Sex, Drugs and Outlaw Bikers: From the “Moral Panic” File

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Moral panic: Gratuitious argumentum ad Nazium (creative synergies with Buddhist visions of Hell). A Sondhi-powered anti-Thaksin rally, March 2006. See Thailand: “Crusading Media Mogul Jailed For Publishing Nonexistent Facts”

Moral crusades advance claims about both the gravity and incidence of a particular problem. They typically rely on horror stories and “atrocity tales” about victims in which the most shocking exemplars of victimization are described and typified. Casting the problem in highly dramatic terms by recounting the plight of highly traumatized victims is intended to alarm the public and policy makers and justify draconian solutions. At the same time, inflated claims are made about the magnitude of the problem. A key feature of many moral crusades is that the imputed scale of a problem … far exceeds what is warranted by the available evidence. — Ronald Weitzer, “The Social Construction of Sex Trafficking: Ideology and Institutionalization of a Moral Crusade,” Politics Society 2007; 35; 447

Too often, it is the media-created event to which people respond rather than the objective situation itself, as was the case when media provoked anxiety resulted in massive public rejection of food products reported as potentially related to an outbreak. Development of new approaches in mass communication, most recently the Internet, increase the ability to enhance outbreaks through communication. –Boss, Leslie P., “Epidemic Hysteria: A Review of the Published Literature” in Epidemiologic Reviews, Vol. 19, No. 2.

There are a lot of cases in which we can argue about the term “exaggeration” to an alleged moral panic campaign, it is true. Making qualitative judgments about quantitative information is tricky. Instances of the “fallacy fallacy” can be cited.

The clearest sort of case is when the claims are based on no solid information at all, or indiscriminately beefs up reality-based factoids with rumor and innuendo.

The sort of “journalism” practiced by Veja magazine (Brazil), for example, which can be generally described as an exercise in moral panic, supported by fallacies of weak induction, and blasted non-stop at ear-splitting volume, in the service of selective moral disengagement.

Random selections from a bibliography of assorted readings on media-driven moral panics from the Brooklyn Public Library.

  1. “Sex Panic and the Welfare State.” By: Shepard, Benjamin. Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare, Mar2007, Vol. 34 Issue 1, p155-171, 17p; (AN 24095873)
  2. Moral Panic and the Nasty Girl. By: Barron, Christie; Lacombe, Dany. Canadian Review of Sociology & Anthropology, Feb2005, Vol. 42 Issue 1, p51-69, 19p
  3. The Role of Presidential Rhetoric in the Creation of a Moral Panic: Reagan, Bush, and the War on Drugs. By: Hawdon, James E.. Deviant Behavior, Sep-Oct2001, Vol. 22 Issue 5, p419-445
  4. The Myth of “Moral Panic”: An Alternative Account of LSD Prohibition. By: Cornwell, Benjamin; Linders, Annulla. Deviant Behavior, Jul2002, Vol. 23 Issue 4, p307-330, 24p

Calling your “outlaw motorcycle club” the “Folk Devils” may not be the best strategy for avoiding oppressive stigmatization, but the general question addressed here is on point:

Moral panics are a major technique used by government in the politics of fear. The central research question addressed was ‘can moral panic be neutralized?’ Researchers formed a coalition with Folk Devils (an outlaw motorcycle club) in an emerging moral panic to answer the research question. The contest for public support was played out in the media. Results of the action research process are reported using ‘thick narrative’ and included: (1) government calling off its moral panic campaign, (2) a large decrease in public support for the government’s campaign against outlaw motorcycle clubs (OMCs), (3) increased acceptance of OMCs in public opinion polls and (4) dramatic reversals in newspaper editorials. The case study illustrates actors in moral panics have agency and provides an example of a macro-level intervention through which liberation from oppression was affected. –Veno, Arthur and van den Eynde, Julie, “Moral panic neutralization project: a media-based intervention. Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology ; Nov/Dec2007, Vol. 17 Issue 6, p490-506, 17p

On the other hand, leaving moral questions aside, how does this research “differ” from Ivy Lee inventing the philanthropic foundation in order to improve the public reputation of the Rockefellers?

In that case, it was a foundation that then promoted research suggesting it was a good idea to exterminate inferior human beings?

On which see also

Peed skills:

In the last few years, ‘meth’ (methamphetamine) has become a major concern for law enforcement officials in rural America. Meth is the label given to a homemade substance that is manufactured (typically) in rural labs using fertilizers, cold tablets, and household acids. The amateur nature of the production process separates meth from its commercially produced equivalents, the stimulant medications that are the first-line therapy agents for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and narcolepsy and that are authorized by the United States Air Force as fatigue countermeasures. A way to understand the social construction of the meth-scare is to apply the moral panic conceptual framework. A moral panic is a social condition that becomes defined as a threat to community values and whose nature is presented in a stereotypical fashion by the mass media. The official reaction to the social condition is out of all proportion to the alleged threat. Reporting about a moral crisis involves a continuous exaggeration of the problematic aspects of the social condition and an ongoing repetition of fallacies. Discussions of meth tend to obscure its nature while heightening horrors that immediately promote a limited and inaccurate notion of the nature of meth. The emergence of the idea that meth is something new has activated a particular set of social responses that have a harsh impact on those designated as meth users. The meth scare is blinding people to the plight of white, underclass, rural, poor people.

I still say you should stay off that methamphetamine pretty much no matter what. That stuff will fuck you up

A similar argument.

Encouraged by the US, the Caribbean is being drawn into a global panic over human trafficking, leading to greater policing and surveillance of migrant women and the sex trade. Drawing on colonial precedents, the moral outrage about women trafficked into prostitution. embodied in legislation such as the US Trafficking Victims Protection Act, obscures the deeper causes of exploitation and oppression and leads to the demonisation of those in undocumented, hyper-exploited labour forces. Moreover, the false equation of trafficking with prostitution renders sexual labour as coerced labour and, as such, misrepresents sexual agency.

Damn it: My session timed out while I was trying to e-mail this bibliography to myself. Which means I have just committed the sin of citing without sourcing.

What the hell, I am living in Brazil. Anything goes, right?

Walter Lippmann wrote extensively on the same topic back in the 1920s — on why a vice crackdown on Chicago prostitution was a pointless exercise …


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