As we approached the turn of the twenty-first century, news outlets increasingly covered violence in America’s schools; most specifically violence in the form of “school shootings.” A panic swept the entire country after the extended coverage of a few high profile incidents of school shootings. As a result, prominent sectors of society began searching for and analyzing the possible causes of school violence. Many were quick to blame violent television shows, films, and video games, but did the violence occur as a byproduct of violent entertainment or were these “bad influences” merely patsies? The individuals who are ultimately responsible for this “widespread and ever increasing violence” are much closer than many are aware.
In his 1972 text, Folk Devils and Moral Panics: The Creation of the Mods and Rockers, Stanley Cohen explains that moral panic can occur when “a condition, episode, person, or group of persons emerges to become defined as a threat” by a large percentage of a population “to societal values and interests”. Resulting from this moral panic, as Goode and Ben-Yehuda (1994) suggests, is a society that believes it is compelled to take a collective and active approach to regaining “moral order”. This most often takes the form of “strengthening the social control apparatus of the society” (Goode and Ben-Yehuda, 1994). This “strengthening” and regaining process can take either a passive form (e.g. longer prison sentences) or an active form (e.g. increased security, locker inspections, placing restrictions on the purchase of violent video games).
However, Burns and Crawford (1999) list four necessary conditions for a condition to be considered a moral panic; (a) a “heightened concern” regarding the problem and its societal repercussions must exist beforehand; (b) “increased levels of hostility” aimed at those perceived to be responsible for the problem; (c) “consensus” within the population regarding the seriousness of the threat; (d) the number of individuals responsible for the threat must be exaggerated. While moral panics can take many forms and arise at any time and location, the steps that lead to moral panic are much more specific.
These steps which can lead to a moral panic are discussed by Blumer in Social Problems as Collective Behavior (1971) while, in Threatened Children: Rhetoric and Concern about Child-Victims (1990), Best describes the role of media in this process. In order for moral panic to ensue, the public must be aware of the problem. The news media plays a large role in this since, by definition, they are the medium that disseminates information about the problem. Media directors are interested in increasing their ratings and circulation. As a result, the news media often presents the problem in an exaggerated or sensationalized manner and in most cases will give it a name (which often carries an exaggerated sense urgency or threat). Naming a problem lends it a sense of familiarity, may...