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A brief history of moral panics - click opera — LiveJournal
February 2010
Wed, Dec. 24th, 2008 12:00 am
A brief history of moral panics


Wed, Dec. 24th, 2008 08:44 am (UTC)
Other possible factors that I would love to hear discussed

While the premise of your argument is interesting and sound (why pitch a battle against something that no one cares about) I think that bringing it down to simply a state of the medium being at its peak is not 100% correct. Certain other factors are also key. I also want to hear just how universal these topics need to become for the medium to be the cause. While I've heard the statement that movies have not reached the quality that they had in the 1970's, I don't know if I would call film to be the most powerful medium at the time. Reading Harlan Ellison's "The Glass Teat," for instance, would give a strong suspicion that hidden hands were controlling televisions around that time.

In regards to other factors, we should look at two cases; the first one you mentioned earlier and the second case is another example that I would like to hear opinions on.

Case 1: Parental Advisory. From a few VH1 documentaries about the case of rock and roll and censorship (one, in particular, tried to list the top 10 most attacked songs or something similar) the Advisory sticker was a two part attack in the mid 80's. At best, this would be the start of the compact disc (neither I nor my family would own a CD player until the late 1980's/early 1990's when it had taken control), so I don't think that compact discs were what were being attacked. The songs that seemed to unite the parents (and Tipper Gore and others) were Prince's "Darling Nikki" and the 2 Live Crew album "As Nasty As We Wanna Be" (featuring the song "Me So Horny). The latter would create the clean version of albums, the former helped create the advisory stickers. BOTH, though, were songs performed by minority artists. In the case of the advisory stickers (and the disco revolt and even, to a degree, the punk revolt during its creation), the "censorship"* could be attributed to race as well as to the medium, and there would probably be more to support that theory. The attack here is, as you hinted, against the new music form and the popularity of that form ... which is also an attack on where the music is from. Black culture was becoming mainstream and white America got scared. See also Eminem (especially) in the 90's.

Case 2: The Matrix. I will say that most of the above paragraph is based on documentaries as opposed to any firm memory of living through it. However, I was media conscious by the time of The Matrix's release and the hullabaloo that followed. While stylized violence had been done before (and to a more graphic degree also), it was this movie and the school shootings that happened afterwards that created a movement to create stronger bans on movies and music (my mind also wants to group in video games here ... but I'm probably mistaken). With this particular instance, though, the triggering event - the shooting at Columbine High School - had objective impact on people (as opposed to the subjective arguments used against Prince's "Darling Nikki", for example). The trick was, how to correlate the movie and the music - this was the first many Americans heard of Rammstein, after all - withe the event. All of a sudden, we had an attack on two forms of media: film and music. This wasn't the first time, when The Crow brought "goth" into the mainstream there were upset parents and similar. In both cases, though, the target teen that everyone wanted to protect was the disenfranchised. Questions they asked were essential to their bias: "What would make normal children feel so disconnected that they feel the need to delve into something dark?" "What would make them retaliate in such a way? Aren't they well taken care of?"


Wed, Dec. 24th, 2008 08:46 am (UTC)
Re: Other possible factors that I would love to hear discussed

Again, there is an attack of identity hidden in the second case. The Crow allowed a new form of self-expression that did not need to be hidden behind closed doors. The Matrix had a costume design that was easily emulated (by the Columbine shooters, for instance). But I bring up The Matrix and its fallout because, by this time, a music medium is not secure, yet the music was attacked. Here Napster was just beginning to take a hold of the peer2peer world and CD's had probably just passed their peak. The pop fad of the mid 90's was ending and who have we had since? Cinema as a medium was just coming out of the indie movement, which means a relative peak had just ended. DVD's were the big medium at the time, but The Matrix did not have that release yet.

Then again, is it because there was no specific medium that was strong that the search for a motive include all forms of media?

*"censored" in quotes since the case for Parental Advisory stickers was that it would not censor, but rather just inform. The censorship which others claimed would happen (and has happened) might be fallout akin to the showing of NC-17 films.

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Wed, Dec. 24th, 2008 10:38 am (UTC)
Re: Other possible factors that I would love to hear discussed

I left out The Crow and The Matrix and so on because I haven't seen them, and would have tended to dismiss the arguments stressing the influence of films, computer games and music on the Columbine killers as reactionary.

In Japan, when a knife-wielding maniac went postal in Akihabara, otaku culture was blamed, despite the fact that Akihabara -- the man's target -- was itself the symbolic centre of otaku culture.

In a certain sense we can see moral panics as symbolic enactments of the very acts of violence they seem to condemn. It's easy to imagine high school shooters thinking to themselves "This culture is vile and corrupt" as they shoot their schoolmates down -- and then the commentators come along, look at the shooting, and also say "This culture is vile and corrupt".

"We agree, that's why we did it," say the now-dead shooters.

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