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The Meaning Of Moral Panic Criminology Essay

In order to discuss the matter and explore the subject fully, the meaning of moral panic, which has often misinterpreted must be correctly defined. According to Cohen, moral panic often involves some degree of persecutions and the exaggerated response, often irrational and disproportionate to the threat affiliated with the accused group, from the public and the media or law enforcers to the activities or behavior of particular social groups, which involves and potentially affects the moral fabric of society (Cohen, 1972). Although initially, the scale of some activities may remain small and the impacts upon the society may be limited, but the media often report these activities in a sensationalized form (Marsh et. al, 2011), leading to an increased in publicity, which in turns had lead to the increase in public concern as well as causing anxiety, to some extent, about those activities or members involved (Cohen, 1972) . In this scenario, groups or individuals involved in these activities or behavior were classified by the moral entrepreneurs (Becker, 1963) and the media as the "folk- devils" (Cohen, 1972)- another key term and concept used by Cohen in his book "Folk Devils and Moral Panics: The Creation of the Mods and Rockers" to address the social group involved in "causing" the moral panic, in another word, individuals who poses differences to the norms and of society, as well as being identified to be a threat to the orders of society, typically on a moral level. When using the term "folk- devil", hostility is often indicated and the public generally creates clear division between themselves and the accused group involved.

Similarly, Goode and Ben Yehuda also agrees with Cohen’s ideology on moral panics and that moral panic occurs in society from time to time. They believed that moral panic occurs when the a large proportion of society thinks that a particular social group poses a threat to the moral order of society and the idea of people trying to act and resolve the problem (Goode et. al., 1994; Burns et. al., 1999). These actions would often include the increase in social control measure in society, tougher rules, harsher punishments as well as the increase in law enforcers, in order to restore moral order (Goode et. al., 1994; Burns et. al., 1999). One of the best example to demonstrate the periods of which society is subjected to moral panic is the incident related to the school shootings in USA. One of the incidents happened on October 1, 1997, when a Mississippi student shot nine students after he killed his mother. In this case, the folk devil identified will be students who posses guns, as they were classified as a threat to the moral fabric and the safety of society. Hostility emerged as a result and changes are suggested and carried out in response to the incident. Action involving the increase in social control and tougher penalties were implemented. These include the disapproval of bail for students charged with gun possession (Willing, 1998; Burns et. al., 1999) and a variety of other social restrictions which includes background checks when purchasing a gun, and the requirement for arm dealers to provide safety devices along with all pistols (Fairbank, 1999; Burns et. al., 1999). These sociologist involved in studying this case have identified and agreed that moral panic was subjected to the American society at that time, as the gunner were considered to cause disruption to the society on a moral level. Hostility also emerged against the folk devils within this case as shown by the increased penalties and social restrictions, which are actions taken with aims to reduce the chances of another school shooting incident.

However, many sociologists have pointed out that from the 1960s onwards, society has undergone a lot of social change (Thornton, 1995). According, to Sarah Thornton’s study "Club Cultures" (1995) Thornton suggest that Cohen’s theory has its flaws, as Thornton believe that it Cohen assumed that society as a whole will have a uniform response to social changes and moral panics, but in reality, that is rarely the case (Thornton, 1995). She stressed that society nowadays is more fragmented, and she had expected and observed that people had different reactions when it comes to looking at moral panics. She also identified that the differences between deviance and normality is blurred in contemporary society, as she believes in many cases, the act of refusing underage drinking, which was considered ‘normal’, would be deviant in certain social settings.

Also, media plays a huge role in affecting the extent of moral panic, as most exaggerated response about a social phenomenon often comes from the media in hoping to gain the viewers attention. They are also often considered as social moral entrepreneur as they influence society to adopt or maintain a norm via the use of opinion in articles and in other forms of reports. In relation to that, Thornton argues that the targets of moral panics, i.e. the folk devils are not always the passive victims of media. She used examples like rave music in 1980s to shows how anomalous social groups can use their notoriety through music and the media for creating their own non-conformist identities. Therefore, this indicates that mean that the society has been subjected to changes and the patterns of moral panic will also be likely to be influenced as a result, causing difference between reality in contemporary society and Cohen’s idea.

In relation to Cohen’s quote, various researchers have also shown evidence that society are subjected to periods of moral panic in various occasions. They supported this argument by indicating the fear of increasing crime plays a big role in causing moral panic (Cohen, 1972; Hall et al., 1978; Goode et. al, 1994). Although, recent studies have shown that there is a decline in crime rates for some areas, moral panic continues to occur within different cultures in the society. Koichi Hamai, a professor of law at Kyoto's Ryukoku University points out how the changes in crime recording in Japan since the 1990 onwards led to the widespread believes that the crime rate is increasing rapidly. This became a cause of uprising moral panic over the collapsing safe society.[16] Moreover, the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders suggests in a recent report (NACRO, 2008) that the police criminalize young people in order to reach their targets of arrest set by the government. Police publications suggested that reported minor offences by young people had an increase of 38.9% between 1996 to 2003, and serious offences had also increased by 19%. But the organization had claimed that the rise has more to do with police criminalizing minor misdemeanor instead of informal warnings they were previously giving out, and that the police has changed their policy in order to improve rates of arrest to meet the goal set by the government. This argument was supported by the fact that data from the police suggested that youth crime has always been stable since 2003. Therefore, with the examples stated above, it would be reasonable to suggest that as long as crime exist within a society, the phenomenon of moral panic is unlikely to be diminished and disappear as a whole, thus agreeing with Cohen’s idea of the existence and occurrence pattern of moral panic in society. Furthermore, the election issue occurred in 2003 could also indicate that there is a clear link between government intervention and crime rates, and these factors could subject the society to periods of moral panic, as when crime figure rises in a region, the phenomenon of moral panic tends to occur as a consequence, mainly due to society’s fear of crime.

In conclusion, Cohen’s concept was developed in the 1960s. Similar to the majority of sociological theories and studies, it reflects the views of people living within a particular time and society. And since then, the society and mass media were subjected to various degree of changes, meaning that his statement and ideas of society being subjected to moral panic from time to time might no longer be as accurate as it intended to be. However, as suggested above, the fear of increasing crime played a big role in causing moral panic. This could be used in defending the accuracy of Cohen’s statement as it suggests that as long as the media and other form of mass media still exists, and to provide people with information or reports on crime rates and cases, the fear of crime will remain in our society. Along with the aid of exaggerated crime reports produced by media, the phenomenon of moral panic will appear in society from time to time. Finally, society will have periods of moral panic when a social group were identified to be a threat to society’s morals and order. And these are often met with hostility from the public, in which actions will be carried out in attempt to solve the problem or remove the undesirable behavior or the evildoers. At its last stage, the moral panic could be volatile and disappear as public loses interest or when the public moved to focus on a new topic instead; at other times it can have a long lasting effects on society and might cause changes in social policy.

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