Youth & Media Part 2: The Three Processes To Create A Moral Panic

There are three classical process in which the media employ to create what Cohen referred to as a Moral Panic. It is described as “an exaggerated reaction, from the media, the police and the wider public, to the activities of particular social groups.  These processes have stood the test of time and proved to be the effective methods needed to cause a societal stir amongst the public. For example, they were used to demonise fights between Mods and Rockers in the 1960’s. It is important that the media follow these steps in order to tell the story and shape the characters in their interpretation, these processes allow that to happen.

Step One: Exaggeration and Distortion

This is the first step to a story becoming “newsworthy”. It is important for the media to glamorize a crime, to exaggerate on the key details in order for it to seem more attractive or scandalous. So how would this work in demonising Anti-Social behaviour? This would begin by distorting several variables of a particular incident for example how many people involved. The BBC reported “Scores of youths have been given prison sentences following a Whitsun weekend of violent clashes between gangs of Mods and Rockers”. Instantly the media is allowing the reader to think for themselves but has planted the seed of subjectivity. The term scores refer to no number of people and can mean any number to anyone. Because of this vague description the reader would assume it was lots, arguably more than were “actually” present in the incident. The media also deceives its reader by rounding up the numbers and level of violence and deviant behaviour. For example, according to the report from BBC on this day (1964) it’s reported that more than 1000 teenagers were involved in skirmishes…they threw deckchairs around to make bonfires. Bottles were also thrown whilst windows were being smashed. The level of ambiguity written by the media makes it very easy for the public to see this as a serious societal incident. Marsh and Melville explain that despite the blaring headlines such as “Day of Terror by Scooter Groups” and after two days of slight violence, the worst damage was that a shop window was smashed. This demonstrates step one of the process of how the media can take a small idea and create a violent monster from exaggeration and distortion of the people involved, the events that occurred and the level of violence that was caused which results in mass sensationalism.This exaggeration and distortion is intended to frighten or shock the reader, if this is achieved then step two is only going to increase the fear of the crime committed by the particular sub-culture.


Step 2: Predicting Repeated Crime

The second process is done by predicting the crime will happen again. In relation to Anti-Social behaviour, its subjective and indescribable nature means it will always happen again depending on one interpretation of what Anti-Social Behaviour is. According to Alun Michael MP “You know what it is when you see it”. The fact that Alun Michael says that anti-social behaviour is difficult to define but one knows what it is when they see it is alarming, as it leads to be very subjective, what one person finds anti-social may not be seen as anti-social by another. Moreover, with its subjective nature it’s almost certain that more ASBO’s will be issued, and when they are the media are there to tell the story. In total 20,335 ASBOs have been issued according to the Ministry of Justice in 2010. These statistics arm the media and produce a large enough platform in order to create the moral panic of an ASBO culture.

Step 3: Symbolisation

The emblem for Anti-social Behaviour was the “Hoodie”. “It was not until 2005 that the press and public were referring to “hoodie culture”. It could be argued that the hooded sweatshirt or “hoodie” was targeted by politicians in the fight against Anti-Social Behaviour. Many of the youth in Britain who roamed the streets were wearing hoodies. This was seen as a uniform and due to its hood, it was seen as a way to hide their identity and the media capitalized on this apparel and demonised it and anyone wearing one was seen as being a deviant chav who was Anti-Social who had little to no morals, values or principals. The moral panic about hoodies was part of a wider concern about the anti-social behaviour of youths and as with other panics the reaction has been criticized by academics and those working in the criminal justice system as excessive.

This has a rather damaging effect on the youth, and the media was depicting the majority of youth to be Chavs, the working class, white boys who had no interest in school, in the face of a depressing future in terms of proper employment, turn to anti-social, delinquent behaviour. With the Chav character created and the behaviour the chavs exhibit established, it was easy for the media to begin to demonize the youth through their interpretation of the “Chavs” behaviour. This is a very precarious tactic for the Media and Politicians to take as can it often mislead the public to be afraid of everybody who looks like they belong to a particular sub-culture. For example, dress code can be linked to certain sub-cultures such as black clothing and black hair would be associated to a Goth. The reason it’s precarious is because just the way someone looks doesn’t mean that they will behave or share the same morals, values and principals as a stereotype of the given sub-culture.

The hoodie culture had developed and now the government was imposing arguably ridiculous and excessive rules such as in “Rossendale, Lancashire, The local council had used these new government rules to impose a ban on using playgrounds” after 6:00pm in winter and 9:00pm in the summer. Not only does this exclude the youth and impose arbitrary instructions to follow, it encapsulates the whole spectrum of youth and even punishes the youth who do not employ deviant behaviour. However, it could be argued that this level of loitering leads to criminality as statistically, young people are much more likely to be convicted of crimes than other age groups and these interventions are a good way to reduce the risk of criminality on the streets. Conversely, if the youth cannot spend free time “hanging out” with friends on the park, where will they go? The answer is the streets. The Media associate the youth as dwellers on the streets and therefor paint a picture of them being unapproachable and to be feared. With the word “Chav” now in common vocabulary, the media has engraved this term into the minds of society and they can now recognise what they believe to be a “chav” and deviant behaviour.


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