalize and even demonize in their eagerness to attract attention. Politicians may find it easier to focus attention on moral issues than to come up with solutions to some of the more intractable problems, such as lack of education and skills, unemployment, housing conditions, crime and poverty." [mijn nadruk] (84)

[Ik denk dat dat erg voorzichtig gesteld wordt ('in some cases'). Het lijkt er eerder op dat dat de normale benadering is geworden in de media en de politiek. ]

"The other significant development in the press has been the proliferation of opinion columns, possibly at the expense of factual reporting. Columnists are under pressure to write attention-grabbing and controversial pieces, and this often seems to lead to a competition to see who can stir up the most righteous indignation or extreme generalization." [mijn nadruk] (88-89)

[Ja, dat is mij ook opgevallen. Steeds meer meningen en 'soundbites', steeds minder goede onderzoeksjournalistiek.]

"The ideological tendency to idealize the traditional family and to equate immorality with its breakdown was severely strained by the apparent increase in the 1980s and 1990s of sexual abuse within the family. This gave rise to a sustained moral panic from 1985–6 onwards. The problem was exacerbated by the response of public authorities, which was to create agencies and units with a full-time responsibility for detecting and combating child abuse. This naturally tended to increase the number of reported cases of abuse, which further raised public consciousness of a threat." [mijn nadruk] (101)

[Dat leidde dus tot heel dubbelzinnige journalistiek. Vaak werd misbruik minder belangrijk gemaakt of zelfs ontkend. ]

" In America, an article in the conservative journal the Weekly Standard described the dramatic rise in sex abuse cases as ‘a dangerous outbreak of mass hysteria, nurtured and abetted by a burgeoning class of therapists, shrinks and crank spiritualists with an ideological (and financial) stake in portraying children as sexual victims’ (1–8 January 1996:36)." [mijn nadruk] (102)

"Although the problem of child abuse within the conventional family was something difficult for the tabloid press to accept as widespread, it had no such scruples about inflating the problem of child neglect by single mothers."(104)

(105) 7 - Female violence and girl gangs

"In several of the moral panics that we have discussed so far a common source of an increased sense of risk was that of changes in gender roles and their impact on the family, giving rise to a struggle over values and ideologies as encoded in discourses concerning what is ‘natural’ or essential to social order. Nowhere is this more apparent than in moral panics about female violence. "(105)

Dat geweld werd door de media in verband gebracht met het feminisme.

"The backlash against early feminism is explained by Johnston as in part brought on by organizations attempting to redress the balance against men, such as the False Memory Society, which discounts claims of memories of childhood sexual abuse, and Families Need Fathers, which campaigns on behalf of men whose wives and children have fled. Ironically, she admits, some of the anti-feminist ideas have been given legitimacy by feminists themselves, who concede to the backlash, claiming that 1970s feminism is dead. (...) In America, new feminists have coined the term ‘women with agency’, and ‘agency’ means power, control and choice. Women with agency are the opposite of victims." [mijn nadruk] (111-112)

(115) 8 - Moral panics about sex on the screen

"Social and moral order is periodically imagined to be at risk due to technological and cultural developments that produce representations of sexuality which break previously accepted norms about what is publicly acceptable. Moral panics about sexual images on the screen (film, television and the Internet) have increased, not simply because of the increase in channels of communication — increased television channels, cable, satellite and the Internet — but also because this increase has provided the press with an ever-expanding source of ‘news’." [mijn nadruk] (115)

Volgt het verhaal over de National Viewers’ and Listeners’ Association (NVALA) die al sinds 1964 bestaat.

"In its early years the NVALA, or National VALA (‘valour’) as its prefers to be known, shared the conspiracy beliefs of Moral Rearmament (MRA) that the Christian values of the nation were being threatened by the forces of world communism and a ‘fifth column’ within, for whom moral change and the transformation of sexual behaviour were a means of undermining capitalist society as a whole (cf. the NVALA journal, Viewer and Listener, autumn 1970:3; spring 1971:4). NVALA members accused one Director-General of the BBC of ‘encouraging and harbouring near-communists on his staff’ (Whitehouse 1972:88)."(119)

[En uiteraard wordt de bescherming van kinderen als argument gebruikt. Dat doet het beter dan dat je van jezelf zegt dat je aartsconservatief en dogmatisch christelijk bent. Voor die schade die kinderen zouden ervaren van het zien van bloot en seks op tv en in andere media wordt nooit enig bewijs aangevoerd, simpelweg wordt aangenomen dat die schade er zal zijn.]

"Certainly, the discourse of the need to return to religiously grounded ‘family values’ that Mary Whitehouse and her movement did so much to promote became a constant theme of political rhetoric from the 1980s onwards, partly as a result of the rise to prominence of the ideology of the New Right in Britain as in America. Her views were taken up and promoted by Prime Minister Mrs Thatcher and her successor John Major. "(129)

(133) Conclusion

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